When thinking of your all-time favourite characters in stories, most people would say the heroine, or one of the array of colourful but overall ‘good’ members from the new-found family friend group, or even the furry/mystical being that dazzles us with being fierce or cute.
Mine have always been villains.
Even the most retched ones that make me hate their guts and want to curse their names. I think it’s their ability to draw out that emotion that makes me love ’em.
The morally grey character has always been one that I am drawn towards. While reading is an absolutely wonderful escape, it also can mirror a realness in ourselves and our world that teaches us amazing life lessons sometimes. Having a character’s morals be completely messed because they are put in a threatening situation, or having an immense feeling like envy overcome you to the point you don’t recognize yourself, or even having your past shape the awful parts of what you’ve become…
It’s all so real and the best authors show this in their characters and their overarching character developments.
So here is a list of some of my ultimate fav villains in YA:
1. Amarantha from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
If you have read this book, this will come as a weird shock perhaps… if you haven’t read the book, you need to!
Amarantha is the worst possible character I have ever read, in almost all the books I have ever read… which is why I like her so much. She has committed crimes upon crimes, ruined lives, and forced people to choose her over their own morals and feelings. She seemed at first to be evil just for the hell of it, but I think power and beauty were her biggest allies.
She acted harshly but with purpose for power and she yearned for beauty that she was willing to do anything to be the most gorgeous in the room.
And she was also a huge bitch.
I truly had pure rage for her when she came across the pages, and while half the time I couldn’t understand or believe how horribly cruel she was, I knew that she was one of those characters that would live in my mind rent free.
2. Warner from Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi
Warner was the epitome of a morally grey character.
He had a past life that affected his present and possibly his future. He also appeared to be cruel for reasons that seemed to benefit the greater good despite how he was viewed by others.
I don’t have too much to say about him as I am still catching up on my reread of the series (I read these books soooo long ago and loved them so much but can’t recall much so decided to do a reread).
The entire series does give me ‘Vampire Diaries – Stefan or Damon’ vibes, but at the same time Warner is a character who is a bit more complex than that and his true desires may not be as morally just.
3. The Darkling from the Shadow and Bone Series by Leigh Bardugo
So Leigh Bardugo is a genius… I have always said this and will continue to always say it…
The Darkling is a villain beyond my imagination… he has power, his name is well known, but yet he chooses to manipulate a girl in order to use his power to the fullest.
His back story is also one that shows the building of his nature and where his mind grew to become so cruel.
He even has the absolute best line in the entire series… “Fine. Make me your villain.”
I mean…. as if you weren’t.
4. Celeste Newsome from The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
She is a simple but an effective villain.
Celeste’s power hungry urges allows her to be the most manipulative, most toxic scheming contestant in the selection.
In a weird way, she is an inspiration… and the bitchy privileged vibe she has really takes her there to being the worst type of villain.
5. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix by J.K Rowling
I’m not going to say much about Umbridge, because this is probably the one topic all around the world we are in agreement… she sucks even more than Voldemort.
Which makes her one of my fav villains. The fact that she is iconically loathed, her cruelness towards everything and everyone that comes to her sooo naturally… I mean… how small is her heart.
As a writer, it is truly admirable how someone managed to capture a horrible soul in ink onto pages that evoke such strong emotions from readers.
6. President Snow from The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
Another one without much of an explanation needed.
He is a vicious tyrant that would allow others to die for his amusement… although, I will say that he was a lot more than a ruler with too much power and privilege. There was a lot more to him than meets the eye and his ultimate outlook on life and how he got to that point that shaped him to be this evil monster showcased a realness that is in all of us or we have all experienced at one point or another.
I was so happy when Suzanne Collins released Snow’s POV in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. It made me love Snow as a villain even more.
7. Keris Veturia a.k.a the Commandant from Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Keris is the kind of villain that exists in our lives day to day. The one that is manipulative for their own benefit, uncaring of who else suffers in the process. The one who does not tolerate anything less than perfect, making you insecure and feeling worthless. The one that goes to extremes to make themselves look better than you, break you by hurting the ones you love, or even your own view of yourself.
She is the absolute worse because she’s so real to the point where I found myself almost scared whenever she came across the page. She reminded me of some people in my own life, which made the heroes retaliation against her all the more inspiring.
I am sure there are so many more villains who invoke such strong emotions from us, who reminds us of others or different parts of ourselves… either way, no story is perfect without the moral grey ground tethering us to reality despite escaping into fantastical worlds where anything is possible.
Who are your fav YA bookish villains? Would you rather be a villain in a story or the hero?