13 Books Told From The Villain's Point-Of-View, Because Everyone Loves A "Bad" Guy
It's time to come clean people: we're all villain-loving trash. Sure, you can pretend that you're in it for the princesses, or that you never had a secret soft spot for Draco Malfoy, or that you didn't religiously follow Phantom of the Opera fan blogs as a 12-year-old girl (other people did that too, right?). But most of us have at least one so-called "bad guy" who we're secretly rooting for. At least, sometimes we get a little tired of stories about conventionally hot, young, able-bodied teens defeating villains who seem a heck of a lot more interesting they they are. Sometimes we want to hear what the villains have to say for themselves. And as they say: the villain is the hero of their own story. Here are a few books that actually give you the that side of the story, and leave it up to you to decide if they were in the right.
Now, before we get into these stories of complicated witches and redeemable orcs, let me just say that not all fictional villains are necessarily "just misunderstood." A lot of villains are straight up evil. Please do not contact me with your opinions on Kylo Ren. But throughout the history of literature and of the Walt Disney Company, there have been quite a few villains who might just deserve a second chance:
'Circe' by Madeline Miller
The Odyssey is filled with villains aplenty: there's the Cyclops, the sirens, the sea monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. But Circe might just be the most memorable villain from the ancient epic. She's the sexy sorceress who turns men into pigs. Odysseus defeats her and takes her as a lover, before peacing out back to his wife. Cool. But what if there was more to it than that? Circe is an absolutely brilliant re-imagining of Greek mythology, with the witch Circe as our complicated heroine, trying to navigate the life of a lesser goddess in a world full of patriarchal gods and hateful mortal men.
'Wicked' by Gregory Maguire
Look, if you love the musical Wicked, you should know that the book is... different. There's just... a lot more political intrigue and humans having sex with tigers. But Gregory Maguire's take on the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz is still one of the more inspired villain stories out there. In his version, the witch is not a black-and-white villain, but a political revolutionary who has always been distrusted and ostracized due to her inexplicable green skin.
'Grendel' by John Gardner
The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is about a dude named Beowulf who kills a monster, then that monster's mom, and then a dragon who is apparently unrelated to the monster family. This is the story of Grendel, that first hideous monster, and his life on the outskirts of human society. Grendel is a beautiful study in loneliness, and how hatred develops, and it's also one of the ultimate classics of the "villain's story" genre. A must read for monster fans everywhere.
'Blackhearts' by Nicole Castroman
Even if you're not up on your pirate lore, chances are that you've heard of the dread pirate Blackbeard. He was legendary for terrorizing sailors across the seven seas. He was also a real guy named Edward "Teach" Drummond. Blackhearts is the story of young Mr. Drummond, as well as the story of the determined Anne Barrett, and how they left their respectable, suffocating home in England for a life of freedom on the sea.
'Miranda and Caliban' by Jacqueline Carey
In Shakespeare's The Tempest, Caliban is a "monster," bound to serve as a slave to the wizard Prospero and his innocent daughter, Miranda. Miranda and Caliban takes a different look at the story. After all, Miranda and Caliban grew up on their remote island together. Who's to say that there wasn't something more to the relationship between the wild orphan boy and the lonely wizard's daughter?
'Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea is such a classic in its own right at this point, it's easy to forgot that it's technically a "villainous" retelling. In Jane Eyre, however, the first wife of Mr. Rochester is most certainly portrayed as a villain. This is the story of who she was before she was brought from Jamaica to England, and before she "lost her mind" after being sold as a bride to the prideful Mr. Rochester. It will definitely make you reconsider her framing as the "villain" in the original Brontë classic.
'Alias Hook' by Lisa Jensen
Honestly, the older I get, the harder it is to have any sympathy for that little snot Peter Pan. Captain Hook, on the other hand, seems like a complicated guy with a lot going on. At least, in Alias Hook he's a whole lot more than a bumbling fool with a (reasonable) fear of crocodiles: he's a smart, witty man eternally cursed to play a storybook villain, and he's ready for something in his life to finally change.
'Grunts' by Mary Gentle
If you've ever watched a fantasy movie, or read a fantasy novel, or played a fantasy tabletop game, you know that orcs are entirely expendable. They're the nameless villains you can cut down by the dozens on your way to fighting the real big bad. But how does that make the orcs feel? Grunts is a hilarious look at what the orcs think of this arraignment, perfect for Tolkien fans who want to see their favorite stories from a new perspective.
'Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy' edited by Ameriie
Because You Love to Hate Me is not the story of one villain. It's 13 stories of 13 villains, exploring alternate perspectives on everything from the Medusa myth to "Jack and the Beanstalk." It's funny, touching, and pure villainous fun from beginning to end, with stories from some of the greatest YA authors out there on some of their most beloved baddies.
'Vicious' by V.E. Schwab
Supervillains are a fixture of superhero fiction. And sure, they might have the occasional tragic backstory, but for the most part we don't dive deep into how they became supervillainous. Vicious is the wickedly smart story of Victor and Eli, and how they went from college roommates with big dreams to superpowered foes out for revenge.
'Heartless' by Marissa Meyer
Before the infamous Queen of Hearts was lopping off heads as a ruler of Wonderland, she wanted to open a bakery. That's how it goes in Marissa Meyer's Heartless, anyway. Baking is not fit job for a future queen, though, and soon young Cath is drawn into a complicated plot filled with love and monsters as she tries to chart a course for herself in an unpredictable kingdom that thrives on disorder.
'Sea Witch' by Sarah Henning
We all know the story of the rather small mermaid and the cruel sea witch who took her voice. But really, we know very little about where that sea witch came from. Who was she before she started "helping" all those poor, unfortunate souls? Sea Witch tell the story of a girl finding her own magic, at the cost of her own heart.
'And I Darken' by Kiersten White
This is it: the gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler you've been waiting for. Yes, this is a wild, heart-pounding historical twist on the "real" Dracula, if he was the fierce princess Lada Dragwlya. Lada has sworn to bring down the Ottoman Empire and return to her birthright in Wallachia... but her revenge plot becomes a little more complicated when she falls for the son of the sultan she despises.