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Try as we might, we can’t always be good. And to be honest, who wants to be? There’s a reason there’s saying’s like “it’s good to be bad,” songs like “Bad” by Michael Jackson, and that version of Sandy that shows up at the end of Grease; being bad can be liberating.
And while the typical version of bad is pretty self-contained – eating way more cookies than you know you should, watching that 6th episode when you’re supposed to be cleaning your house, or giving up and buying that greasy burger on your way home instead of cooking the perfectly good food in your fridge – it’s fun to live vicariously through bad people. Which is why you gotta love a good anti-hero. They’re not all the way bad, but they’re pretty close. And because I’m a reading junkie and I just finished my new favorite anti-hero book Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which came out last month, I want to share some of my favorite anti-heroes from books (mainly YA, have you been here before?).
Author: Julie C. Dao
How They’re Bad: Xifeng was raised by her aunt who is a literal witch, who has had visions of Xifeng becoming the empress of Feng Lu, a darkly magical monarchy. Xifeng really just wants to be free of her aunt, but starts to become enticed by this life of absolute power. In order to achieve it, she’ll leave behind the man who has faithfully loved her since childhood, trick and tease when she has to and eat the heart of anyone who stands in her way to the throne. Yes, I mean that literally. Girl eats not a small amount of hearts throughout this book.
Despite this, we still root for Xifeng throughout the story. She’s jealous, manipulative, obsessed with her own beauty, yes, but she’s also been abused and unloved throughout her life. She does terrible things, but then feels remorse for them, making her quite a confusing, but realistic, protagonist. Despite her mixed feelings toward an aunt who seemingly had no love for her, she misses her when she leaves, and follows her advice when the path becomes unclear. She was trained for one thing, and that is to become Empress. She’s corrupted by a prophecy of what could be and will make it into truth whatever the cost. That might make her a character we love to hate, but it’s refreshing to read a book where instead of falling ass over teakettle for a man, there’s a woman whose goals are power and dominance, rather than romance.
Where they fall on the badass scale: 8 out of 10 ladies wearing embroidered silk, but still kicking ass. I would be terrified to meet Xifeng in the forest.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the first in the Rise of the Empress series. It just came out last month! Buy it now!
*arc provided by publisher in exchange for honest review
Author: Marie Lu
How They’re Bad: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of a blood fever that ravaged her nation when she was little. The few who survived were left with scars, hers in the form of white hair, pale lashes, and a scar in place of an eye. But beyond the physical, she was also left with a gift. People who have these gifts are called The Young Elites, and they are hunted. So a select few called The Dagger Society have banded together to protect each other and take back the crown from those trying to take them out.
Adelina is found by The Dagger Society when she stands up to her abusive father and escapes, accidentally unleashing a power she didn’t know she had. Despite the protection, her fellow Young Elites could offer her, she can’t trust anyone. Her power is dark and enticing and her mind is swept up in it when she uses it. She’s jealous, selfish, and insecure, but she’s also suffered the stigma of being malfetto – scarred – her whole life, especially from her family. One of her only saving graces hiding in a sea of self-doubt and guilt is her love for her sister, which makes her less than a villain, but still an antiheroine. Her journey through the series goes from bad to worse; reading about her brings an evil glint to your eye. Her power is frightening, and so, so enjoyable to read about.
Where they fall on the badass scale: 9 out of 10 malfettos seeking justice. Makes you want to add a silver streak to your hair.
The Young Elites is the first in the trilogy. The Rose Society and The Midnight Star are also available now. The world that Marie Lu creates in these books is one of my favorites. It’s lush and mysterious with a Reinnasaince Italy vibe. Check them out!
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Anti-Hero: Any of the Dregs, take your pick
How They’re Bad: We’ve already written about how much we loved Six of Crows here at That’s Normal, but it can’t hurt to mention it again, especially since it fits so well in this category. The Dregs are unlikeable – they steal, kill, pillage with abandon. But you kind of can’t help but like them as a team. What story about a heist doesn’t have bad guys? But this time the bad guys are the good guys, stealing from…other bad guys? Idk, but it works. The ladies in this story are badass. Ain’t nothing gonna hold them down. And while they might find a little romance along the way, that damn well don’t need it to survive.
This series has so many twists and turns it’s hard to put down. These character’s had lives before they appeared on our pages, and it shows. There are secrets, lies, and more action than you know what to do with. And even though our rag-tag crew might not be heroes, you definitely want them to fulfill their mission and use the profits to cater to their selfish little needs. If you don’t like this book, you might be dead.
Where they fall on the badass scale: 7 out of 10 buttery leather gloves worn by a criminal. If only I had some sort of skill to join The Dregs.
Author: Merissa Meyer
How They’re Bad: Heartless is a sort of prequel to Alice in Wonderland, but centered on who we’ll come to know as the Queen of Hearts, or just Catherine for now. In this story, we find out she became the baddie she is. Yeah, yeah I hear you – another retelling? Can’t anyone have an original idea? And to that I say, there’s a reason Marissa Meyer has become a best-selling author with her books. Her interpretations pick up on just enough of the references you know and love, but the original is merely an inspiration, not a citation.
Since this is a villain origin story at its core, it’s unsurprising that Cath would end up to be an anti-hero, but she doesn’t start that way. It takes something that burns her to her core to make her into someone, dare I say it, heartless. She starts out as bubbly, and to be honest, a bit annoying and out of touch, but by the end she’s ruthless and I love it. She’s a much more interesting character as an angry woman than as an idyllic girl. Spoiler alert: don’t expect a happy ending here. Actually, don’t expect one in any of these books.
Where they fall on the badass scale: 5 out of 10 broken dreams. Cath wasn’t always a b****, but hey, shit happens.
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