Most of the time we get a real hero. Someone with all the morals and good intentions. And that is nice. But sometimes I need something gritty, complex and someone I want to give a good smack for making a selfish decision. What? I’m just speaking the truth.
Which brings us to the antihero.
Protagonist, Antagonist and Antihero
I’m just going to give you a bit of a quick breakdown on these terms because sometimes it becomes confusing when you first start to dive in.
The protagonist is (are) our main character(s). They often have a strong moral, good intentions, are brave or are able to overcome their fear. Everything you might think of with a hero will probably fit here.
An antihero is more of a sub-type of protagonist. Someone who is not seen as a hero. Someone who might make the wrong choices in our eyes or selfish ones but sometimes reluctantly ends up saving the world anyway. Even if we don’t agree with them we can often understand their choices.
The antagonist on the other hand always has opposing goals to the protagonist. There is often hostility towards the protagonist. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a bad person but that they have had experiences that have pushed them into a certain direction.
Antihero Characters I Enjoyed
So now that we have established the differences I want to share some of my favorite antiheroes.
The first character that springs to mind has to be Kenneth from The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb. He is one of the main characters from the start, and while some people would certainly like to argue that he is a villain, he is one of the truest anti-heroes I’ve seen. He makes decisions that are meant to be selfish in nature but ends up being seen as heroic by those around him. It creates an interesting dynamic between the role that he plays and what he sometimes really wants to do.
Lord Vetinari from Discworld (appears in arcs of Moist von Lipwig and The City Watch) by Terry Pratchett is one character that tends to fade a little to the background but plays a very big role in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He is the head of the whole city state of Ankh-Morpork and as such tends to make many of the big decisions. He is certainly not often seen in the best of light by the other characters as he manipulates and seems to make selfish decisions in his own best interest. But somehow they do always end up in the best of Ankh-Morpork.
Another anti-hero in plainer view in Discworld by Terry Pratchett would be Moist von Lipwig. He is a criminal and a scammer. He will make decisions to make him self look better and get richer. Yet at the end of the road he does care for others and somehow ends up being the hero.
As much as I hesitate to mention Lynch at this point, Locke Lamora and his band of misfits from The Gentleman Bastard series are another bit of antiheroes I’d say. Creating elaborate schemes to gain money themselves, somehow they end up in bigger plots than their own grand schemes and somehow end up saving a few along the way.
Azoth, or better known as Kylar Stern, from The Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks becomes a trained assassin. Assassins are by definition antiheroes in my book. Well mostly anyway. Yet he always comes into a bigger plot.
A newer and much talked about book The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang brings us Rin. Rin starts off ‘fairly’ innocent but as she moves through the academy and becomes more in touch with her powers, she starts moving towards the darker side. She takes opiates to unleash her power.
And for this post I am lastly mentioning a character from a non-fantasy book, Perfume, the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an orphan who apprentices to a prominent perfumer. His biggest gift is his sense of smell. He seeks to create the perfect perfume, by committing murder.
Books with Antihero Characters I Still Want to Read
Most of Joe Abercrombie‘s work seems to have antiheroes but for now I am going to mention just one series. The First Law, with the first book being The Blade Itself, focuses on an infamous barbarian who runs out of luck.
Moving onto an author who I mentioned above, Brent Weeks. His next series Lightbringer seems to have another antihero character in Guile.
Forests of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao is the origin story of an evil queen I have been told and that sounds all kind of interesting to me.
The Witcher has had a lot of attention in recent years. Geralt, the mc, is considered an anti-hero.
Lastly I am going to mention The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickenson. Baru is an anti-hero character, the title isn’t the traitor for nothing I’d imagine.