My Favorite Fictional Anti-Heroes

My favorite stories are full of complex characters who live morally grey lives. Their motivations may be less than honorable, they may be selfish or conceited, haughty, or even devious. But they are also charming and most of all, interesting.

They are anti-heroes.

I’ve had The Young Elites on my radar, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it in the last year. I mostly read library books or ARCs (and then buy all the books I loved) but I didn’t read an early copy and it’s always checked out of the library, so I just hadn’t had a chance. So when Penguin Teen offered me a copy of the new paperback, I jumped on the chance.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

And if you like your characters with a bit of ambiguity, this is the series for you.

Here are some more of my favorite fictional anti-heroes.

favorite fictional anti-heroes @ Librarian Style

Roland Deschain from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series

I first read The Dark Tower series when I was waaaaay too young, but I was captivated by my father’s illustrated box set. This dark fantasy series is by far my favorite Stephen King. Roland is one of the most complex and interesting literary characters I’ve ever encountered.

Jesse from Sway: A Novel by Kat Spears

This is one of my favorite contemporary YA novels. The character has such amazing voice! Even if Jesse is kind of despicable and truly selfish, the soft heart underneath that tough facade made me fall in love with him and truly cheer for him to get the girl and get his life together. Read my full review here.

Ronan from The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

Ronan, one of the Raven Boys, is mean and surly and guarded and relates to a crow named Chainsaw he pulled from his dreams better than his actual friends. But even if he’s not exactly warm and fuzzy, he’s an interesting, complex character who is so full of feelings beneath the surface (like you know, his love for Adam). While I’ve enjoyed all three installments of The Raven Cycle series and am anxiously awaiting the final book, The Raven King, Ronan’s book, The Dream Thieves, is by far my favorite. Read my full reviews here, here, and here.

Undine Spragg from The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

Undine is a girl who will do anything to become an accepted member of the rich New York City elite, and anyone who gets in her way, whether family or lover, be damned. She’s completely irredeemable, but that’s what makes her so interesting. I love Edith Wharton’s heroines in all their flaws, but Undine takes the cake as far as anti-heroes go. Wharton’s novels are so full of irony, they drip with it. I highly recommend them all!

Yossarian from Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

This is one of my favorite novels, and I’m so glad I had to read and discuss it in college. Yossarian is no hero—he just wants to escape the brutality of war, but seeing as how he’s sane, he has to keep flying missions during WWII. This complex novel with a non-linear narrative is a masterpiece, and everyone should read it.

The narrator of Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I am a sick man…I am a wicked man.” You know from the first line of the first existential novel that this narrator is not a hero in the typical sense. I have like seven copies of this novel, which I first read in college, because I compulsively buy it. I loaned it to my brother when he was taking Western Civilization, then had a mini-existential crisis of my own and went digging for it, only to discover he had it in California. So now I squirrel away copies for emergencies. If you do buy it, get the Vintage Classics translation Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It’s the best, and it started my love affair with fat Russian novels.


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  • I was fully surprised by how much I loved The Young Elites, especially after feeling 100% meh about Legend. (Didn’t even bother with the sequels.) But holy wow, Marie Lu brings the angry vengeful girl who refuses to be an instrument of others power in Adelina. So great.

    • Yeah, I’ve only read a couple chapters since I got the paperback, but it’s so different from LEGEND. I only read the first one, too, when it first came out and dystopian was such the craze. It helped get me my first library job, because one of the interview question was “what would you recommend to fans of The Hunger Games?”

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