Of the Heroes and Villains

My Top Ten Anti-Heroes

In the nearly three years that my reading list has been filled to overflowing with urban fantasy titles, I have learned several things about myself and my worldview that I didn't realize or think about before. Like my deep love of kick-ass heroines, my joy in reading profanity sprinkled in books, and how much I adore sharing a reading experience with friends. But nothing has been so crystal clear as realizing how much I love a great anti-hero.

Humans are flawed creatures, each of us containing good and bad all packaged within the same unstable wrapping, and that's what I like to see in my heroes. I don't want heroes who always know what the right thing to do is, and always do exactly that. I don't want to read about characters who have no struggle with inner demons, who always follow social norms exactly, who are always virtuous, idolize their mothers unconditionally and have equal room in their hearts for both cats and dogs. Those characters always feel flat to me--boring, vapid, and uninteresting. Give me angst, give me struggle, give me depth of character!

The following are my ten favorite anti-heroes. Characters who have to make difficult choices, live in unimaginable circumstances, do things that society considers despicable, yet are good people who hold their honor dear, love deeply, and are loyal to the core. They are the kind of heroes I want on my side when the shit goes down, but more importantly, are the kind of heroes I want to read about--interesting, exciting, fascinating.

So come with me if you love your heroes a little flawed, a little dirty, and a lot sexy.

Bones AKA Crispin Philip Arthur Russell III (Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost)

Bones is my perfect anti-hero. He is immensely powerful, loyal, with a deep sense of honor. But he kills, maims, and tortures as necessary, which is the vampire way in the Night Huntress world. He holds the ones he loves close, and protects those who are his with a vengeance, but you do not want to fuck with this vamp, or get on his bad side. It will not end well. A pickpocket and a gigolo as a human, Bones learns, after becoming a vampire, that he has a talent for finding people and dispatching of them. He spends a couple of centuries pleasing uncountable women and killing creatures who need killing, until he meets Cat and finally falls in love. Comfortable in his own skin, Bones knows exactly who he is and what he wants and never falters in pursuing just that, protecting what is his no matter what. 

Vlad Tepes (Night Huntress and Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost)

Vlad is the quintessential anti-hero. He protects his own through whatever means necessary, and he does not apologize when those means get messy. He believes that he is incapable of love (until Leila comes along, that is), but loyalty is something he understands to his core. As a human his position as supreme leader of his people required ruthlessness and bloodshed that was unacceptable to the world's delicate sensibilities, but as a vampire those same qualities ensured that Vlad was and remains a force to be reckoned with. Most vampires don't fuck with Vlad or his people, knowing that they do not want to be guests in the dungeon he still has in his home.

Ian Flannery (Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost)

Ian was the Big Bad in the second Night Huntress novel, in spite of the fact that he is my beloved Bones's sire, and because we read through Cat's narration, we saw him as completely immoral, lacking any redeeming qualities. Although Cat wants Bones to just kill Ian to get him to leave her alone, Bones is quite reluctant to do so, citing the bond they have which goes back to their humanity. We should have known then that there was more to Ian than meets the eye. No matter. We have since seen Ian rise to the occasion time and again, protecting his people and fighting for his friends, even when it wasn't his fight. He is frightfully strong and sinfully sexy, even while he is more than a little petulant and lacking in typical human morals. We will not be satisfied that the Night Huntress world is complete, until we see Ian's story and his HEA. We've gotten a glimpse of the heart that lies beneath Ian's gleefully depraved exterior, and we cannot wait to unravel his tale.

Chess Putnam (Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane)

Chess is a remarkable woman who has no idea how special she is. She truly, deeply believes that she is not worthy of love or anything positive in her life, which causes her to make questionable choices.  There's no getting around the fact that Chess is a drug addict, which is difficult to witness, forcing her to go to great lengths to appear normal, while at the same time working to dull her pain. But she is also a brilliant and gifted witch whose job is to protect people from ghosts, a job that she does incredibly well and is one of the few sources of pride in her life. It's easy to be frustrated with Chess, seeing her sabotage her own happiness, hurting those who care about her. But eventually we get a glimpse of the roots of Chess's pain that she's dulling with drugs, and we understand why she does what she does. Her life isn't pretty, but Chess has a heart of gold and a fierce loyalty to her small circle of friends. It's no wonder we can't get enough Downside. 

Terrible (Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane)

Terrible is not your typical hero, an enforcer for a drug kingpin who maims and kills daily as part of his job. He's far from handsome, often being described as ugly, but he is powerful and muscled, exuding a sexiness that comes from within. Terrible knows exactly who he is, his limitations and his strengths, and he isn't afraid of either. But in spite of Terrible's job and his frightening outward appearance, his sense of honor and loyalty runs deep. He may break a leg to get his point across, but you don't fuck with the women or the children, or Terrible is going to fuck with you, and that's the last thing you want. But what sets Terrible apart from your average thug is his love for one Cesaria Putnam. His love for her erases all of the awful things he does to thrive in an unimaginable world, just as it erases the things she has to do to get through her day.

Dexter Morgan (Dexter TV series and books by Jeff Lindsay)

Dexter may or may not have been drawn to, consumed by his dark side, as a result of witnessing his mother's murder as a small child. It could have been inevitable or it could have been created. We'll never know. But we do know that his adoptive father instilled in him a code of ethics for choosing people who deserved to die, giving him a outlet for his homicidal urges. And the glee with which Dexter dispatches the deserving is disturbingly fun to witness. It's also fun to watch Dexter struggle with pretending to be normal, pretending to care about banalities that we have all fantasized about telling people we just don't give a shit about. But what's really delightful about Dexter is seeing him transform from a sociopath who cares about no one into a father and a brother who realizes that he actually does love the people closest to him.

Jericho Barrons (Fever series by Karen Marie Moning)

Barrons tells us, bluntly that he's not the hero and he's not the anti-hero either. He may be right. Mac is really the hero of their story, but Barrons's love for her is redemption enough that I can comfortably list him among my favorite anti-heroes. Barrons doesn't give a shit about anyone, or so he would have us believe. But he loves Mac enough that he vows never to let her die, and he loves his son enough to spend an eternity searching for a way to end his pain and struggle. He has no respect for human laws or mores, has no compunction about exterminating people who threaten him or get in his way, and pursues his goals with single-minded focus. But he is brilliant and wise, guiding Mac through a world that would eat her alive if he weren't there. That's heroic to me. 


Sabina Kane (Sabina Kane by Jaye Wells)

A half-breed in a world where mixing of dark races is strictly forbidden, Sabina is steeped in intolerance for many decades believing that she can't fit in anywhere. Raised in the world of vampires, yet never truly accepted, Sabina ignores her mage side until she can no longer do so, but the damage is already done. Sabina's dream of acceptance is never realized and she resigns herself to life as an assassin, killing on command and never forming attachments. And Sabina is very good at what she does, making her one of the fiercest women in my library. She begins her journey untrusting and completely closed off from other people, but eventually finds the acceptance, the family, and even the love she never allowed herself to believe she deserved.

Klaus Mikaelson (The Originals and The Vampire Diaries TV series)

Klaus has become my favorite character on these two shows, even though he started out as the ultimate bad guy, the Big Bad in season 2. But the more we get to know Klaus, the more we see that his loneliness runs deep, and all he's searching for is connection and unconditional acceptance. But 1000 years of loneliness have left him utterly untrusting, even of the two people who have been with him from the beginning--his siblings. Gorgeous and charming when he wants to be, Klaus is also ruthless and fierce, with not a single person in the world who knows the real him. My sincerest hope for The Originals is that Klaus finally FINALLY finds someone with whom he can truly be himself, who loves him unconditionally, trusting him and earning his trust in return. After a millennium he deserves no less.

Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries TV series)

I love my vampires to embrace their vampire. I don't want to watch or read about mopey vampires lamenting their lost humanity, because I believe in being exactly who you are. Unapologetically.  And Damon Salvatore is such a vampire. He knows what he has to eat to live and he does it. He knows that sometimes he has to kill and torture to survive and he does it. Without reservation, and without apologies. That makes him disdained by many in his small town, but he frankly doesn't give a shit what they think. He knows who he is, what he went through to get where he is, and what he wants. Those are very sexy qualities in an anti-hero. Damon tolerates the people whose help he needs, but truly loves a very few and it's that love, those relationships that make him heroic. He would do anything for his brother, the woman he loves, and the best friend he lost, showing us how to embrace life as a vampire, fully and without regrets. 

Those are my favorite anti-heroes. Do you like your heroes a little on the dark side, Saucy Reader? Or do you prefer your heroes to follow the straight and narrow? Who else would you include on my list? Share your thoughts below.


  1. Not familiar with Sabine Kane but other than that, ditto. I'd have to add Kisten from Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series, because, well, yeah, he fits.

  2. Klaus, Bones, Vlad, Ian, Chess, Terrible, Sabina.. YESSSS!!! LOVE this post!

  3. LOL I love that picture of Barrons ;)


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