The 25 Best Books With Villains and Morally Grey Characters

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Are you a fan of high-stakes drama? Do your favorite books feature characters whose morals line up less than you’d expect? Well then, you’ve come to the right place! From the Joker to your favorite anti-hero, this article is all about the best villains, anti-heroes, and morally grey characters in books. 

Get ready to check out the dastardly villains, the rebels with a cause, and the characters we love to hate!

Read on to find the best villains, anti-heroes, and morally grey characters in books.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab 

Victor and Eli’s extraordinary relationship blasted from college roommates to sworn archenemies, setting the stage for a classic battle of good vs evil. But like all majestic battles, there can only be one victor. 

Let the games begin.

When it comes to crafting beautifully complex storylines and utterly unforgettable characters, V.E. Schwab is a master at her craft. In Vicious, Schwab transports her readers into a world of morally gray superheroes, vengeful villains, and dangerous ambitions. 

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Assassin Celaena Sardothien is summoned to the castle with one goal in mind: win the competition among twenty-three killers, thieves and warriors, and she’ll be crowned champion, earning her freedom. But the Crown Prince isn’t about to make it easy for her. Meanwhile, the Captain of the Guard attempts to guide her on this treacherous journey. 

In a world where lies are common and death can come right after your next meal, the stakes are high.  

Throne of Glass is a must-read for those who are looking for an epic, captivating high fantasy romance. With its finely balanced mix of magic, danger, and morally grey characters, it’s sure to mesmerize and shock. A thrilling journey awaits!

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

When Kaz Brekkar, a criminal prodigy, is presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull off an impossible heist, he can’t resist the challenge.

To succeed in this daring mission, Kaz must assemble a crack team of Barrels’ most dangerous; the assassin known as the Wraith, the sharpshooter, the brains, a Grisha with deadly power, and a hunter trained to kill Grisha.

But even infiltrating the world’s most impenetrable fortress to rescue a key prisoner may not be enough. 

Experience a thrilling adventure with Leigh Bardugo’s beloved heist novel, Six of Crows. Packed with suspense, anti-heroes, and morally grey characters, this heart-pounding read is perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas.

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Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince is a dark fantasy romance overflowing with high stakes and morally grey characters. 

When the war hero and heir to the Akielos throne, Damon Akielos, is captured following a coup led by his half-brother, he finds himself sold into sexual servitude in the rival kingdom of Vere. Little does he know, his new master is the prince of the enemy nation.

Beautiful, calculating, and vindictive, Prince Laurent is a master of mind games. As tensions flare between these two rivals, these two enemies-to-lovers will discover the ruinous consequences of their dangerous games. 

With betrayals, political intrigue, and deadly secrets, Captive Prince will keep readers captivated with its intense story of forbidden love and dark thrills.

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A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre’s captivity in the Spring Court soon gave way to a tug-of-war between two powerful Fae: Tamlin, her soon-to-be husband, and the High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand, to whom she feels a strange connection. Feyre may have escaped her ordeal Under the Mountain, but the memories remain. Now she must quickly master the powers granted to her if she hopes to protect her loved ones. 

If you crave complex, morally ambiguous characters in your literature, Rhysand is guaranteed to satisfy. He’s the dark Fae you’ve been searching for. If you have yet to read the ACOTAR series, make sure to start with the first book in the series, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

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The Contortionist by Kathryn Ann Kingsley

When the dark and mysterious Contortionist Circus unexpectedly returns to a small town, it disrupts Cora Glass’s tranquil life as a bank-teller. Yet it won’t be long before she discovers that there is a deadly price to be paid for entering the circus. 

The Contortionist a hauntingly captivating read overflowing with obsessions and secrets that will leave readers on the edge of their seats. If you’re a fan of villains and morally ambiguous characters, The Contortionist is the one book you do not want to miss.

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the rare few who can travel between the parallel Londons of Red, Grey, White, and Black. And as an ambassador for the Maresh Empire, he is always on the move passing messages and smuggling artifacts. But when a trip to White London goes wrong, Kell finds himself in possession of a dangerous stone from Black London, a forbidden world closed off after a magical apocalypse.

When the stone falls into the hands of Delilah Bard, Kell’s life will be forever entangled with the thief from Grey London. 

Filled with villains, power-hungry rulers, forbidden magical artifacts, and thrilling adventures, A Darker Shade of Magic is a fantasy that promises a unique magical system and a morally ambiguous anti-hero.

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

What happens when lines blur, erasing the once-clear distinctions between acting and reality? 

When Oliver Marks is released from prison, he decides to recount the events that transpired ten years prior and unravel the tragedy that altered his life forever. Taking us back to the ambitious halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory, Rio’s debut novel is a captivating tale of friendship, betrayal, obsession and deadly rivalry. It draws readers into a morally grey world and keeps them enthralled with entertaining twists and Shakespearean plays. 

Perfect for fans of books with anti-heroes and dark academia, If We Were Villains will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

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From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

In From Blood and Ash, nineteen-year-old Poppy is destined to fulfill a prophecy she knows nothing about—one she questions more and more in the face of temptation. 

As a maiden bound by duty to her kingdom, Poppy is faced with the challenge of ascension and the risk of losing her heart to the villain of her story. Will she remain obedient and accept her fate, or will she succumb to the lure of the dashing guard who may be the key to her freedom? 

This mesmerizing tale offers readers a look into a gritty, morally complex world where nothing is quite as it seems. Ideal for readers who enjoy a good dose of anti-heroes and villains, From Blood and Ash is an unputdownable page-turner you won’t want to miss.

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Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath is ready to take back what is rightfully his: the throne and title of king. But this isn’t your typical quest for justice. Fueled by his thirst for vengeance, Jorg sets out on a journey that is riddled with moral ambiguity, bloody violence, and darkness. Prince of Thorns, a thrilling debut from Mark Lawrence, is the perfect read for those who love the thrill of a morally grey anti-hero.

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The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Every year, six of the most powerful magicians get a chance to compete for a prestigious spot within the secret society of gifted magic practitioners. These six initiates—Libby, Nico, Parisa, Callum, Reina, and Tristan—are rivaling for a coveted spot in the secret society of gifted spellcasters. Yet despite the immense power each wields, only five will pass the test.

Unfolding in a universe shrouded in mystery and intrigue, The Atlas Six offers readers a dark academic experience filled with deadly magic, hidden secrets, and morally grey characters. Who will triumph? Who will fall? Find out in this thrilling story of power, ambition, and destiny.

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Land of The Beautiful Dead by R Lee Smith

Lan’s world is bleak and unforgiving. When her mother falls victim to the undead, Lan takes it upon herself to venture to the walled city of Haven, a sinister paradise ruled by the formidable Lord of the Beautiful Dead, Azrael, to end his reign of death. 

This twisted retelling of Beauty and the Beast is a thrilling blend of horror, adventure, and romance. If you’re a fan of villains, anti-heroes, and morally grey characters, then get ready to be captivated by this riveting post-apocalyptic saga. By the end, you’ll have experienced one of the most captivating dark Beauty and the Beast retellings yet. Don’t miss out!

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Experience the timeless plight of Addie LaRue in V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

This emotionally charged story follows a young French girl born in the 1700s who, in an attempt to escape an impending arranged marriage, strikes an unthinkable deal that results in her becoming invisible and forgotten to those around her. Spanning centuries, Addie’s journey of loneliness and moral dilemmas has readers questioning whether the price of living outside the bounds of mortality is too high. 

With its layered characterization and compelling exploration of the often ambiguous lines between good and evil, this is a must-read for any fan of morally grey anti-heroes and villains.

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The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

If you’re drawn to morally ambiguous characters, The Jasmine Throne is an absolute must-read. From a traitorous prince seeking power to a princess desperately trying to escape her dictator brother – and a maidservant with secrets that threaten to spell her death – Tasha Suri’s bestselling, feminist fantasy masterpiece has it all. 

Among the best epic fantasy books of 2021, The Jasmine Throne promises a compelling story and an enthralling cast of lesbian anti-heroes, determined to set the empire afire.

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

When Jude reaches seven, her life comes crashing down, and she’s left orphaned and dependent on her abductor, who takes her away to the magical Fae world. But at seventeen, all Jude wants is to be accepted, even though she’s mortal and despised by many Fae, particularly the youngest son of the High King. 

The game of power and politics she’s swept into changes everything as Jude must persevere to come out on top. 

Filled with morally questionable characters, drama and romance, The Cruel Prince is the perfect read for those on the hunt for a thrilling antihero story. Follow Jude as she navigates a dangerous kingdom and an unlikely romance between a wicked Fae prince and her ambitious self.

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Little Bird Lost by Jessie Walker

In the Fowler’s Aviary, nothing is ever as it seems, especially not for his Flock.

Little Bird Lost stands out as one of the year’s top anti-hero stories, and with characters so darkly complex, it’s no wonder readers will eagerly anticipate what Jessie Walker has in store next.

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She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

In this award-winning fantasy novel by Shelley Parker-Chan, a female monk Zhu will do whatever it takes to escape her predetermined fate of death. No matter the costs.

Brimming with moral ambiguity and lush world-building, She Who Became the Sun is a must-read for readers who love characters who walk in shades of grey.

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The Bad Guy by Celia Aaron

Sebastian Lindstrom is a billionaire CEO with a diagnosis of psychopathy, but his questionable past doesn’t stop him from wanting something as soon as he sets eyes on it. When he meets Camille Briarlane at a business party, he decides she’s worth kidnapping and taking back to his castle-esque mansion. 

It’s an epic tale of dark romance that readers of villains, anti-heroes, and morally grey characters won’t want to miss. The Bad Guy offers a suspenseful journey of sin that will keep you turning the pages.

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

After her father’s ill-fated rebellion and subsequent execution, Mia Corvere miraculously escapes death and is thrown into a life of hiding. But her unique ability to speak with the shadows and her thirst for revenge leads her on a dark journey she never expected—becoming an assassin’s apprentice with the notorious Red Church. 

In the gripping dark epic fantasy of Nevernight, readers are taken on a dangerous and morally ambiguous journey through a world of assassins and other shady characters.

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Kill Switch by Penelope Douglas

Kill Switch, the third book in Penelope Douglas’s dark series, will have readers rooting for a seemingly unredeemable villain and a fierce heroine who faces him head-on. Damon Torrance, freshly out of jail, is on a quest for revenge against Winter Ashby. 

Full of suspense, heat, and plot-twists, this book is one of Douglas’s darkest and most captivating romance stories. Get ready to enter a twisted world where right and wrong come into question and tempers flare.

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Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo

Long before he created the fold and became the Darkling, Eryk was a young boy with immense powers. 

This is his origin story.

With beautiful illustrations from the talented Dani Pendergast and Leigh Bardugo’s signature writing style, Demon in the Wood is a captivating graphic novel perfect for readers obsessed with the Grishaverse and the Darkling.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

For readers who crave stories with morally ambiguous characters and thrilling, absorbing narratives, The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a must-read. Follow a group of elite students as they unravel a hidden mystery, hungering for something more meaningful than their studies—something that transcends the ordinary.

This electrifying story is rich with lyrical prose, complex characters and a sophisticated plot. If you’re looking for a dark and captivating read, add The Secret History to your bookshelf today.

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A Shadow in the Ember by Jennifer L. Armentrout

In the prequel to From Blood and Ash, Seraphena Mierel takes center stage. Born to be the consort to the Primal of Death, Sera has always known that one day she would have to leave the life she knows behind to fulfill her destiny: Assassinating the Primal of Death.  

A Shadow in the Ember is a beautifully complex high fantasy romance rife with emotion, tension, action, and intricate world-building. 

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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette Ferrar can kill with a single touch. For 264 days, she has been imprisoned for a crime she never wanted to commit. But an unexpected twist of fate changes everything when the Reestablishment, the same organization responsible for her detainment, seeks to weaponize her. Held by Warner, the Reestablishment’s poster boy and son of her enemy, Juliette has to gain control of her powers before she turns into a puppet of the Reestablishment. 

In Shatter Me, everything is at stake. Deadly powers, dangerous enemies and unlikely allies create an addictive read full of romance and excitement. With the reluctant good girl Juliette and the notorious bad guy Warner, readers who like morally grey characters and anti-heroes will find themselves in an edge-of-your-seat story that delves into the grey area between good and evil.

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The Risk by S.T. Abby

Amidst a series of grisly murders, FBI golden boy Logan Bennet becomes entangled in a battle of wits with an elusive serial killer. Between the rising body count and gruesome nature of the kills, Logan has no time for relationships. Enter his complete opposite, Lana Myers.

After a tragic encounter left Lana on the brink of death, her perspective shifted and she resolved to take justice into her own hands. She won’t let anyone, including Logan, get in her way. 

S.T. Abby’s The Risk combines a thrilling murder case and forbidden romance, captivating readers and leaving them wanting more of this wicked dark romance. Readers who love heroines with a skewed moral compass will love Lana Myers.

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