Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Unlikely Heroes - The Antihero

Today and tomorrow I'm going to try and persuade you to break away from Tall, Dark and Handsome - just once, give it a go. Now I only have time to cover two types of hero, so I'm plumping for the antihero and the short(er) hero. Today is the turn of the antihero.

So before I get lots of comments about - 'I love bad boys' - :), I'm going to clarify. I love bad boys myself, my favourite probably being the reformed rake (lol) but here I'm talking about a true antihero. A character who at the end of the book hasn't had a miraculous change of heart and become nice to small children and fluffy kittens. These are heroes who (usually) because of the environment in which they were raised or because of the society in which they live, have had to develop a streak of ruthlessness that goes bone deep.

Whilst I was thinking about this post I was reminded of a comment I read once in a review for Susan R. Matthews Prisoner of Conscience. I'm paraphrasing here because it was a while ago, but the comment just stuck in my head. Of the male protagonist, the reviewer wrote - "You can tell he's the hero because he doesn't sodomize his valet." The anti-hero is sometimes the best of the worst, and that comment kind of sums it up.

I think anti-heroes are difficult characters to pull off because the author has to make us believe in their complexity. We have to believe that while they love their hero/heroine, they are also capable of acts of great cruelty. We (as readers) need to be able to understand their reasons for behaving as they do, we have to be able to empathise with them on some level. They are not the villain - there's usually something greater: a bigger evil, a dystopian society, an ingrained way of coping with an uncopable situation - but they are far from being the fair prince riding in on his white charger to save the day. Equally important we have to be able to believe that their hero/heroine loves them and we need to be able to understand how that is possible.

So, some examples. :)

Daemon Sadi of the Black Jewel books by Anne Bishop. Probably the most heroic of my anti-hero picks. But there's a reason why his nickname is 'The Sadist'. He's lived in a dystopian society for thousands of years, waiting for the Queen who will save them all. You never doubt that he loves Jaenelle but he never loses his ruthless edge. He's perhaps the easiest anti-hero to like, because you never doubt that the people he punishes probably deserved it.

Unlike the next hero.

Stefanos of the Sundered Quadrology by Michelle Sagara West. The First of the Dark Sundered, Stefanos is not human. And is perhaps the only 'hero' I know of who tortured the heroine to find out how she 'works'. He does some reprehensible things but we understand why he does them. To try and comprehend him as if he were a human being, would be wrong, it would be like trying to understand the motivations of a scorpion. However, Michelle Sagara West writes him so well that we understand why he does the things he does, that even as he tries to cage the only happiness he's known, that in fact he's destroying it. (It's a little cheat to include Stefanos here, because he is 'redeemed' at the very end, but for four books he is, I think, the darkest antihero I've read).

And finally, I don't think my posting on DIK would be complete if I didn't mention Toreth of the Administration Series by Manna Francis. You can't expect me to go three days and not mention it. Sociopath, interrogator, torturer for the State, yet one of the most interesting and complex characters I've ever read. Incapable of saying 'I love you'. However, as you read through the books, personally I don't doubt that he cares more for Keir Warrick than he has for any other person. And that if anybody hurt Warrick, Toreth would have absolutely no hesitation in ripping their limbs off.

So any anti-heroes to recommend? Or are you anti anti-hero?

11 comments:

Sullivan McPig said...

I so agree with you on Deamon Sadi, he's one of my favourite (anti) heroes.
Havent't heard of the other two, but will check them out.
An anti-hero I really liked is Cain from Daniel Keys Moran's 'The Ring'

Tracy said...

I don't go in for anti-heroes on a general basis but I love Daemon like chocolate. That man is just so wonderful - even in his cruelty. I think it's because the people he is cruel to desperately deserve it.

Chris said...

Definitely Adam from Immortality Is the Suck by AM Riley. Haven't read the sequel, No Rest for the Wicked Yet, but apparently he might have turned a little less anti in that book.

Jenre said...

I love a good anti-hero and, like Chris, one of my favourite's is Adam from Immortality is the Suck. I also like a certain LA cop from the Adrien English books by Josh Lanyon, but that's such a hot topic I shall refrain from mentioning it for fear that the Aussie red head will attack me with all guns blazing.

I also like it when a hero is a villain in a previous book but becomes the hero in another book. Like Sebastian who is the bad guy in It Happened One Autumn by Lias Kleypas but is beautifully redeemed in Devil in Winter *sigh*.

Renee said...

Oh, this post reminds me I want to get back to the Administration series! I loved getting to know Toreth and how his mind works. Totally compelling character.

2 anti-heroes that come immediately to mind are Jericho Barrons from KMM's Fever series and Japhrimel from Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine series.

Japh has served the Devil as his right hand for an eternity and is the being who makes the other demons afraid. When Dante goes missing, he goes on a rampage that is epic in proportions looking for her. But, his love for her is absolute. Great stuff!

Jenre brings up a great point about anti-heroes: that sometimes redemption is so fascinating to read about. Character growth is so important when I read, and an anti-hero definitely has room to change. And, I LOVE Sebastian's story!

Jessica said...

Deamon Sadi is the all time (anti) hero in my book, his Dad ain't half bad either. I love Anne Bishop's books.

I found a few titles I'd never heard of but sound interesting...thanks for the heads up people.

LesleyW said...

Sullivan - I thought Daemon would be a popular choice, and thanks for the rec.

Tracy - I think you're right. I was trying to understand why Daemon didn't feel as anti-heroic as my other two picks even though he does things which are just as terrible. And I think because his 'victims' feel like they deserve it we don't consider him as anti-heroic.

LesleyW said...

Chris - I have got to read IitS. I see recommendations for it everywhere and if Adam is a good anti-hero you're definitely getting it onto my wishlist.

Jenre - Shhhhhh. Don't say anything but I like the cop too. :)

Renee - Yes!!! :cracks whip: you have to get back to the Administration Series. :)

LesleyW said...

Jessica - Daemon is definitely a popular choice. And you're right about Saetan. :)

Celia Fernandez said...

Would an anti-hero also be known as a dirty hero? Daemon is so right for that label! GAH! I love a good anti-hero as much as anyone, somehow they seem to have a lot more depth to them than your run-of-the-mill prince charming... however, this post has just alerted me that I don't really KNOW any anti-heroes!

LesleyW said...

Celia - these are anti-heroes at the extreme end of the spectrum. And it looks like Daemon was definitely a favourite. :)

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