Alex Bell Asks “Who’s Your Favourite Anti-Hero?”

Alex BellToday we welcome author Alex Bell whose book Lex Trent Versus the Gods has just been released in paperback in the U.S. Amanda enjoyed Lex Trent and  I loved Alex Bell’s novel Jasmyn, so we’re pleased to introduce you to Alex who wants to talk about anti-heroes. 

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThere’s no denying that strong, noble, handsome heroes can be enjoyable to read about but, personally, I have always had an immense soft spot for the anti-hero – whether he (or she) is a conman cheating people out of their wealth, or a terrible coward sprinting away from a fight, or simply a good-for-nothing crook out to swindle everyone they meet.

I think it’s the imperfections and flaws of these characters that appeal to me. They do not pretend to be brave or heroic or terribly moral – they do not generally achieve incredible feats or perform selfless acts of bravery.

Instead they get it wrong and they make enemies and create disturbances everywhere they go. They get on the wrong side of the law, drink too much, create scandals and offend pretty women.

But there is something about the anti-hero – some redeeming quality – that sets them apart from the villains and the bad guys of the world.

Beneath all the lying and cheating, the shady deeds and suspicious motives, there is no black heart – instead there is a glimmer of decency – a line they will not cross. And that is what makes them a curious mix of both hero and villain. Although they may talk and act like a villain at times, there is some part of them that perhaps wants to be good or tries to do better.

For me, the dastardly Flashman would have to be my all-time favourite anti-hero. His highly developed sense of selfish self-preservation and his astonishing cowardice may see him running away from battle at the earliest opportunity, but they also see him live to face another day – unlike his more heroic counterparts who die bravely on the battlefield.

So how about you? Who’s your favourite anti-hero and why?

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. I hate this question. I *know* I’ve read anti-hero books, but can never think of any when it comes up because in my head, if they are redeemed by actions…they don’t get noted as “anti-heroes!”

  2. I adore Cugel the Clever from Jack Vance’s DYING EARTH books. Cugel has NO redeeming qualities, but he knows this. He doesn’t even try. That, combined with Jack Vance’s wild imagination and hilariously pompous prose, makes Cugel a great anti-hero.

  3. The one who’s on my mind this morning, and I hope this isn’t still a spoiler after all these years, is Severus Snape. Spectacularly unpleasant to be around, loyalties unclear till the very end of the saga…and yet.

    • Does he count as an anti-hero if we think he’s a villain until the end?…. I don’t know…. maybe we need a new word for that.

  4. Mal from Firefly always a big favorite. Thomas Covenant. Half the characters in Erikson’s Malazan series or Cook’s Black Company. Wolverine. Kovacs.

  5. sandyg265 /

    The closest to an anti-hero that I can think of is Thomas from Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series.

  6. Raistlin Majere…for all those Dragonlance lovers.

  7. Does Inspector Cleuseau count? He’s a complete idiot who couldn’t solve a case to save his own life but always ends up bumbling into the solution by accident. That is as close as I’ll come to liking an antihero.

    Otherwise I can’t think of any because if they (like Snape is mentioned above) redeem themselves in the end, aren’t they actually heroes? Otherwise they’re just selfish jerks ;-)

    But I do like many of those characters from the Malazan series mentioned above – I consider them heroes, they do their job to the best of their ability and if they look out for themselves while doing it? Nothing wrong with that.

  8. Steerpike in the Gormenghast books. You never know whether you’re supposed to be for him or against him, even though he does such awful things.

  9. Kevin B /

    Monza Murcatto from Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold. A lot of Abercrombie’s characters actually, but Monza’s my favourite.

    Dexter Morgan from the TV series Dexter.

  10. Karl Edward Wagner’s mythical warrior Kane, but also Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever. A case could also be made for James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen. Like Kat noted above regarding Cugel, these characters are really low on the “redeeming qualities” chart. Wonder why we like them so much? I’m also a fan of Flashman in the historical fiction series.

    • Oh, yes, I love Jurgen, too. BTW, Steven, “Neil Gaiman Presents” has just produced Jurgen on audio. I saw it at Audible.

  11. Susan C /

    Gerald Tarrant from C. S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy.

  12. Flashman is a great example! They’re aren’t quite conventional anti-heroes, but for me it’s a tossup between Stark in the Sandman Slim series, and Takeshi Kovacs in the Richard K Morgan books.

  13. Anne Hudson /

    The Stainless Steel Rat in the books by Harry Harrison was my first anti-hero – but I go with the Joe Abercrombie suggestions too

  14. Susan C /

    Well I picked Tarrant because anyone who writes a novel where it begins with the ‘hero’ slaughtering his family, and captures the reader enough that if she doesn’t exactly condone what he did, she sympathizes to some extent, is the mark of a true anti-hero. You may hate what he repesents but it facinates you.

  15. Elizabeth H, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

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