The Ten Best Villainous Characters in Literature

It’s back to a Top Ten Tuesday post after a bit of a lull in writing book reviews (yes, I’ve been busy). For those of you who don’t yet know, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is on villains — possibly my favourite topic yet!

For me, the villain is one of the things that make or break the book. Even more so than the heroes sometimes (take for example Loki vs Thor). I love charming villains who are morally grey, or those who have a sympathetic backstory. I’ve extended this topic a bit to include anti-heroes (and other villainous characters), because singularly bad villains aren’t really my cup of tea.

So, without further ado, I give you the ten best villainous characters from the books I’ve read:

1. Count Olaf (from A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Count Olaf is one of those villains on this list who are undoubtedly villainous. It’s hard to like Olaf, even after he (slightly) redeems himself in The End, but like everything else in A Series of Unfortunate Events, he’s somewhat morally grey… leaning towards the dark grey side. It’s hinted that he turned villainous for a reason (to avoid giving spoilers here I won’t say what, but read The Penultimate Peril), which makes what he does more understandable. 

“Of course I’m trying to trick you!” Olaf cried. “That’s the way of the world, Baudelaires. Everybody runs around with their secrets and their schemes, trying to outwit everyone else. Ishmael outwitted me, and put me in this cage. But I know how to outwit him and all his islander friends. If you let me out, I can be king of Olaf-land, and you three can be my new henchfolk.”

“We don’t want to be your henchfolk,” Klaus said. “We just want to be safe.”

“Nowhere in the world is safe,” Count Olaf said.

Lemony Snicket, The End

2. Justin Alastair (from These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub)

I never really bought into the whole heroine-changed-villain romance trope in These Old Shades. Its one saving grace was in the form of Justin Alastair. His cutting wit, self-assurance, and the fact that he was always way ahead of everyone else were the only things that kept me turning the pages. But Alastair makes no secret of the fact that he’s no good person. He’s debauched, manipulative and vengeful. 

“Child, you do not know me. You have created a mythical being in my likeness whom you have set up as a god. It is not I. Many times, infant, I have told you that I am no hero, but I think you have not believed me…My reputation is damaged beyond repair, child. I come from vicious stock, and I have brought no honour to the name I bear. Do you know what men call me? I earned that nickname, child; I have even been proud of it. To no women have I been faithful; behind me lies scandal upon sordid scandal…You have seen perhaps the best of me; you have not seen the worst.”

Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades

3. The Marquis of Vidal (from Devil’s Cub)

Like father, like son. Vidal doesn’t quite have his father’s wit, but his sarcasm and snarky remarks are still fun to read. Though his morals are “considerably better” than Justin’s, he’s still somewhat villainous, since he doesn’t hesitate to “exterminate (his) fellows”.

Mr Fox abandoned his affectations for the moment. “Kill him, Dominic?”

“Of course,” said my lord.

Mr Fox grinned. “What have you done with the corpse, my boy?” 

“Done with it?” said his lordship with a touch of impatience. “Nothing. What should I do with such a corpse?”

Mr Fox rubbed his chin. “Devil take me if I know,” he said after some thought. “But you can’t just leave a corpse on the road, Dominic. People might see it back on the way to town. Ladies might not like it.”

His lordship had raised a pinch of snuff to one classic nostril, but he paused before he sniffed. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he admitted. A gleam, possibly of amusement, stole into his eyes. He glanced at the lackey who still held his damaged greatcoat. “There is a corpse somewhere on the way to town. Mr Fox does not wish it there. Remove it!” 

Georgette Heyer, Devil’s Cub

4. Lord Jarvis (from the Sebastian St Cyr series)

Jarvis is sinister and powerful. I like that he’s not afraid to use his power when it comes to making his enemies disappear, but that he also shows a softer side when it comes to his daughter Hero. 

5. Prince Cardan (from The Cruel Prince)

He starts off as the antagonist of the book, but his heart isn’t that black, much as Jude, the main protagonist, would like to think. I love how charming he can be when he wants to, and how he finds loopholes around the fact that he can’t tell an outright lie. What can I say? I’ve a thing for intelligent villains. 

6. Madoc (from The Cruel Prince)

Holly Black does a wonderful job at writing villains. Madoc is a delightfully complex character. He doesn’t hesitate to kill his ex-lover for being unfaithful, but raises her children like his own, and feels some semblance of love for them. 

7. Julian St Audley (from Regency Buck)

Okay… so it isn’t entirely accurate to describe St Audley as villainous, because he isn’t at all…or is he? I love how Heyer keeps us guessing who the main antagonist is right up till the end of the story. I won’t spoil the story by discussing about St Audley, but if you’re looking for a historical+mystery+some romance, I would highly recommend Regency Buck.

“As to that, Mr Taverner, you will do as seems best to you,” said the Earl. “But you will bear in mind, I trust, that when I find an obstacle in my way I am apt to remove it.” 

Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

8. Snape (from the Harry Potter series)

The classic anti-hero. Deserves a mention because it’s the Harry Potter series and it’s Snape. 

9. Bonnie Brock (from the Lady Darby series)

He’s a notorious criminal who doesn’t hesitate to kill, but he’s also charming. Enough so to put him on this list. 

10. Gellert Grindelwald (from the Harry Potter universe)

Notice how Voldemort isn’t on this list but Grindelwald is? I love the Harry Potter series for many things, but its main villain isn’t one of them. Personally, I find Voldemort a bit tiring. All that hunting down of a boy just based on a prophecy, which makes for such flimsy evidence? 

But enough about Voldemort, because this is about Grindelwald. A character who barely appears in the Harry Potter series, save for the last book, and even so he only gets a mention in Harry Potter’s vision, no less. I especially liked how he redeemed himself at the end by refusing to tell Voldemort where the Elder Wand was—which immediately places him higher than Voldemort in my esteem. That said, there really isn’t much about him to discuss now, seeing as how he’s been such a minor character. I’m excited to see how Rowling will develop Grindelwald’s rise and fall in the newest Fantastic Beasts series!

Have you read any of these books before? Who are your favourite villains in literature? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below! 

P.S. I may take some time to reply to your comments. Please see this note for more information. 


  1. Catherine says:

    Ah, I did my list on Harry Potter villains and I totally forgot Grindelwald! He’s a good one though. All that stuff with Ariana is so dark and the dynamic with him and Dumbledore is so interesting. And I’ll add Regency buck to my ‘Georgette Heyers to try’ pile – although I’m under orders from my sister to read ‘The Talisman Ring’ next!

    My TTT:

    1. Cindy Wu says:

      Ah, I need to read The Talisman Ring too! It’s one of those books by Heyer which don’t get talked about very often, and in my opinion those are sometimes better than others that get a lot of hype (*cough cough* Friday’s Child).

  2. Nicoline says:

    I also love the Hary Potter series and even though Voldemort didn’t made your list he made mine. 😉 Not based on his complexity, because I don’t think he is that complex a character, as for example Snape, but because of his pure evil.
    I am also excited to see how Grindelwald story will elaborate in Fantastic Beasts 2!

    My TTT:

    1. Cindy Wu says:

      I guess there is some kind of sympathetic backstory to how Voldemort became evil but it’s not very convincing to me 😂 If I did make a list of the most evil villains he might go on there though! As well as Umbridge, whom I see has featured in your list as well 😈

    1. Cindy Wu says:

      Thanks Jo! 🙂

  3. I’m excited to learn more about Grindelwald, too. He was one of the most interesting side characters in that series.

    1. Cindy Wu says:

      Along with Newt and Nicholas Flamel;)

  4. Ooh great list! Definitely found some new books to check out 😀

    1. Cindy Wu says:

      Thanks Rivalie! Hope you enjoy them as much as I do 🙂

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