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T5W: Favourite ‘Unlikeable’ Protagonists

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s theme is unlikeable protagonists. I personally love a brilliant villain, but it can be difficult to have a good unlikeable protagonist. You have to take someone with serious flaws and make readers see some light in them. It’s difficult to do, and sometimes a ‘good’ unlikeable protagonist just becomes someone that you can’t stand, and the balance between flaws and strengths is lost. Here’s a list of examples where I think it’s been done right.

1. Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff

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I couldn’t just pick one of Naondel’s many narrators, but something that I think Turtschaninoff did really well was craft really complex characters. All of the women that narrate this novel are out to save their own skin, and largely remain so for most of the novel. They are selfish and ambitious out of need and form few friendships and bonds between them. However, you come to love them as characters because their lives and thoughts are so well presented and you see their distinct personalities coming together when they realise they should not be enemies any longer.

2. Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

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I chose the protagonist of the early books in the Throne of Glass series over that of the later books because Celaena was everything that I enjoy in an unlikeable protagonist. I loved how she toed the line between hero and villain. She was dangerous, a threat to everyone and not afraid to show it, proud of her strength and skill, scheming, and powerful, but at the same time we saw gentler sides to her. We saw her both as an assassin and as a friend, lover, and protector. While some people simply love Celaena, I actually often toe the line between love and hate in these books, especially in the later books. There are moments where I love her sassiness, her wit, and the double sides to her character, and there are other moments where I feel tired of it, and want her to just pick the a side, good or bad. I guess that’s what makes her such an intriguing protagonist.

3. Eva from We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

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Eva is far from a likeable character because of her crude honesty. She is completely open about not having wanted her first child Kevin, about her dislike for him as a child and uneasiness around him, about her resenting many of the choices that she allowed herself to be talked into by her husband. We learn that her son Kevin killed seven students and two adults in a massacre at his school, and we see Eva visiting him in prison and even preparing her house for his return, taking extra care to ensure he will be comfortable. Throughout the novel, I wasn’t ever quite sure about Eva, and I definitely felt uneasy reading this novel, but it was an unfamiliar feeling that I actually really enjoyed.

4. Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin

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I always get weird looks for saying that Cersei is one of my favourite characters in this series, but she is just the epitome of a great villain. What I love about Cersei, and about the characterisation in this series generally, is that you always see the characters’ motives for their actions. Cersei is undeniably selfish and cruel, but you also know that she does the things she does to protect her family. I also think she’s a fascinating character in how scheming she is and how she is one of the most dangerous characters in the series without being a warrior in the typical sense.

5. Pip – Great Expectations from Charles Dickens

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Reading this novel, I actually actively disliked Pip. I thought he was selfish and couldn’t see past his own desires, he was ungrateful to his uncle, and narrow-minded. I hated how he treated those who had helped him, and how quickly he seemed to forget all about him. However, it all fits into the story well, as it is about growing up and learning valuable lessons, which Pip definitely does. He learns that the things he had thought were wrong, and comes to realise the errors of his ways.

Do you like an unlikeable protagonist? How many flaws is too many flaws?

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you check out my review of Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi, the first book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, you’ll know how much I loved it. I had to read the second instalment in the series, and it was both more of what I wanted and something new and exciting. Maria’s writing is exquisite, and I love how she weaves her stories slowly and subtly, and the story in this book was so different to Maresi that it still felt new.

First of all, although this is the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel to Maresi and not a sequel. It tells the story of the first women who founded the Red Abbey, the women-only society on the island of Menos that Maresi is set in. The majority of the story takes place in the palace of Ohaddin and starts with Kabira. She visits the Sovereign’s palace and meets Iskan, the son of the Vizier who sweeps her off her feet. Iskan is intrigued and obsessed by the mysterious source of magical power in Kabira’s lands, the spirit of Anji, and tricks Kabira into marrying him for control over it. Over the years, we see Kabira as well as Iskan’s subsequent wives, concubines, and slaves, as they suffer mercilessly under his rule, until they finally decide to escape. There is a reason why the Red Abbey Chronicles are being hailed as ‘feminist fantasy’, and that is because these novels focus on women – their strengths, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.

The novel is told through many different perspectives and these various stories take us to many different locations in Maria’s world. Sometimes I am apprehensive when authors do multiple perspectives as it can often feel confusing and the characters can feel superficial, but Maria Turtschaninoff does not fall into this trap. I have absolutely loved the way that she writes since I first opened Maresi, particularly in that her novel’s form is that of written accounts by the characters, looking back on their experiences. This novel consists of the written account of the women once they have arrives on Menos, and it is easy to believe that these are real women remembering their lives. You really get a feel for them as human beings through this structure, and this way of telling the story means that the story builds up over time, just as the characters become clearer and more distinct to you as the novel goes on. I also love how this format means you get a really good idea of the characters’ personal journeys over time. For example, when the novel begins, Kabira is a teenager, and we see her age until she is an old woman, and we see her not only through her own eyes, but through those of the other women as well, so we get a really well fleshed out image of her.

I’m constantly amazed by how Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing seems so effortless. I’m sure that endless hours go into crafting her work to make it so perfect, but as a reader, I felt like every choice of word was perfect, and even though the words are simple, there were many passages that blew me away. She also expertly manages to craft a unique magical world whilst not making it feel overcomplicated or confusing using the different characters to teach us this. Instead of having a huge info-dump, we learn through each of the characters’ different skills. Kabira has grown up with Anji, Garai has grown up with a close affinity to the land, Orseola is a dreamweaver (one of my favourite stories), and Sulani is a warrior woman. They each bring their own knowledge, talents and skills to the story and to the team, so that by the end of the novel, we see women who don’t even all like each other that much form a strong community together.

I honestly feel like I could talk forever about how much I love Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. I enjoyed Naondel not only for the self-contained story within its pages but also because it adds another wonderful layer to the story that we see in Maresi. Learning about the origins of the Red Abbey and the way of life that Maresi lives was interesting and exciting. As I said with Maresi, I think a wide range of people could love this series. It has something for everyone, whether you are new to the fantasy genre or you have loved it for years as I have, whether you read adult or YA, whether you don’t read a lot at all. There is something in the Red Abbey Chronicles for everyone.