8 Thrilling Fantasy Books With Villain Protagonists to Read

Fantasy books with villain protagonists are rare, but this twist in perspective often makes for a (morbidly) intriguing tale.

Are these stories fascinating because villains tend to be more proactive, driving the plot instead of reacting to it? Is it because they offer the opportunity to explore themes of goodness, cruelty and corruption? Or perhaps its simply their darker tone and atmosphere?

Whatever the case may be, this list could have your next favorite story.

Here are eight thrilling fantasy books with villain protagonists:

I’ve included the ratings and a summary of reader comments, both positive and negative. For a quick view, here’s a chart comparing them as well.

Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov


An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner.

By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom. 

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.

Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala.

Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).

Reminiscent of Moorcock’s Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov.

The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.95

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

First on our list of fantasy books with villain protagonists is Shadow Prowler. Fans went into this story expecting its heavy use of classic fantasy tropes. As such, they weren’t bothered by it and instead delighted in the book’s spin on common characters, origins and setups.

Readers also praised the fun and often hilarious interactions between the characters. Circumstances force fantasy groups typically at each other’s throats to work together, whether that be dwarfs and goblins or elves and orcs. Their clashes kept readers grinning.

Aside from that, readers mentioned that a combination of Shadow Prowlers lightning-fast pace and its smooth-talking, witty main character immediately absorbed them into the story.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t like Shadow Prowler, what did they say? Typically, these were readers who couldn’t buy into the premise line. They either described the story as cliche overall or didn’t think the book added enough twists to specific tropes.

Other readers said that they thought that the main character, Shadow Harold, initially entertained them with his sarcasm. However, eventually the humor began to come across as predictable.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch


An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist.

As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler.

But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.30

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Readers who rated The Lies of Locke Lamora highly praised its amazing dark humor. They also delighted in reading about each scheme and the gang’s fun camaraderie.

Others mentioned that they liked that the author didn’t shy away from making the world-building violent or dark; it gave a sense of realism and depth.

Negative Comments

Readers who didn’t enjoybook often thought it lingered too long on descriptions. To them, these explanations felt like digressions rather than world-building.

The story is also told from both the present and the past. Readers either loved this or hated it: some said it increased the tension immensely, but critics said it interrupted the story’s fast-pace.

I, Strahd: Memoirs of a Vampire by P.N. Elrod


Book cover of "I, Strahd"

Some of the parchment pages were the color of cream, thick and substantial, made to last many, many lifetimes. Other pages were thin and desiccated, positively yellow from age, and crackled alarmingly as Van Richten turned them over.

There were no ornate illuminations, no fussy borders, only lines of plain text in hard black ink.

The flowing handwriting was a bit difficult to follow at first; the writer’s style of calligraphy had not been in common use for 300 years.

No table of contents, but from the dates it looked to be some kind of history. He turned to the first page and read:

I, Strahd, Lord of Barovia, well aware certain events of my reign have been desperately misunderstood by those who are better at garbling history than recording it, hereby set down an exact record of those events, that the truth may at last be known….

He caught his breath. By all the good gods, a personal journal?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.91

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments 

Another story on our list of fantasy books with villain protagonists is I, Strahd. Readers described this book as a riveting tale of an honorable and once-mortal war hero’s transformation into a ruthless vampire lord.

While the novel is set within the larger Ravenloft book series, readers mentioned that I, Strahd is a standalone story. Fortunately, that means it’s unnecessary to be familiar with the other books before diving into this one!

Fans who enjoyed I, Strahd often remarked that the story’s characterization and pacing were excellent. The first half of the story especially riveted them.

They also praised how realistic and three-dimensional the characters were. These readers found themselves invested in Straud’s story and intrigued throughout his descent into darkness.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy the novel, they often said that they found Strahd’s love for Tatyana unconvincing.

Some of them said that his feelings seemed to sprout too suddenly, while others said that Tatyana’s portrayal dissatisfied them. The book describes Tatyana as physically beautiful, but these readers wanted to see what aspect of her character made him fall in love with her.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer


Secret Identities. 

Extraordinary Powers. 

She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned.

As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova.

But Nova’s allegiance is to the villains who have the power to end them both.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.16

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with villain protagonists is Renegades. What did readers who love this book say?

In general, fans praised the book for its likable and enjoyable characters. This included the main characters, Nova and Adrian, but also the rest of the cast. In particular, Nova, with her intelligence and ruthlessness, intrigued to them. On the other hand, Adrian won their admiration and all-around affection.

Readers also mentioned how fascinated they were by Renegades’ world. The sheer variety of superpowers captured their imaginations and entertained them immensely. All of these powers, fans were happy to report, came across as well-developed and organic.

Negative Comments

So what did critics of Renegades say? In general, these readers thought that the story had too many standard superhero and Young Adult Fantasy tropes. Because of this overfamiliarity, they couldn’t immerse themselves in the characters, the storyline or be impressed by the plot twists.

Critics also mentioned that they found it difficult to connect with the characters, with several describing them as bland. As such, they didn’t feel invested in what happened to them as the story progressed.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu


I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. 

A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was.

Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars — they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. 

As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. 

This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.90

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

What did readers who rated The Young Elites highly say? Mostly, fans remarked that they enjoyed how Adelina, the protagonist, impressed them. She may battle a sense of worthlessness, but she’s ultimately a determined, ambitious and formidable character they wanted to root for.

Others mentioned that they liked the fascinating cast and appreciated that the romantic sub-plot was kept light.

Negative Comments

So what did critics of The Young Elites say? In general, these readers said that they found it difficult to connect to Adelina. They mentioned that the ‘dark’ aspect of her character came across to them as meanness rather than moral weaknesses or complexity. As such, it was hard for them to get invested in her story.

Other said that while they found the story’s premise interesting, they found it difficult to get emotionally invested in it.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo


Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price — and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker.

Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction — if they don’t kill each other first.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.46

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list is Six of Crows. Fans praised the story’s a unique character cast, featuring people from all different walks of life. They often said that it added uniqueness to all of the characters, while also introducing themes of class and race.

On the other hand, other readers remarked that they liked how action-packed and full of witty banter the story was.

Negative Comments 

Readers who didn’t rate Six of Crows highly commented that with so many lead characters, it was hard for them to connect with more than one or two.

It also sounded like they thought there were too many elements in the story that made it difficult for them to suspend their disbelief. For instance, these readers often mentioned that the high fear, praise and success Kaz has, even for a criminal prodigy, seemed unfounded.

Knight of the Black Rose by James Lowder


n the fabled world of Krynn, Lord Soth finally learns that there is a price to pay for his long history of evil deeds, a price even an undead warrior might find horrifying.

Dark powers transport Soth to Barovia, and there the death knight must face the dread minions of Count Strahn Von Zarovich, the vampire lord of the nightmare land.

But with only a captive Vistani woman and an untrustworthy ghost for allies, Lord Soth soon discovers that he may have to join forces with the powerful vampire if he is ever to escape the realm of terror.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.85

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with villain protagonists is Knight of the Black Rose. This darkly mesmerizing fantasy novel is set in Ravenloft, a realm suffused with Gothic horror. Readers reported that while the story is definitely fantasy and not horror, it nevertheless had a haunting atmosphere they appreciated.

In addition, fans were captivated by the story of two powerful villains clashing, both in traditional combat as well as through political intrigue. Seeing this, they often remarked, fascinated and delighted them.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy the Knight of the Black Rose, what did they say?

Overall, readers didn’t have one clear, common complaint. Critics familiar with the characters from other books occasionally said that the two villains didn’t come across as threatening as they might in other stories.

On the other hand, some mentioned that while the book had its action-packed moments, it also had noticeable slow ones.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks


For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted.

As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.15

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments 

If readers enjoyed The Way of Shadows, they often praised the story’s fast-pace and gritty and brutal setting. Yet at the same time, it didn’t glamorize the violence and cruelty of Azoth’s world.

Fans also remarked that Weeks took character types familiar to them and gave the characters nuance through their personal and moral struggles.

Negative Comments

Readers who didn’t rate The Way of Shadows highly commented that they thought Weeks’ use of familiar character types made the characters too similar to other fantasy stories.

On the other hand, others mentioned that they thought that Weeks’ plain writing style made it difficult to get drawn into the story.

Thrilling Fantasy Books With Villain Protagonists to Read

How Do These Fantasy Novels Compare?

8 Thrilling Fantasy Books with Villain Protagonists

N.S. Mirage

I'm Natalie, an avid fantasy reader here to help readers find exciting, otherworldly books.

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