Fantasy & Beyond

A Book Forum for Speculative Fiction

Discuss SFF books and authors here.
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By ScarletBea
I don't mean when they're badly written or you don't see the point of them to the plot. I'm talking about essential/main characters who make your skin crawl, especially when it's more of a "psychological" hate.

I'm currently reading one, Gerben in The dagger and the coin series.
He's very similar to an incel in all their bad traits: everything is somebody else's fault, holding life-long grudges on anyone who has hurt him in the past (constant revenge), if a woman is nice to him, he's immediately in love and becomes obsessed, super-easily led by shadier characters and thinking that's all about him (instead of furthering the others' interests).
The first 2 books saw him grow further into the above description, and now in book 3 some of his scenes are really affecting me, I just want to jump over them, almost.

Have you ever encountered such characters? How do you handle them?
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By Magnus
It depends entirely on how they are written. Good old Glokta (from Joe Abercrombie's The First Law books) is a prime example of a despicable character who I really enjoy reading. I think it's because I understand why he is the way he is, even if that doesn't mean that I condone his actions. And he has 'soft' spots that redeem him somewhat, if never fully.

But if a character is just toxic and there's no personal development, no redeeming traits, no serious consequences for their actions, and no real explanation as to why they are the way they are—then yes, I think I would find it tough to read as well.

Human beings are flawed, and good writers know how to use that to make us suffer, holding up the mirror to the dissonance that is the human condition, teaching or reminding us that for all our belief in our own morality, we sometimes act against even our strongly held beliefs. I think to write good characters, one needs to recognise that evil acts are committed for human reasons. If we can see the motivations and reasons for a character's actions, we can accept them, even if we still despise them for it. Because we understand, at least in part, how they ended up that way. And how we might have too, under different circumstances.
By Peat
I DNF books that give a lot of PoV status to characters like that. That or just start skipping their PoVs.

Funnily enough, it wasn't Geder that made me DNF the Dagger and the Coin, it was Dawson and his repeated "well yes but are peasants relaly human" (well, twice). That said, when I was dithering on the fence and reading spoilers and saw that Geder never grew out of being an abused, abusive human, it definitely helped tilt my hand.

I also DNF the Traitor Son Cycle thanks to a character called the Captal de Vrailly, who is Dawson on steroids. Admittedly, there were a lot of other weaknesses.

I love Glotka, and in fact would describe him as the First Law's main redeeming quality. He's terrible, but he's funny, admirable and interesting. But first book Jezal is 100% in this bucket.

Sometimes I feel like authors are aiming for these sorts of characters to be characters that readers love to hate. But I just hate them. I don't want to read on longing for their comeuppance, I want to see a passage that reads like that:

'just then a leg in strange blue cloth appeared out of nowhere, as if from some place of the imagination, and tripped up the offending character just as he approached an endlessly long flight of stairs. Then the leg and stairs disappeared alike.
"Sorry folks, that was a mistake, you won't be seeing them again," said a voice into the stillness that followed.'
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By ScarletBea
I'm not sure how to explain properly... I never had issues with Glotka or other evil people, it's more about the little things that could happen in real life.
The things we see and hear about, for example after random shootings...

And Peat, about TDatC, after book 1
Geder becomes worse and worse, he's actually not so bad in the first one, and Dawson is actually killed halfway through book 2, so his racist views go away
and the POV moves to Clara, who's one of my favourite characters throughout the 5 books.
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By cupiscent
I was actually pitching Dagger & Coin to a friend (who remains irate that her husband got her to read ASoIaF under the lie that it was finished) as explicitly showcasing the link between incels and fascists (among other selling points). I think Geder is supposed to make your skin crawl, but also I think Abraham does well in making him personally pitiable, but his actions - and what he allows and enables to happen - unforgiveable. But it does make his POV difficult, and I wonder if I would also struggle with it in re-read. (I keep trying to get my husband to read these books so I can sort of vicariously re-read without actually doing it myself... :beaming: )

I'm also turning this over in my mind in comparison to what Peat and I were discussing regarding Shelley Parker-Chan's He Who Drowned The World, which also has a lot of "hard" POVs, also interrogating the poor choices made as a result of human emotions and frailties. Though I feel a difference there is that the SPC characters really have suffered (and SPC does a great job of showing how the world has broken them into this shape) whereas Geder has just been teased (and DA does well at showing his lack of fortitude).
By Peat
I have to gently say that as someone whose life felt like a living hell for many years and who is still probably not entirely healed, I dislike the idea of 'just' teasing. If you, day after day, week after week, month after month, cut away at someone's self-worth and ability to trust, you are causing incredible mental health damage. It might seem a great deal less than starvation and poverty, or physical maiming, but I suspect that mentally, those are easier to deal with. They're concrete. You know what went wrong. You know you deserve sympathy. You know what right looks like, even if it mightn't be possible. You can be angry, for who would blame you? But if you're angry with your bullies, then goodness, you're wrong again, what's wrong with you...

Honestly, I suspect if I'd continued reading, I'd have probably been fine with him if Abraham had done right with that situation. And I know the situation changed. I just had nothing to look forward to for it to be worth seeing how it did change. There was nothing there for me worth putting up with Dawson for.

In fact, having read bits of three Abraham books, I think he's written a grand total of one protagonist I care about (and he looooves his multi-PoVs, so this is out of, what, 10?). Just don't care about the people he writes. He captures the nastiness of humanity incredibly well but rarely the good. Which is why there won't be a fourth.

For me the line between interesting villain and nopeing out I think lies on two things

1) I just really hate petty pointless bigotry (which is particularly common in class bigotry, which is there in all three of my examples). It's a big flashing red button for me pretty much anywhere. Funnily enough, I can weather major bigotry, the fear-induced madness, but the petty bigging themselves up by making others smaller stuff gets right under the skin (possibly because then it's just another form of bullying...)

... Actually, no, that's it. There's that trigger point, and that's pretty much it for all the times it's happened.
By Elfy
I very rarely feel a strong enough emotion to hate a character. I guess The Falconer from The Lies of Locke Lamora fit the bill, as did Cersei in A Song of Ice and Fire. One that does spring to mind is Count Aldo Belli in Cry Wolf. It takes talent to create a character that evokes that in the reader.
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By isos81
No one could surpass Mallick Rel of the Malazan Book of the Fallen for me.
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By cupiscent
Beg pardon if I seemed flippant, @Peat. "Teasing" is definitely one of those words that has been abused in the name of bullying - which is certainly what you describe. Though I do also think Abraham does a good job of showing how the behaviour Geder suffers through is also a form of violence, and begets further violence in turn. (Which still doesn't mean it's at all fun to read about!)
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