Is there anything more satisfying than an evil character finally getting their comeuppance at the end of a book? It’s great when the good guys win, of course, but when the bad guy loses it can sometimes be that extra bit more enjoyable. Here are a few books from my collection containing the characters I really love to hate:
Hannah Baxter from Fire Colour One, by Jenny Valentine (2015)
Fire Colour One was one of my favourite books of the year, and a major reason it’s so great is how truly awful the protagonist’s mother is. Iris, the sixteen-year-old heroine, is witty, sharp and resilient despite having a mother who is so unmotherly, that Iris will only call her by her first name, Hannah.
‘‘She didn’t answer him directly. It’s one of the few things about Hannah you can always count on – her lack of generosity, her guaranteed refusal to give a person what they want.’’
Hannah is shrewd and conniving, self-obsessed, vain and shallow. A failed actress, her only real love is money, and she will stoop to the lowest of the low to get her hands on it. Every page I turned I hoped that she would get her just deserts. I’m pleased to say that Jenny Valentine did not disappoint; the ending is marvellous.
Gwendolen Chant from Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (1977)
Cat Chant, the protagonist of this Diana Wynne Jones masterpiece looks up to his older sister Gwendolen more than anyone; he admires her for being a witch, for having magic when he does not. Gwendolen however, abuses his love. She’s sees it only as a way to manipulate him for her own ends. She has got be up there as one of the worst siblings ever, and on top of that she’s just so irritating! Arrogant, selfish, self-important, cruel, violent… She doesn’t get her dues until the very end, which is why the book makes for such an addictive read.
Mrs Coulter from Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (1995)
Graceful, intelligent Mrs Coulter and her golden monkey daemon are every child’s nightmare. I know I was terrified of her when I read this as a kid. Mrs Coulter always seemed like she had evil running in her veins, simmering under her skin. It shows itself in sharp-lipped threats, given so fast you have to read back over them to realise how terrifying they actually are.
''I don’t know your name,’ said Mrs Coulter very quietly, ‘but I shall find it out within five minutes, and then you will never work as a journalist again…I might add that whoever brought you here will also suffer.''
A truly cold villain, the reader must journey through two further books to finally see Mrs Coulter’s hopes and dreams fail. And it is spectacular.
Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
Ebenezer Scrooge, the heartless money-lender of Dickens’ story isn’t strictly a ‘love to hate’ character; the reader generally enjoys his redemption at the end of the story, and not his punishment. Scrooge is, however, one of the most easy to hate bad guys ever written. He hates Christmas, is cruel to his employees and has no sympathy for those less fortunate than him. Yet, we do feel sympathy for him – from his lonely childhood to his disastrous romance. He is maybe the only character I’ve mentioned whom we hate to love, in spite of ourselves.
Other Mother from Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (2002)
The very concept of this character is terrifying, which is maybe one of the reasons why she’s so great to read. Coraline Jones moves into a flat in an old, converted house and ventures through a mysterious door into an alternate version of her own flat, complete with alternate parents. ‘Other Mother’ is subtly different in appearance to Coraline’s real mum; just enough to be unnerving. Oh, and she has BUTTONS FOR EYES. Soon enough Other Mother’s trying to convince Coraline to sew buttons over her own eyes, and has kidnapped Coraline’s real parents. Coraline’s bravery and ingenuity eventually brings about Other Mother’s downfall and it certainly had me cheering at the end.