Shifty Characters

It’s time for some discussing and some list making (because have you met me? I always make lists). I’m participating in the 2017 edition of the fabulous Discussion Challenge, which is a fantastic place to find more bookish discussions. The participants always have something interesting to say!

Today, I thought I’d say a word or two about my love for shifty characters: thieves, assassins, pirates, and so on.

It’s weird that I enjoy reading about these people so much when in real life, my worst “crime” was getting fined for jaywalking in high school (seriously, I’ve never even gotten a parking ticket, I’m distressingly honest and law-abiding. Okay, so there might have been some underage drinking and pot smoking but I’m a responsible adult now. *cough*). I can’t even say that I know any criminals – at any rate, I would do my best to avoid real-life hustlers and con (wo)men, let alone assassins, because they prey on innocent people and kill and engage in really bad behavior.

So why is it that I am so drawn to any book that has a morally questionable protagonist? I’m not even talking about villains here. It’s the main characters with shifty lifestyles that I love. The redeemable bad guys.

Probably it’s because I hate characters who are too good and pure to be true. I mean, I consider myself to be a fairly honest, good person, but I still get jealous, petty, and downright nasty (only when I’m hungry, though, promise).

So let’s consider the loveable bad guys and get some recommendations! Note that some of them fall into multiple categories (I mean, as if stealing wasn’t enough. Let’s add murder to the mix, right?).

Have you read any of these? Did you like the shifty characters?

What do you think makes them so great?

And do you have any recommendations for me?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • I am not usually a big fan of assassin books, though exceptions can be made. Other than though, yeah, love the bad guys. I need to read Vicious and start catching up on my Shwab reading.

  • Yes, yes, definitely. From your list, The Book Thief and The Demon King come to mind (Kat!) but I also think of the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, Mind Games by Kiersten White, Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne, and Star Crossed by Elizabth C. Bunce. The “shifty” characters just seem to have more character!

  • It’s strange how much we all love shifty characters and even villains, even though in real life we all probably wouldn’t want to associate with criminals and definitely not murderers lol. But I guess that’s the fun of books, we can enjoy things and characters and whatnot that we wouldn’t in real life. And like you, I don’t like characters who are too perfect because it’s not realistic or relatable. I’m not perfect. No one I know is perfect. So perfect characters don’t really do anything for me. A few of your recs are on my TBR though, so I’m looking forward to reading them!

  • Well written bad guys and antiheroes and scoundrels can definitely make for fun, entertaining reading/watching. Han Solo! I’ve been liking the Kate Daniels series, and she’s a merc with a mouth for most of it, though she does toy with the right side of the law. I thought Holly Black’s Curseworkers series had pretty good conmen too (though I still need to read Book 3).

  • Greg Hill

    That’s a great point- why DO we love the bad boys/ girls lol? Must be wish fulfillment or vicarious living. :) You’re right in real life we wouldn’t associate with such ha ha.

    I have Crooked Kingdom and need to get Six of Crows so I can read those. I like assassins too sometimes. :)

    If you love pirates watch Black Sails if you ever get a chance to. It’s a pretty good (not excellent, but pretty good) pirate show.

  • I’m the same, I just love the shifty characters, even if I’m the most rule-following goodie two-shoes in real life (as in, I feel guilty for taking my own snacks into the cinema…although I did once nearly get a speeding fine!). All the characters from Six of Crows for example I loved, even though they’re all criminals, and I just read Son of the Shadows (finally!) and I absolutely loved the Painted Man! Awesome post! :)

  • OOH I HAVE TWO BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOU! Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff which features an assassin anti-hero who you can’t help but love and then the Curseworkers trilogy by Holly Black who features Cassel Sharpe, a con artist who is part of a magical mobster family (it’s an urban fantasy) and although he can do some pretty bad things he tries to be good and I JUST LOVE HIM.

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I’m the same way! I love to read about a shifty character -but wouldn’t like them much in real life, I think. Pirates, con artists, thieves, assassins… They’re some of my absolute favorite characters. I just think it’s nice to read about characters who aren’t black-and-white good or bad. They exist in this morally grey area which is so intriguing to me.

  • Michelle

    I actually haven’t read most of these! Which is somewhat surprising since so many of these are right up my alley. Most are already high up on my TBR, but the only ones I’ve actually READ are Six of Crows, ADSOM, Daughter of Smoke & Bone (first book only), and Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I’ve read about the first 3 pages of The Demon King (it was late at night a couple nights ago and I fell asleep, then got swept away by AGOS instead). I will definitely have to push some these higher up on the reading list!

  • Kaja, I’ve missed your posts around!!
    I enjoy shifty characters too. There’s just something about those characters that straddle that morally grey area that I think leads to them being very interesting to read. Usually, I love to hate a good villain, so I’m not surprised by how much I love those shifty characters too. I need to check out more books from your list since I’ve only read a few. *sad face*
    But ooh, Katee Robert’s O’Malley’s series is a good for some shifty characters and romance. Her upcoming Forbidden Promises has a hitman and I hopelessly fell for him.
    Great post!

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  • I am totally a fan of a shifty character. Don’t know what it is but I am totally with you. I mean, I follow all the rules (mostly) in life and would never dream of breaking the law but reading about thieves/assassins/con (wo)men and such, it is so much fun. I love reading about the moral grey areas and seeing where the line lies for folks and I wish I knew what caused my love for these morally ambiguous folk but I can’t. I’m sure it must stem from some show I watched as a kid with a character who broke the rules and ever since that has been a favourite character type of mine. Either that or I like to see people break the rules I won’t to live vicariously through them. It’s one of these things.

  • I am right there with you Kaja – card carrying rule follower here (you can get a ticket for jay-walking?) but I love me a shifty protagonist. I am currently reading Six of Crows and A GAthering of Shadows PLUS The Prophecy Con by Patrick Weekes – I am awash in shifty characters and loving every minute of it, lol.

    I think the attraction is that these characters, if written well are complicated and that makes them interesting and exciting. I especially like them when they are super smart and really good plan makers – like Locke and Kaz and Loch!

  • Wendy Falconer Gassaway

    Graceling, Poison, and Poison Study all have assassin protagonists. Margaret Whalen Turner’s Thief has, yes, a thief. LOVE those characters and books. I think it’s that hope of redemption that hooks us, as well as the fun of being bad.

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  • I absolutely loved This Savage Song! One of my favorite reads ever. August’s story was so touching and painful. I really like that version of the book cover you posted! It’s more dramatic than the violin version I have.

  • Shifty characters are really interesting! I’m the same as you. I was devastated when I got my first and hopefully only traffic ticket, because I’m such a goody two-shoes as well lol. Good discussion!