Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Great Morally Gray Character?

Happy Friday all! Today, I’m participating in my first weekly meme here at Beyond the Read.

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. I love discussion posts, and Rukky and Dani’s prompts are really thought-provoking and fun to talk about. I’m so excited to join in on the fun!

Even more so because this week’s topic is characteristics of a great antihero/morally gray character. If you haven’t noticed already, I love morally gray characters. In my opinion, what makes them so amazing is their similarity to how we, as real humans, act. Morally gray characters reflect human nature at its best and worst. We all love our golden heroes and heroines, but you and I both know that we’re nothing like them. Personally, I can’t deny that if I were placed in the same circumstances as many of the antiheroes I read about, there would be a fair chance of me becoming as morally gray as them.

There are many reasons for why morally gray characters are magnetic. One important one is that their humanity shows through whatever horrifying things they do. They kill and cheat and steal and stab in one chapter; you recoil. In the next, it’s revealed that they haven’t slept in years because the people they’ve killed haunt their dreams; your heart melts. You extend a bouquet of chocolate flowers to them.

Pizza works too, I guess

The next reason that I think morally gray characters are so irresistible is their motivation. Take, for example, AIDAN from the Illuminae Files, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. AIDAN is an artificial intelligence system that has gained sentience. He murders hundreds of people and lets loose a devastating plague onto the passengers of the spaceship he controls. He, by all accounts, should be unredeemable.

But. But. He does what he does for the safety of the people his ship is carrying, and, believe it or not, his argument makes sense. Without him, all of the passengers would have died. In a way, he saves the fleet.

To protect you is all I have ever wanted.

Characters like AIDAN make me forget my morals. And that can either be interpreted in as proof of the danger of morally gray characters, or as proof of the power of words.

I like to go with the latter. As long as we remember that the end does not always justify the means, I don’t think morally gray characters are that much of a threat to my moral well-being.

My favorite morally gray characters include:

  • Holland Vosijk (Shades of Magic) — I feel sad even describing this precious baby as morally gray; HE DESERVES SO MUCH BETTER FROM THE WORLDDDD
  • Lila Bard (Shades of Magic) — Lila…….. is someone you either love or hate; there is no in-between
  • Alina Starkov & basically everyone in the Shadow & Bone trilogy — Leigh Bardugo said herself how much she loves writing morally gray characters, and it shows; so excited to read Six of Crows, which is apparently a party themed in morally gray
  • Queen Levana (Lunar Chronicles) — Fairest was all kinds of disturbing, but she still breaks my heart
  • Everyone in A Song of Ice and Fire — just… respect for how messed up all these characters are

This post was so fun to write! I’m always on the lookout for books featuring morally gray antiheroes/anti-villains, so please share any recommendations in the comments below!

Keep reading,


6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: What Makes a Great Morally Gray Character?

  1. “They kill and cheat and steal and stab in one chapter; you recoil. In the next, it’s revealed that they haven’t slept in years because the people they’ve killed haunt their dreams; your heart melts. ” This is so well said. It’s absolutely what I look for in my morally grey characters. I love sad tortured souls with tragic backstories.

    I’m also really excited for you to read Six of Crows. Kaz Brekker is my favourite morally grey character ever written. Bardugo has done such a good job of making him legitimately bad with a heart of gold.


    1. I’m so glad you agree with me!! Sad tortured souls with tragic backstories are an immediate call for me to add the book to my TBR list.

      I’ve heard nothing but great things about Six of Crows. I’m unbelievably excited to read about Kaz and his crew!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aww, I’m so glad this was your first meme and I hope you enjoyed participating!! And I am so sorry, I’m a horrible blog hopper and I’m only just catching up on all these amazing discussions ❤

    I love everything you said here!! Especially the part about how we recoil in one chapter and melt in the next – yes yes yes all the way!! That’s exactly how I react with morally grey characters. They terrify me, and I can’t justify what they do, but the next chapter comes and I’m willing to defend them to the ends of the earth. They make me question what’s right or wrong, and I understand why they do things, and sometimes support them…which should be kind of alarming…lol

    Ooh, I’ve only read the first book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, and I knew Holland wouldn’t disappear just yet!! I wonder what he’ll be like in the rest of the series. And I actually really don’t like Lila. She’s annoying haha. You’re completely right about her, there is no in-between when it comes to her 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LTB is definitely one of my favorite memes from the blogging community! And it’s okay, bloghopping isn’t a strong suit for me either 😂

      Yess morally gray characters make me so conflicted about whether I should be supporting them or not. I suppose it ought to be alarming? Ha ha ha?

      Oops sorry for the inadvertent spoiler about Holland! 😂 But he’s such a fantastic character and he’s probably one of my all-time favorites. And yep, I’m personally not much of a Lila fan either. Though I can see why people might like her? 🤷‍♀️

      Thanks for reading and leaving such a heartfelt comment Rukky! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

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