I haven’t done Top 5 Wednesday in a while, but this prompt pulled me in. I love unlikable protagonists (I’m writing one right now)! There’s something so intriguing and compelling about a character who is fundamentally unlikable. Despite that, I found this list quite difficult to amass! I guess either I’m just not aware of which protagonists people find unlikable or I just don’t notice unlikable protagonists.
Anyway, here we go:
Severus Snape (Harry Potter): I had to start out with the apex of unlikable characters, didn’t I? Snape is a horrible person. Abusive, borderline racist, selfish, bitter, just an all-around terrible person. I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room with him, let alone be his friend. And yet Snape is undeniably fascinating: he has spent nearly all of his life regretting and attempting to atone for getting the love of his life killed. None of his intentions were honorable – he thought he was getting another family killed, and even when he realized it was Lily he didn’t give a damn about her husband and infant son dying. He just wanted to save her, and whether his feelings for Lily were love or obsession is, I think, irrelevant. Lily died anyway, and Snape switched sides to atone. He also – and this is just my personal headcanon here – isolated himself and did everything he could to make other people hate him, because he believed he deserved it. He kept fighting not necessarily because he believed in the cause, but because he felt he owed it to Lily. Like I said, fundamentally not a good person, and that’s not even getting into how horrible of a teacher he was (he was Neville’s worst fear for God’s sake!). But so, so multi-layered, complex, and fascinating.
Adelina Amouteru (The Young Elites): Adelina grew up with her sister and abusive stepfather. With a parent like that, it is no surprise that Adelina is reserved, wary, and bitter. However, as her powers begin to manifest and the friends she thought she had abandoned her, Adelina swerves sharply into villain territory. She sets out to get revenge, abandoning any and all morality in the process. She wants revenge and she wants power, and she will do anything she can to get it, even as she struggles not to lose her mind. Being in Adelina’s head is one hell of a trip; the girl is half insane at this point. She’s such a compelling, dynamic character. I’m excited to read the final book in this series!
Isyllt Iskaldur (The Necromancer Chronicles): I don’t know if Isyllt would be considered widely unlikable by everyone, but I find her an unusual female character. She reminds me a bit of a noir detective. She’s taciturn, pragmatic, and no-nonsense. After spending her teens in the streets, Isyllt was taken in by the King (sort of) and turned into a kind of spy/necromancer/magician (in other words, she’s super cool). She’s kind of closed off in a way that female characters usually aren’t, which makes her super intriguing.
Nassun (The Obelisk Gate): Essun’s daughter Nassun is not necessarily unlikable, but pitiable. After experiencing the unimaginable trauma of witnessing her father murder her brother, and then being kidnapped by him as he struggles not to kill her for simply being who she is, Nassun transforms from an ordinary young girl to an unbelievably cold, cynical young woman. By the end of the book she has veered into such strange, nihilistic territory that being in her head becomes pretty uncomfortable.
Petyr Baelish (A Song of Ice and Fire): This is kind of cheating, since I don’t know that I would call Petyr a protagonist, necessarily, but whether we like it or not he is essentially the lynch pin of the entire series. He set most of the events in the series in motion. Some thing he did just to create chaos, to see what would happen, in true chaotic neutral form. Petyr is sneaky and subtle and brilliant (forget TV show Petyr, I’m talking about book Petyr, who is a fundamentally different person). He’s one hell of a strategist and he’s incredibly ambitious, but like Snape, he is also caught up in a past romance which pushes him from “ambiguously motivated” to “supremely creepy” territory. Despite that, the dynamic Petyr has with Sansa Stark, his lost love’s daughter, is the most fascinating in the entire series. The pair of a somewhat disturbing dynamic, but I love it all the same, just as I am fascinated with Petyr Baelish.