YA Protagonists with the “Darker Shade of Gray” morality

YA Protagonists with the “Darker Shade of Gray” morality

The Young Adult section is full of main characters who are inherently good. They almost always do the right thing for the right reason. They may suffer a momentary lapse of judgment, but all-in-all, you can count on him (or her) to be there to save the day.

But if you’re tired of those sort, and feel like reading darker fare, then you might like the following selections. These characters have done morally reprehensible things with little to no hesitation. But for some reason, they are still likeable.

Why? Authors usually work hard to make these protagonists relatable with their painful (even tortured) pasts. These protagonists can even charm some with how cool or affable they are.  Even better when they have at least one person (other than themselves, of course) that they’d stake their own lives to save.

To make readers side more with these dark protagonists, their nemesis are written to be even worse on the morality scale. Or if the nemesis is actually a decent person, they are usually ineffective to stop the book’s bad guy (the other bad guy).

So without further ado, here are my recommendations:

Please click on the Title to link to the Book’s Amazon Page

1. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer 

Status: Finished. 8 Book Series

Kidnapping a fairy to hold her for ransom is one of the most ambitious and devious acts 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl has done. He comes from a long line of criminals. And by the end of the first book, he has managed to retain half the gold he got in exchange for the hostage.

The other half of the gold he gives back to said fairy in exchange for magic to heal his mom.

If you liked this book, you might also want to try the rest of the series:


2. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud 

Status: Finished. Trilogy

Born and raised in a UK where magicians rule and backstabbing abounds in its ruling class, young magician’s apprentice Nathaniel summons the djinn Bartimaeus with the overall intent to plot the downfall of a magician named Simon Lovelace. Batimaeus doesn’t have any qualms to subvert any orders as magicians have always treated his kind as slaves. And Nathaniel is no exception.

Nathaniel manages to survive Simon Lovelace when the magician attacks. But instead of going into hiding and focusing on survival, his hunger for revenge is stronger than ever. Nathaniel doesn’t care that Lovelace killed his master Mr Underwood. But Simon killed Mrs Underwood who was like a mom to Nathaniel..

Bartimaeus is no saint either. He would exploit any weakness to get out of his slavery. Even going so far as killing the magician who summoned him if given the opening. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to care

If you liked this book, you might like the rest of the series:

3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo 

Status: Finished. Duology

The protagonist Kaz Brekker is a well-dressed thug and has no problem torturing and killing a man (after promising not to). Inej, his spy, would have asked him to stop. Only she’s gravely injured due to said man. So the guy kinda had it coming.

The whole of Book 1 centers around the preparation and execution of a heist while Book 2 centers around the aftermath.  Leigh Bardugo writes so well that you’re on Kaz’s side all the way throughout this duology

Told from different POVs,  you don’t have to worry about the story getting too dark. I would recommend you read Bardugo’s previous work The Grisha Trilogy to better understand Kaz’s world

If you liked this book, you might want to read the last book of this duology Crooked Kingdom 


4. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis 

Status: Finished. Standalone novel

Alex Craft is a high school girl with a murdered sister. And from the start of the book, you learn that she successfully found and killed the murderer. Quite a dark book that keeps you reading for the likeable characters and their hidden depths


5. The Young Elites by Marie Lu 

Status: Finished. Trilogy

Poor Adelina Amouteru. If you want to see how an author breaks a character down to raise her up as a villain, try reading book 1 of this trilogy.

If you liked this book, you might want to read the rest of the series

6. The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid 

Status: On-going. Trilogy. Only Book 1 is currently out

Nemesis was raised to be brutal. And we find out near the climax just how brutal she can be. The prince Tyrus is no slouch either given some of his machinations to gain the title of Emperor. But what makes me love them is how these two would give their lives for each other.


Parting Words

What’s the main attraction of these characters? I think that in a lot of ways, they are more relatable than the “lawful” good characters. The Dark Protagonists appeal to us due to our own dark sides. We often remember the times we were less than our best selves. And we see how easily we could have made the decisions these characters made.

They have done things that would put normal people in jail. But we are not alienated by these actions because these characters manage to retain their humanity.

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