I’ve just read Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo’s second book in the Grisha trilogy. Semi-spoiler here for anyone who hasn’t read the whole first book, Shadow and Bone: the Darkling is in the running for best villain of the decade. He’s cruel, wicked, scheming and entirely hot. Even if he ended up physically scarred as his soul, he’d still have the hotness factor. Bardugo knows it too. She said in an interview on Amazon that she’d love to meet him, “Because he's gorgeous and mysterious and dangerous and all those fun things.”
But he is entirely evil. He kills innocent people—a lot of them.
Bardugo’s character occasionally shows signs of humanity that make him appear less of a monster, but damn. Who knows? He might demonstrate vulnerability just to gain Alina’s sympathy. He is no good. Even his mother knows that. I can’t see him tamed and sweet, like many so-called villains. I could imagine him broken, perhaps, and even secretly grateful for having his control removed, but that’s not the same.
You got your characters who’re all about the power, like sometime bad-guy Johnny Marcone in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. Yet Marcone doesn’t quite end up purely evil because he has a few humanizing quirks. He’ll never harm a child and goes out of his way to protect kids. That little softy touch gets him bumped off the list.
Saiman in the Ilona Andrews series is selfish and hungry for power, but he slips into something slimy during his pursuits. Nothing is more important to him than money and influence, which is fine for the bad-guy scale. Saiman loses his hottie-ticket, but I don’t think it’s because he craves power and will do anything to get it. I suspect he falls off the list because he hates pain so much. Physical cowards need not apply for the job of Evil Hotness. He is less evil and less ridiculous in the latest in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Rises. Another potentially delicious villain, Hugh, shows his hand. Let’s just say he’s not what I’d hoped for.
I’m still trying think of another character who remains hot as he commits evil in his hunt for personal gain. I’m not coming up with names. All right. Never mind books, then. How about movies?
Once you’ve got the visuals to admire, it’s easy to figure out how those really awful baddies carry out selfish acts and still keep their fans.
As Kinsey pointed out in If He's Hot He's an Anti-Hero, If He's Not He's a Villain, we might not remain loyal if they were a bunch of balding, fat guys with flop-sweat.
There was a strong pro-Snape faction even before the end of the Harry Potter series—I think Alan Rickman helped. Greasy hair and deadly pale skin couldn’t dim his appeal. Heck, maybe those were features that enhanced the heat, because I don’t recall him playing another part that created so much fan-girl swoon. Maybe it was his ability to show the tortured, damaged soul factor some of the best villains bring to the table?
When I asked for more bad-and-hot-to-the-bone characters, Heather B suggests Paul Spector, a murderer, in the BBC series The Fall, a character played by Jamie Dornan. A quick google search for Dornan, and yeah—that face clinches Kinsey’s argument.
That hunt for supremacy at any cost turns up the villain volume to eleven. Angsty mean guy isn’t enough? How about that mean guy out looking for trouble and trampling anyone in his way? You’d think going after the prize and hurting innocents just for some money/influence/power would make him less of a hottie. Turns out it might help his cause with the fans. Hey, there’s something about an actor doing a fine job of portraying hunger for power that sucks in an audience. See Tom Hiddleston as Loki play a crowd so well you can feel the power.
Go! Yes! Wow! Wait, what are we cheering for again?
Here’s a list for a fictional villain who wants to build a fan club. You must:
Be personally attractive, physically brave, have had some bad experience that scarred you (but you can ignore it—or pretend to), be extremely ambitious, possibly believe you’re ultimately doing good (ends justifying means). A sense of humor helps, usually dry and sarcastic. Did we mention really good looking?
Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.