It’s easy to write a passable hero. No, not an interesting hero or a complex one, but if all you need is someone to stand shining in the radiance of his righteousness with a sword in his hand, a journeyman writer can whip one of those out with her eyes closed. A great story doesn’t always need a great hero, or even an especially memorable one. It needs a fantastic villain.
A fantastic villain — a villain you love to hate, a villain that you almost, just a little bit, want to root for, a villain whose very name makes your skin crawl — is incredibly difficult to write, which is why fantastic villains are very rare. It’s often the villain who makes an adventure especially delicious and suspenseful; it’s the villain who elevates an interpersonal drama into an epic. A great villain makes a great story — and a great story makes great summer reading. Follow the villains to your summer reading list — and start with these if you want to know what a good villain looks like.
5) Hatsumomo, Memoirs of a Geisha
I’m only about halfway through this one, but already Hatsumomo has made the book for me. A vicious beauty, Hatsumomo is the working geisha at the okiya where Chiyo, the narrator, works as a maid and trains to become a geisha herself. From the instant Hatsumomo sets eyes on a nine-year-old Chiyo, she smells a potential rival and sets out to destroy Chiyo’s life. Hatsumomo’s main competitor, Mameha, takes Chiyo under her tutelage when she learns how much Hatsumomo hates her, and the young girl becomes a pawn in the established geishas’ social war.
There are no depths Hatsumomo won’t sink to to try to prevent Chiyo’s rise to prominence, or damage Mameha’s reputation. Planting stolen goods, spreading disgusting rumors, and driving up the debt Chiyo must repay before she can become a free and independent woman — Hatsumomo practically crackles with insane energy every time she enters a scene, and I find myself turning the pages not just to cheer Chiyo on, but in a sick fascination to find out what Hatsumomo will do to her next.