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  • Writer's pictureCherish Michele

Protagonist or Antagonist? Why Not Both?

Updated: May 25, 2022

Do you ever get tired of knowing the decisions a novel’s protagonist is going to make? Well, I do. As an avid reader of young adult fantasy, I became so used to reading about heroes sweeping in to save the day that my readings have started to feel stagnant. Of course, the stories are usually more complex than just hero=saved day, but the overall idea is that they are going to make decisions that will ultimately save a large sum of people in some way. People they don’t know, and people they will put before themselves, for the most part. I hadn’t realized that the source of my growing stagnant feeling with my readings was the result of said stories until I read a trilogy that blew everything I thought I knew about protagonists out of the water.

That trilogy is The Young Elites series by Marie Lu, acclaimed best-selling author. The Young Elites follows a girl named Adelina Amouteru, dubbed a malfetto (someone who survived the blood fever but was permanently marked/damaged by the fever) by society. Adelina caught the blood fever when she was four, along with her Mother and sister, Violetta. Her markings consisted of her hair and eyelashes turning silver, and on top of that, her left eye became so swollen during her sickness that it had to be removed by doctors. Her Mother died, and her sister didn’t walk away with any major changes to her physical appearance. Suitors refused to so much as even consider marrying Adelina. Her Father deemed her useless and became very physically and verbally abusive towards his malfetto daughter. I won’t go into the full story here, because this isn’t a synopsis, but that’s the gist of Adelina’s childhood. Her childhood is what shapes her into the protagonist and antagonist she becomes. The most exciting part about a character like this is not knowing what they’re about to do next. I was kept on my toes the whole entire time, and I have to say, it was my most fun read in months.

From the time that I started getting into YA fantasy, which was about a year ago, to now, I hadn’t read about a character that was both a protagonist and an antagonist until meeting Adelina. I’m not saying all the stories I read were cookie-cutter. Almost all of them had morally gray characters, in fact. But at the end of the day, they all had distinct “good guys” and distinct “bad guys”. Lines were crossed but they were never crossed in a way that made me start to view the story’s own protagonist as a full on villain. I had no clue what I was missing out on.

Upon finishing The Young Elites trilogy, I instantly craved more of the sort. I’ve gone through plenty of reading phases in my life so far. I used to be obsessed with psychological thrillers, then my attention switched to young adult science fiction. After that, I started getting into young adult fantasy, and then I binged a lot of romance novels, then it went back to young adult fantasy. Now, it’s not just any young adult fantasy, but I need those with protagonists that can also be viewed as the story’s antagonist. No more duties to save the world for now. I need to see selfish acts made in the pursuit of power with little to no regard for how it affects the world population. With that being said, though, I should probably clarify that I do not expect to condone the actions made of the protagonist/antagonist, just like I didn’t condone every decision Adelina made. It’s pure entertainment for me on a fictional level. In real life, of course I think and want differently than is reflected in my newfound reading preferences. It’s important to be able to discern fiction from reality.

So, if anyone has any book recommendations to satisfy my latest urge, I would greatly appreciate it. You can either head over to my contact page to submit a form, or reach out to me on Twitter @CherishMichele.

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