Morally Grey Characters in Books // Why do they make such interesting characters+ book recommendations with such characters

Hello friends! It’s been some times since I have written a discussion post and I apologize for that. But being in the last year of uni, I am just glad I get little time to read. So recently I was wondering about how in a lot of books I have read this year have had morally grey characters.

Most of the books I have read before always have a good or bad side where the hero is the good person and the villain the bad one. It is almost always clearly distinguished with a line separating the good and the bad. In the recent books I have read, a lot of characters are morally grey which means there is no good or bad per se. Both the sides have done some questionable things and it is wrong to call one side completely right or wrong.

Morally grey or morally ambigious characters are those ones which are not like the traditional heroes. They have done some questionable things too which cannot completely be put in the bubble of right or wrong. On example of this is Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. Kaz is by no means a “good guy”. Most of the things he does can be termed as wrong but as the series progresses and we come to know more about him , we learn the reasoning behind some of his actions. It does not in any way erase what he’s done but it gives the character meaning and depth.

Showing these flawed characters is also a way to let readers connect. None of us are flawless people and hence when we see characters who are not flawless, it helps us understand the character and the books on a sub-conscious and human level. Esmae from A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna is also a good example. Esmae starts as a good character and who along the way does some questionable stuff but as a reader you’re always aware about the why and the how of her decisions and her flawed nature is portrayed in a very realistic way.

Another amazing example of this is Jade City by Fonda Lee. All the characters in the book have done questionable stuff. Although as a reader you will be aware about who is doing what and why, the moral ambiguity of the characters is done beautifully in this book. The awareness that a character is doing something wrong but knowing the intention or the reasoning behind that particular action helps us understand a character better.

A person’s understanding of what is good or bad is understood by shades of grey and is not always as simple as a line separating the good and the bad. Characters who know they have a bad side or a habit or some trait which is characteristically wrong and fight against that and try to find some purpose in their actions are always much more interesting then someone who is a goody two shoes and does nothing wrong. Alexie from A Spark of white fire is also an example of this and his character is written so well that you will definitely be able to understand the complexity of it.

Such characters add layers to a character and when done well it can give depth not only to the book or the plot, but also the character arc and their interactions with the other characters. 

Another such example is Jude Duarte from The Cruel Prince series by Holly Black. She is well nuanced character who we know has a dark side. Her awareness about it and her acceptance of it is what makes her an interesting characater. Cardan on the other hand has more villainous traits but knowing his story makes us conscious of his actions, however wrong (and stupid!!).

Characters who are cognizant of their actions, who are struggling and questioning about the right or wrong themselves make up for nuanced and fascinating characters. According to me this also makes the characters multi dimensional as they would be struggling with the good or bad within themselves. It also makes for a gripping arc and growth for the character.

Tea from The Bone Witch series (a.k.a my true book love) is also a morally grey character done amazing. Throughout the series you will be raising doubts about her and her actions and it all comes together so wonderfully. This is a morally grey character done well and it was one of those books which stays with you long after.

Another recent book I read War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi also had morally ambiguous characters. It depicted a war and hence it was realistically portrayed how in such situations there is no right or wrong as both sides have resulted in destruction of some kind. It helped to say that in a war there are no winners.

When I asked on my Twitter about people’s views on morally grey characters, this was the result:


92% of the people voted for morally grey characters.So I think we can conclude that morally grey characters do make for fascinating protagonists. So apart from the books I have mentioned about some other books which have such characters are:

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi 

Severin is a character who does some pretty shady stuff and even the rest of the characters to some extent. But the characters of this book are so well fleshed out and written which makes them another example of morally grey done right.

A Darker Shade of Magic- V.E.Schwab

Holland is a character from this series who is morally grey. His is a complex character and it is definitely written and portrayed well.

Descendant of the Crane- Joan He

This book also has some morally grey characters. I have chosen to mention this book here because this book has some complex characters and relationships. Knowing what’s right and what’s wrong is not enough as the characters are well fleshed out but also have a hint of mystery to them.

The Poppy War- R.F.Kuang

Rin is an anti heroine written perfectly to the T. She does a lot of wrong stuff but as a reader you can never completely stop rooting for her and that’s what makes this character so riveting.

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  • Do you like such characters ?

  • Which ones are your favourites ?

  • Do you have any recommendations ? Do mention your favourites in the comments!

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15 thoughts on “Morally Grey Characters in Books // Why do they make such interesting characters+ book recommendations with such characters

  1. Morally gray characters are THE BEST, I swear. I tend to be more intrigued by their stories, because it feels like I can’t fully be sure what they will do next, versus I can predict what kind of decision a hero or a villain would make in a given situation. Like with Hilo in Jade War – I knew he was morally gray, and yet, he still surprised me by how he… handled the situation with Lan’s ex-wife (I’m so bad with names, Eyni, I think? haha.)

    I really love Jude from TCP, Cardan… not so much – and I do agree, he is more of a villain than a morally gray character. Something you didn’t mention but I love is the Market of Monsters series by Rebecca Schaeffer – it received criminally little promo from the publisher, but it has some of the darkest, most morally gray characters (maybe they are crossing into villainous territory, I think) I’ve ever read about. Highly recommended!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! Hilo is one of the best examples. And what happened with Eyni was very.. interesting? ( let’s go with that😬)
      I have mixed feelings with Cardan too. I am not too crazy about him. Or at all actually.
      I haven’t heard of that series but I will definitely be checking it out. Thank you for the recommendation 😊💛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Most of the books I read have morally grey characters so I find it weird when there isn’t one. One that really jumps into my thoughts is Aidan from Richelle Meads Bloodlines series. But as I said I read a lot of morally grey characters

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating approach!! I dont normally read morally grey characters because I’d thought they were confused characters who didnt know the difference between right and wrong. But isnt that what makes them human? Isnt that what makes US human? Being “morally grey” inbetween conflicting feelings and emotions and all that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I can vouch for all these books because not only do they have such great characters but also top notch stories. And yes I was happy to see the results too..glad so many ppl like grey characters 😄💛

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a wonderful post Krisha !!! You express your thoughts so well… And I completely agree with all the characters you mentioned… they make for better relatable reading experiences ☺️😍😍 And Tea is the best !!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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