We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of cookies and other technologies.


Villain Origin Stories That Might Just Turn You to the Dark Side

From supervillains to fairy tale retellings, these novels explore the beginnings of evil.

This screenshot depicts Joaquin Phoenix in the Joker trailer, holding flowers
  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures / YouTube

Heroes get a lot of attention in science fiction and fantasy. After all, their quests to save the world often form the plot in our favorite novels! But on the other hand, a good hero needs a good villain. Without a strong antagonist standing in the way, there wouldn’t be much of a story. Heroes would get the job done without struggle, conflict, or worry, and without that journey, that’d be an uninteresting novel to read.

But because villains are important, we need them to be three-dimensional and fleshed out. We need to know their motivations and what makes them tick. Sometimes, we want to know what made them that way. In fact, these villain origin stories might be more intriguing than a straightforward tale about a hero saving the day.

Here are some novels that explore villainous origins and give readers a glimpse into the dark side.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Perhaps the foundational villain origin story, Stevenson’s gothic novella would go on to influence future writers interested in exploring the duality of human nature and the idea that even the most upstanding citizen has a dark side. Even the term “Jekyll and Hyde” has long endured as common vernacular. People who haven’t read the original novella might be surprised to discover it isn’t told from the perspective of Dr. Jerkyll or his nefarious alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, but rather that of Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer who watches his friend, the good doctor, deteriorate and start behaving erratically.



By Marissa Meyer

Who can ever forget the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland? Her famous line “Off with their heads!” remains iconic to this day. But before she was the ruthless queen in Lewis Carroll’s novel, she was just a girl with dreams of her own. Meyer paints the Queen’s origin story as painfully sweet. She was once Catherine, a young woman who wanted to open a bakery. She never wanted to marry the King of Hearts; she loved someone else. Given where she ends up in the original novel, her evolution into the evil queen is unsurprisingly full of heartbreak and tragedy.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

By Suzanne Collins

Before Coriolanus Snow was Panem’s authoritarian president in The Hunger Games, he was a young man born to a once-wealthy and once-powerful family. When he’s chosen to mentor a tribute in the upcoming Hunger Games, he hopes to use the opportunity to restore his family’s reputation. This sets him on a collision course with the 12th District’s tribute, Lucy Gray Baird.

Supervillains Anonymous

Supervillains Anonymous

By Lexie Dunne

Lexie Dunn’s superhero series follows Gail Godwin, who’s just your average woman working as an editorial assistant. Well, average except for one minor detail: she keeps getting kidnapped by supervillains. It happens so many times that she gets a moniker of her own: Hostage Girl. Not the most flattering of nicknames, to be honest. 

But after a hostage situation with a mad scientist leaves her no longer so normal, you’d think her problems would come to an end. The second installment in Dunn’s series proves that’s hardly the case. In fact, she begins to realize that the answer lies not with superheroes but with the villains who used to target her on a constant basis. 

scary books to read this october


By Natalie Zina Walschots

Speaking of superheroes and supervillains, Anna works as a temp. It can be a precarious line of work because it depends on there being openings suitable for her particular skill set. Anna, you see, is a kind of genius at data analysis. Make no mistake, though. She isn’t your typical temporary office worker. 

Anna does temp work for villains. But when a gig goes awry and she sustains catastrophic injuries at the hands of a superhero, Anna discovers that superheroes aren’t all sunshine and rainbows and, in fact, can commit more damage than a villain could ever dream of. When Anna recovers from her injuries and begins to work for the world’s top supervillain, she soon learns that there isn’t much difference between a superhero and a supervillain and many times, that difference is determined by something as minor as better PR.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

By Julie C. Dao

Dao’s imaginative Snow White retelling sets the familiar fairy tale in a fantasy world reminiscent of East Asia. And more to the point, it places the Evil Queen as the protagonist, not Snow White. But Forest of a Thousand Lanterns begins years before the Evil Queen plots against her stepdaughter to retain control of a kingdom. Here, she is merely Xifeng, a naïve young peasant girl with a brutal ability. 

She has a destiny to fulfill, but at what cost? Xifeng may not be the most likeable protagonist, but her dark evolution into a ruthless queen is gripping.


And I Darken

By Kiersten White

In And I Darken, Kiersten White retells the story of Vlad the Impaler—but with a genderbent twist. Here, Vlad is a princess named Lada. Otherwise, the piece of history remains the same: Vlad Dracul offers his two children—Lada and Radu—as hostages to the Ottoman Empire to demonstrate his loyalty. 

Growing up in the Ottoman Courts, the siblings navigate political landmines but they’re on divergent paths. The gentle Radu considers the Ottoman Empire his home while the ruthless Lada wants revenge and to return home to Wallachia. It’s a conflict that can only end one way.

Urban Enemies

Urban Enemies

By Joseph Nassise

The late aughts and early 2010s saw the urban fantasy subgenre explode in popularity. It seemed like every new fantasy book coming out then fell into this category. This was the era when Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye made their debut. The Urban Enemies anthology features short stories from some of these standout urban fantasy authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Kevin Hearne, Carrie Vaughn, and the previously mentioned Butcher and McGuire. 

The only catch is that they don’t feature their iconic urban fantasy protagonists. Instead, they tell the stories of the villains. After all, every hero needs an enemy to test their mettle. 



By V. E. Schwab

A decade ago, Victor and Eli were best friends. College roommates, they were brilliant, ambitious, and—alas—arrogant. Together, they discovered that near-death experiences can make a person develop superhuman abilities. Their experiments came to fruition but with a tragic price. 

Today, Eli is on a quest to kill everyone with superhuman abilities and Victor is in jail. Or, rather, he used to be. He’s broken out and is looking to reunite with his former friend. 

Featured image: Warner Bros. Pictures / YouTube