Today I’m happy to welcome E. L. Tettensor as part of the Master of Plagues blog tour! Master of Plagues, the second Nicolas Lenoir novel following Darkwalker, will be released on February 3. While I haven’t yet read these books, I’m quite curious about them—especially after reading reviews of Darkwalker at Bookworm Blues and Not Yet Read and this interview with the author at The BiblioSanctum in which she discussed Nicolas Lenoir as an antihero. Since this aspect of the main character particularly piqued my interest, I’m glad she shared some thoughts on why fictional antiheroes are so compelling in today’s guest post!

Darkwalker by E. L. Tettensor Master of Plagues by E. L. Tettensor
Sympathy for the Devil

“Prepare to dislike him from the start.”

“Probably one of the most unlikeable characters that I’ve run across for a while.”

“We were so angry with him, we almost stopped reading.”

These are just a few of the things reviewers have said about Inspector Nicolas Lenoir, the main character in my debut novel, Darkwalker, and its sequel, Master of Plagues. At first glance, they aren’t very flattering. In fact, they seem like exactly the sorts of comments an author dreads. After all, who wants to read a book with an unlikeable protagonist?

Well, these bloggers, for a start; all three of them enjoyed the book–not in spite of its hero, but because of him. Nor are they alone. A casual glance at the bestsellers list offers evidence enough of the widespread appeal of antiheroes. Not just in books, but in television, movies, graphic novels, and so on. Such is our collective appetite for them that Entertainment Weekly has declared this the Age of the Antihero. Thieves, murderers, tyrants, even cowards–we love them. We root for them shamelessly, even if we don’t totally approve of that time they shoved a kid out the window, or forced some local hoodlum to cook meth. Because, damn it, they’re interesting. We might not condone their actions, but we’re mesmerised by them, like rubbernecking at a car crash.

Why is that, though? What is it about antiheroes that so captivates us?

The conventional answer is that they’re more realistic. Human beings are inherently flawed; to be believable, a character should be too. Realistic characters resonate with us much more deeply. We see a little bit of ourselves in them, and it’s this recognition that draws us in.

I’ll buy that–up to a point. An antihero in the vein of Sherlock Holmes (or Nicolas Lenoir) is not a necessarily bad person; he’s just kind of a dick. A “high-functioning sociopath” with a moral compass that doesn’t quite point True North. Holmes’s arrogance and his inability to connect with people are realistic traits, ones we recognise in the people around us.

But antiheroes don’t have a monopoly on flaws. Tony Stark is an egomaniac. Buffy is needy. Jon Snow is woefully naïve. Those are all flaws, yet I wouldn’t consider any of these characters to be antiheroes. Moreover, the flaws of many antiheroes are actually pretty over the top. If the actions of a Jaime Lannister or a Walter White resonate with you… well, I’m going to stop that sentence right there, because I’m afraid of you.

Seen in that light, the “antiheroes are more realistic” theory doesn’t quite wash. There has to be more to it than that. And I think perhaps it’s something to do with worldview.

Even if antiheroes themselves don’t necessarily resonate with us, the rules governing their lives do. Stories with antiheroes at their centre offer a vision of the world that we recognise, one in which not only do good things happen to bad people, but good things can be actively brought about by bad people. This is both realistic and aspirational, and it’s the latter aspect that I think is most captivating. We love a redemption story. Not in the treacly, he-turned-out-to-be-a-swell-guy-in-the-end sense, but in the sense of great deeds being within the grasp of anyone, no matter how flawed. Being, in other words, within our grasp.

It’s a pretty compelling worldview, with roots sunk deep into the religious foundations of Western culture. It means that however meagre your talents or egregious your past sins, the only thing standing between you and greatness is choice.

And so we cheer for the antihero, knowing that however far into darkness s/he falls, it will only make the climb back into the light that much more satisfying. It’s a journey that’s hard to pull off as an author, but when it works, it really works. Of all the impressive tricks I’ve seen over the years, getting me to root for Jaime Lannister takes the prize. I’m hooked, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

“There is no redemption.” So says the Darkwalker, and Lenoir believes it. Maybe they’re right. But the quest for it makes for one hell of a story.

E.L. Tettensor likes her stories the way she likes her chocolate: dark, exotic, and with a hint of bitterness. She has visited more than fifty countries on five continents, and brought a little something back from each of them to press inside the pages of her books. She also writes traditional fantasy as Erin Lindsey. She lives with her husband in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Twitter: @etettensor