I like ’em bad

My latest read, which I’ve about halfway done with, is Diana Gabaldon‘s Lord John And The Private Matter, which takes place in mid-eighteenth-century London. I’ve only read one other Gabaldon–Outlander–and Lord John definitely does some fairly awful things in that book. But Gabaldon makes Lord John more than just a two-dimensional villain, and that, for me, is totally delicious.

See, I like ’em bad; to my mind, there’s nothing more compelling than someone who seems irredeemable being redeemed by love. One of the best examples of that is
Anne Stuart‘s Black Ice; her hero is really, really bad, but you end up believing in him because Stuart writes him so well.

I was watching Pretty In Pink last night (such a guilty pleasure it’s almost come back around the other way and is okay now), thinking how I’ve always liked the James Spader character more than the Andrew McCarthy character. Sure, he’s a snobby a–hole, but he’s hurting. I also have to admit having sympathy for the Joaquin Phoenix emperor in Gladiator.

Maybe I am irredeemable.

The act of redemption is very hard for an author to pull off; we can all cite many cases where the lukewarm villain in one book is the hero of another. Even in the first instance, the reader can tell the villain isn’t that bad. What takes talent is taking someone truly bad and making their redemption believable. In Regencies, Mary Jo Putney has done it, as has Mary Balogh.

Fiona Apple’s song “Criminal” does a great job of getting inside the mindset of the villain maybe to turn hero. The lyrics are below, with few questions for you to answer (if you’d like) following.

Fiona Apple–“Criminal:”

I’ve been a bad bad girl,
I’ve been careless with a delicate man.
And it’s a sad sad world,
When a girl can break a boy
Just because she can.

Don’t you tell me to deny it,
I’ve done wrong and I want to
Suffer for my sins.
I’ve come to you ’cause I need
Guidance to be true
And I just don’t know where I can begin.

What I need is a good defense
’cause I’m feelin’ like a criminal.
And I need to be redeemed
To the one I sinned against
Because he was all I ever knew of love.

Heaven help me for the way I am.
Save me from these evil deeds.
Before I get them done.
I know tomorrow brings the consequence
At hand.
But I keep livin’ this day like
The next will never come.

Oh, help me, but don’t tell me
To deny it.
I’ve got to cleanse myself.
Of all these lies till I’m good
Enough for him.
I’ve got a lot to lose and i’m
Bettin’ high
So I’m beggin’ you before it ends
Just tell me where to begin.
What I need is a good defense
’cause I’m feelin’ like a criminal.
And I need to be redeemed
To the one I sinned against
Because he was all I ever knew of love.

Let me know the way
Before there’s hell to pay.
Give me room to lay the law and let me go.

I’ve got to make a play
To make my lover stay
So, what would an angel say?
’cause the devil wants to know.

What I need is a good defense
’cause I’m feelin’ like a criminal.
And I need to be redeemed
To the one I sinned against
Because he was all I ever knew of love.

What I need is a good defense
’cause I’m feelin’ like a criminal.
And I need to be redeemed
To the one I sinned against
Because he was all I ever knew of love.

So–do you like bad folks turned good? Which books are the best examples of the villain made hero?

Thanks for reading–




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16 years ago

There is something about a villain, isn’t there? Maybe because he necessarily has a longer, more difficult journey from introduction to HEA…

Loretta Chase does villains turned heros wonderfully well. Ismal in Captives of the Night is my favorite. He was so awful, but delicious in The Lion’s Daughter I couldn’t imagine how LC could redeem him. But she did it wonderfully well.

Another of my all time favorites is Piers Verderan in Jo Beverly’s Emily and the Dark Angel.

Great topic, Megan. And “Criminal” is one of my favorite Fiona Apple songs…

Megan Frampton
16 years ago


I had forgotten about Piers! And I have both of those Loretta Chases in my TBR pile, cool!

Cara King
16 years ago

Patricia Veryan had a six-book series (Georgian-set) called the Golden Chronicles. One fellow who’s the villain through most of the series is the hero of book six. Utterly brilliant! And yes, he’s very bad — in book 1 (Practice to Deceive), he tortures the hero. But book by book, bit by bit, she redeems him…and by book 6 (The Dedicated Villain) he’s a very workable hero… (Though boy does he ever pay for his sins!) 🙂


16 years ago

I adore a villian turned hero. They are right up there with tortured heroes for me!

Most recently Lisa Kleypas’ villian in ‘It Happened One Autumn’ becomes the hero (deliciously so) in ‘Devil In Winter’. Not to mention Diane Gaston’s own ‘Reputable Rake”s hero Cybrian was a bad boy in ‘The Wagering Widow’.

Edith Layton’s Marquis of Bessacar from the ‘The Duke’s Wager’, where he is the villian, to ‘The Distainful Marquis’ where he becomes the hero. I, for one, felt bad that Bessacar did not get the girl (even though his intentions were not all that honorable).

In Carla Kelly’s ‘Libby’s London Merchant’ the villian, well really just a bad guy (the London merchant) becomes the hero in ‘One Good Turn’.

Loretta Chase does do a bang up job with villians turning into heroes, along with Mary Balogh who even has an evil step-mother find redemption.

BTW, Piers Verderan is one of my favorite villian turned hero! I loved ‘Emily and the Dark Angel’! I am really hoping she re-releases the whole series because it is one of my favorite. Megan, I’m jealous you have a copy in your TBR pile!!

16 years ago

I was going to bring up that Patrician Veryan series, but Cara beat me to it. (As she so often does.) To take an example from Georgette Heyer, the hero of “These Old Shades” was the villain of “The Black Moth.”

And a bit off-topic, but I love Fiona Apple! She’s been a bad, bad girl–a sullen girl–whom you might think is a mistake. But the first taste is slow like honey, and makes you realize that, the way things are, she can become a better version of herself, because she is an extraordinary machine.

OK, the rest of you can go and look it up. 🙂


16 years ago

Cara, I LOVED the way Patricia Veryan redeemed Roland…been ages since I read that series so I don’t remember details but I do remember that I really enjoyed it.

Santa, I would love it if Jo Beverly re-released her short regencies. Also loved Dierde and Don Juan, though he wasn’t as rakish as Ver.

Megan, you’ve got a treat in store. I only read The Lion’s Daughter and Captives of the Night a couple of months ago. (I already had a copy of COTN that I refused to read because I hadn’t read TLD yet). They are a bit darker than Chase’s latest works, but they are so well done and they stayed with me for a weeks after I finished them. Which is rare these days.

What a cruel thing to pretend tat we would actually GET all those Fiona Apple lyric references, Todd! (Though, I speak for myself of course–I only bought the first two albums.)

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

Santa, thank you for mentioning my Reputable Rake as a redeemed bad boy!!
I was about to whine, what about Cyprian Sloannnnne?????? But you did it for me which is so much classier!

16 years ago

Actually, the only thing that happens to Lord John in Outlander is that he is kidnapped, humiliated and gets his arm broken. The villain in Outlander is Lord Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall…and he does do many, many terrible things. Gabaldon never really redeems him, either…she explains a little more, later in the series, but not enough for his behavior to ever be acceptable on any level.

Lord John Grey, however, shows back up later in the Outlander series and is one of the good guys. That’s one of the reasons she did a spin-off series focussed on him…readers LOVED him. :o)

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

You know, CindyToo, I did have second thoughts about my memory after I posted this–and wondered if I had misremembered about Lord John.

Oh, well. You are right, I have a bad memory. Thanks for the correction.