The best adventure books with morally grey characters

Tamuna Tsertsvadze Author Of Galaxy Pirates
By Tamuna Tsertsvadze

The Books I Picked & Why

The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson

Book cover of The Odyssey

Why this book?

When we are talking about adventure books with morally grey characters, there is simply no way to bypass this one. The Odyssey can be considered the book that started it all - the epic sea adventure genre, as well as the morally grey protagonist theme. And, my being a lover of classics, this book is one of my favourites along with the Iliad, for various reasons. 

One of the major reasons is, of course, the protagonist - Odysseus the King of Ithaca - a mischievous hero who prefers to use his intelligence and wits to get through any situation, unlike his war comrades who instead rely on their noble heroism. However, it doesn’t mean that Odysseus is weak - as seen in the Odyssey, he is quite a skilled fighter. What makes him morally grey is that he does not consider it immoral to trick others for his personal gain. That doesn’t make him repulsive, however - rather likeable and interesting. At least, he remains my favourite Greek mythical hero to this day.


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Treasure Island

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Book cover of Treasure Island

Why this book?

By now, you might guess that I’m going to recommend only classics. Well, you’re right - that is my favourite genre, as I’ve mentioned many times, and, being the books that withstood the courses of time, it is certainly not unreasonable for me or anyone else, to recommend them.

Treasure Island is a pioneer in the Pirate Adventure genre, and, obviously, heavily inspired me on Galaxy Pirates, together with its Disney animated adaptation, Treasure Planet.

The character that catches the eye here is Long John Silver. He actually influenced the way pirates are depicted nowadays (with a wooden leg and a parrot on their shoulder). He is a cheerful man, although mischievous, who mostly acts for his personal gain. Nevertheless, the protagonist Jim Hawkins, who views him as a father figure, doesn’t cease to think well of him, even after the major conflict. For many of the readers too (including me), it is impossible not to love this character, for his complex personality and his beautiful mentor-and-apprentice relationship with Jim.


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The Black Corsair

By Emilio Salgari, Nico Lorenzutti

Book cover of The Black Corsair

Why this book?

Now, you might not have heard of this one unless you’re Italian, and that’s really sad - The Black Corsair series is a Pirate Adventure masterpiece. In Italy, the Black Corsair is just as much of a pirate icon as Long John Silver in the English-speaking community, while Emilio Salgari is sometimes named “the Italian Jules Verne”.

The main character, Black Corsair Emilio Roccanera, is an Italian nobleman whose three brothers have been killed by the Duke of Wan Guld, now a governor in the Caribbean. So, the Black Corsair will stop at nothing until he’s gotten his revenge. Other than his vengeful nature, however, he is quite a noble spirit who preserves the lives of many of his captives and doesn’t spill needless blood. All of that makes him a character to fall in love with.


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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

By Jules Verne

Book cover of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Why this book?

Since we mentioned Jules Verne, let’s discuss his book as well. When talking about adventure novels, one cannot miss out on him, after all, and discussing morally grey characters, the iconic Captain Nemo of the Nautilus is a perfect example.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas is iconic in that it is a submarine adventure. Nautilus is a submarine built by Captain Nemo so that he can explore life under the seas and keep himself aloof from mankind at the same time. The major reason for this is that he grieves for the family he lost due to war, and the consequent grudge that he holds against all of humanity. He is shown to hate oppressors and tyrants and seek freedom at sea - the theme that happens to be one of my favourites even nowadays, and heavily inspired Galaxy Pirates.

The overall mystery that shrouds Captain Nemo throughout the story, accompanied by the wondrous under-the-sea adventures, makes this novel a true literary jewel.


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The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss

Book cover of The Count of Monte Cristo

Why this book?

My top picks will end with The Count of Monte Cristo and its fascinating protagonist, Edmond Dantès - one of my favourite characters to this day. The young sailor who starts out naive and innocent, deeply in love with the girl of his dreams, is falsely accused of treason and gets shoved into a prison on a remote island, only to find out that it was his love rival and his crewmates who turned him in. Filled with the will for revenge, he escapes the prison, finds a treasure, and goes to Paris to destroy the people who have wronged him.

In the course of the story, however, we find out that, even though much more ruthless and cold, Edmond Dantès, now known as the Count of Monte Cristo, still retains some kindness in his heart, and remains noble in spirit. Just like the Black Corsair of Emilio Salgari, he shows the signs of remorse, and forgives the families of those who have wronged him, not executing his vengeance in the ways he vowed to. All of this makes it a heartfelt and emotional read.


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