The best books whose characters don’t trust themselves

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved characters with ambiguous morals, and the inherent tension they bring to stories: their path from ruin to redemption, the examination of their past misdeeds that requires them to choose what kind of person they want to be. As a former software engineer, I was traumatized by the Polytechnique massacre in Montréal, which happened while I was studying at a neighboring university, and in which fourteen women were murdered. I don’t consider its perpetrator redeemable, but after I wrote The Tree of Souls, I realized its character arcs were me trying to understand why people do bad things and forcing my characters to confront the pain they’d caused.


I wrote...

The Tree of Souls

By Katrina Archer,

Book cover of The Tree of Souls

What is my book about?

A murky past. A forbidden love. A deathly power.

When the river spits Umbra onto its bank, naked and shivering, the only clue to her identity is the arcane brand seared into her skin. A brand hunted by both a murderous necromancer and a handsome stranger. A brand that thrusts Umbra into a simmering conflict between the ascendant Clans and the nomadic Gherza. A brand that may make her the key to averting all-out war. The Tree of Souls weaves an intimate tale of dark sorcery, doomed love, and implacable revenge, amid an age-old clash of nations, with all the souls of the living hanging in the balance.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Bourne Identity

Katrina Archer Why did I love this book?

This spy thriller has it all: secret organizations, evil terrorist hit men, and a Canadian love interest (I’m Canadian and at the time the book came out we were rare in blockbuster fiction, and I’ll never forgive the movie adaptations for making Marie German). Jason Bourne wakes up from a boat explosion with no idea who he is and then begins hunting the people who are in turn trying to kill him, while trying to uncover clues to his past. Jason is torn as he finds more and more evidence that he might be an assassin responsible for several high-profile killings, instead of the good man Marie believes him to be. Robert Ludlum threads the ”is he or isn’t he” needle superbly in this classic.

By Robert Ludlum,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Bourne Identity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jason Bourne is back in the forthcoming major motion picture starring Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander. Go back to where it all began for Bourne in his first adventure - The Bourne Identity

He was dragged from the sea, his body riddled with bullets. There are a few clues: a frame of microfilm surgically implanted beneath the skin of his hip; evidence that plastic surgery has altered his face; strange things he says in his delirium, which could be code words. And a number on the film negative that leads to a bank account in Zurich, four million dollars, and…


Book cover of Nine Princes in Amber

Katrina Archer Why did I love this book?

This is the book that launched my Zelazny obsession as a teen. Carl Corey wakes up after a car crash with amnesia (sense a theme here?), which he hides from those close to him, some of whom insist on calling him Corwin. He gradually discovers he’s an immortal with a strong claim to the throne of Amber, the one true world at the center of infinite shadow worlds, including our Earth. As Corwin’s memories return, he realizes he was a cruel and arrogant man, and some of his numerous siblings have good reason to hate him. Here the amnesia trope truly allows a character to examine their past through a less biased lens. Top-rate fantasy set against a war for succession to the keys to the universe.

By Roger Zelazny,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Nine Princes in Amber as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most revered names in sf and fantasy, the incomparable Roger Zelazny was honored with numerous prizes—including six Hugo and three Nebula Awards—over the course of his legendary career. Among his more than fifty books, arguably Zelazny’s most popular literary creations were his extraordinary Amber novels.

Now officially licensed by the Zelazny estate, the first book in this legendary series is now finally available electronically.

Carl Corey wakes up in a secluded New York hospital with amnesia. He escapes and investigates, discovering the truth, piece by piece: he is really Prince Corwin, of Amber, the one true world…


Book cover of The Fifth Season

Katrina Archer Why did I love this book?

The Broken Earth trilogy, of which The Fifth Season is the first book, three-peated at the Hugo Awards, for good reason. Jemisin masterfully weaves the tale of Essun, Damaya, and Syenite, ostensibly unconnected orogenes, a class of people capable of controlling the titanic tectonic forces at play in a world wracked by geological destruction. Because of their immense power—and the fact that they sometimes unintentionally kill living things when angry—orogenes are distrusted by wider society, and shackled in a number of literal and figurative ways. Essun in particular must deal with the grief and trauma of her past actions and experiences, in this unflinching examination of oppression by an author at the peak of her craft. Unputdownable, Jemisin is one of the few writers on my “autobuy” list.

By N. K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

26 authors picked The Fifth Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this "intricate and extraordinary" Hugo Award winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. (The New York Times)

This is the way the world ends. . .for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land…


Book cover of A Deadly Education

Katrina Archer Why did I love this book?

A magical school for wizards, but Harry Potter this is not. In Naomi Novik’s world, young mages are sent for four years to the Scholomance, to protect them from the monsters, or “mals” that want to eat them for the mana that all sorcerers use. El, a student in her junior year with no friends, has been used to being an outcast since her family rejected her after her great-great-grandmother prophesied she’d become an evil malificer and bring about the destruction of wizarding society. I love how El, snarky and spiky, fights hard to prove everyone wrong while still worrying constantly that she might indeed be, if not bad news, a helpless tool of fate—all while refusing to sand down her own rough edges.

By Naomi Novik,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked A Deadly Education as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you're inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school's many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions - never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying…


Book cover of All Systems Red

Katrina Archer Why did I love this book?

Murderbot is a cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, that has secretly hacked the internal governor module that allows humans to control it. Despite wanting to do nothing but watch soap operas, it needs to keep its current clients alive, so as not to give itself away, losing what little hard-won autonomy it has. The problem is, Murderbot once malfunctioned and killed 57 people, and because of gaps in its data memory, doesn’t understand why. It’s also at risk of being counterhacked and put under hostile control, endangering the survey team it’s protecting. In Murderbot, Wells has created one of the most original SF characters in recent memory, a beautiful portrayal of a neurodivergent being that resists its own humanity all while behaving unfailingly humanely. I couldn’t help but love Murderbot.

By Martha Wells,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked All Systems Red as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All Systems Red by Martha Wells begins The Murderbot Diaries, a new science fiction action and adventure series that tackles questions of the ethics of sentient robotics. It appeals to fans of Westworld, Ex Machina, Ann Leckie's Imperial Raadch series, or lain M. Banks' Culture novels. The main character is a deadly security droid that has bucked its restrictive programming and is balanced between contemplative self discovery and an idle instinct to kill all humans. In a corporate dominated s pa cef a ring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by…


You might also like...

Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

Book cover of Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

Patrick G. Cox Author Of Ned Farrier Master Mariner: Call of the Cape

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

On the expertise I claim only a deep interest in history, leadership, and social history. After some thirty-six years in the fire and emergency services I can, I think, claim to have seen the best and the worst of human behaviour and condition. History, particularly naval history, has always been one of my interests and the Battle of Jutland is a truly fascinating study in the importance of communication between the leader and every level between him/her and the people performing whatever task is required.  In my own career, on a very much smaller scale, this is a lesson every officer learns very quickly.

Patrick's book list on the Battle of Jutland

What is my book about?

Captain Heron finds himself embroiled in a conflict that threatens to bring down the world order he is sworn to defend when a secretive Consortium seeks to undermine the World Treaty Organisation and the democracies it represents as he oversees the building and commissioning of a new starship.

When the Consortium employs an assassin from the Pantheon, it becomes personal.

Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

By Patrick G. Cox, Janet Angelo (editor),

What is this book about?

The year is 2202, and the recently widowed Captain James Heron is appointed to stand by his next command, the starship NECS Vanguard, while she is being built. He and his team soon discover that they are battling the Consortium, a shadowy corporate group that seeks to steal the specs for the ship’s new super weapon. The Consortium hires the Pantheon, a mysterious espionage agency, to do their dirty work as they lay plans to take down the Fleet and gain supreme power on an intergalactic scale. When Pantheon Agent Bast and her team kidnap Felicity Rowanberg, a Fleet agent…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in robots, psychokinesis, and monsters?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about robots, psychokinesis, and monsters.

Robots Explore 95 books about robots
Psychokinesis Explore 13 books about psychokinesis
Monsters Explore 154 books about monsters