The best books with morally grey characters

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in the Middle East, I’ve met all kinds of moral ambiguity. There’s a lot to say about it. How both sides think they’re right, how the ends justify the means and all that. Then there are the consequences. Even the winners often lose things. So I’ve set out to write about grey characters! About people who do bad things for the greater good, and how their life turns up after. And if you like the trope as much as I do, check the recs!

I wrote...

Winds of Strife

By Uri Gatt,

Book cover of Winds of Strife

What is my book about?

Nye joined the witch-hunters for revenge - to take them down from the inside. But it took 15 years for an opportunity to reveal itself. 15 years of taking on as many missions possible, so he could save a few where others wouldn’t have. 

Now Nye’s mantle is stained by the blood of countless innocent witches. He did save some, but his sanity hangs by a thread. Joined with a few young witches that he’d kept hidden, he’ll try to put an end to the tyranny, to the slaughter, and to avenge the dead. But even if he’ll succeed, it may not suffice to purge the voices from his head.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Blade Itself

Uri Gatt Why did I love this book?

No one is perfect.

We have a man of the law who keeps asking himself why does he interrogate people, why so harshly. Then there’s a fighter who’s too invested in his looks. And a wizard who may seem good, but he uses his magic in brutal, stomach-turning ways.

All of this is fascinating to follow. Each character like this comes with a lot of room to grow, and we see them learn and adapt, while also sometimes doing what needs to be done. There’s good and bad in all of them, like all of us. 

Also, Abercrombie’s prose is incredibly instinctive. Every paragraph reads with a natural rhythm because it’s easy to hear the author’s tone from the choice of words and punctuations. 

By Joe Abercrombie,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Blade Itself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body - not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.

Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.

And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior…

Book cover of A Game of Thrones

Uri Gatt Why did I love this book?

This is a multiplayer chess game, each side with their own agenda. Some play for love, others for revenge, others just to survive. 

It’s a treat to cheer for one side, only to find out we chose wrong. No side is pure good, and no side is pure evil. They’re all just people, and it’s impossible to cheer for only one person when in each chapter, someone else does something amazing or terrible.

The best part about this book is the wisdom. Every character clings to their own principles, and the author chooses the best words to describe these principles. Like, a dwarf who’s principle is “Never forget what you are. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.” 

Words to live by.

By George R. R. Martin,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked A Game of Thrones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

HBO's hit series A GAME OF THRONES is based on George R R Martin's internationally bestselling series A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, the greatest fantasy epic of the modern age. A GAME OF THRONES is the first volume in the series.

'Completely immersive' Guardian

'When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground'

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

From the fertile south, where heat breeds conspiracy, to the vast and savage eastern lands, all the way to the frozen…

Book cover of The Way of Kings

Uri Gatt Why did I love this book?

It’s unspoken, but Way of Kings is filled with morally grey characters. We begin with an assassin who hates killing and move on to meet many others.

The best part is that we fall in love with the characters first. They amaze us in their courage and skills, and only later we learn who they really are:

They’re not good people. They’re totally broken, haunted by the things they’d done. 

Many recommend this book for the magic system, for the epic world building, for the wisdom that we can take home after we’re done, but I recommend it for the grey characters. It really tests the reader’s ability to forgive.

By Brandon Sanderson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Way of Kings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archive begins an incredible new saga of epic proportion.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and…

Book cover of Ender's Game

Uri Gatt Why did I love this book?

This is the peak of moral ambiguity.

The army needs young, bright minds to help it understand the enemy. But the higher-ups forget that they’re dealing with kids, and so the borders between good and bad become blurry.

Is it right to isolate a kid in order to make him better?

Is it right to go to war in order to prevent the next one?

Any reader of grey characters will enjoy this book. It’s short, tight, and it packs a punch that makes you question everything you’ve ever done. Everything you’ve ever supported. And it does that with a cast of many ethnicities and creative setups – like a training room that simulates very well a battle in space.

By Orson Scott Card,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked Ender's Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Orson Scott Card's science fiction classic Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut―young Ender is the Wiggin drafted…

Book cover of Beartown

Uri Gatt Why did I love this book?

If you want a break from fantasy and sci-fi, and you love a book with morally grey characters, then this is it.

Beartown is a town that survives on hockey. The kids play it, the grown-ups work in anything related, and just like in sports, both sides consider themselves the good side in every action they take.

We follow the manager of the hockey club as he must make impossible decisions, then the players, each making their own mistakes. We see villains grow from a place that we can understand, and we see good people making bad calls because no one can be perfect all the time.

And most importantly, we see how sometimes, no choice is the right choice. Especially for the victim.

By Fredrik Backman,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Beartown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'I utterly believed in the residents of Beartown and felt ripped apart by the events in the book' JOJO MOYES

'I couldn't put it down. Heart-rending and engrossing' 5***** Reader Review

In a large Swedish forest, Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else, it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart.

And each year, more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered…

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A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

Book cover of A Particular Man

Lesley Glaister Author Of A Particular Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

About myself: As a novelist I’m crazy for detail. I believe it’s the odd and unexpected aspects of life that bring both characters and story worlds to life. This means that I try to be an observer at all times, keeping alert and using all five – and maybe six – senses. My perfect writing morning begins with a dog walk in the woods or on a beach, say, while keeping my senses sharp to the world around me and listening out for the first whisper of what the day’s writing will bring.

Lesley's book list on relationships and sexuality in post-World War II Britain

What is my book about?

This book is a literary historical novel. It is set in Britain immediately after World War II, when people – gay, straight, young, and old - are struggling to get back on track with their lives, including their love lives. Because of the turmoil of the times, the number of losses, and the dangerous and peculiar circumstances people find themselves in, sexual mores have become shaken and stirred.

But what happened after the war, in the time of healing and settling down? This novel examines the emotional, romantic, and sexual lives of three characters searching for a way to proceed.

A Particular Man

By Lesley Glaister,

What is this book about?

Love never dies in this novel by “a writer of addictive emotional thrillers” (The Independent).

Told from three perspectives A Particular Man is about love, truth and the unpredictable consequences of loss.

When Edgar dies in a Far East prisoner-of-war camp it breaks the heart of fellow prisoner Starling. In Edgar’s final moments, Starling makes him a promise. When, after the war, he visits Edgar’s family, to fulfil this promise, Edgar's mother Clementine mistakes him for another man.

Her mistake allows him access to Edgar’s home and to those who loved him, stirring powerful and disorientating emotions, and embroiling him…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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