The best SFF books where no one is the “good guy”

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by morally grey characters. One of the things I find so fascinating about them is their unpredictability. You can always count on a knight in shining armor to do the right thing. Captain America will always make the sacrifice play. That doesn’t mean they’re not great characters… it just makes it a little harder for them to surprise us. When everyone is kind of a “bad guy” in a story, it makes things doubly fascinating because you simultaneously want to root for everyone and no one. That was my goal in writing Among Thieves: for readers to have no idea who they wanted to “win” in the end. 

I wrote...

Among Thieves

By M. J. Kuhn,

Book cover of Among Thieves

What is my book about?

Ryia ‘the Butcher’ Cautella has earned her reputation as the deadliest blade in the city – not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.

A deadly secret has kept Ryia on the run, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster – sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms. But even the most powerful men can be defeated. One last job stands between Ryia and her freedom – but she can’t do it alone. She teams up with a crew of miscreants, smugglers, and thieves to attempt an impossible heist on the most tightly guarded island in the kingdoms – the Guildmaster’s stronghold. Unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are all planning betrayals of their own...

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Lies of Locke Lamora

M. J. Kuhn Why did I love this book?

I first read The Lies of Locke Lamora in high school and I fell in love with the story immediately. The story follows a group of young thieves scamming their way through a Venice-inspired fantasy city. The characters follow the first half of Robinhood’s rules: They steal from the rich… but they keep their haul instead of giving it away to the poor. They’re not squeaky clean, but they are lovable. Their motivations aren’t necessarily pure, but they are believable. The story takes a dark turn when a larger threat looms, threatening to end life as the gang knows it. Our crew then has to run an elaborate heist to trick a dangerous and brilliant villain. 

The Lies of Locke Lamora gets top billing on my list for two main reasons. Firstly, the sequel, Red Seas Over Red Skies, is the book that dragged me out of my post-university reading slump, paving the way for me to love books all over again. Secondly, The Lies of Locke Lamora was a direct inspiration for my own heist book. Tl;dr: Without this book, I might never have actually started writing novels myself.

By Scott Lynch,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'One of my top ten books ever. Maybe top five. If you haven't read it, you should' Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times bestselling author of The Name of the Wind

'Fresh, original and engrossing' George R.R. Martin, the phenomenon behind A Game of Thrones

They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count.

Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the…

Book cover of Autonomous

M. J. Kuhn Why did I love this book?

Autonomous is a thought-provoking cyberpunk story that takes place in a near-future society where Big Pharma pretty much runs the show. Our main character, Jack, makes dupes of expensive prescription drugs, selling them on the black market. Even though her goal is arguably pretty noble (selling expensive drugs to poorer citizens on the cheap), the story follows the consequences that ensue when she starts selling a black market drug that gives users horrific and life-threatening side effects. 

Our other main characters are a military-grade AI-powered robot and a member of the armed forces who are tasked with chasing down the drug pirate responsible for this catastrophe. These two track down clues to lead them to Jack’s hideout, all while she tries to find a medical solution to the problems she’s caused. 

None of the characters in Autonomous are particularly likable. All of them are jam-packed with absolutely deal-breaking flaws, but their motivations feel real and visceral, and the exploration of the morality associated with AI will leave you thinking about this book for weeks after you’ve finished it. 

By Annalee Newitz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Autonomous is to biotech and AI what Neuromancer was to the internet' NEAL STEPHENSON

'Something genuinely and thrillingly new' WILLIAM GIBSON

'Holy hell. Autonomous is remarkable' LAUREN BEUKES


Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap medicines for those who can't otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their…

Book cover of Ninth House

M. J. Kuhn Why did I love this book?

Ninth House is not a light, fun read. If you’re interested in picking it up because you’re a fan of Ms. Bardugo’s other work, be warned: This book is dark. Trigger warnings include sexual assault, drug use, overdoses, violent homicide, and more. 

The story follows a scarred and emotionally bruised young woman named Alex who narrowly escapes a world of violence and drug abuse when she is recruited to join one of the prestigious secret societies at an Ivy League university, Yale. While there, Alex learns that these secret societies are involved in occult activities, violent crimes, and more. As you read through the story, you’ll find that all the characters are riddled with flaws. No one is the “good guy,” but I definitely rooted for—and against—several characters, and the mysteries of the story kept me turning pages furiously. 

By Leigh Bardugo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ninth House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*The adult debut from the author of SHADOW AND BONE - now a Netflix Original series!*

The instant SUNDAY TIMES and NEW YORK TIMES bestseller that Stephen King calls 'Impossible to put down'.

Galaxy 'Alex' Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale's freshman class. A dropout and the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved crime, Alex was hoping for a fresh start. But a free ride to one of the world's most prestigious universities was bound to come with a catch.

Alex has been tasked with monitoring the mysterious activities of Yale's secret societies - well-known haunts of the…

Book cover of This Savage Song

M. J. Kuhn Why did I love this book?

I’m a fan of V. E. Schwab’s writing in general, but This Savage Song is my personal favorite story of theirs. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a main character as unlikeable as Kate Harker. The daughter of a kingpin who rules over a city where monsters are real, Kate is ruthless and rebellious. As the city threatens to burst into an all-out war, Kate has to team up with another main character—one of the monsters. 

The writing in This Savage Song is lyrical and punchy at the same time, making it a quick and compelling read. If you’re looking for a story where everyone is a villain in their own way, set in a world with a fascinating magic system that turns violence into actual living, breathing monsters, you’ll want to give this one a read.

By Victoria Schwab,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked This Savage Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city, a grisly metropolis where the violence has begun to create real and deadly monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the inhabitants pay for his protection. August just wants to be human, as good-hearted as his own father-but his curse is to be what the humans fear. The thin truce that keeps the Harker and Flynn families at peace is crumbling, and an assassination attempt forces Kate and August into a tenuous alliance. But how…

Book cover of The Kingdom of Liars

M. J. Kuhn Why did I love this book?

The Kingdom of Liars follows a man named Michael Kingman, the son of a traitor to the crown. The main character’s father was accused of murdering the king’s nine-year-old son, obviously making him unpopular and unwelcome in high society. Michael is petty and self-serving, taking low-level jabs at a world that’s rejected him. When he’s offered the chance to get back into the court, he jumps at it, accidentally uncovering some dark secrets as he does.

This book is great for a number of reasons, but one of the things I love about it is the magic system. In The Kingdom of Liars, the price of using magic is some of your memories. This adds a fun wrinkle to the story, making it hard for our morally grey, magic-wielding characters to trust anything: Even their own memory.

By Nick Martell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Kingdom of Liars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michael Kingman has been an outsider for as long as he remembers. The court which executed his father also exiled him and his family. They branded him a traitor, and the nobles who had been his friends turned their backs, prepared to let the legendary Kingman family die on Hollow's city streets.

Only they survived.

And it should come as no surprise to Hollow Court, or the King, that they've been searching for the truth ever since.
History is written by the winners, truth buried beneath lies until it's Forgotten. Justice seems impossible in a city where the price of…

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The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Swimmer Public Speaker Reader Lover of gardens

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…

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