For my first list, I've decided to tackle villainous females. For some reason, they have their own style of nastiness. Male villains may be memorable and commit foul deeds, but females often have their own bitter flavour. Some seem to develop a particular type of cattiness, going straight for the emotional jugular vein in a way which may not even occur to their male counterparts. They may have a way of being discreet and sneaky, putting on an innocent or lovable face, concealing the seething nastiness within. I've chosen ten books which spring to mind from my reading over the past few years, and am happy to see that half of these are by Australian authors (although I'm certain it's not because our women are nastier. We just know how to tell a good story).
I've decided to count backwards. These are roughly from most mild to the very worst, although you'll find that many of them operate in the same sort of spirit as fairytale characters such as Snow White's wicked stepmother, C.S. Lewis' queen of Narnia, and Dodie Smith's Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmatians.
10) The Risky Way Home by Paula Vince
Please allow me to include one of my own. Henrietta Bowman is the hero's bitter old grandmother. She has a history of making Piers and his sister, Suzanne's lives almost unbearable, while their mother, Mara, seemed too spineless to stick up for them. They blame many of their personal hang-ups on her influence, and in the course of the story, it is revealed why she resents her grandchildren so fiercely, and why Mara feels she has no comeback.
9) A New Resolution by Rose Dee
Caroline is the sort of character we love to see falling flat on her face. She is a grown-up spoiled brat who always had designs on the hero, Nate, for her own reasons, and turns up thinking that she'll kick up a fuss and get her own way, as usual. Her plan includes humiliating the sensitive heroine, Anika, and making her feel horrible. Little does Caroline know that she'll be way out of her element on Resolution Island. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments as she gets what she deserves.
8) The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate
Gina is the older sister of the heroine, Tandi. She's the ultimate freeloader, who will keep her distance when things are going her way, and then show up to throw her weight around, getting her controlling fingers stuck into however many lives she can. You give her an inch and she'll take a mile. Throughout the story, her lack of scruples may amaze readers. And she remains totally shameless, thinking that she's just doing what she has to do to look after Number One.
7) Every Waking Moment by Chris Fabry
Jillian Millstone is the new director of a nursing home, taking over from a kinder predecessor. She's is officious, haughty and clearly wrong for the job, although she think she will implement vast improvements So convinced of her own infallibility, she closes her mind to people who try to reason with her. And she sees people as 'types' rather than individuals. I liked the choice of surname for her.
6) Charter to Redemption by D. J. Blackmore
People who pretend to be looking after you, but intend to use you as a pawn in their own personal games, are easy to dislike. Heroine Emma Colchester's Aunt Adelaide fits the bill to a tee. She puts herself in the role of benefactor, organising a marriage for her niece which brings Emma right across the world. However, she deliberately withholds certain information about Emma's intended, Gideon Quinn, including his age. We discover why Emma was set up by Adelaide as a sacrificial lamb.
5) Tangled Secrets by Carol Preston
The heroine, Beth, arrives in the colony with her two younger brothers, to discover that her father's fiance, Bridget, resents them all, especially her. Bridget seems to go out of her way to make Beth's life miserable, in sneaky, underhanded, cruel ways, until finally Beth snaps and makes a decision which negatively impacts many years of her life. Bridget is a wicked stepmother of the Australian colonial era, knowing that Beth is helpless and friendless, yet rejoicing because this gives her more leverage to make her life miserable.
4) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
I know this is children's and youth fantasy, but I can't help putting Professor Dolores Umbridge in a list such as this. She was surely the most calculating, evil-hearted, easy-to-despise Defense against the Dark Arts teacher Hogwarts ever had. All her badness was delivered in the most patronising, sickly-sweet way. "No Harry dear, put away your quill. I have a special one I want you to use." It's easy to shudder when I think about her.
3) Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Rita Stella Galieh
Another Australian colonial novel with the most brazenly wicked woman you could expect to find. Cornelia Cantrell is the employer of heroine governess, Megan Trevallyn. Cornelia cooks up such a huge and horrible plot that I won't mention anything about it for fear of plot spoilers. How she manages to put it all together and then live the lie she has concocted has a twist of evil genius about it. And it's all about self-gratification and getting her own way.
2) A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell
This one is set in the Elizabethan court in the 1500s. Lady DeWinter poses for years as the mentor of the more naive young heroine, Marget, Lady Lytham. When you discover Lady DeWinter's selfish purposes for the bogus advice she deals out, and the history of ruined and wrecked lives she's left behind her, you can only shake your head. This is one wicked woman.
1) In the Shadow of Jezebel by Mesu Andrews
History's most infamous mother and daughter team must top of the list. The Bible reveals Jezebel as a shameless manipulator who controlled her husband, and hence the kingdom, trying to spread hideous Baal worship and wipe out knowledge of the true God. Her daughter, Athaliah, follows in her footsteps, not hesitating to plan the murder of her own infant grandson. This novel brings them vividly to life, referring to themselves as the 'Queens of Destiny.'
I hope you enjoyed my list. Feel free to mention any other novels which may fit on this list, or create your own.