10 Exclusive Books With Morally Grey Characters

Ambiguous Books

Welcome to the intriguing world of shades and shadows, where characters dwell in the realm of moral ambiguity, challenging our perceptions of right and wrong. You’ve come to the perfect spot if you’re drawn to stories that refuse to paint their heroes and villains in black and white. Books with morally grey characters invite us on a journey through the complexities of human nature, where decisions are not made lightly, and the path to redemption is often riddled with twists and turns.

These characters, with their flawed virtues and noble vices, offer a richer, more nuanced exploration of what it means to be human. So, fasten your seatbelts and prepare to delve into a selection of stories that celebrate the beautifully imperfect nature of their protagonists. From cunning antiheroes to conflicted revolutionaries, get ready to meet some of literature’s most captivating and complex characters.

10 Books With Morally Grey Characters

Morally grey characters defy simplistic categorization as purely good or evil. Instead, they possess various virtues and flaws, making them complex and multifaceted. Books featuring morally grey characters offer a deeper understanding of human psychology and behavior by exploring the motivations, conflicts, and contradictions shaping their actions.

Here are my top favorite ten books with morally grey characters. They explore themes such as moral relativism, situational ethics, and the consequences of moral compromise, encouraging readers to consider the complexities of real-world moral dilemmas. Let’s begin!

NameKey FocusRating (Goodreads)
The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieMany characters work their job in a war situation.4.1
Sawkill Girls by Claire LegrandThree girls experience horror and romance on an island.3.6
Ninth House by Leigh BardugoA girl passes through abuse and a horror situation.4.0
Blackwing by Ed McDonaldA bounty hunter falls in love and war.4.1
Vicious by V. E. SchwabTwo roommates discover love and solve a crime mystery.4.2
The Poppy War by R. F. KuangA strong lady is doing military training in a rigid society.4.1
Red Sister by Mark LawrenceIn a fantasy world, girls discover friendship and struggle for themselves.4.2
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn MuirA funny queer character solves a murder mystery and does romance.4.2
Burn the Dark by S. A. HuntA punk YouTuber (witch hunter) is doing adventure in a fantasy world.3.7
To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra ChristoAn enemies-to-lovers and slow-burn romance with fairy tales.3.8
Books With Morally Grey Characters List

1. The Blade Itself (The First Law)

This is the darkest and most violent fantasy that I’ve read. The main thing is that none of the characters are heroes. There’s no heroic goal or quest to change things for the better. It has a more gritty, politically realistic feeling to it. The plot is slow. So, if you’re looking for something fast-paced, action-packed, and plot-driven, this is not where you’ll find it.

The stronger characters than others drive the book. I would say my favorite is Glokta, who is a funny and fascinating character. His job is to torture and interrogate people for the kingdom he now lives in and works for. So, if you’re looking for darker, interesting grey characters, I recommend checking it out.

The Blade Itself

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Narrator: Steven Pacey
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Tropes: War & Military Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Adventure, Sci-fi, Horror
Number Of Pages: 515
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

2. Sawkill Girls

The story of this book is between fantasy and horror. You will meet a scarier, super feminist, and very queer. The book follows three main characters who are girls on Sawkill Island, where something is kidnapping and killing teen girls. So, there are a lot of creepy things going on. Also, this one does include a female-female romance with an on-the-page asexual representation.

The characters are enjoyable to read about, but I didn’t find any cliffhanger moments. Moreover, I found part two to be very simple and predictable. Overall, I enjoyed the atmosphere and the relationship between the characters, especially the ambiguous one. If you are looking for something that is very feminist and queer representation with morally grey characters, this is a good one to check out.

Sawkill Girls

Author: Claire Legrand
Publisher: HarperAudio
Narrator: Lauren Ezzo
Average Rating: 4.2/5
Tropes: Friendship, Horror, Dark Fantasy, Thriller, Queer, Feminism
Number Of Pages: 447
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

3. Ninth House (Alex Stern)

This book is a slower-paced urban fantasy set at Yale’s secret societies and ghosts. So, it is a very dark and heavy book that deals a lot with sexual abuse with a lot of explicit content. With that, there is a lot of violence toward female bodies. It is one that people seem to love or hate. Again, it is more description-heavy with ambiguous/grey characters.

You will like the way that it handles the issues of sexual abuse and the ways that powerful people get away with things. I enjoyed the beginning world, the school setting, and the magic, but it went downhill fast. So, I do plan on continuing with the series. If you listen to audiobooks, I would recommend trying this via audio.

Ninth House

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang, Michael David Axtell
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Tropes: Epic Fantasy, Mystery, Mental-health, Ghost
Number Of Pages: 459
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle

4. Blackwing (Raven’s Mark)

My following recommendation is another book that falls into the dark fantasy category. While it wasn’t my all-time favorite book, I plan on continuing in the series. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, and the main character is a bounty hunter. There are powerful, godlike beings in this world at war, and humans are caught in the middle of that.

The author did a great job seamlessly weaving world-building into the narrative, which is difficult, especially as a debut author. If you’re looking for those morally grey characters or darker fantasy, this will give that to you.


Author: Ed McDonald
Narrator: Colin Mace
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Tropes: Sword & Sorcery Fantasy, Dystopia, Romance
Number Of Pages: 360
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle

5. Vicious (Villains)

We follow two young men who were roommates and rivals in college. They discovered a way to develop these extraordinary abilities that come at the expense of your soul. Years later, their rivalry has come about anew; people are being killed, and lots of things are happening.

So, It’s an exciting exploration of morality because you might root for one of these two characters over the other, but neither is moral. They’re both the hero of their own story. If you want something with fantastic elements to explore gray morality, this is a good one.


Author: V. E. Schwab
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Narrator: Jeremy Arthur
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Tropes: Superhero Fantasy, Alternate-universe, Crime-mystery
Number Of Pages: 366
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

6. The Poppy War

The Poppy War is the first book in a historical military fantasy series that is dark but brilliant. Another one is a powerful debut. It follows a girl who wants to train to be part of the military. Some people didn’t love it because they thought it felt choppy. So, it does have distinct parts. The first part is the girl getting into this military training school that ends because a war begins, and then it’s her going to war.

Real events inspire the book in Chinese history, The Rape of Nanking. So, a chapter later in the book contains a lot of difficult-to-read content based on things that genuinely happened in wartime. It is one of the most difficult-to-read passages that I have read. We’re getting morally grey characters, and it is phenomenal.

The Poppy War

Author: R. F. Kuang
Publisher: HarperAudio
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Average Rating: 4.3/5
Tropes: World Literature, Cultural Heritage, War, Philosophy, Politics
Number Of Pages: 531
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

7. Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor)

This is a fantastic adult fantasy series featuring assassin nuns as the main characters. I found the perfect balance between being character-driven and plot-driven. There’s a lot of action and plot, but such great characterization. The story has an almost entirely female cast of characters. They’re so well done. There are not that many male authors who do this job of writing female characters.

The author focuses on friendship and the importance of believing in others even when you’ve been hurt in the past. So, friendship is the constant theme of this story. The audiobook narrator, Heather O’Neil, does a fantastic job, and I’ll continue to listen to the rest of the trilogy. The normal paperback quality is very poor, but the hardcover is fantastic to collect.

Red Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Recorded Books
Narrator: Heather O’Neill
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Tropes: Action & Adventure, Sword & Sorcery, Disability-rep
Number Of Pages: 467
Available: Audiobook | Mass Market Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

8. Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb)

This book will not work for everyone, and it seems to be a polarizing book. So it has been pitched as lesbian necromancers in space, which is true, but it also contains a close circle of a murder mystery. Gideon, the main character, is queer and funny.

If you don’t like Gideon, you won’t enjoy this book. What makes this such a good time hinges on Gideon as the grey character driving the force of the book. I enjoyed all its elements and am excited to continue in the series and learn more about the author’s dark world.

Gideon the Ninth

Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Recorded Books
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Average Rating: 4.5/5
Tropes: Humorous Fantasy, Female-lead, Sapphic
Number Of Pages: 448
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

9. Burn the Dark (Malus Domestica)

The story follows a punk YouTuber who’s a witch hunter, and she films hunting witches, except that it’s real. It also has some stranger things vibes with a kid and his group of friends. I got some super creepy moments with real horror elements to it. But then, sometimes the horror is that this is set in the South, and there’s racism happening.

There’s a creepy scene in a public restroom in the middle of the night where no one else is around. It’s a whole lot of fun. So, I’m super excited to read book two because I got a cliffhanger at the end.

Burn the Dark

Author: S. A. Hunt
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Average Rating: 4.2/5
Tropes: Occult Horror, Action & Adventure, Witches
Number Of Pages: 384
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle

10. To Kill a Kingdom

This book is a dark Little Mermaid retelling. Instead of following a mermaid, we follow a siren singing to lure men to death. The story is a dual perspective; the first perspective we have is that of Lyra, a princess of the sirens.

Among sirens, there is a tradition that they will steal the heart of a human in the month of their birth. By stealing the heart of a human, they reach into their chest and rip out their heart. Then, the sirens keep those hearts because the hearts give them power.

As a princess of the sirens, Lyra has a tradition of only stealing the hearts of human princes. So, she gets a reputation as the prince’s killer. The other perspective in this story is Prince Ellen, a prince among the humans known as the siren hunter.

Lyra does something in the story that angers her mother, the Sea Queen. So she is thrown out of the ocean into a human body among the humans, Lyra and Prince Ellen. They have to go on an adventure together and determine where their loyalties lie in the world and setting.

We visited several countries throughout the book but knew much about the world. The world-building was fairly simplistic. There are a lot of different countries in this world, but they were very much categorized into certain stereotypes, and they didn’t feel very fleshed out or have a lot of depth to them. While this was a simple world, it was fairly vast.

The way the actions played into the catalyst of the storyline didn’t make sense to me because there was enough world-building. I didn’t understand the context of those actions and why those actions would lead to those results. But I enjoyed the morally grey characters and the adventure. If you like sea fantasy with adventure, you must read it.

To Kill a Kingdom

Author: Alexandra Christo
Narrator: Jacob York, Stephanie Willis
Publisher: Audible Studios
Average Rating: 4.4/5
Award nominee: Goodreads Choice
Tropes: Mermaid, Pirates, Fairy Tale & Folklore Adaptations, Enemies-to-lovers, Slow-burn
Number Of Pages: 344
Available: Audiobook | Paperback | Hardcover | Kindle | Audio CD

5 Fiction books with morally grey characters

  1. “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

This novel is a masterclass exploring the dark side of ambition and the quest for power. It introduces Victor and Eli, college friends who discover the secret to gaining superhuman abilities. What starts as a scientific adventure quickly descends into a vengeful rivalry. Schwab crafts characters who operate in the grey areas of morality, making it difficult for readers to discern heroes from villains, as both protagonists embody shades of both.

  1. “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin

Starting with “A Game of Thrones,” this epic fantasy series is a tapestry of morally grey characters, each driven by complex motives and the will to survive in a brutal, unforgiving world. Characters like Jaime Lannister and Sandor Clegane start as seemingly irredeemable but evolve in ways that challenge readers’ initial judgments, showcasing Martin’s skill in character development and moral ambiguity.

  1. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

This psychological thriller unravels the complexities of a marriage gone terribly wrong. Amy and Nick Dunne present a facade of a perfect couple, but the disappearance of Amy reveals layers of deception, manipulation, and betrayal. Flynn excels in crafting a narrative where both protagonists embody morally grey characteristics, leaving readers questioning the nature of truth and loyalty.

  1. “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

Set in a small Vermont college, the novel follows a group of classic students who explore morality beyond the boundaries of the law, leading to tragic consequences. Tartt’s characters are intellectual, elitist, and deeply flawed, making fascinating and horrifying choices. The novel delves into the consequences of intellectual arrogance and isolation from believing one is above conventional morality.

  1. “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo’s fantasy heist novel is set in the gritty underworld of Ketterdam, where Kaz Brekker, a criminal prodigy, leads a band of outcasts on an impossible heist. Each member of the crew has a morally ambiguous past and complex motivations. The characters, especially Kaz, are celebrated for their strategic minds, loyalty to their crew, and willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, even if it means crossing moral lines.

5 Romance books with morally grey characters

  1. “The Wrath & the Dawn” by Renée Ahdieh

Inspired by “The Arabian Nights,” this novel tells the story of Shahrzad, who volunteers to marry Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, known for murdering his previous wives at dawn. Khalid is the epitome of a morally grey character, haunted by secrets and a curse that compels his cruel actions. Shahrzad’s plans for revenge become complicated as she finds herself falling for him, uncovering the truth behind his deeds and the possibility of redemption through love.

  1. “Vicious” by L.J. Shen

Emilia LeBlanc finds herself at the mercy of Vicious, the man who ruined her life. Years later, he offers her a job to be close to him for reasons unknown, unveiling a complex relationship fueled by hate, attraction, and the past. Vicious, true to his name, is cold, cruel, and driven by vengeance, yet capable of deep feelings, making him a quintessentially morally grey love interest whose path to redemption is fraught with conflict and passion.

  1. “Corrupt” by Penelope Douglas

Erika Fane is drawn to Michael Crist, a man linked to her past and part of a group known for dangerous and reckless behavior. The story covers themes of power, revenge, and desire, set against the backdrop of a secretive society. Michael and his friends embody moral ambiguity, challenging Erika (and readers) to face the thin line between fear and attraction, hate and love.

  1. “Credence” by Penelope Douglas

After the death of her parents, Tiernan de Haas moves in with her new guardians, finding herself involved in a complex dynamic with her step-uncle and his two sons. Set in a remote Colorado cabin, the novel explores themes of loneliness, belonging, and the healing power of unconventional love. The characters, each morally grey, are bound by their shared pain and the search for redemption through their tangled relationships.

  1. “The Bourbon Thief” by Tiffany Reisz

This Southern Gothic tale of revenge, family secrets, and forbidden love centers around the Bourbon empire’s heir, Cooper McQueen, and Paris, a mysterious woman with a vendetta against the wealthy Bourbon dynasty. The narrative weaves through past and present, revealing the morally grey areas of each character’s actions and the deep, dark roots of their desires and motivations.

5 Classic books with morally grey characters

  1. “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This profound novel follows Rodion Raskolnikov, a former student living in poverty in St. Petersburg, who convinces himself of the righteousness of committing murder for the greater good. Raskolnikov’s internal conflict, philosophical justifications, and psychological turmoil present a deep exploration of guilt, redemption, and the moral ambiguity of his actions. Dostoevsky masterfully examines the complexities of human conscience and the capacity for moral grey areas to lead to profound personal transformation.

  1. “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

One of Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedies, “Macbeth” centers on the title character, a Scottish general whose ambition is sparked by a prophecy and spurred on by his wife’s encouragement, leading him to murder King Duncan and ascend to the throne. Macbeth’s subsequent tyranny, guilt, and paranoia showcase the tragic downfall of a hero consumed by ambition and the moral grey area of seeking power at any cost.

  1. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

Wilde’s only novel tells the story of Dorian Gray, a young man whose portrait ages and bears the scars of his sinful acts while he remains outwardly youthful and beautiful. Dorian’s moral descent, influenced by Lord Henry Wotton’s hedonistic philosophy, explores themes of vanity, corruption, and the pursuit of pleasure without regard for consequence, making him a quintessential morally grey character.

  1. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë

This novel is a dark, passionate tale of love and revenge on the Yorkshire moors. Heathcliff, an orphan taken in by the Earnshaw family, develops an intense love for his stepsister Catherine Earnshaw. His subsequent actions—driven by love, jealousy, and vengeance—span a moral spectrum that challenges readers’ sympathies and antipathies, encapsulating the essence of morally grey characterizations.

  1. “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo

Hugo’s epic novel of justice, rebellion, and redemption in 19th-century France is populated with characters facing moral ambiguity. Jean Valjean, a convict who breaks parole to create a new life for himself, constantly wrestles with his past deeds and his efforts to live virtuously. Inspector Javert, whose strict adherence to the law leads him to pursue Valjean relentlessly, also embodies the conflict between justice and mercy, showcasing the moral complexity of his character.

Our journey through the world of morally grey characters has been both thought-provoking and exhilarating. These characters, who face the blurred lines between right and wrong, have offered us a mirror of our complexities, reminding us that the essence of humanity lies in its imperfection. Through their struggles, victories, and defeats, we’ve been invited to question our values, empathize with the unfathomable, and find beauty in the struggle.

Whether these stories have left you with a sense of kinship, a spark of introspection, or simply a deep appreciation for the art of storytelling, we hope they’ve inspired you to continue exploring the rich tapestry of characters that literature offers.

So, as you close the pages of this chapter, may the shades of grey you’ve met inspire you to see the world in a broader spectrum of colors, embracing the complexity and depth of the human experience. Happy reading, and here’s to the characters who remind us that life, in all its messiness, is a story worth telling.

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Pauline Jackson

I like to talk about popular books. My book review inspires you to read and save time. Also, I summarize the book and give you the best lessons or ideas that can change your life. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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