The Revenge Fantasies...and Revenge Enacted
Whether it's about righting wrongs, saving face, renegade justice, or playing the long game, I love a book about enacting revenge.
When I started making a list of books I've loved that focus on this theme, I came up with several Greedy Reading Lists' worth. It's just an irresistible setup for a great story.
Here are six novels across genres that kept me hooked on their revenge-filled storylines.
Have you read any of these? If so, I'd love to hear what you thought.
Do you have any favorite books that involve revenge?
01 Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
If you're in for a character-driven, superhero-focused, smart, wicked, action-packed book, look no further. I loved this book and am eagerly awaiting another in this series from Walschots.
Anna is a hench. She's an expendable part of a data entry pool and works boring temp jobs...for villains. It's not like she's in the line of fire or taking part in dastardly plots. She sits behind a computer, she needs the steady paycheck--and she's got a grudging respect for the purity of the revenge missions of the "bad guys" (and girls, and others, including their sidekicks) who help her pay rent.
Then she's unexpectedly and accidentally involved in a violent clash of good and evil and is badly injured by a gallingly shiny superhero. She doubles down on her contempt for the good guys and her annoyance at the way others see them as infallible when they're far from blameless.
Anna's singular, ruthless mission of revenge shapes her emotionally and physically and affects her interpersonal relationships. At times she doesn't recognize herself much anymore. But she can't stop trying to destroy the heroes' false perfection that is devastating so much of the world, and her struggle feels noble in many ways, even if her methods are not.
02 Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
Razorblade Tears is a brutally violent story shadowed with heartbreaking regret and a fast read, and after my love of Blacktop Wasteland, I'm in for any of Cosby's writing.
In S.A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears, two men are coping with the tragic, violent, mysterious deaths of their married sons. Derek and Isiah were estranged from their ex-con fathers, each of whom now regret every moment they didn't make sure the young men knew that they were perfect and beloved.
The story highlights unlikely loyalties forged during desperate times, terrible scenes of cruelty, and shocking, mortal danger posed to everyone even cursorily connected to the situation at hand.
This is a fast read, and I'm in for any of Cosby's writing. I loved his gritty, character-driven mystery-thriller Blacktop Wasteland so much that it made my Six Favorite Summer Reads list when I read it.
For my full review of this book, please see Razorblade Tears.
03 The Change by Kristen Miller
The Change explores the power of menopausal women and the poignant strength of friendship; supplies satisfying revenge fantasies and camp; and winds it all through our middle-aged heroines' satisfying solving of a disturbing set of mysteries.
In Kristen Miller's novel The Change, set in Mattauk, Long Island, three women cope with various challenges surrounding aging, change, and unexpected new beginnings.
Nessa, Jo, and Harriet work together and use their newfound abilities to try to solve the mystery of a missing girl, along the way uncovering dark, disturbing patterns of abusive power and shining a light on the horrifically effective shields provided by money and privilege.
The tone of The Change is largely campy, as middle-aged women heroines unite against the book's sometimes caricature-like, purely evil bad guys by using their new-found fantastical powers. The revenge-fantasy element is particularly satisfying.
But what I loved most about The Change was the unapologetic embracing of the frequently fraught menopausal stage of life. Miller allows the frequently dreaded and bemoaned middle-aged shifts and changes to lead her female characters to realize their terrific strengths. Separately they're formidable, but together, they build a collective power that is the community's only hope to right terrible, horrible, longstanding wrongs.
Click here for my full review of The Change.
04 Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
Stephanie Wrobel's Darling Rose Gold is a wonderfully twisted tale, with double-crossing, codependence, and dark turns.
But some of us cannot forget and will never forgive. We keep our axes sharp, ready to grind. We hold pleas for mercy between our teeth like jawbreakers. They say a grudge is a heavy thing to carry. Good thing we’re extra strong.
In Darling Rose Gold, Wrobel gives us Münchausen syndrome by proxy, lies, betrayals, and double-crossing, all within a claustrophobic, isolated, and codependent mother-and-daughter relationship.
I was totally hooked on this fast read and couldn’t wait to find out who was the better strategist and who was tricking who.
I thought Wrobel's tone was masterful; it wasn't clear who was manipulating the situation and who was being played, or if neither or both were in control.
For my full review of this book, check out Darling Rose Gold.
05 The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
This sci-fi thriller is about betrayal and revenge, but it's not the other-woman story you might expect. I still think of this book from time to time, long after reading it.
Evelyn Caldwell is a brilliant scientist who is also married to a scientist. She's winning awards and well-deserved international attention for her incredible genetic cloning advancements--but people have noticed that her husband has recently been mysteriously absent from her side as she collects her many honors.
This sci-fi thriller is about the forces that drive apart a husband and wife, and the story is about betrayal and revenge, but I hadn't read the premise before I started reading, and I almost dropped the book when I realized what was going on, I was so shocked by the setup--it's not your usual cheating-husband situation.
There are loops and layers to Gailey's story that have to do with identity, autonomy, freedom, shaping others to suit your expectations and desires--and recognizing how you're shaped by others in turn.
I loved the characters' unanticipated loyalty to unlikely parties and their hard-won emotional growth. I was hooked on this one and couldn't wait to find out what happened. I'd love to watch this in movie form. (I just checked, and the rights have been sold. I hope this project happens sooner than later!)
For my full review of this book, see The Echo Wife.
06 The Harpy by Megan Hunter
This slim, intriguing book packs a punch, featuring revenge fantasies mixed with magical realism.
Lucy and Jake are the parents of two young boys. Lucy has sidelined her career to be home with the children, and she and Jake are settled into their routine of daily chores, a comfortable rhythm of longtime marriage, and few surprises. Lucy feels disruptively restless at times, but really, she figures, who doesn't?
Then Lucy receives a message that Jake, her reliable, predictable scientist of a husband, is having an affair with a colleague. A woman he'd invited to their home. Vanessa.
Lucy is undone, but she's resigned to finding a way to move forward. Jake and Lucy reach a tentative truce--with an enormous hitch. Lucy demands to be allowed to hurt Jake three times, physically or otherwise, and each time the act will take him by surprise. Then they'll be even, and all will be forgiven.
Hunter intersperses details of a long-term fascination on Lucy's part with mythology, and she also offers a layer of magical realism that is most present at the end.
Hunter's novel felt unexpected to me, especially in its tone, as the story metamorphoses through everyday predictability, heartbreak and anger, coldly enacted harm, and magical elements. I'm also entranced and a little pleasantly horrified by that cover, including the blood drop hanging precariously from the Y.
For my full review of this book, please check out The Harpy.