Fantasy is filled with brave heroes, wicked villains, and wise old mentors.
But some of the most memorable characters are the rogues—those lovable scoundrels and rapscallions who charm their way into readers’ hearts.
Who doesn’t love a witty, wildcard rule-breaker?
Let’s take a look at what makes fantasy rogues so dashingly appealing.
What is a Rogue?
While definitions vary, a fantasy rogue is generally a character who lives by their wits, thumbing their nose at laws and social conventions.
They usually have criminal tendencies, whether picking pockets, running scams, or just generally causing a ruckus.
Think Han Solo rather than lawful good paladins.
Rogues are notoriously unpredictable.
You never know if they’ll swoop in to save the day or make off with the loot.
Their moral compasses are often more flexible than your average hero’s.
But their quips are sharper than the daggers they have hidden up their sleeves.
Why Readers Love Rogues
They’re exciting – Rogues thrive on breaking rules and causing mischief, whether through thievery, assassinations, scams, or just general troublemaking. Their antics and scheming often directly drive the plot forward in unpredictable and kinetic ways. Rogues keep readers on their toes, never knowing what kind of havoc they will wreak next.
They’re funny – Sharp wits and razor-edged sarcasm are signature traits for many rogues. They constantly trade barbs with friends and foes alike, bringing much-needed levity and humor to balance out the seriousness of traditional stoic fantasy heroes. Their cheeky quips and dirty jokes act like spice, seasoning an adventure tale with delightful irreverence.
They’re capable – Rogues rely on their resourcefulness and varied skillsets rather than brute magical or physical strength to survive and succeed. Often starting from underdog positions, a rogue’s cleverness, adaptability, and expertise in areas like thievery, assassination, con artistry, and more allows them to punch far above their weight class. It’s immensely satisfying seeing a rogue turn the tables through creativity rather than combat prowess.
They’re relatable – Rogues in fantasy often operate outside of mainstream society, fighting against corrupt systems and unjust rulers. Their moral flexibility and willingness to question authority makes them more accessible and understandable protagonists than the archetypal lawful good knight errant. Readers recognize the rogue’s roguishness as a product of circumstancxes, rooting for the scrappy antihero.
They’re charming – For all their shady morals, rogues often have an underlying heart of gold that emerges through charming personality quirks and relationships that humanize them. Their care for fellow misfits and outcasts can tug at reader heartstrings. And who can resist falling for a scoundrel with a soft spot? The appeal of redeeming a charming rapscallion makes rogues hard to resist.
Fantasy’s Finest Rogues
From thieves to assassins, pirates to con artists, here are some of fantasy’s most iconic roguish characters:
Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard Sequence) – This saboteur leads a band of thief protagonists in Lynch’s Ocean’s Eleven-esque fantasy heist series.
Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass) – Assassin turned royal champion Celaena is fiercely independent and not afraid to break rules. A YA fantasy favourite.
Royce and Hadrian (Riyria Revelations) – This thief/fighter duo banters their way through Sullivan’s adventures, stealing from the rich and meddling in conspiracies.
Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire) – The wisecracking “Imp” is one of few characters whose wit can match his intellect in Martin’s gritty fantasy saga.
Kvothe (The Kingkiller Chronicles) – With his magical talents, intellect, and roguish disregard for authority, Kvothe charms his way through Rothfuss’ epic trilogy.
Jalan Kendeth (Red Queen’s War) – Mark Lawrence portrays an enjoyably amoral antihero forced to be brave despite his cowardly instincts.
Vlad Taltos (Dragaera) – Assassin, mob boss, and sorcerer Vlad lives by his wits in Brust’s long-running series of swashbuckling fantasy adventures.
FitzChivalry Farseer (The Realm of the Elderlings) – Hobb’s royal bastard turned assassin has flexible morals yet an underlying heart of gold.
Gen (The Queens of Renthia) – No rogues gallery would be complete without a smart-mouthed thief. Gen steals scenes (among other things) in Dennard’s nature-based fantasy series.
Binti (Binti) – Math genius and intergalactic adventurer Binti hacks, tinkers, and tricks her way through Okorafor’s afrofuturist sci-fi/fantasy series.
Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows) – Leader of a gang of outcasts, Kaz is cunningly ruthless in Bardugo’s YA heist fantasy inspired by the Dutch Golden Age.
Wydrin (The Copper Promise) – Heavily tattooed sell-sword Wydrin is tough, hilarious, and more than a bit amoral in Jen Williams’ dark yet cheeky epic fantasy trilogy.
Locke (Sorcerer to the Crown) – Sharp-witted, magic-wielding Locke disregards rules of race and gender amid 19th century magical politics in Cho’s witty fantasy of manners.
Eloise (His Secret Illuminations) – Scribe, forger, seducer, spy – Eloise plays many roles in Winters’ Renaissance-inspired fantasy full of political intrigue.
Levisor (We Ride the Storm) – De Castell’s former revolutionary wields wit and wiles as weapons against oppressive regimes in this original secondary world fantasy.
So whether they’re carrying out elaborate heists, trading insults with enemies, or just being lovable jerks, roguish characters bring dashing flair and relatable humanity to fantasy tales.
We can’t get enough of these witty rabble-rousers – here’s hoping for many more in the years to come.
Any favourite fantasy rogues or recommendations for great roguish reads?
Let me know in the comments.