Over the events of the first book there isn’t a clear (and present)antagonist. I challenge the need for there to be a villian rubbing his hands together and laughing maniacly in the heroes’ faces. I think it is important instead to focus on the effect the villian has on the world and the execution of his agenda. Lemme ‘splain.
A villian can enforce his influence in many ways. By direct contact, by direct orders, and by influence. In my eyes influence is the most diabolical form because not only did the villian do something evil, he did it without even needing to dirty his own hands or giving the order to make it happen. The villian will set standards and then his followers try to meet them.
Typically this is done by training his minions by rewarding or punishing them based on their action. This has worked for simpler beasts such as dogs for milennia. Humans pick up on this faster (most of the time) and fall into their respective roles on a day by day basis. Give a villian a playground that he can do what he does best and viola, you have an established villain without making themselves abundantly present.
Perhaps I have odd views on what I think makes a good villain, but I think it has so much more impact when a villain doesn’t need to kick puppies to make himself known as a bastard. To me the best villains are only clear villains to the reader. Villains with good publicity are so much more evil because they aren’t even honest about their intentions. Here is an example of the type of villain I am sick of seeing:
Evilor the Destroyer
Evilor wakes in the morning on a blanket of baby seal fur and a waterbed filled daily with the tears of salt mine child slaves. He wakes and brushes his teeth with a horse-hair tooth brush made from the slaughtered tow-beast of a merchant that undercut his tax profits by 0.001%. He spits examines his filed down teeth and bleeds a baby mouse to ensure it’s to a needle fine point.
He tosses it aside leaving it to scurry and panic only to be snared by his pet hell-tiger and eaten whole. He returns to his bedroom and pulls a mace from a weapon rack casually. A bound slave pleads miserably as he approaches and affably slams the mace into their torso; the splintering of ribs and their ear-piercing scream brings a serene sigh to Evilor’s face.
A cleaning servant hurries in, signaled by the scream and tends to the task of changing his linens. The scent of blood hangs in the air from the fresh seal skins that comprise the replacement comforter. The cotton of the sheets is actually woven human hair. His Hell-tiger looks up from the tail of his snack he had been batting back and forth. Evilor prods the fresh wound on his ‘slave bell’ as they cleaning servant works, causing them to whimper.
The cleaning slave finishes their work and bows politely, awaiting the inspection of their work. Evilor has noted they have done it three seconds slower than the last time. He turns back with a frown and finds an imperfection in the new comforter, a single mistitch. The servant notices too and seems unsettled.
“Worry not. Loyal servant. This travesty is not any fault of yours.” Evilor says placing a pale hand on her shoulder. He smiles a wicked smile filled with a rows of his pristine filed teeth. “I will rightly punish the one responsible.”
The servant eases and tries to smile. Evilor traces a long nailed finger across her face tenderly, yet a trail of blood dribbles from her face. The servant hardly notices until a drop of blood falls like a tear to her chin.
“But. Your execution of your duties has fallen into complete and utter disrepair. For that you get a promotion.” He says letting the smile fall off his face. The contradiction of words shows confusion on the cleaning servants face as Evilor idly twirls his beveled mace.
“Cat food,” Evilor jabs the mace firmly into the belly of the servant making them stumble back. His Hell-tiger is well trained to know the cue and has it’s fangs clamped around the victim’s skull and drags them back to begin to devour them. The beast knows his master well, and is sure to not kill it’s meal for some time.
Evilor steps towards the bound slave, casually discarding the mace behind him to clatter on the stone floor. “So. Good news. I have a job opening now. You DO know how to set sheets properly? Right?”
I think the sad part is that it’s not much more of an exaggeration. I prefer villains in this light:
Subtletor the King
Subtletor gazed out on the city in its splendor. The melody of hammers striking stone punctuated the crisp morning. He was taking a short break from his daily tasks, today was a particularly busy day. The seven remaining merchant guilds in the city had been vying for supremacy. The head of the eighth had an unfortunate accident in his stock room and had been crushed underneath his own livelihood. You would think a stonemason mogul would think to look up.
With the eight out of the way, the merchant guilds were back to marking up their costs and leaving plenty of coins for the royal coffers. The city would continue to swell even if it was on the back of the poor. Even with sporadic donations of food to the most oppressed of city sections, progress would not be slowed. Everything is on schedule.
People have been staying inside for the past weeks. They’re smart to. A serial killer has been preying on those indulging in nightlife. No matter how brutal the recent crimes there will always be those willing to risk their health and lives for something as simple as entertainment. The bars, brothels and drug houses have been still turning a profit thanks to raising their prices.
The guards are under strict orders to not be outwardly oppressive, but there have been a fair number of people turning randomly violent in the face of authority. The people appreciate the guardsmen for their swift handling of problematic situations. They have no idea that more than half of the outbursts are staged.
It is so much easier to target slightly problematic individuals, upstarts, madmen, and conspirators with these means. Larger problems needed larger resolutions. Fortunately for Subletor there were many people in the world that could appreciate that fact. Money in the hands of the right people, people willing to take risks, led to results; Favorable results.
A gentle knock rang out on the door.
“Come in.” Subtletor says calmly.
The servant that comes in carries a tray of tea and places it on the table behind him. Two sugars and a teaspoon of cream, just the way he likes it. He turns and regards her. “Do you like tea yourself miss?”
She is surprised, as she should be. He never speaks to the servants directly.
“Go on. I asked you a simple question.” He gestures at the tea. “Do you like tea?”
“I do… your majesty.” She says quietly.
“Take that one then, and join me.” He steps forward and sits at the table he frequented every morning. “Tell me. Did anyone speak with you in the hall?”
“Yes your grace. Duke Jerkfaac, he asked if I was well. He asked about my family…” Her eyes turned downward.
“He is a good man.” Subtletor reached out to pluck a sugar cube from the dish with one hand and poured his tea with the other.
“Y…Your grace I can…” She held out a hand in protest.
“Worry not. I simply felt like pouring my own.” He smiled. “Go on. Drink. I’m sure you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting royal tea. Ironic. As you serve it to me every morning.”
The woman blushed deeply. “M’lord, I am not worthy of it.”
“Come now. I shouldn’t have to order a pretty woman to enjoy tea.” Subtletor eyed the sugar cube rolling it in his fingers.
“Of course your grace.” She reached out and took the cup carefully. She feared nothing more than dropping and shattering it. When the cup neared her lips she caught the smell. She paused to savor it. She had good instincts, it was proper ettiquitte to admire the tea. Or perhaps she merely learned by watching him. Any trace of nobility was lost when she drank it though, she took two large draws from the tea instead of sipping it and testing the flavor. She was common after all.
“It’s…good. Really good.” Her eyes lit up.
“Of course it is. Despite it’s added flavor.” Subtletor narrowed his eyes.
She looked at him confused. The muscles in her arm slacked and the cup fell to the ground, shattering. A look of horror filled her face as she intended to push aside the chair to somehow catch the cup, but it was already decimated into hundreds of pieces. She slumped on the ground, confused as to where her strength had gone.
“Guards.” Subtletor called calmy. Two men burst into the room with weapons at the ready. “Seize Duke Jerkfaac. He has attempted to poison me,”
“And the girl? Sir?”
“Alas, she is already dead.” Subtletor gestured past her twitching body. “Have her publicly honored for unwittingly saving my life. After you bring me the Duke. I need to have a word with him.”
He already knew of course, but evidence is needed to punish treachery. What a poor choice of occupation for the girl. He had no doubt she was clueless to the ploy, but she was still dead the moment the cyanide was placed in the tea. As the guards fled the room to do their task the servant twitched on the floor like a flopping fish. Her death would be slow and painful, likely.
He watches and learns. It is not every day he can observe such remarkable data.
Both evil. Both Brutal. But you tell me? Who is the more interesting foe?