Don’t You Just Love to Hate Villains? A Review of The Hanged Man

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Speculative Fiction

QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes 

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes

POC Main Character: No

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: In the sequel to The Last Sun, Rune Saint James’s life has changed. He’s gained some knowledge about his past he’s not sure what to do with. He’s gained allies and power, but with that, comes new enemies. When his ward’s past comes back to haunt them, Rune will delve into the darkest heart of New Atlantis. What he finds will change his and his family’s lives forever.

A Note On Spoilers:

I’m going to try my very hardest to avoid spoilers not only for The Hanged Man but also The Last Sun. Having said this, this post may contain a few minor spoilers from the tail-end of The Last Sun, so if you want to be sure you’re absolutely spoiler free, skip this review until you’ve at least finished The Last Sun

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

When I was growing up, I was obsessed with villains. In any given fiction franchize, I was always falling head over feet for the bad guys. I had the biggest crush on Catwoman (still do) and among the numerous things that anger me about the Harry Potter books is that Draco Malfoy never got the redemption arc he deserved. As an adult, this villain craze has somewhat died out, but not fully. Killmonger and Loki are two of my absolute favorite MCU characters. What’s different is that I’ve grown comfortable with loving how much I hate the villains.

Creating a good love-to-hate villain is difficult. You have to give the readers enough information that we know to fear them, to show that they are a real threat to the characters or the world. But the fear of what a villain is capable of isn’t always enough to love-to-hate them. What the reader needs is to love and care for the heros so dearly that the the idea of what the villain might do to them keeps us turning page after page.

K.D. Edwards had created heros so wonderful, so easy to love in his Tarot Sequence. And now with the Hanged Man, he has created a villain that sent absolute chills down my spine. It’s been ages since I’ve been so afraid of a villain. It is impossible not to hate the Hanged Man. Right from the beginning, we know that this is a man who is willing and able to do anything to get what he desires. And the object of his desire in this book is Max, Rune’s ward, promised to the Hanged Man for marriage before the fall of Max’s grandmother’s court.

What makes the Hanged Man work so well as a villain? It starts at the very beginning of the book, when his men attempt to abduct Max. Rune sees first hand how far the Hanged Man is willing to go to achieve what he wants. Over the course of the next two hundred pages, the reader is introduced to the horrors this man has performed. They start as metaphorical drops of red in the snow until we find the hoard of bodies he’s left cold in the snow. Every drop is a little more horrific, a little more upsetting.

Just when the reader thinks they have an idea of the depths this monster is willing to sink, Edwards takes us deeper. Rune uncovers such horrors as to leave the reader gasping. Not only does this make him a compelling and utterly disgusting villain, it drives the characters to action. It forces Rune to take steps he has been avoiding in order to stop the Hanged Man.

Which ultimately is the role of a villain, and it is one that most books miss entirely. It is not enough for an antagonist to be scary, powerful and evil. A good antagonist drives the protagonist to action, to change. It forces their hand and makes them act in ways both good and bad but always large. If the villain wins, the world will never be the same. If the hero wins, they are still forever changed by what they saw at the hands of the villain. 

Edwards is a master craftsman of storytelling. I’ve already talked about how well he uses his own premise, but this new novel sealed him in my mind as one of my favorite living authors. I eagerly await the next book in the series. After all, there are still villains for Rune and Brand to bring to their knees, and they are bound to be much, much worse. 

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Hanged Man? Leave a comment telling me your favorite love-to-hate villain. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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