Jen Williams is a fantasy writer and Lego obsessive who spends much of her time frowning at notebooks in cafes and fiddling with maps of imaginary places. She is the author of the Copper Cat trilogy. Already published in the U.K., the first novel in the series, The Copper Promise, is now out in the U.S. from Angry Robot Books.
The main character of The Copper Promise is Wydrin of Crosshaven, also known as Wydrin Threefellows, also known as the Copper Cat in certain circles – usually the sort of circles with sawdust on the floor and a general stench of stale beer hanging in the air. Wydrin is a rogue, right down to her battered boiled-leather boots, and personally, I love a rogue, so I thought I’d write about some of my favourites here.
But first of all, what do I mean by rogue? What are the very special and charming qualities a character requires before he or she fits into this particular archetype? (In true rogue fashion, I will be judging entirely by my own definition…)
Well, firstly, funnily enough, charm. A quick wit and a certain way of talking themselves out of trouble – this is an essential rogue trait. Secondly, a healthy dollop of self-interest; rogues are, undoubtedly, out for what they can get, and even when they get roped into stuff like saving the world, they still have half an eye on the coin purse. Next up, skill. Rogues are good at something – they have a particular talent, a thing they do better than most people, and it’s usually how they make their living. And lastly, they are morally dubious. Wydrin has been many things over the years – mercenary, sell-sword, bodyguard, tomb raider – but call her a thief to her face, and you might regret it. However, that’s not to say she isn’t one…
So. Top Rogues.
Han Solo (Star Wars)
Han ‘Probably Everyone’s Favourite Rogue’ Solo fulfils all of my requirements admirably, and has the added advantage of being played by Harrison Ford… let us all pause for a moment to swoon appropriately. Done? Good. There is no doubt he is charming – his confidence, combined with a series of exasperated and outraged facial expressions, and his sparky friendship with the mighty Chewbacca, mean that while Luke Skywalker got the cool mythology and weapon, Han Solo was always going to be the coolest character. Oh, and he has the best ship. And he’s a smuggler. And if I’m honest, the reason I love Han Solo so much has more than a little to do with how he can sometimes be, well, a bit incompetent. Whether shooting panels, running back down corridors or being a jerk at the woman he loves because he’s not sure what else to do, Han is at his most relatable when cocking things up – and we love him for it.
Farscape is one of my favourite TV programmes, because in many ways it is essentially Rogues in Space. Of all the morally dubious passengers of Moya, Chiana is certainly, in my opinion, the biggest and most impressive rogue. Fleeing her home planet of Nebari Prime, Chiana survives on her wits, learning how to steal and charm her way around the Uncharted Territories, until she eventually rocks up to Moya and makes herself at home. Chiana is a true maverick, often acting entirely to please herself despite the trouble it inevitably brings, and the conflicts she raises amongst her companions – well, she has had a difficult life, and frell it all if she isn’t going to have a good time now. However, Chiana ultimately becomes deeply attached to Moya and her crew, even going so far as to birth Moya’s child, Talyn. In the end Chiana and her unpredictable ways prove that sometimes the wild card is the best weapon in your arsenal.
Zevran (Dragon Age: Origins)
What do with a rogue who, after you have kicked his ass all over the road, immediately offers to serve you, and does it whilst flirting as hard as possible? Zevran, a bisexual eleven assassin from the video game Dragon Age: Origins, is somewhat unforgettable – he is initially sent to kill you, but if you recruit him into your gang and talk to him about leather a lot (don’t ask) he can become your closest ally. He’s the sort of rogue that’s very easy to love; partly, because he fancies your character rotten and makes no bones about letting you know, but also because he is very, very dangerous, and completely on your side. One of the (many) reasons I love Dragon Age is the excellent banter from your party companions, and in a game full of great lines, Zevran gets the best ones. And by that, I mean all the filthy ones. Charming, handsome, and lethal with a blade – what more could you want?
Arya Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire)
Arya is the most bad-ass of the Starks, and five minutes ago she was stuck learning embroidery in a stuffy castle. Arya isn’t perhaps quite as funny or as charming as the other rogues on this list, but I think, given how her life has gone so far, she can be forgiven for that. For me, she is the ultimate survival rogue, the one who is continually levelling-up, looking for ways to survive. She learns ‘water dancing’ under the keen eye of the First Sword of Braavos, then has a crash course on running for your life and living under different identities. She learns to fight, she learns to listen, and she learns not to take any shit from anyone. And now, of course, if you’re up to date with the books and the TV show, she’s learning some very unusual skills indeed. And all the while, she keeps her goal at the centre of everything: bloody revenge on everyone who has crossed her. You keep being you, Arya.
The Gentlemen Bastards (Um, the Gentlemen Bastards series)
The gang of sneaky sneak-thieves at the heart of Scott Lynch’s excellent Gentlemen Bastards series are easy to love, and collectively they have bucketfuls all of my required rogue attributes. They are skilled: trained by Father Chains in every possible art of deception, Locke and Jean and the gang are thoroughly prepared for any sort of con, whether that’s fleecing gangsters, taking on the aristocrats or pretending to be actual pirates. In terms of charm, I will tag Jean here especially, because, let’s be honest, he is lovely – bookish, intelligent, polite, and utterly able to tear you limb from limb. And as rogues go, the Gentlemen Bastards have to be the most ambitious; no risk is too great when there’s a vault full of fabulous riches to get their itchy fingers on.