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What Happens When the Bad Guy Doesn’t Die?: A Guest Post by Caitlin Rozakis

Cozy fantasy is one of our favorite subgenres, and Dreadful by Caitlin Rozakis is a whirlwind ride through a world of garlic festivals, evil wizards and magical castles. Read on to discover the inspiration behind Rozakis’ debut novel. 

Cozy fantasy fans, gather your blankets, candles and tea: we have the perfect next read for you. This is a delightful new world from an author you’ll want to keep on your #TBR.

Cozy fantasy fans, gather your blankets, candles and tea: we have the perfect next read for you. This is a delightful new world from an author you’ll want to keep on your #TBR.

We all love a good redemption story. The bad guy finally realizes that he was wrong and then usually dies nobly. Darth Vader (and Kylo Ren after him). Severus Snape. Wanda Maximoff. But what happens when the bad guy doesn’t die?

The thing is, in real life, they usually don’t. So what do you do with a villain who claims to be reformed but is still hanging around? I found myself grappling with this in the aftermath of #MeToo, as comedians and other notables who had been rightfully canceled started slinking back onto the scene a year or two later. They’d done something terrible. They’d been called on it and exiled. But they claimed they’d learned their lesson and were sorry. Now what? They may have been punished, but that still doesn’t make their victims whole. Is it justice if, after a suitable time hiding out and some public apologies, the wrongdoer is able to go back to his high-flying career?

But punishing someone for bad behavior forever doesn’t seem sustainable, either. Young men are sucked down the incel rabbit hole every day. There’s got to be some road back to civility. If a racist Twitch streamer will be held accountable for every awful thing he said when he was 18 for the rest of his life, what’s going to incentivize him to become someone better in his 30s?

In my novel DREADFUL, Gav was a villain. A terrorize-the-countryside, murder-your-valet-in-a-fit-of-pique Dread Lord, complete with a horde of goblins, a sleazy majordomo, and a kidnapped innocent princess. But there’s just one problem. He’s lost his memory. He doesn’t know what his evil plan was; he’s not even sure he still wants to be evil at all. As far as Gav is concerned, the Dread Lord Gavrax is an entirely different person than he is.

In the abstract, this is great! One fewer evil wizard in the world. Except…would you be feeling particularly charitable towards someone who kidnapped you in the middle of the night, even if he says he doesn’t remember and he’s sorry(ish) now? Gav may not have the memories, but he still has the castle. (Okay, it’s a sucky castle.) He still has the minions. (All right, they’re not very competent minions.) He’s got the ill-gotten gains and he’s got all the blame. How is he supposed to prove he’s turned over a new leaf when he doesn’t actually particularly want to die, nobly or otherwise?

DREADFUL is about a lot of things. It’s about image and memory and how we construct our own narratives. It’s about personal branding and how it can trap us. It’s about toxic masculinity. It’s also about moat squid that want to eat your face and the unfathomable power of garlic. But mostly it’s about second chances, about justice, and about how to balance the two.

And garlic. Don’t forget the garlic.