In our day-to-day lives, most of us probably try to take the high road when confronted with difficult situations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the concept of revenge. It’s why stories about retribution remain popular throughout the ages.

In these stories, a character—who is likely to be the villain as much as they are the hero—seeks to bring payback to those who wronged them.

Whether it’s to end a long-running feud or avenge a loved one, they’ll stop at nothing to get the justice they think they deserve. But sometimes, they get more than they bargained for, setting off a series of events that rarely end well.

Best Revenge Books

Literature is full of stories about revenge. And while the concept exists in every genre, revenge plots shine brightest in mystery and thriller fiction.

The anxious atmosphere, two-faced characters, and anticipation of satisfaction make for a truly unputdownable read.

Here are some of the best revenge books to read when you want to live vicariously through fictional characters who are out for justice:

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

At 19, Edmond Dantès loses the love of his life and a promising future after being falsely accused of treason. Imprisoned without trial, he is doomed to spend the rest of his life in a dank prison cell.

But years later he escapes, with knowledge of a secret treasure he intends to use for his revenge. Posing as the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, he begins plotting the downfall of the men who ruined his life.

Buy the book here.

2. Carrie by Stephen King

Bullied by her classmates, mother, and even dismissed by her teachers, Carrie White endures a tortured existence. And along with the constant bullying is the need to hide a mysterious power she’s had since she was a child.

But one too many cruel pranks makes her finally crack. Now she’s dead-set on using her powers as a weapon so horrific, the town may never recover from it.

Buy the book here.

3. Confessions by Kanae Minato

Yuko Moriguchi has just called off her engagement. And when her four-year-old daughter is found dead on the grounds of the school where she teaches, she resigns.

But she has one last lesson to teach—a lesson that exposes her daughter’s death as a murder, and that she knows two of her students did it. Now she’s coming for them.

Buy the book here.

4. They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

Carly Schiller is finally free of her abusive father, and all she wants is to quietly focus on her studies at Gorman University. But when her friend is sexually assaulted at a party, she decides to take justice into her own hands.

But there’s already a vigilante operating in Gorman University: English professor Scarlett Clark. And every year, she hunts down the worst man on campus—professor, student, or otherwise. After several years of indulging in her hobby, the police are finally paying attention…

Buy the book here.

5. The Revenant by Michael Punke

It’s 1823 and trapper Hugh Glass lives a brutal frontier life alongside the men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. When he’s brutally mauled by a bear, two company men are left to tend to him before he dies, but they abandon him to the wilderness.

Against all odds, he survives and begins the long journey across untamed lands to take his revenge—even if he has to crawl all the way to get it.

Buy the book here.

6. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

The famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowstorm, and in the night, one of its passengers is found murdered in his locked room.

When the murdered man turns out to be someone other than who he claimed to be, detective Hercule Poirot discovers his connection to the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl. To solve the mystery, Poirot must find out who among the remaining passengers has cause to take revenge, and whether they’re still looking for more.

Buy the book here.

7. Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Trudy spends a lot of time inside her home—but not with her husband. When he’s away, his incredibly vapid brother takes his place. And the two of them have a plan: kill her husband and get away with his money.

But they have an unexpected witness. Inside her womb, Trudy’s nine-month-old baby hears everything, and he’s prepared to take revenge just as soon as he’s born.

Buy the book here.

8. Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe is born to the most powerful of gods, but she is not like her parents. Lacking their terrifying powers, she turns to mortals for companionship. And with them, she discovers her abilities—the power to menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to an island where she’s constantly pitted against both mortals and gods. To protect what she loves most, she must choose whether to take revenge against those who rejected her, or abandon the mortals she’s come to love.

Buy the book here.

9. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Ahab, the monomaniacal captain of the Pequod, is on the search for the albino sperm whale that destroyed his previous ship and crippled him for life, and he’s prepared to take every risk in order to finally get his vengeance.

But as he and his crew enter deeper waters and get further away from land, the dangers lurking beneath the waves begin to multiply. And the great white whale is patiently waiting for another match.

Buy the book here.

10. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Monza Murcatto’s mercenary feats have made her famous all across the cities of Styria—maybe even too famous for her employer’s tastes. For all the victories she achieved, her reward is to be thrown down a mountain and left for dead.

Broken and barely alive, Monza slowly rebuilds her strength. And as soon as she’s able, seven men will die.

Buy the book here.

11. Save Me from Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuck

Private investigator Nikki Griffin keeps an eye on certain men—men she believes to be dangerous to her fellow women. And she likes teaching them how it feels to be hurt and helpless, much like what they do to their victims.

So when one of her jobs involves a woman being threatened, she’s more than ready to intervene. But there’s more to the case than a simple assault, and as she delves deeper into it, she suddenly finds herself trying her best to stay alive.

Buy the book here.

12. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Victor Frankenstein plans to defy life and death. With the power of science, he manages to create life, but the creature he brought about is not what he envisioned. Disgusted, he abandons the monster to its fate.

Hurt by Victor’s abandonment, the creature begins plotting his maker’s downfall. But it is alone—and it decides it needs a mate. And the longer its request is rejected, the more it will take from those his creator holds dear.

Buy the book here.

Why Is Revenge Such a Common Topic in Literature?

There’s a simple answer to why people continue enjoying stories about revenge. As a society, we put a lot of emphasis on justice. Even from a young age, we’re taught about the concept of right and wrong. So when something is unfair, untrue, or illegal, we want to make it right—but the real world operates differently.

Books about revenge give us an outlet to correct the injustices we see in the real world. Bad guys are punished, good guys are rewarded. Problems of sex, race, or class are resolved and everyone gets a happy ending—except for the bad guys, of course.

While it’s no longer the preferred method of justice, the concept of “an eye for an eye” holds a cathartic appeal and a clear-cut sense of closure. Achieving revenge gives us satisfaction, and the problem is considered resolved. This is in no way bad; revenge is simply a natural part of being human.

But revenge is also bittersweet at most. While it is satisfying, it’s also risky. There’s a lot that could go wrong, and a person could easily go down a rabbit hole of self-serving thoughts. Personal desires can cloud the mind, leading you to think you’re right. Plus, a lot of revenge ideas are easily illegal, and as law-abiding citizens, we’d rather not get jailed.

This is why a lot of us prefer to live our revenge fantasies through books. It’s safer to satisfy our taste for revenge through fictional characters who aren’t bound by laws—at least, the ones that exist outside of their fictional worlds.