I love books with characters who are more than they at first seem. It usually takes one of two forms: 1) the reader is aware of the character's true nature but the other characters in the book are not or 2) characters whose true character is hidden from both the reader and the characters within the book. The secret of the character is carrying may be as basic as being a girl pretending to be a boy or a more subtle and complex distinction between their public and private personae.
As I started to make the list I was a little astonished at how prevalent this type of character was. It was difficult to narrow it down to ten. I also realized it was going to be hard to do the list without being a little spoilery particularly for those books where the characters true nature is initially hidden from the reader as well as internally in the book. Any books where I felt that listing them may be a little spoilery have been put at the end under a heading so if you are really spoiler phobic you can avert your eyes.
1) Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
If you haven't read the books, you may at least be familiar with the popular TV show 'Dexter'. Dexter is a forensic scientist who also happens to be a serial killer. I've only read the first book in the series so I'm not sure if it continues as strongly after book one but I was struck with how well Lindsay walks the line and somehow manages to keep Dexter relateable.
2) The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (my review)
Myfanwy Thomas is no longer herself but she must convince everyone else in her super secret intelligence agency that she is still the same person. She is suffering from a complete amnesia inflicted upon her by an enemy. Her original self expected what was coming and prepared detailed documents to help her amnesiac self operate as normally as possible so that she could identify and bring down her attacker. It is really really awesome!
3) 11/22/63 by Stephen King (my review)
I have struggled with Stephen King so I am somewhat surprised to find myself putting one of his books on a Top Ten list but it can't be denied that he's an accomplished writer. This was the third book of his I tried to read and it was the first that really struck my fancy and got me hooked. And it definitely fits in this list. Jake Epping aka George Amberson must not only hide his identity as a man from the future but also that he is on a secret mission to stop the assassination of Kennedy. He passes himself off as a professional writer, a real estate broker and finally a teacher and drama coach. The story of his double life is fun if a tad long-winded.
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
This historical fiction novel set in renaissance Italy starts with the revelation that the death of an older nun from a debilitating illness is not what it seems. As they prepare her body for burial it becomes clear that her illness was faked and she is decorated with an elaborate and sensuous tattoo on her torso. The rest of the book is a rewind to the start of the nun's story and an unraveling of who she really is and how she ended up in such mysterious circumstances.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (my review)
This whole book is not only about how looks can be deceiving but also how we choose to view ourselves and more importantly the fallacy of how society chooses to label people. But don't let all that "moral of story" stuff put you off - this is a funny and rollicking adventure about people who are not what they seem.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (my review)
This is a classic book chock full of mistaken identities and people not really being who they seem. Sir Percival Glyde surely has a secret but the most fascinating personality for me is the enigmatic Count Fosco.
7) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (my review)
Ostensibly starting as a story of a British boarding school, it slowly becomes clear that there is something a little off about the school and its students. The true identity and purpose of the story's narrator and her friends is unclear until the final few chapters.
8) The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie
This trilogy of books is bursting at the seams with characters who turn out to be quite different than they initially seem but it is most especially true of Logen Ninefingers and Baez.
9) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
If you've managed to stay spoiler free about this series, I salute you! I thankfully read it having no idea what I was in for so the twists and turns the MCs take was a thrilling ride.
10 ) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
I just finished this book and while I didn't love it as much as I hoped, it heavily and effectively uses characters who are not at all what they appear to be. By the end, you'll have trouble trusting anyone!
Honorable mentions: Miles Vorkosigan Series by Lois McMaster Bujold, Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, Monster Blood Tattoo Series by D.M. Cornish, Cinder by Marissa Meyer,The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, Princess Bride by William Goldman, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Song of the Lioness Series by Tamora Pierce, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, The Julian Kestrel Mysteries by Kate Ross, In the Woods by Tana French, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
As you can see from my honorable mention list I had NO trouble coming up with excellent books for this list! Which books would you add?