It’s one of the first phrases we learn as children. To be alive is to want things. There are the mundane things—food, clothes, and entertainment. And then there are the more fantastical. Who hasn’t spent an afternoon day dreaming about what they could do with a winning lottery ticket? Or a fairy godmother appearing to give you a makeover and a date with royalty? Or three wishes? Who wouldn’t want that?
But what if those three wishes could give you what you wanted, but not how you wanted it?
I love stories about ill-fated deals. These stories about how one’s desires can sometimes lead them astray. There’s a delicious tension to know that a character will get what they want—and it’s the worst possible thing that could happen to them.
In the course of research for my newest novel, I considered many such deals. The Hearts We Sold is about a world where those fantastical desires can be indulged—for a price, of course. One must deal with a demon and trade away a part of their self.
And so, without further ado, here are my favorite books featuring deals you probably don’t want to make!
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
All right, all right. I get it. You look in the mirror and see a—is that a strand of gray? A new wrinkle? Sun spot? We’ve all been there. But the solution is not wishing all of your aging on a portrait, locking that poor piece of artwork in your attic, and then murdering your struggling-artist best friend. Just start a good skin care routine—it’ll be less hassle in the long run.
The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
I cannot make this list without putting at least one Jonathan Stroud book on here. He has this knack for taking beloved characters and giving them impossible choices. In this particular trilogy, magic is real. But it’s not the demons that you should fear—it’s the politicians. You can take your place among the magicians ruling Great Britain. You’ll have money, power, and all you’ll need to give up is your self-respect and your true friends.
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
So you’re walking along. You find a notebook dropped by a death spirit. The death spirit explains that this notebook has magical powers. You can write a person’s name in it, and they’ll die instantly. Do you begin a spree of taking out the criminals that plague your nation? Or do you chalk up the experience to dehydration, put the notebook in the lost and found, and go on your merry way?
Trust me, take Option B.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Because who hasn’t wanted to be invisible? Think of all the things you could do! Hear what people really think of you, steal your roommate’s ice cream without them finding out, or simply walk around with no pants. The world could be your oyster.
But is it really worth drawing the attention of the Dark Lord Sauron and having to walk across an entire continent on foot? Didn’t think so.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
So you want to live forever. It sounds good in theory, but how will go about it?
Drinking unicorn blood? First of all, unicorns are adorable. Second, ew.
Or you could make a horcrux. But that’ll end with your wily schemes being repeatedly defeated by a teenager with unruly hair. And then, depending on if this is the book or the movie adaptation, you might die in an embarrassingly overdramatic fashion. Take out a good life insurance policy instead.
And for a bonus entry! Babylon 5 written and produced by J. Michael Straczynski
So this is cheating because it isn’t a book, but a television series. But if we’re going to talk about ill-fated deals, then it would be a crime not to mention Mr. Morden. With a single question (“What do you want?”) he can grant your every wish… all at the low-low cost of evil shadows taking over the galaxy!
Top image from Dorian Gray (2009)
Emily Lloyd-Jones grew up on a vineyard in rural Oregon, where she played in evergreen forests and learned to fear sheep. After graduating from Western Oregon University with an English degree, she enrolled in the publishing program at Rosemont College just outside of Philadelphia. She currently resides in Northern California, working in a bookstore by day and writing by night. Her novel The Hearts We Sold is now available from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.