We've all been down this road.
You've bought a book, possibly swayed by reviews, possibly as a random purchase. Before long you're delving beneath the (frequently) garish covers, eager to be transported to a world far removed from daily worries.
Things go well to begin with. It's all there: believable, sympathetic characters, a well-realised world, silly place names with too many syllables to reasonably fit inside the human mouth.
Then you stumble. The villain appears.
He's the Dark Lord (seldom the Dark Lady – equality doesn't exist by torchlight, apparently). Dark in thought, dark in deed.
He may even have glowing eyes.
He wants the heroes dead. He wants all living things subjugated. He wants to cover the world in eternal darkness.
What he never seems to ask himself is: why bother?
Perhaps introspection is something far beyond the average supernatural evil-doer (and most of them do seem to have supernatural powers of some sort – wouldn't it be nice if for once the antagonist was a grumpy old grandmother with corns and an unreasoning hatred of music played on the lute?) Either way, it's all a bit of a bummer for anyone who's already waded through thousands of pages of the same old thing.
Dark Lords don't interest me any more. I'm too used to them. Their very existence elicits a feeling good fiction should never conjure: boredom. I want more Grey Lords. I want to reach the end of a novel and think: 'hold on, I thought he was the bad guy? Was he right all along?'
I realise most books in the genre involve epic tales of good versus evil, and there's nothing wrong with that: I'm happy to cheer on the heroes as they overcome adversity and make the world safe for kittens. It'd just be nice if more authors introduced an element of ambiguity in regard to the villain. Said malefactor doesn't necessarily have to be sympathetic (though he may become so through proper characterisation), but his motives should at least be understandable. Doing dirty deeds simply for the sake of it just doesn't cut it any more, at least not for me.
Perhaps I'm just peculiar, though. That's always a possibility. What do you look for in your villains, fellow readers? Do you expect more, or have we been conditioned over time to accept less?