The Ides of March has a few different symbolic meanings according to the Roman calendar.
Not only does it mark the timing of the first full moon and the middle of March, but since 44 BC, it has also become synonymous with the betrayal of the Roman general dictator, Julius Caesar.
The 15th of March has therefore been recognized as a day of “betrayal” for many people, and while this doesn’t mean that your close friends are going to suddenly turn on you, it does make it the perfect time to jump into some books that feature betrayals.
After all, an unexpected betrayal from an ally, friend, or even a mentor, can make any type of story that much more intense and exciting, no matter what genre it is.
With that being said, here are 16 suspenseful stories that feature betrayals in their storylines.
16 Best Betrayal Stories You Should Read
For a book centered around betrayal to remain captivating and interesting, it needs to also balance the emotional impact of the betrayal along with having well-written characters who go through their own development and growth as the story goes on.
Therefore, we have compiled a list of stories that combine all of these elements to make them as gripping as possible from the very first page.
At the young and innocent age of thirteen, Briony Tallis doesn’t yet fully understand the actions and motives of adults, especially with war looming on the horizon and everyone around her talking about preparing for violence.
When she witnesses her older sister, Cecilia, and the son of a servant, Robbie, flirting with one another, Briony commits an act that will push her sister, her friends, and everyone away from her as she must atone for her mistake, and reflect on her misguided act of betrayal.
- Briony goes through a lot of growth as the story progresses.
- A huge focus is put on the consequences of a betrayal.
- The looming advent of WW2 is integrated into the story.
- Side characters are unfortunately very one-dimensional.
Pip, her young sister Grace, and their mother are a very close family who decides to move into a communal garden square where the children can run around as much as they like, and since the family already knows the neighbors, it seems like the perfect spot to call their new home.
However, when Grace is found lying unconscious one midsummer night, hidden away in a corner of the garden, Pip and her mother must discover what happened to her, and figure out which person Grace knows who would want to betray her in such a gruesome way.
- The mystery remains compelling until the very last page.
- Plenty of suspicious characters keep the story unpredictable.
- The picturesque garden square is a fantastic setting with many secrets.
- Several gruesome and violent scenes can be off-putting for some readers.
The wealthy and stuck-up Amir is the son of a very rich businessman, and he quickly conjures up a close friendship with the son of one of his father’s servants, Hassan.
However, this relationship wasn’t as strong as Hassan once thought, after he is the victim of a deceitful and violent betrayal at the hands of Amir.
When Amir and his father move to Afghanistan, Amir hopes to forget all about his cowardly actions, but it continues to haunt him, no matter how far he runs away.
- A major focus is put on the psychological aftermath of a betrayal.
- Fascinating insight into betrayals within the world of business.
- Amir manages to be an unlikeable but still intriguing protagonist.
- The pacing feels very rushed at the beginning.
Named one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of the Year, The Blazing World follows Harriet Burden, who is involved in a huge scandal when three young men who are brand new to the art world decide to present her work as their own.
While these strangers may have already done enough to harm Harriet and her reputation, it’s the betrayals later in the story that really makes her wonder who she can really trust in this world, if anyone at all.
- The many plot twists keep the story fresh and interesting.
- Harriet is a very likable and sympathetic main character.
- Great insight into deceit and trust within the art world.
- Primary antagonists don’t get much development.
When an unexpected betrayal is involved within a romance story, it always makes the moment so much more of a gut punch, and you won’t find many romance stories that manage to pull it off better than The End Of The Affair.
Set in wartime London, this story follows Sarah Miles who is surrounded by jealous men all feverishly trying to win her over, despite the fact that her heart only lies with God and her Catholic faith.
- Respectful insight into the role of religious guilt in romance.
- Multiple betrayals are all unexpected and very impactful.
- London as a setting is given a lot of attention and detail.
- Too many subplots take away from the main plot at certain points.
Axel Vander is a miserable young man with a damaged reputation who considers himself a product of the old world.
However, there seems to be a final glimmer of hope in his life when he comes across “Miss Nemesis”, who he meets in Turin.
While Axel is clearly smitten by the beautiful young woman and sees her as a last opportunity to achieve true happiness in his bleak personal world, things aren’t all they seem, and he must quickly decide whether something more devious might be going on behind the scenes.
- Plenty of very grounded characters who feel real and relatable.
- “Miss Nemesis” is incredibly mysterious and very compelling.
- The unreliable narration by Axel makes for some unexpected revelations.
- Inner monologues by Axel can be a little too long sometimes.
In the midst of the Cold War, a South Vietnamese general and his close compatriots set out to start a new life in Los Angeles in an attempt to escape all the war and violence that once surrounded them.
However, it soon becomes clear that a traitor is amongst their ranks, and while it’s unclear who exactly they work for, what does become obvious is that someone in this tight group of friends is willing to betray the others for their cause, and with plenty of politics and even a love story involved, this is a thrilling spy novel you won’t want to miss.
- The traitor plot-line remains mysterious and intriguing for the entire book.
- Plenty of different countries and environments are explored.
- Fascinating insight into spies and betrayals during the Cold War years.
- The romance subplot feels unnecessary.
Stevens is the perfect butler, but after three decades of service at Darlington Hall, he starts to become suspicious about Lord Darlington, the man he has been dedicated to for most of his career.
At first, he doesn’t know whether this is just his old mind playing tricks on him, but when he starts noticing differences in the way the Lord is acting, and how he has been treating Steven as of late, the elderly butler must decide whether his intuition is correct, or if it simply says something about his age and his withering grasp on reality.
- A very emotional story about aging and losing a grip on the world around you.
- Lord Darlington is an incredibly compelling character with many layers.
- Easy to read writing style with any complex terminology explained very clearly.
- The cast of characters is quite limited.
- Comedic segments can feel out of place.
Set in Paris during the roaring 1920s, Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway have moved from Chicago to settle down and enjoy their newly wedded life together, but they soon realize that fitting into the fast and busy Paris lifestyle is a lot harder than it first seems, and things become even more worrying when the “golden couple” become surrounded by people full of envy and jealousy for their perfect relationship.
The twists, turns, and betrayals in this book are incredibly unexpected, making for a thrilling story that starts off positive and full of hope for the new couple before the plot thickens and everything starts to crumble.
- The city of Paris in the 1920s is described beautifully.
- Great mixture of intimate and intense moments.
- Halsey and Ernest feel very natural and real as a couple.
- Multiple betrayals keep the story fresh and engaging.
- The ending is quite disappointing.
After the quiet and timid schoolteacher Nora Eldridge strikes up an unlikely friendship with the extroverted and glamorous artist Sirena, who also happens to be a member of the well-known and wealthy Shahid family, she takes comfort knowing that she’s made a new friend who she can rely on, that is until she starts piecing together the true intentions of Sirena, and why she wanted to become friends in the first place.
- Full of relatable and grounded characters.
- Nice mixture of comedy and much more serious sections.
- The ending wraps up all loose ends and lingering questions.
- There isn’t too much background information given on Nora.
A betrayal in a story doesn’t always need to be violent or gruesome, sometimes it can be much more subtle as a person ponders whether what they did was for the greater good, or if it really was a horrible decision.
This is what drives the plot in Dear Life where Munro, having escaped from her family and then using them in her writing, wonders whether this is a form of betrayal, along with some other controversial decisions she reveals to have made throughout her life in this very vulnerable personal story.
- A very vulnerable story about sacrifice and personal ambition.
- A lot less gruesome and more subtle than many other betrayal stories.
- The last few pages are incredibly emotional and memorable.
- The isolated farm setting can become slightly bland.
In Janice Y.K. Lee’s debut novel, we follow the Englishman Will Truesdale, a man living in war-torn Hong Kong who runs into Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite.
While their relationship blooms and the two become close very quickly, the invasion of Japanese forces makes it a little harder for the two to remain in contact.
When the story jumps 10 years into the future, we then follow Claire Pendelton, a piano teacher who has moved to Hong Kong and who also runs into some familiar faces the readers first saw back at the beginning of the novel.
- A multi-protagonist love story full of scandalous betrayals.
- Both periods of the story feel relevant to the overall plot.
- Fascinating insight into the culture and traditions of Hong Kong.
- Some very worthwhile revelations about the characters.
- Switching perspectives can become confusing at certain points.
David Jones manages to weave in topics of war, violence, romance, and mythology into this fairly short book which is centered around John Ball, a private in a Welsh-English rifle regiment who must adjust himself to the everyday slaughter of World War 1, while also deciding whether the men he calls “brothers in arms” really are as caring and well-intentioned as he first thought they were.
- Plenty of historical references to specific battles of World War 1.
- Every side character is well-developed and feels very relevant.
- Each betrayal is extremely unexpected and has an emotional impact.
- Mythological concepts sometimes disrupt the realism of the story.
On the dark and cold morning of June 19th, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to commit espionage, but before that fateful day, these two real-life figures had become friends with their next-door neighbor, Mille Stein, a young woman who is lured into a false sense of security after becoming close to the Rosenbergs and who saw them as very different people from who they actually are.
- Jillian Cantor effortlessly and effectively mixes fact with fiction.
- The gradual betrayal of the Rosenbergs is brilliantly paced.
- Very unexpected ending with an extremely effective final twist.
- It takes a while for the Rosenbergs to become interesting and compelling as characters.
If you are not a dedicated and devoted follower of the Trujillo dictatorship, you are seen as an enemy of the state, so when the Mirabal sisters are betrayed and cast out from society, they must learn to survive in a country where they are hated by their own people, while also trying to figure out who would want to turn on them.
Fair to say, this isn’t the only unexpected betrayal that rocks the sisters, as they try their best to band together while still remaining weary of everyone they meet, including their old friends and accomplices.
- The exotic war-torn Dominican Republic is an intense and thrilling setting.
- The main mystery never becomes predictable.
- More than one major betrayal within the story.
- The relationship between the sisters feels believable and real.
- Not much attention is given to the primary antagonists.
Three young women, looking to make their dreams come true in the wild and expansive city of San Francisco, quickly become friends after meeting at the Forbidden City Nightclub, the only issue is that once the party is over, they realize they know next to nothing about one another.
As the background of each of the three women is slowly revealed, we soon come to realize that their intentions may not align, and the consequences of getting to know one another could end up being incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening in this exciting and incredibly engaging novel.
- Very big focus on the consequences of building relationships too fast.
- Each protagonist is incredibly unique in their personality and background.
- The slower pace of the story makes the emotional scenes even more impactful.
- The beginning of the story feels a bit rushed so it can get into the main plot as quickly as possible.
A heart-breaking betrayal is a great way to turn a seemingly straightforward story into something much more emotional and complex.
If you love unexpected plot twists and shocking revelations in your stories, check out some of these thrilling and nail-biting books for yourself today.
How To Choose The Right Book Based Around Betrayal
Short Term VS Long Term
While many of us are used to short-term betrayals in stories that happen very suddenly, causing the plot to change unexpectedly in that very moment, other stories will place a betrayal near the beginning and then have the character ponder on their actions for the rest of the story.
Therefore, it can be worth researching a book before you buy it to see if it specifically mentions that it is focused on the psychological consequences of betrayal, or if it only makes subtle hints that it is a part of the wider story, which would imply it is more of a sudden and surprising short term event.
The setting of a book can actually drastically affect how and why characters would turn on each other.
Whether it’s part of a political conspiracy in a war novel, or a deceitful act between two lovers, it can be worth knowing which type of environment you would prefer the story to be based in.
Amount Of Characters
If a book makes it clear that it features a large cast of characters, then the betrayal will most probably be more vague and unexpected, but if there are only three or four that it focuses on, then chances are it will be a much more emotional and intense betrayal that you can see coming as long as you pay attention.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Most Shocking Betrayal In Literature?
While this is obviously up to the person and the books they have read, many people cite Edmund and his eventual betrayal of his family, and especially his sister Lucy, in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe as the most shocking betrayal they have ever read in fiction.