There are good books, great books, and books that rank in the stratosphere. What makes them so phenomenal? Characters.
Strip away the plot, setting and pacing, and it comes down to the personalities that fill the pages.
I’ve just completed my 23rd read of 2013. WOOT! Several of those books were in the 500-600 page range and held me mesmerized for each click of the Kindle. Included was a fantasy series by C.S. Friedman called the Coldfire Trilogy. Originally published in the 1990s, it was something I’d read before. I remembered being in love with the lead character (boy, is THAT a colossal understatement) and decided to read it again.
After drooling over anti-hero Gerald Tarrant through all three books, I started thinking about what makes me want to reread a novel. I realized I could group the characters I love into a three tier system. Take a look:
These are like the kids you went to school with. They had a hand in shaping who you are. You have amazingly fond memories of them and grow nostalgic whenever their names are mentioned. Years sometimes pass between visits, but you’re always thrilled when they drop by. You never tire of this group. They’re “comfortable” and easily inspire reminiscing. My group includes:
Frodo Baggins and Faramir
Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond
The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
The Once and Future King
This is the group that makes your heart go pitter-patter. As soon as you meet these guys, you’re smitten. For me, they tend to be down-to-earth, a mixture of alpha and beta hero. This is where most of my favorite characters fall. They require more than just an occasional visit. I’m usually inspired to hang out with them at least once a year or every other year. My list includes:
The Chesapeake Bay series by Nora Roberts
The Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts
James (Gem) Carstairs
The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
The Louis Kincaid Mysteries by P.J. Parrish
These guys are definitely alpha heroes, no two ways about it. I can’t even say I love them, because that’s far too gentle a description. I’m thoroughly, utterly, unabashedly besotted in lust with them. Who are they?
The Pendergast series of novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman
So what attracts me to them? I discovered some amazing parallels:
Their occupations couldn’t be any dissimilar — Pendergast is a Special Agent with the FBI and Tarrant is an undead sorcerer who feeds off fear. After that, things get interesting.
Both are cultured and aristocratic in nature, have a precise manner of speaking, are highly fastidious about their appearance (doesn’t hurt that they’re gorgeous), exceedingly wealthy, have genius level intelligence, and are unquestionably deadly. Both are always calm and unnervingly cool, even when facing impossible odds.
Pendergast is mid-30ish, albino-pale, tall and lean with light blond/whitish hair and silver eyes.
Tarrant is over 900 years old (but looks as he did at at 29), is ghostly pale (a side effect of being undead), tall and lean with light brown hair and silver eyes.
Pendergast’s closest friend is a rough-around-the-edges, heart-of-gold, kick-butt rumpled cop.
Tarrant’s frenemy is a rough-around-the-edges, morally conflicted, kick-butt warrior priest.
Pendergast is a special agent with the FBI, but also holds a PhD and speaks multiple languages.
Tarrant is the most powerful and feared sorcerer ever to walk the planet Erna, but was once revered as the Prophet who established the church of the One God. He is also the first Neocount of Merentha.
Are you sensing a pattern? Do I have a “type?”
These guys have nothing in common with the characters from my other groups but they have a lot in common with each other. There is no question they rule in the fictional realm when it comes to claiming my heart.
How about you? Do you have a type? Please share some of the characters you love and what makes them special. Do you have a Gerald Tarrant or a Pendergast who has left you besotted?
I can’t think of one particular one at the moment. Though Bones from the (mind went blank) series is pretty great. However what all these characters do have in common is great authors. In my screen writing class, which is now unfortunately over, one of the many things (see posts) we were taught is how to write great and memorable characters.
Precisely, Sue. As a reader, I bond emotionally with characters. Preston and Child have another series (I think two books have been released so far). I read the first one because –well because, it’s Preston and Child we’re talking about — but couldn’t connect with the character. This is the same writing team that delivered Pendergast who I’m obsessed with. It just goes to show the difference a great character makes!
I used to think that I could never reread books because you already know what is going to happen, that changed when I picked up a few great books that by revisiting the story you learn something that you didn’t catch the first time. My favorite series is by Terry Goodkind, The Sword of Truth. Love them. My favorite romance is the Bride by Julie Garwood…( I have a thing for a man in a kilt!) Another I stumbled on to was the Rhapsody series by Elizabeth Haydon. Like you said, it is revisiting old friends, I have learned that coming back to the story holds the same magic as it did the first time.
I completely agree about catching things you didn’t the first time around. I also tend to savor a book more the second (or third :)) time because I’m not in a rush to discover what happens. I wallow around in my favorite scenes.
And I have been meaning to read Terry Goodkind. Nice to know The Sword of Truth ranks as one of your favorites!
absolutely, its one of those books that you try to slow down to read so you can enjoy the flavor that much longer!
Oooo, I love the Rhapsody series. Very much an old friend for me. Mae writing about Tarrant is going to send me to my bookshelf for sure — it’s been at least a decade since I’ve re-read the Coldfire series.
For a good character that hasn’t been mentioned yet, I’ll say Caz from The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold.
I thought the Rhapsody series was great, at first I wasn’t sure about it, but I am glad I picked up the book, couldn’t put it down!
It was a decade for me too, M.Q. Nice to meet another Coldfire fan!
I’m going to have to check into the Rhapsody series and look up the Curse of Chalion. I always like growing my TBR list!
I’m looking forward to meeting Jayce. 🙂
Characters are definitely what make a book worth coming back to for a second and third read. The best ones really do seem like old friends.
My type would clearly be men of the supernatural persuasion, vampires first and foremost, but more than that, vamps with personality, authority, power, charisma and who, of course, are nice to look at.
I’d like your vamps, Emma 🙂 All those qualities match nicely with my two fictional obsessions, LOL. And you’re going to love Jayce. I can’t wait for the last novel to be released!
Fun post, Mae. Lately, I’m enamored of Kristen Ashley’s alphole types: heroes that are kind of pushy and kind of assholey but it comes from a place of obsessive love for their heroine. Tate, Tack, Raid, and so many more fabulous heroes that tell it like it is and tell you have until they give you your first orgasm of the night to get over it. *Happy sigh*
I like the term alphole, Jessi. Great description of a hero type. Hmmm…Tate, Tack, Raid. I’m already conjuring images of these guys!
I’m not sure I have any characters that I’m obsessed with, but the ones that make me drool would be…
Han Solo from Star Wars
Adam Hauptman from Patricia Briggs’s Mercedes Thompson series
Perrin Aybara from Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series
The Phantom from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera
They’re pretty divergent, but what they have in common are qualities that make them something outside of the norm, outcasts, from: a rebel, a werewolf, a man who can speak to wolves, and a deformed genius respectively. They have some degree of darkness and some level of nobility or honor. The Phantom a bit less so than the others on that last, but in his way, he has it too, like when his love for Christine allows her to go free despite how it hurts him. They’re also intelligent. I like heroes/antiheroes who have brawn but also cunning. They all also love deeply and passionately. Again, that’s not quite as true for Han Solo, but he has his passionate moments. Plus, there’s a whole book, The Courtship of Princess Leia, which covers his romance.
When I think about it, my favorite heroes to write have all these qualities too. If I don’t drool over the heroes in my own books, something is wrong.
Thanks for sharing, Mae.
Laura, I loved The Courtship of Princess Leia. I can still see the beautiful cover on the hardbound copy I had. Your heroes sound much like those I’m attracted to – – outcasts with a degree of darkness but some level of nobility and honor. All those descriptions fit Pendergast and Tarrant to a tee. And I have always loved Han Solo. Wonderful drool-worthy choice!
You have just added to my long TBR pile! I’ve been looking for a sorcerer to fall in love with. Characters are key to a story, if you don’t care about them then what happens to them as part of the plot doesn’t matter.
Hi, Synthia! Lovely to see you here. 🙂 I’m glad to hear Gerald Tarrant will be added to your TBR list. You’re so right that characters are key to the story. They’re what make it or break it for me and Gerald Tarrant is one amazing character. Thanks so much for visiting my blog!
Great topic Mae.