I saw this tag over at Space and Sorcery (possibly created by Amanda from A Brighter Shade of Hope, but if so the original has been taken down). This is an excuse to celebrate the characters who stole our hearts, so it’s a joy to give it a fantasy spin for Wyrd and Wonder.
This was written as an annual tag (and hell yes I can see myself revisiting in future), so I’m only considering books I’ve read since the start of last year’s Wyrd and Wonder.
FAVOURITE FEMALE CHARACTER
I’m not picking one, I’m picking a team. The Bookburners stormed on to my page at the start of 2021, and I spent the year relishing each season as they confronted demons, the Vatican, magic users, and each other. While the blokes are pretty good too, the women are magnificent: not-quite-immortal Grace Chen, who can and will hand you your ass before returning to her book; pansexual grandma Asanti, who clearly kept her former lovers as secret as her magical ambitions during her interviews at the Vatican; and clever, curious Frances, who is here to challenge all your assumptions and make the most of every opportunity. Sal Brooks has great instincts and a good heart (in spite of being ex-NYPD, natch); yet while she’s the central character the team increasingly depend on, she’s the least remarkable of them all. But she’s not here to worry about that; she’s here to get the job done.
FAVOURITE MALE CHARACTER
Since I’ve already established that there can be more than one, I’m just going all out and picking three and you can’t stop me. The theme for this year’s favourite blokes in fiction is definitely wholesome aka Doing The Right Thing Regardless Of The Personal Cost.
First up, let’s hear it for Daimon Blackcreek (The God-king Chronicles by Mike Brooks), who is going to make more than one appearance today because I love him enormously. He’s young, earnest, saving his people one social adaptation at a time and generally an all-round good egg. He never makes it look easy, though: he’s always putting himself at risk for the sake of his people. What a guy.
I’m equally fond of Thara Celehar (The Witness For The Dead by Katherine Addison), who can’t let a cry for help go unanswered no matter how unpopular it makes him. This lonely cleric desperately needs a hug, but it would only make him self-conscious so he feeds stray cats who can be relied on not to indulge in embarrassing displays of affection. Protect at all costs.
Most recently, Miles Singer (Witchmark by CL Polk) – secret witch, even more secret scion of one of the most powerful families in Aeland – stole my heart for his willingness to put all his secrets at risk to save his patients. Another awkward, entirely buttoned-up do-gooder just waiting to, erm, be unbuttoned. Buttons will be undone, folks.
FAVOURITE CHARACTER OF ANY OR NO GENDER
Hey tag, you’re short a category for characters for whom gender is less binary! That’s shit, so I’m adding one and using it for two characters who challenge the gender conventions of their society. I’m not going to try and pigeonhole Zhu – born a girl, but living as a man – and while Ouyang is certainly a man, as a eunuch he doesn’t entirely get to live as one. Yes, I’m indulging in my She Who Became The Sun (Shelley Parker-Chan) feels, and you know I’m going to have to reread it before the sequel comes out. Such. A. Shame.
MOST RELATABLE CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
A year ago, I would not have predicted I’d be nominating Dan Mackmain for this category. It took me a while to warm up to him, but I eventually found Dan’s good nature impossible to resist. Besides, in The Green Man’s Challenge we find him wrestling with pandemic blues and trying to manage his long-distance relationship through social distancing and in spite of a deeply mistrustful sister. Considering previous episodes’ panic over teapots (or the relationship milestone of when it’s okay to fart in front of a new girlfriend), he may be THE Most Relatable character in contemporary fantasy.
COUPLE OF THE YEAR
Welcome back Daimon Blackcreek together with his wife Chief Saana of the Brown Eagle clan, who are here to model what a good marriage looks like. Yes, he’s almost as young as her daughter; yes, she’s the war leader of his people’s traditional enemies; but these are two people who are here to give peace a chance in spite of the obvious challenges. How? By stubbornly devoting themselves to communicating – language barriers be damned – and forcing themselves to have an open mind about learning the other’s cultural quirks. It may help that she’s an attractive older lady and he’s a hot young man – there are up sides, that’s what I’m saying here – but this is first and foremost a political marriage that is slowly but surely sinking deep foundations of respect and affection. I am so here for it (and if we’re goign to have an age gap romance, isn’t it refreshing that he’s the inexperienced younger partner? You know it).
VILLAIN OF THE YEAR
I am very choosy about my villains. Very choosy. So hats off to RJ Barker for his choices in the Tide Child trilogy, and most especially in The Bone Ship’s Wake. Where the first two books build up the Thirteenbern as a relentlessly awful matriarch, grinding the bones of her people beneath her feet, in the final volume we get to peek at the mother behind the myth even as a traitor rises up to challenge her for control of the Hundred Isles.
I loved the way that Barker took the opportunity to expose his frankly over-the-top villains as deeply flawed human beings who are unable to see past cruel traditions to ways in which the world could become a better place. Their terrible logic and self-justifications are as unforgivable as the actions they defend; but the mixture of fear and ambition is all too recognisable. It made for a far more satisfying confrontation for me; a battle not only for humanity’s future, but humanity’s soul.
That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Madorra, who is poisonously awful as a controlling abuser and religious zealot. RJ Barker has all the best villains in this final book.
MOST DISLIKED CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
I struggled with this prompt initially, until I realised I was missing the obvious: dislike isn’t reserved for villains or antagonists; and sometimes it’s designed in. Sigourney is the protagonist of Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender; a mixed race noblewoman fighting for her rights as the heir to a grand estate on an idyllic island. The Fjern colonisers murdered her family and are lining up to finish her off, but they don’t fully appreciate her gift for mental domination: she can literally force people to do what she wants.
It ought to be tempting to side with an underdog fighting to overthrow a colonial government, but Sigourney is so terrified of not being considered Fjern (and being overwhelmed; she is outnumbered, and all Fjern have terrible powers) that she is just as awful as her oppressors. Her self-justifications sat as badly with me as they did with the enslaved population, who pretty much universally loathe her – even though she is arguably their best chance at freedom. They simply can’t trust that she would follow through – or that her rule would be any kinder than that of the foreigners.
I admired Sigourney’s determination, but I hated her as a person – and heartbreaking sequel King of the Rising confirmed all my expectations of her. She easily wins most disliked character of the year; she’s exactly as awful as she’s intended to be.
SIDEKICK OF THE YEAR
With no hesitation whatsoever, the adorable Mephi of The Bone Shard Daughter, Andrea Stewart’s dark fantasy debut (illustration by the author). Think sea otter only probably magic with an unexpected and unpredictable connection to con artist Jovis. He’s sweet, he’s hungry, and he’ll probably save your ass (although he may also have gotten you into trouble in the first place). All love.
NON-HUMAN CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
Isn’t it lucky that this is a separate category to sidekick? As it should be, of course – this could be a protagonist or a villain I guess. For me, it’s the gullaime, who is far more than a sidekick and so utterly not-human. Yes, we’re back at The Tide Child trilogy by RJ Barker. I loved the gullaime from its first spitting, swearing entrance and only loved it more as it slowly softened towards Joron and showed it acquisitiveness, curiosity and oddly-timed tendency to encourage the crew. In The Bone Ship’s Wake, the gullaime broke my heart and mended it. All hail the gullaime, not just the best non-human character of the year but one of the best characters of the year full stop.
ROYAL OF THE YEAR
Spot the tag that was written by a reader on a rather different reading diet. That said, I’ve got one – we’re back to the Black Coast to praise the ruthless manipulations and patriarchy-subverting fury of Tila the knife princess. She single-handedly stopped me DNFing The Splinter King; I can’t help but applaud her villainous logic of ‘look, if they are the chosen one we won’t be able to assassinate them; so no harm trying, right? Go get ’em’. She is by far the most fun element of The God-King Chronicles, even if she’s not quite my favourite character (as discussed, my heart belongs to Daimon and Saana).
FREE CHOICE: MOST IN NEED OF A HUG
I already mentioned him too, but welcome back Thara Celehar, who really does need that hug. And then maybe another. And definitely a cup of tea (to recover from getting hugged).
Who were your favourite characters of the past year?