Today’s prompt in the Wyrd & Wonder Challenge is rewind – I’m doing a cheeky interpretation and seizing my chance to review my Fantasy Characters of the Year. This tag is an excuse to celebrate the characters who made the biggest impact in the past 12 months of reading.
I first saw this tag over at Space and Sorcery last year. It was possibly created by Amanda from A Brighter Shade of Hope (but if so the original has been taken down). If you fancy having a go, tag yourself in and link back when you post so I can come admire your choices!
FAVOURITE FEMALE CHARACTER(S)
I set a precedent of not picking favourites last year, and guess what? This year I’m splitting the honours between Grace and Robin of the Kingston Cycle (which I’ve somehow never actually reviewed, shame on me).
CL Polk’s trilogy won my heart last year and while I’ve enjoyed a lot of characters since, I don’t think I’ve loved them as much as I love this pair, flaws and all. I love that Polk lets Grace be blindsided by privilege, arrogant and naive, and that she gets to grow; I love that Robin is wise and forceful and driven in ways that means she isn’t always thoughtful of the impact on those she loves best – and that she gets to make amends. This series asks hard questions of its characters, but it makes my heart sing.
FAVOURITE MALE CHARACTER(S)
Oddly, it feels like a cheat picking characters I’ve loved for years but I can live with it – it’s hard to beat Aliette de Bodard’s Thuan and Asmodeus, currently enjoying their own series of spin-off novellas, Dragons & Blades. Of Charms, Ghosts & Grievances sees them disagreeing over how to deal with ghosts and I loved how much themselves they were under pressure. Thuan is so earnest and worried, Asmodeus so ruthlessly protective and judgemental – I may never tire of their unlikely relationship.
FAVOURITE CHARACTER OF ANY OR NO GENDER
I couldn’t pass up the chance to celebrate Firuz from The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia. A healer, a secret blood adept, a refugee, they are constantly stretched too thin and burning themselves out to try and help others. They are adorable – so private, so prickly, so uncomfortable with praise, so much more talented than they realise, so quick to support others. Last year I had a category for character most in need of a hug – that would definitely be Firuz, too.
MOST RELATABLE CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
The Dark Between The Trees is an atmospheric folk horror of fear, superstition and monsters. But before everything goes to hell in a hand basket, it takes the time for postgrad Nuria to deeply and silently disapprove of how Sue from the Ordnance Survey serves tea. I see you, Nuria. You may make some terrible choices (or rather, not make some good ones), but we are forever bonded by our distaste for stewed tea.
COUPLE(S) OF THE YEAR
If you’d told me that one of my favourite fantasy reads of 2023 (so far) would be Kid Wolf And Kraken Boy by Sam J Miller, I’d have reminded you that I have limited patience for romance, no time for mob stories and don’t like boxing. It doesn’t matter – this novella is a gorgeous tale of queer love and underdogs, labour rights and revolution. I adored the way Miller made his protagonists face their baggage before they could embrace their feelings and I loved the lesbian power couple determined to change the world at all costs.
VILLAIN OF THE YEAR
This past year, I’ve particularly enjoyed the narratives that ask us who we make our villains and why. Enter Just Like Home, Sarah Gailey’s dark reverie on family. There are obvious villains here: cruel, jealous Daphne; manipulative James; dead Francis – and I like that Gailey makes no excuses for them even as we see other sides to them. Francis is a monster, but a loving father. Daphne is a terrible mother but a supportive wife (go with it). And Vera? This is her villain origin story. Just ask Brandon.
MOST DISLIKED CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
On the one hand, I think I’m just picking my most recently disliked character because they don’t stick with me. On the other, I wanted to drown Letty early on in Babel and that urge never went away. She’s a brilliant depiction of blind privilege and white fragility, and she’s perfectly unbearable. Her POV chapter came far too late in the proceedings to evoke sympathy and her choices are unforgivable – and entirely on brand. Bravo, Ms Kuang. Well written.
SIDEKICK OF THE YEAR
I’m going with Carys, best friend to The Queen Of The High Fields – a rare example of sidekick as protagonist. This is a thorny, sharp-edged portal fantasy of two working class girls fighting the odds to master their own history (in every sense) and take control of the mythical kingdom of Annwn. I was so mad at Carys by the time they reached the High Fields and so frustrated with her choices (then and now), but I love how real her flaws make her – and Hazard, the Queen herself. This is a brilliant novella, well worth seeking out.
NON-HUMAN CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
I’m nominating the entire cast of No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull for this category and fighting the instinct that hisses why aren’t you classing them as human with the firm, loving response that you don’t have to be human to be a person. In the world(s) of the Convergence Saga, change is afoot. Those who look human may have a monster hidden within; those who seem like monsters may have innocent hearts. So if I’m picking a most favourite here, then of course it has to be childlike Dragon, claiming my heart fast in spite of the horrifying scene in which we first meet.
ROYAL OF THE YEAR
I thought last year that this would be a challenge for me, but once again it’s supremely easy because I’m giving it to Tila Narida for another star turn in trilogy-ending The God Breaker by Mike Brooks. She’s clever, she’s ruthless, she’s pragmatic, she always has another knife up her sleeve and she can cook up a plan to change the world in ten minutes. Never underestimate her. But actually? A pretty safe pair of hands to put in charge, so maybe just let her get on with it.
FREE CHOICE: LOVELIEST TO SEE AGAIN
I’ve done a lot of rereading this year, so I’m using my free choice to celebrate the power couple that is Phèdre no Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil. While it was fun to be back in Fionavar last Wyrd & Wonder and so satisfying to finally make it to the end of The Broken Earth – and although I find Kushiel’s Avatar frustratingly overlong – I cannot go past how good it is to hang out with the older version of these two. They have grown into themselves and each other, they are wise and compassionate and generally make better choices, and they have learned to acknowledge when those choices are going to hurt and what that may cost. Their struggles as a long-established couple trying to make a challenging relationship work against all odds are so much more satisfying than the turbulent strops and provocations of their younger selves. It’s also just delightful to see such character growth on page; by far my favourite thing about this trilogy-ending chonk.
Who were your favourite characters of the past year?