Character Focused Fantasy Novels You’re Sure To Love!
By: Preston Simmons | Written: 8 June 2021
Characters Make Or Break A Book
Have you ever read a book with terribly written characters and then called it amazing? Probably not. There’s a reason for that. Characters are the backbone of every good book. Well-written characters should be memorable, flawed, and subvert the reader’s expectations in some way. If you want stories that make the most of character interactions, have incredible character development, and also have characters you will never forget, you may want to read character focused fantasy books.
Character focused fantasy novels put characters above all else. These are the books where you will remember the names of each and every character like they were your best friends.
The novels in this article contain some of the most memorable characters you can find in fantasy. These are characters that will stick with you. You may find yourself in the future comparing other characters in lesser series to the ones found in these stories.
Some of the novels mentioned in this article will be stand-alone stories, while others will be part of longer series that follows characters throughout a 10 book saga (or more). Some of the recommendations are epic fantasy, some are science fiction fantasy, and others are slice-of-life fantasy. Each book that appears is worth checking out for masterclass character writing.
#1 – Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb is the queen of character writing. The characters in her epic fantasy series Realm of the Elderlings have some of the greatest arcs in fantasy. The Realm of the Elderlings comprises five different series: The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders trilogy, The Tawny Man trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles, and the Fitz and the Fool trilogy. If you want to start this epic series, begin with The Farseer Trilogy. Here, you’ll meet Fitz, one of the greatest characters in all of fantasy.
What sets Fitz apart is his growth throughout the series. This is a story of a boy becoming a man. He encounters many people on his journey, each having a major impact on his life in one way or another. He deals with successes and hardship, tragedies and victories. Each event further shapes him into the person he becomes by the end of the series.
If you want to read a series with masterful character development and incredible character interactions, the Realm of the Elderlings is a series made for you.
#2 – Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold is a massive 16 book science fiction series that follows many characters over hundreds of years. First and foremost, this is the story of the Vorkosigan family. More importantly, this is the story of Miles Vorkosigan, a character unlike many others in fiction. Over the span of novels, you see him develop into a character that stands far above the rest.
The reading order of the saga can be difficult for newcomers. Unlike many other series, the publication order is not the correct way to read the series. The two recommended ways to read the series are the internal chronological order or the bookriot reading order. The first way is how Bujold herself recommends reading. The second way is how many people enjoy reading the series to maximize character continuation.
Whichever way you choose to read the series, the first recommended book to read is Shards of Honor. Though this book doesn’t feature Miles, the main protagonist of the series, it features his parents and acts as a great beginning to the Vorkosiverse.
#3 – The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
Who says characters need to be human for them to be likeable? Not Martha Wells, that’s for sure. In her series, the Murderbot Diaries, Wells creates one of the most relatable characters in fantasy in the form of Murderbot. Murderbot just wants to watch soap operas, but unfortunately, life isn’t that simple.
Throughout the six-book series, the Murderbot Diaries introduces the reader to many AI and human characters. The main character, Murderbot, is what I would call a mirror to the modern-day person. All his thoughts, desires, and worries will resonate with anyone who has ever felt different or alone in the world. It’s incredible how Wells creates such a human character with Murderbot.
This is a series you’re going to love and probably will have a hard time putting down once you start.
#4- The First Law by Joe Abercrombie
Grimdark is a genre of fantasy that some people hate and others love. The people that hate grimdark usually complain that the stories are unnecessarily gruesome, joyless, and dark just for the sake of being as dark as possible. The people who love grimdark enjoy it for the brutal realism of the world’s the author creates, the tragedies the characters suffer through, and the seriousness that usually accompanies such a story.
Just like all other genres, what puts some grimdark stories above others is the characters that appear in them. One grimdark series that emphasizes characters above all else is The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.
The First Law trilogy is a character-focused fantasy series at its heart. The first novel, The Blade Itself, follows four characters, Logen Ninefingers, Jezel dan Luthar, Inquisitor Glokta, and the wizard Bayaz. The four characters are very different from one another, each with their own clear motivations and goals.
These characters will be some of the most memorable you will read in the grimdark genre, and maybe even in fantasy itself. Each character that Abercrombie introduces throughout the series is creative, important, and captivating to read about.
The First Law trilogy is a great series to read for all the grimdark fans out there, and in actuality, for any reader in general.
#5 – A Song of Ice And Fire by George RR Martin
There is a reason why A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most well-known pieces of literature. One reason is because of the HBO series A Game of Thrones. Why was GOT so popular? The characters.
ASOIF, the series GOT is based on, is one of the best character-focused fantasy sagas around. Each book is made up of point-of-view chapters. In these POV chapters, the reader experiences different perspectives of events that occur in the books. How each character views the events that occur drastically differs.
What I love about these books is that each character feels like their own person. Not a single character fits into the typical archetype you would find in most fantasy novels. Each character has their own believable motivations. You read about a character backstabbing another character, but you root for them to succeed because you read why the backstabbing is necessary. Then the next chapter, you read from the POV of the character that’s being backstabbed. You feel the anguish of the betrayal because now you see how it affects the character you are reading about. It’s easy to find yourself rooting for a character in one chapter, then hating them in the next. And vice versa.
George RR Martin is a master at character writing, and his novels have spawned an entirely new generation of fantasy fans. His character focused fantasy novels are the reason why so many people love fantasy today.
#6 – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A McKillip is simply a beautiful book. Beautiful prose, expressive imagery, and most importantly, incredibly written characters. This is classic fantasy at its best, suitable for readers of all ages.
What makes this novel so memorable is its characters. Sybel, the main protagonist, experiences so much growth throughout the novel going from a person who is cold and solitary, to someone who finds love in many unexpected places, and craves the connection to another that only a mother could feel.
There are many other characters that are equally as enthralling to read about, like Tam and Coren. The many different beasts are also characters in their own right that are as memorable as the main cast.
This is a breathtaking book that can be finished in a single day. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
#7 – Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is a stand alone character focused fantasy novel that is slow, intelligent, and masterfully written. This is a tale of rebellion and love, magic and politics. A story where the heroes are flawed and the villains are sympathetic. This is character writing at its best.
These characters are morally ambiguous at best, and that makes them all the more intriguing to read. This is a story of men and women, human characters that are powerful, but just that; men and women. They are people capable of love and passion, violence and murder. Each passionately believe in their goals and what they think is right. They have real reasons for what they believe in, even if it comes at a great cost to others.
Tigana is not an easy read. It can even be a painful read for some. It is, however, a story that will resonate with you. You may laugh, and you even may cry. But without a doubt, Tigana, will be a novel you will love.
#8 – The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is probably the most unique novel on the list. This is a slice of life fantasy book. What that means is it’s not action packed or gruesome, and it’s not a difficult read. In fact, this might be the most comfortable read you have in a long time.
First and foremost, this is a slow character focused fantasy book. It follows Maia, the half goblin fourth son of an emperor who must learn what it means to be a leader in a world that doesn’t want to accept him. Maia is the star of this novel. He’s kind, warm, and such a treat to read about that will instantly put a smile on your face.
If you are looking for a story about someone who brings light to a world of darkness, this might be the one for you.
#9 – The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
It is hard to express how much I owe to the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. It’s the series that got me back into reading so many years ago. It’s also the series that jump started my love for fantasy. Part of the reason why I loved WoT so much could be because of the characters.
By the time I finished the series, the characters all felt like my good friends. Rand, Mat, and Perrin felt like my best friends that I had shared many memories. Nyneve, Egwene, Min, and Avienda felt like older sisters to me, always imparting some wisdom (whether I wanted to hear it or not). In short, these fictional characters felt so real to me that it pained me to put the books down.
The Wheel of Time is such a great series with amazing characters. Each character could easily have many essays written about them discussing their growth throughout the books. Just know that when you finish the series, you can expect to become intimately connected with each character. You’ll know their thoughts, their wishes, their worries, and their fears. You’ll know who they love and hate and why they do so. You may even know these characters so well that, maybe, you too will think of them as friends.
The Wheel of Time is one of my favorite series of all time, and its all thanks to the characters.
RELATED: Best Wheel of Time Reading Order
#10 – The Masquerade Series by Seth Dickinson
The Masquerade Series by Seth Dickinson is a very dark, very adult character focused fantasy saga that can only be described as a masterpiece. This is a complex, multifaceted series where characters are at the forefront. This book is painful to read because of how brutally honest and unforgiving it is in its depiction of the world Dickinson created. You’ll read about betrayal, death, racism, torture, mutilation, and war in its most raw forms.
This book and its characters will leave you speechless. At the beginning of the article I said that to make well-written characters, they must be memorable, flawed, and defy expectations. This series takes that concept and takes it to the next level. Once you read this series, you won’t forget any bit of it. It will haunt you, it may hurt you, but without a doubt, it will be an experience unlike any you have ever had in your literary life.
Characters are the soul to all good books. They can make you laugh or cry. They can make you cheer or boo. Well-written characters can even feel like your own long lost friends. With these 10 character focused fantasy novels, I hope you may have discovered your next read, or if you’ve read them before, reminisced on your time with these characters.
What are your favorite character focused fantasy novels? Let me know in the comments below!