Ten Best Characters from Books I’ve Read

The criteria for this is very simple: someone from a book that I still remember to this day, no matter how long, or short, ago I came across them. They are memorable. Every once in awhile, I’ll recall something about them while doing something else or I’ll make a reference to them or simply take inspiration. Such as:

10. Tom Sawyer. He was my first literary hero, the character that spurred my lifelong love of fiction and reading. Tom was everything I was not: brave and defiant and ever willing to break the rules and try something new and a great friend and fearless protector. And he tormented his little brother, Sid, with an almost genius capacity for mayhem, some of which I tried on my own little brother.

9. Scout. She was the center of To Kill a Mockingbird, the one who watched the world and all its currents and storms flowing hard and fast right through the center of her life. She met everything with a calm and thoughtful gaze, learning from it, enduring it. And showed us how to take everyone, from the different to the wounded, on their own terms.

8. Breq. The ancillary in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, she was human then AI and a battleship then human again, or partially human, but, whatever the form, she was loyal to her friends and family, so to speak, and fought for her commander and her empire, even when she knew it was wrong. Indeed, she was responsible for correcting a lot of those wrongs; well, as best as they could be. Just considering all of the devastating and traumatic changes she went through as she changed form and purpose is mind blowing.

7. Mai. The bride of an arranged marriage to the Qin commander, Anji, she is, at first, docile and subservient, but she turns into a tiger. As she adjusts to the very dangerous world of the Hundred, she rises from a simple household member to admired confidant and a fighter in her own right. Half the fun of the Crossroads Trilogy is watching her development.

6. Maris. While out searching for her dog, Maris finds the stone that transports her to the Great Land, where she teams up with talking bugs and squirrels and a particularly brave ant to defeat the evil creatures taking over. I first read Shelia Moon’s Knee Deep in Thunder when I was 12 or 13, and it’s stayed with me, especially the last scene of the book, where Maris watches the boy walk away.

5. Chrisjen Avasarala. The foul mouthed, ruthless, downright murderous UN Secretary of Earth, she gave no quarter nor asked for any in her single-minded devotion to protecting Earth from Belters and Martians and revolutionaries and the proto-molecule. Constantly exasperated by James Holden and his optimistic humanism, she often found her plans undone and was often in serious danger, but you don’t mess with her. You just don’t.

4. Bob Lee ‘the Nailer’ Swagger. The protagonist of practically every single Stephen Hunter book, he is a former Vietnam-era sniper who earned his nickname from his mutant-like accuracy, the able to drive nails with a bullet. After amassing a rather astonishing kill record, he leaves the Army for an Arkansas farm and just wants to be left alone. But, of course, people just gotta bother him. To their detriment.

3. Schaffa Guardian. The Guardian responsible for Damaya’s training in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and introduced in the first book, The First Season, Schaffa is a cruel and demanding task master. But, it soon becomes clear that Schaffa is a compassionate and empathic trainer, forced to extreme methods because the Fifth Season is rapidly approaching and Damaya has to be ready. Reminds me very much of the character Patrick Foley in the Australian movie The Earthling.

2. Chad Buford. He is the main character of a book I loved since I was 13, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr, published in 1903.  Yes, execrable title, but it was the first book to sell a million copies in the United States. Orphaned in the hills of Kentucky shortly before the Civil War, Chad is adopted by a mountain family and then, through an odd series of events, ends up the protege of a wealthy Kentucky planter. When the Civil War starts, Chad makes a decision that goes against his family and friends and culture, and is the main reason I admire him. Very racist novel, though. Very racist.

1. Half-cocked Jack. So named because of an unfortunate childhood accident, he is a pirate and adventurer and a mercenary and a reaver and thief, and exactly the guy you want on your side in a fight. He is one of many unforgettable characters in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, appearing in the first novel, Quicksilver, and remaining alive through the rest of them, although I have no idea how. I guess Stephenson liked him, too.

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