The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels. Character is always, always the most important thing to me in a book, but I had a little trouble defining what “character driven” means to me. In the end, I tried to come up with ten books where personality and relationships are more important than the plot or the writing style to me, even if those elements are important too.
1. Nicola Griffith- Hild This expansive novel is full of history, religion, and politics, but the center of it all is a complex and incredible character.
2. Mary Robinette Kowal- The Glamourist Histories (series) Kowal started with an almost dangerously cutesy, niche concept but she then used that concept to create Jane and Vincent, two characters and one incredible relationship that ground the series in reality.
3. George R. R. Martin- A Song of Ice and Fire (series) When people want to talk about epic fantasy, they usually gravitate towards worldbuilding, or battles, or magic systems. What GRRM does best, in my opinion, is use inspirations from history to write some of the most compelling characters around. When you think about the fact that every chapter is told from a different close third, and how many characters we see in that close manner, the scope is incredible. The characters are what make that particular world worth it for me. I may not remember all of the details of the scheming behind the Red Wedding, for example, but I will always remember oh my God when that one guy did that one thing. The little (and big) character moments are the most important thing there for me in those books.
4. Suzanne Collins- The Hunger Games (series) You cannot have The Hunger Games without Katniss, and her voice is those books. She’s one of my favorite characters in recent literature. She’s angry, she’s defiant, and then she is broken, and you just root for her all the way.
5. Tana French- Broken Harbour. The best crime fiction I’ve read offers compelling portraits of deeply flawed and beautifully human people, perhaps more so than any other genre. Tana French is the best I’ve found to do this yet, and Broken Harbour is (possibly) my favorite of her books (I’m still debating this). Scorcher Kennedy drives that novel, and most of the other characters in his orbit are equally as enthralling.
6. Jo Nesbo- The Harry Hole series. Again with the crime fiction, again with the deeply flawed people. Nesbo, I think, does it in a more fun way than French (if that is the word I’m looking for, less introspective and more charactery-y) (boy, I’m really going places with this list). Hole is one messed up dude, but the characters around him are fun, vibrant, eccentric, and memorable. The plots are always humdingers, but I definitely read for the characters (even though I know he’s up there with GRRM in terms of putting bodies on the table).
7. Gillian Flynn- Gone Girl. Forget whatever you’ve heard about the twists. Forget the buzz. Forget Ben Affleck. This is a character portrait of (say it with me now:) two deeply flawed people. The identites they present and the identities they hide make for a wonderfully complex and enthralling story.
8. Ann Leckie- Ancillary Justice. I’m still not sure quite how I feel about this novel. I’m still not sure quite what novel it is. But Ancillary Justice is definitely a remarkable feat of character-building. Breq is a refugee, a lone human on a revenge quest. She used to be an entire spaceship, and all of its crew. She’s not an easy character to define, and she’s not an easy character to dismiss from your headspace.
9. Mary Beth Keane- Fever. This is a great example of the kind of historical fiction I like. It takes an historical figure that most people are at least marginally familiar with (Thyphoid Mary) and uses the facts to dramatize an internal life. Keane does it really, really well with Fever.
10. Anything Rainbow Rowell had ever written, ever. I literally do not know how she does it. Rowell takes lots of dialogue, some pop culture references, and choppy, fast-reading formats and manages to churn out novels that make me feel all the feelings at once. They shouldn’t work (for me, given my reading history). But her characters are so alive, it’s like they could pass you walking down the street. I feel like I know everyone she writes about. Half the time I feel like I’ve been them. It’s amazing, and kind of creepy, and I hope it never stops.