Thanks to imyril, I wanted to pick up on her tag, Fantasy Characters of the Year, which she first saw at Space & Sorcery. I’m adapting it to Favorite Fantasy Characters of the past year or more without identifying a favorite male, female, villain, etc. – just fictional people that I find unforgettable. This theme makes me wonder what draws me to particular characters. In each of these novels, they struggle in some way to manage their special powers while also figuring out who they are. So you never lose sight of the human relationships and complex realities they struggle to understand and live with. The magic is often a burden but also a means for learning more about who they are.
So here is my set of favorite fantasy characters of the last couple of years, in no particular order.
Maya in Monkey Around by Jadie Jang
Maya MacQueen is the shape-shifting version of classical Chinese fictional character, the Monkey King. Maya’s adventures are all in contemporary San Francisco, as she shifts from human to monkey to just about any form she needs to solve mysteries and track down a menacing monster. What makes Maya especially interesting is her ongoing battle with self-doubt and imposter syndrome and her constant effort to make sense of her supernatural powers and her quite human feelings.
Clara in The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Clara Johnson, based on a real person in early 20th century Washington D.C. who fought back during a race riot and escaped a murder charge, leads a cast of characters with varying magical skills, each of which comes with a very human cost. She has “second sight” and can perceive the spiritual forces that grant powers to humans. Leading a crew of vividly drawn allies, each of whom has a special power, on a great heist to outwit a notorious gang leader. The historical setting of segregated D.C. adds enormously to the magical action, but Clara is always the force guiding everyone.
Sankofa in Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
The awesome fourteen year-old Sankofa, with the frame of a ten year-old, and the death wielding power of an ancient mage, walks the land visiting those whose time has come. Cast out of her family as a child, she acquired power through contact with an alien artifact which she has to retrieve. That is the motive that drives her endless walking through her native Ghana. She has become a feared daughter of death, but much of her life is one of hard survival.
Narrator in When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
The nameless narrator of this great novel is an older women telling the story of her teenage years when her aunt turned into a dragon, leaving her child in her sister’s care. When her sister, the narrator’s mom dies, a cruel father removes the two children from their home and sets them up in an apartment where the fifteen year-old girl has to raise a young boy and do everything else, including going to school. How she manages, with a lot of help from a found dragon family, is a beautiful story of determination, survival and love.
Stella in Embertide by Liz Williams
This third installment in the Fallow sisters series makes it hard to pick a favorite among the four women, but for this book I found myself more and more intrigued by Stella. She is the DJ who, in this story, is pursued by a woman who has made a deal with dark forces and a mysterious man with yellow eyes and ram’s horns who leads a pack of hounds in a hunt for souls. Stepping in and out of contemporary English reality, she has to confront hostile spirits to survive. Stella and her sisters, each of whom is guided from time to time by a star spirit, have a wonderful sensitivity to the land, often seeing not just the present landscape but also the way it has changed over centuries.
Peretur in Spear by Nicola Griffith
Peretur is the teen-aged hero who follows her fate in early Britain to become one of the warriors in the court of Arturus. This is Nicola Griffith’s beautiful adaptation of multiple versions of the legend of Parzifal and the search for the holy grail, which here are important objects of magical power. We watch her grow as a person as she makes a name for herself as a warrior and protector of the poor until she can not only become one of Arturus’s knights but also confront her dangerous father, who is a god.
Sogolon in Moon Witch Spider King by Marlon James
Sogolon drives through her incredible life, first as a scorned girl, hated by her family, then as a renowned witch who holds within her an explosive power that makes her a feared presence wherever she goes. But we see her in the first part of the book as a spindly servant girl who is dismissed as worthless, even when she uses her power to destroy those who anger her. The story jumps ahead so that we see hear after 150 years still trying to make sense of her life. Hers is an unforgettable and complex journey of discovery and learning to adapt her powers to find out who she really is.
Mithila in The Horizon by Gautam Bhatia
The rebel Mithila has dared to scale the walls of the circular city of Sumer, walls that block off the horizon and limit the experience and language of everyone within the city. The Horizon tells the story, begun in The Wall, of what Mithila found in the outside world and how it helped her lead a revolution, however reluctantly, to break down the old order. She manages to open the minds and spirits of her people as restrictive beliefs and a powerful hierarchy face the animosity of the people of Sumer.