Our Favorite Fantasy Characters Not Written By George R.R. Martin (And So He Can’t Kill Them Off Suddenly, Reducing You to a Pile of Tears and Broken Dreams)
If there is one thing I don’t miss about reading A Song of Ice and Fire (aka those Game of Thrones books), it’s the heart wrenching randomness with which George R.R. Martin assassinates his characters. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I have my flashbacks.
Sigh, oh Ned Stark… I’ll miss you the most, scarecrow Hand of the King. But this isn’t about you; this is about the character I can enjoy for more than half a book. For characters who will be around. These are some awesome fantasy characters that weren’t written by George R.R. Martin, but that people should know about any way.
Note, some spoilers in the blurbs below.
Mat Cauthon: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was my entry into the world of American Epic Fantasy (and at fourteen books and counting it is epic). The apple of my eye was not the main character, Rand Al’Thor, but rather his mischievous friend, Mat Cauthon. From the get-go you can tell Mat’s the trouble-maker with a heart of gold. He gambles, he thieves (from those who deserve it), he flirts shamelessly, and he’s constantly going around saving his friends and taking the fall for his loved ones. While Rand may be the Dragon Reborn, Mat’s prophesied to die and live again and marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons. How does not that sound thrilling?? And Jordan tells us straight up: he’s going to die – but he’s-coming-back!
So drop that seventh Game of Thrones book (you’ll have time to catch up, the next one won’t come out for ages), and pick up The Wheel of Time. Which will totally come to a conclusion. Soon. I swear.
Merlin: I refer, of course, to Mary Stewart’s character Merlin (aka Myrddin Emrys) from her trilogy, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. We meet Merlin as a remarkably well spoken six-year-old, and we learn that he is the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess. He has a plethora of nicknames, among them “son of the devil” (for his clairvoyant visions) and the ever clever “bastard child.” He’s small for his age, and oft-abused and who can’t help but root for the underdog?
In the first book, Merlin sets off to join the Pendragon campaign, and through his cunning eventually wins the seat of the High King of Britain for Uther Pendragon.
You know, Arthur’s dad, Uther. King Arthur, who wouldn’t even be born if it wasn’t for Merlin! The view from the shadows of history is an interesting one, and it is one that Merlin is most familiar with. The reader grows up with Mary Stewart’s Merlin in this trilogy, and despite knowing how his story ends, wants so badly for everything to go his way. He’s the guy you want on your side, unless of course Morgause shows up.
And you know what? Merlin doesn’t die. He just … lives happily. In a cave. Like a hermit.
Lyra Belacqua (Image via): I’m sure some of you remember the travesty that was the movie version of The Golden Compass. Remembering? Okay good, now forget it. It was terrible and let us never speak of it again.
Lyra Belacqua, later known as Lyra Silvertongue, is the heroine of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. She’s introduced in alternate London, where she lives as a ward of Oxford College while her father Lord Asriel travels. She is very, very street smart, but also unruly and obstinate. She’s not great with her hygiene and definitely smells most of the time. She doesn’t much care for the education at her hands, and chooses instead to run wild in the streets. She’s flawed, but it doesn’t matter. Because most importantly, Lyra is a fighter. When her best friend is taken for mysterious governmental experiments in which children are separated from the living embodiments of their souls, Lyra does all she can to get him back. Including running away from Oxford to go on a journey alone, befriending the terrifying, displaced armored bear king, Iorek Byrnison and getting him back his throne, and finding doorways into another world. This begins as a pretty creepy fantasy story but quickly turns into an epic philosophical battle.
Lyra is “destined to bring about the end of destiny” and to “bring an end to death” – and oh, does she.
Sir Apropos of Nothing: Has there ever been a better anti-hero than Apropos? Born to a tavern wench, and unsure of what jerk-Knight is his father, Apropos came into the world with a clubbed foot, a mouth full of teeth, and a whole lot of anger. He is not a nice guy. Qualities? A liar, a rogue, a philanderer, a cheat! I’ll say it: he’s an asshole. But full of a sarcastic wit, and a complete understanding of his own less savory qualities, he is a super fun person to read about.
In the beginning of this trilogy, Apropos heads to the court of the good King Runcible to line his pockets with retribution for his erstwhile father (whoever he may be). When there, he ends up accidentally falling into role of squire to the blathering Sir Umbridge of the Flaming Nether Regions. This in turn plays a part in his being the only person to escort a psychopathic arsonist of a princess home, all while battling mutant harpies, murderous unicorns, and homicidal warrior kings. And he does it with all the aplomb of an angry wet cat.
Apropos is interesting because while there is some character growth, he stays a pretty big jerk throughout, and half the time you’re not sure if you really want him to succeed. But the other half of the time, you’re like “YEAH, KILL THAT STUPID UNICORN!”
Sirius Black: Oh wait… just kidding.
Phedre No Delaunay: I’m going to show how girly I am right now. And I’m not even ashamed. Phedre is the main character in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart series. Doesn’t it sound like a romance?
It kind of is. Ok, it really is. But it is also a series full of political intrigue, battles, spies, and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful people. Phedre is one of these beautiful, beautiful people.
An orphan, she’s adopted into the Delaunay household as a child and taught to be both a courtesan and a spy. So in addition to being beautiful-beautiful, she is so very, very smart, she couldn’t possibly exist in real life. But it doesn’t matter, because whether Phedre is spying out secrets for her foster father, or spying ON her foster father and finding out about his secret oath to protect a young regent, she is a woman that I can feel good about reading… even though my cheeks go a little red at some of the more sexy-time scenes.
What I loved about Phedre is that while she is beautiful and smart, she’s not perfect. She’s young and makes mistakes when going up against the woman who will be a thorn in her side for the series: Melisande. She ends up beaten and bruised (and nearly fileted alive!), but doesn’t ever give up, and she counts mostly on herself – as well as a well-trained bodyguard – to get through her trials.
Preeti Chhibber usually spends her time reading a ridiculous amount of Young Adult (for work, she swears!), but is also ready to jump into most fandoms at a moment's notice. You can follow her on Twitter @runwithskizzers.