To mark the publication of The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (in hardback) and The Invisible Library (in paperback) this month, we asked six authors to share their favourite fantasy hero or heroine with us. We also asked them to explain why they picked this choice, from years of reading in this area. I just loved their answers, spanning a wide gamut of fantasy fiction classics. And you might pick up a few new reading recommendations too - there are so many perennial greats out there as well as wonderful new talent.
Also, for each author who has contributed below, we are giving away one of their books on twitter today (see bottom of post for the list). So that's a stack of six fantastic fantasy books to got to one lucky winner - and have a look at @UKTor for more! Either share your own favourite fantasy hero/heroine to enter and will pick the winner (UK entrants only, with terms and conditions here) at random from the answers OR give us a RT!
GENEVIEVE COGMAN - The hero I have in mind (I have several!) is Ged, or Sparrowhawk, from the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula le Guin.
I first read these in my early teens (back when the series was a trilogy) and he's always stayed with me as a hero. A man who made mistakes but learned from them, and who grew into wisdom, and knew when to use power, and also when not to use it. And he was a kind person, generous and constructive, using his strength to protect others and conscious of his responsibilities.
Throughout the story he rejects darkness for light, rejects stagnation for creation and growth, and ultimately expends and puts aside his own power in order to complete his mission. Also, he could command dragons, which never hurts.
The Invisible Library is the first book in a trilogy.
BRIAN STAVELEY - Egil Skallagrimsson from the 13th century Icelandic saga of the same name
One of my favorite heroes is Egil Skallagrimsson, the main character of the 13th century Icelandic Saga that bears his name. Egil is not, by any standard we would recognize, a good guy. As a child, he murders a boy with an axe over a playground dispute, and that’s just the start of his Viking career. Egil is fantastically ugly and extremely short-tempered, but he’s also an excellent poet. When imprisoned by the English king, he wins back his freedom and his life after staying up all night composing a poem in honor of his captor.
He is a master of runes and the magic that comes with them; in one famous episode, he saves a woman cursed by her jealous lover – not the only time he fights on behalf of the less fortunate. He is a character of endless contradictions, every bit as strange, and horrifying, and fascinating as any literary hero I’ve encountered.
The Emperor's Blades is Brian's first novel, with The Providence of Fire being the second volume in his trilogy - and his latest novel.
BEN PEEK - Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Ah, heroism. Is there any other concept in fantasy literature so divorced from reality? To rescue another, to help someone with a problem, or to provide a meaningful change in someones life - it is rarely done with a weapon in one hand and a letter of authority in the other. Which is why I suspect that Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were always the characters that spoke to me the most when it came to the concept of heroism, for it was in the very base of their creation - in the friendship between Leiber and Harry Fischer - that the recognition that neither were heroes, but rather flawed men who were friends were born. Make no mistake, both Fafhrd and the Mouser were flawed.
They were perennially broke, they drunk too much, and they sought, in all but the last of their relationships with women, replacements for the memories of the girls they loved first. Inbetween, they would fight, would take risks, and occasionally, come out on top (but mostly, they came out alive). Occasionally, they would do the right thing, and occasionally, they would not. But beyond what they did and what they did not do there was always their friendship, and always, though it was tested, their loyalty to each other. There was never any doubt that the two of them made a difference in each others life and, for the large part, it was without the sword in their hand, and without the desire of a higher power to push them here, or there. That, I think, is something that we can all take to heart.
The Godless is the first book in a trilogy.
RJURIK DAVIDSON - Fingolfin from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion
These days, I’m fairly suspicious of heroes. The entire genre of the the farmhand destined to be come King or Queen seems a bit close to wish fulfilment for me: wouldn’t it be nice if our lives turned out that way, that is some manner we were destined for greatness, even though we’re just farmhands or admin officers, or teachers in underfunded state schools, or ticket-inspectors or sales hands? But if you’d asked my youthful self for a hero, I might have said Tolkien’s elven character Fingolfin, from the Silmarillion.
As a teenager, I thought I was part of the select few who had discovered Tolkien’s real, hidden, masterpiece. Its a judgement that is questionable in retrospect. But The Silmarillion impressed me with the sheer scale of its events, so much larger than the ‘minor' ones of Lord of the Rings, when the world was already falling. And Fingolfin’s story was writ large in my imagination: the King Fingolfin despaired when he was falsely told his allies had fled from the first Dark Lord Morgoth. Bereft of hope, he challenged Morgoth to single combat, even though Morgoth was immortal. Seven times Fingolfin struck Morgoth and seven times Morgoth and his host wailed. Finally, Morgoth struck Fingolfin down with his hammer of the underworld, Grond. But not before Fingolfin, with a final blow, cut Morgoth’s foot, and ever after Morgoth walked with a limp. The story was epic and tragic at the same time: a lone and lonely warrior-king facing an impossible battle, yet facing it nonetheless, for one must resist, one must fight on, even when the odds are against us. Isn’t that a better metaphor for our world than one about the destiny of a farmhand?
Unwrapped Sky is the first book in a trilogy.
LIZ DE JAGER - Ash from the book of the same title by Mary Gentle
Ash by Mary Gentle would be the fantasy character that's had the most impact on me. Ash is young, she is flawed, she is complex and a pawn in a much larger game that's being played. But she still fights and loves and kills with a passion second to none. I loved reading Ash in 2001, having briefly met Mary Gentle at her Forbidden Planet signing, and re-read the novel in 2011.
It's a huge complex, crazy book and Ash is so damaged and very much a product of her upbringing. She's fighting for her freedom in a world that is so very much like ours. Ms. Gentle's writing reminded me that female main characters don't have to toothless pawns; they can and are allowed to bite back hard and challenge their naysayers. I like that.
Banished is book one of Liz's trilogy, with Vowed being the next volume plus her latest book.
DOUGLAS HULICK - Corwin of Amber from Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber
I like my fantasy heroes like I like my beer: complex, nice depth, a noticeable dryness (maybe even bitterness?), and a good head on top. (A little darkness doesn’t hurt, either.) No clear, shining examples you can read a motive through at a glance; no overly-doctored protagonists that have more quirks and tweaks and wonders than a six pack of supporting characters. Nothing easy, nothing sweet, and no one who you can take off the shelf without thinking at your local grab-and-go. I want development. I want internal conflict. I want a character who I may not even start out liking, but who I will have an appreciation for by the end of the round. I want the heroes in my fantasy, like the beer in my glass, to be worth savoring. And for me, that drink...er, hero of choice is Roger Zelazny’s Corwin of Amber, from the Chronicles of Amber series: tough, interesting, irreverent, even surprising, but excellent company in the end. A fine selection any day or night. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden hankering for a pint....
Among Thieves is Doug's first novel, with Sworn in Steel being the second and latest volume in his trilogy.
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The set of seven books - our twitter competition prize
To enter, just go to @UKTor and retweet this article.
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman paperback - published in Jan 2015 in PB/ebook
Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson hardback - available in HB/PB/ebook
Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick paperback - book 1 (And Sworn in Steel, book 2) available in PB/ebook
Banished by Liz de Jager paperback - book 1 (And Vowed, book 2) available in PB/ebook
The Godless by Ben Peek hardback - available in hardback/ebook
The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley paperback - available in HB/PB/ebook
The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley hardback - available in HB/ebook.