This was really tough for me to do - I find it hard enough to narrow down my favourite books, let alone my favourite characters! But I got around to thinking about characters which have really stuck with me through the years; that I think are absolutely brilliant and might have even influenced my own writing a bit. So after a lot of shuffling around, I've managed to get them down to my top 5, and here they are!
The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver
Michelle Paver has managed to achieve something amazing with him in the most simple – and arguably accurate – way that I’ve ever seen, and for that reason, Wolf will always be my top animal character.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Even though this does have a very strong romantic element to it, the book really is in a class of its own. Like most of the 19th century literature that I enjoy, it has a real darkness to it. But Jane is what sets it apart for me. Bearing in mind that this was written in the mid 1800s, in hindsight, she is quite a modern character. The fact that she’s a woman does play a role, because obviously back then, women were seen as inferior to men. But Jane is not just a modern woman, she is a modern character. Her morals are relevant to both men and women. She has a steadfastness and ruggedness that isn’t really seen all that often in books of this type. She’s not pretty, she has no finery, but she does have a mind of her own and isn’t afraid to speak it. Yet even with all that fire inside her, she knows how to keep a cool and calm exterior, and is always respectful of her own values above any kind of temptation – even if it’s clear she wants nothing more that to give in. The courage to be able to move on from so much hurt is something that really spoke to me. It’s this strength of will and heart which gives the entire book its power. Jane Eyre’s character has endured for over 150 years now, and I expect she’ll still be there in another 150.
The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick
When I thought about doing this list, Valerian was one of the first characters that sprang to mind. He has to be one of the most intriguing antiheroes in the world of children’s books, and I’m always a bit put out that the series isn’t more well known. Valerian is a stage magician who has also dabbled in the occult, culminating in him selling his soul with the promise that it will be taken from him in fifteen years. When that time rolls around, he and his servant Boy embark on a frantic search to find the Book of Dead Days: the only artefact which may be able to save him.
Valerian is what makes the book for me, and I was always hoping for some kind of prequel story that would let him have even more ‘screen time’. His mysteriousness is brilliantly offset by how quickly his mood can change: one moment he’s suave and subdued, the next he’s shouting and smacking Boy around the ears. All in all, he is not a nice character, but it’s so fascinating watching the way he moves – especially as the story progresses and he grows more desperate, going to ever-darker depths to achieve his salvation. He sort-of reminds me a little of the character of Dorian Gray in a more kid-friendly way. It’s clear that his descent into oblivion is inevitable, but the journey we get pulled into on the way towards it is too engrossing to ignore. And despite everything, I always found myself rooting for him in a strange way. Valerian is one character who definitely deserves more attention – and, personally, I’ll always be wishing for that prequel!
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is one of the easiest choices on this list for me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I first picked up The Book Thief, but I was hooked from the start and devoured it in a couple of days. I was thrilled when I found out it was being made into a movie. I just hope that, in the film, they get this character right. His name is a pretty obvious giveaway to who he is. Death serves more as a narrator than a physical character, telling of his time watching a girl named Liesel Meminger throughout the Second World War. In the middle of Nazi Germany, her foster family take the huge risk of sheltering a young Jewish man, while Liesel nurtures her love of books, even going so far as to steal them from burning piles in the street.
To begin with, I thought the idea of Death as a narrator, and especially during so dark a period as the Second World War, was something pretty fresh. It would have been so easy to make him a depressing and overbearing presence, with no personality and basking in the fact that there is so much destruction around him. But it actually turns out that he is quite the opposite: he is horrified by how much pain mankind brings down upon itself. He is frank and somewhat cynical, as you might expect from a Death persona, often interrupting the narrative with bullet-pointed lists regarding something that has just happened, or mentioning about how much he wishes for a break from his job. For such a serious subject matter, I was chuckling to myself all the way through this book, and that was all mainly down to this character. Like Neil Gaiman’s similarly unique take on Death in the Sandman comics, he makes us think twice about exactly how we view the end of life, and the personification of it.