Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character-Driven Novels
A character-driven novel doesn’t mean there’s no plot, or that the plot is unimportant. It means that the plot – the action – arises out of who the main character is (or are, if there are more than one.) Everything the main character does, every reaction, comes from his/her personality and motivation, and by the end, the character has grown or changed in some significant way.
Genre is pretty irrelevant: a book in almost any genre can be character-driven, if it’s well-written. I gravitate toward character-driven books, so most of my favorite books fall in that category.
Here are some really good character-driven novels, from children’s books to adult books. I can’t say they’re my absolute Top Ten, because there were so many other wonderful books I could have picked. But they are certainly high on my list!
ETA: I deliberately left out the adult classics. Many of them are character-driven or at least character-rich, but they are also well-known for being so. I wanted to show that you can find complex, well-written characters who drive the plot in a variety of genres, not just serious literary fiction.
Middle Grade & Young Adult
- The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (review) The first and strongest book in Nielsen’s trilogy featuring a most unreliable narrator: a beggar boy who must pretend to be a prince.
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare A classic YA historical novel, and with good reason. All the characters are well-drawn, but Kit’s emotional journey lies at the center of the book.
- The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope Kate Sutton’s intelligence and strong will get her in trouble, but they’re also the key to freeing herself and a young man.
- The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge The common thread in Goudge’s novels is her compassion for and deep understanding of her characters, and her unwavering belief in the redemptive power of love, whether human or divine.
- Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher Pilcher shares with Goudge a sense of optimism and a clear and compassionate understanding of the human spirit – particularly apt in this novel of WWII and the years leading up to it, as experienced by one young woman and her friends.
- Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers A tribute to Sayers’ own years at Oxford, and a nuanced and sensitively writtten mystery/romance.
- The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (review) King humanizes Sherlock Holmes without de-Holmsifying him, but the real star of the book is Mary Russell, his brilliant but scarred young apprentice.
- Slightly Married by Mary Balogh All of Balogh’s romances are character-driven, but this one is particularly good.
- The Rake by Mary Jo Putney The character development and exploration of alcoholism are superb.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
- The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway (review) Fascinating time-travel novel that, among other things, explores how our culture shapes our personality.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (review) A picaresque fantasy narrated by an amazing, complex character, by one of the best new authors of any genre.