Top Ten Character-Driven Novels

October 7, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday, Uncategorized 17

toptentuesday2Top 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.


Adult Fiction

  • 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 spiritparticularly 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.

17 Responses to “Top Ten Character-Driven Novels”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Yup! I will be bringing the dragon/bookwyrm back soon, I hope. Read Pilcher’s later books to get the full flavor of her talent. Her earlier romances are good and not necessarily light – they’re still character-driven – but they don’t have the depth of The Shell Seekers, Coming Home, Winter Solstice, and (I assume, but I haven’t read it yet) September.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Stephanie, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t been ignoring you. I’m reading your blog posts and trying to comment, but for some reason, suddenly I don’t seem able to comment on blogspot/blogger blogs using IntenseDebate – not even as a guest. I can fill everything out (though it doesn’t remember me from previous visits), but when I hit “Comment”, absolutely nothing happens. It’s like the plugin is broken, bu apparently only for me. So far I’ve noticed on two blogs, which is why I think it has something to do with the IntenseDebate plugin. I have no idea why. Sorry to let you know here, but I couldn’t figure out how else to contact you!

      • Stephanie

        Hmmm…. Well shoot. Since I installed it a while ago, I have had at least one other person have to do some gymnastics to be able to comment which is not good. I spent some time this morning trying to google the problem and their doesn’t seem to be anything useful. This is when it would be useful to be a bit more computer savvy…. I’ll keep looking but if you get any more insight on the issue you can e-mail me directly at rudejasperATgmailDOTcom. Sorry for the trouble!!
        Stephanie recently posted…Saturdays in the Garden – Cranes and a Shack in the WoodsMy Profile

      • Stephanie

        I’ve been playing around with this some more Lark and found this exchange with Selah at A bibliophile’s style who was having this problem initially as well. This is what she figured out: “Okay, as I’m sure you saw, I was able to comment! If I log out of intensedebate, I can comment as a guest. I also created a new intensedebate profile, separate from my WordPress account, and I can comment using it. I think the problem was with the auto login relationship between intensedebate and WordPress. I’ve had similar weirdness with Disqus.”
        This sounds like a huge pain in the neck and I’m not sure I understand the issue but I will submit it to intensedebate as I’m not able to find any other discussions of the issue on the web. Sorry to have a quirky comment system!!
        Stephanie recently posted…Saturdays in the Garden – Cranes and a Shack in the WoodsMy Profile

        • Lark_Bookwyrm

          Interesting! I don’t have an IntenseDebate account that I know of, and it still doesn’t seem to let me post as guest. The really weird thing is that I used to have no trouble commenting on your blog. Maybe I had an IntenseDebate account and forgot to make a note of it, and when I created the Gravatar/ account, it messed the other one up? I’ll try creating a new IntenseDebate account with a different email than my account and see what happens. Thanks for pursuing it, Stephanie!

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      It was really, really good – one of my few 5-star ratings for 2013. And Name of the Wind and the second novel, The Wise Man’s Fear, just blow me away.

  1. Rita @ My Home of Books

    Interesting, eclectic collection of books here! Thanks for the work you did to pull this list together– I have to confess I’ve been out of sorts this week and couldn’t wrap my mind around thinking up a good list for this topic. I will have to satisfy myself with reading others’ lists today.

    I have The Name of the Wind and I read about 1/3, got up to the part where the boy was at a fair. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. I just felt a bit confused and overwhelmed with all the details. I know you would tell me to pick it back up and keep reading. Was it at all a difficult read for you?
    Rita @ My Home of Books recently posted…What Burns Away ReviewMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I actually listened to the audiobook with my daughter while we drove back and forth to her community college courses. She encouraged me to keep going when I was confused in the beginning – though I think you got past the toughest part, which is the opening “frame story”. Once he starts telling his story, it picks up. The audio version is very well read. And Rothfuss’s use of language is masterful. But yes, there are a lot details to remember. And you never know when one will prove to be significant later on!

      • Rita_h @ My Home of Books

        I think the key to this might be for me to listen to the audio of it. I don’t usually do audiobooks, but this plot is already a storytelling theme, so it would dovetail nicely into being “told” to me–thanks for the tip.
        Rita_h @ My Home of Books recently posted…More Aquarium PhotosMy Profile

        • Lark_Bookwyrm

          If you like, check out my review of it, because I wrote about exactly that. I really did find that hearing the book worked well for me.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Patrick Rothfuss is so amazing; I love those books! I know it’s a long wait, but the books are so good, I don’t want him to rush it. I’d rather he take his time and get it right! But did you know that there’s a book about Auri coming out this October? It’s called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and it’s somewhere between a novel and a novella in length. I’ve already preordered my copy!

      I think you’ll like The River of No Return, too. Especially if you like historical fiction.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Kvothe is an awesome character. And I agree re The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: Laurie King’s humanized Holmes is now headcanon for me.