This morning I finished a delightful book by Garth Nix called ‘Clariel’, a prequel to the Abhorson series that I read quite a few years back. It made me want to read the series all over again so I got them down from my bookshelf. Then I looked at all the ‘to read’ pile – those that I haven’t read before. Meh, I said to myself, they can wait while I go and read the series again.
Just before Christmas I also forewent my ‘to read’ pile, this time for two new Val McDermid books in the ‘Tony Hill’ series. This is quite a different read from the fantasy of Garth Nix.
In addition, I bought the next Ben Aaronovitch book in the ‘Peter Grant’ series. And of course, anything Jim Butcher writes in the Dresden Files or Kevin Hearne in the Iron Druid series get an instant read as soon and I can get my hands on them.
So what is it about these and other series that makes me want to buy and read them instantly?
Firstly, I think that there is something in the characters the authors have created that makes them enduring. Most of the leading characters are quite flawed; In the Abhorson series the protagonists all have unknown magic qualities they either don’t want or can’t use; Tony Hill is only a moral centimetre away from being one of the serial killers he catches; Harry Dresden is impulsive and makes decisions that seem right at the time but quite dangerous in hindsight, Atticus the Druid tries to stay alive but brings down multiple pantheon of gods onto his case and so on.
Secondly, the authors give them redeeming qualities that ensure the reader doesn’t just think ‘Fool’ and flicks the book. In Clariel, Nix allows Clariel to use ‘Free Magic’ or in Star Wars terms, go to the Dark Side while still believing she’s doing good because she’s uneducated about her world and magic; Tony Hill knows most of his flaws and uses them against the serial killers while his personal relationship slowly burns with DCI Carol Jordan. Harry Dresden tends to pull things out of the fire at the last minute when everything seems lost, as does Atticus the Druid. The latter two series also have authors who are able to bring humour to their stories that break tension or are just plain fun.
And then there are the storylines; well crafted, exciting and in each case the authors seem to put their characters to extreme tests.
OK, so why do I want to keep reading about them? What is it about these characters that I just have to know what they are up to, how they are going, makes me barrack for them each time?
It’s not the magic, although that’s fascinating, because then I wouldn’t love the psychological drama in the Tony Hill books. Or maybe it is magic because what Tony Hill does, and Val McDermid writes so well, is the internal ‘magic thinking’ of those who kill for fun and giggles, so to speak.
For me, I think, it’s the battle against the odds, and finding something within themselves that allows them to go on when many would fail and fall by the wayside. I would hope that were I put in such awful situations, I would have the strength and wherewithal to get to the end and achieve my goal. But mainly that I am very unlikely to find myself in these situations and grateful that I’m reading about them, excited for the characters, but NOT be them. I’m safe in my comfortable armchair/couch following the adventures of others, cheering for them, sad for them, terrified and fascinated, but inherently safe from their woes (hopefully).
A pretty powerful formula if, as an author, one is able to find such a character and storyline, and execute it well.