I’ve been scrutinizing characters that I love lately, in order to improve my own writing. It’s made me realize that all of the fantasy characters whose series I’m addicted to are pretty bad-ass. I mean, they kind of have to be to survive in their worlds long enough to be a series rather than a standalone book, but that doesn’t make them any less bad-ass. They also all have some interesting personality quirks, a clue that part of the reason they are so lovable is because of the depth their authors imparted them with. So I thought I’d compile a list of my top 5 favorite fantasy badasses, and take a look at what makes them tick.
***Please note that this list contains some spoilers! I tried to keep any such tidbits vague in nature, but there are probably some spoiler bits nonetheless.***
1. Vlad Taltos (from the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust)
Role: Assassin. Witch. Minor noble of the house of Jhereg. Resident smartass.
Badassery: He’s an assassin with a pet dragonling and some unique enchanted (intelligent?) weapons who can also use witchcraft, and who is always good for a smartass remark or ten. If that’s not enough, he’s faced off against both gods and the enemies of the gods alike and come out alive. He’s a personal friend of the current Empress, and the legendary Enchantress of Dzur, among others. He ends up marrying a fellow assassin who initially was hired to kill him (charisma!). He has a deep-seated appreciation for fine food and wine, as well as a good kup of klava (coffee), and still makes time to regularly visit his grandfather. He’s got a knack for unraveling intricate plots, which usually lands him in trouble – his streak of luck might only be an inch wide, but runs a mile long.
Companions: Loiosh, a sarcastic dragonlike creature (jhereg) with whom Vlad can communicate telepathically.
Trademarks: A jhereg or two riding on his shoulders. Being the only human among a crowd of elf-like Dragaerans. Knives; lots and lots of knives.
2. Phédre nò Delauney de Montrève (from the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey)
Role: Servant of Naamah (courtesan). Countess. Spy. Diplomat. Chosen of Kushiel/anguisette (masochist). Fashionista.
Badassery: Her beauty and personality combined to tempt the man she loved away from his sacredly-held vows of chastity. She is beautiful enough that men have beggared themselves for a night with her, but her beauty also makes people underestimate her intellect. She has a mind like a razor, is hyper-observant to the extreme, and can speak countless languages. And she’s tough; being Kushiel’s Chosen means she can/has to handle pain – and she likes it. She has literally been skinned alive, and not only survived (she has a special knack for survival) but stopped a war with the skin still hanging off her back. She singlehandedly killed the living avatar of a deathly evil with nothing but a hairpin, and channeled the name of God to tame a fallen angel. She is personal friends with rulers of several countries, and other powers-that-be as well. She has an uncanny ability to win any bet she makes.
Companions: Joscelin, her warrior-priest bodyguard. Hyacinth, her childhood friend. Kushiel, the god always riding behind her eyes (he comes out in flashes of bronze wings and keys)
Trademarks: The briar rose tattoo that spans her entire back. The speck of bright blood red in her eye (Kushiel’s Dart). Always being stunningly dressed enough to set court fashions.
3. Harry Dresden (from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher)
Role: Wizard. Private Investigator. Freelancer for the Chicago Police Department.
Badassery: Harry has lots of raw power, stubbornness, and luck. He’s very observant (except when it comes to women he likes), and chivalrous to a fault. He does not take well to being bullied, and often makes smartass remarks without thinking. He has balls enough to advertise as ‘Wizard’ in the yellow pages, and deal with all the crap that brings him. He literally has a faerie godmother, though that is often more problematic than helpful. He stopped a war between the faerie courts that would’ve destroyed the world. He managed to best a den full of vampires on their own turf. He has made a deal with Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and survived. He bested his mentor-turned-black-wizard in a magical duel as a mostly untrained teenager. He has a habit of thumbing his nose at pretty much everyone at some point or another, but isn’t dead yet.
Companions: Bob, a encyclopedic but lewd spirit that lives in a skull in Harry’s basement. Toot-Toot, a pizza-loving pixie. Karen Murphy, Chicago PD’s head of Special Investigations. Mister, his abnormally large tomcat.
Trademarks: Long black leather duster jacket. Blasting rod and staff, and pentacle necklace. General disheveled appearance.
4. FitzChivalry Farseer (from the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb)
Role: Bastard son of the dead, much-beloved prince. Assassin. Magic-user. White Prophet’s Catalyst.
Badassery: He can go all berserker-like during a fight. He can talk to animals with his mind (the Wit) and also use the hereditary Farseer magic (the Skill), despite the initial crippling of his Skill by the hated Skillmaster Galen. He lived through his own execution. He helped save the race of dragons from extinction. He has uncovered and foiled numerous plots against the throne, helped forge a royal alliance, and helped win a war. He’s so badass, people half a world away carved a ship’s prow in his likeness. He let himself essentially be possessed by a dying prince in order to beget a royal child with the queen, then later served as mentor and teacher to the young/new prince. He feels things deeply, and is intensely loyal.
Companions: Nighteyes, a wolf with whom Fitz can communicate telepathically and who is his constant friend/partner. The Fool, a jester type who knows far more than he should, and more than he ever lets on.
Trademarks: Wolf at his side. Noticeably broken-and-set nose. Streak of white in his hair (leads to his pseudonym Tom Badgerlock).
5. Kvothe (from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss)
Role: Orphan. Gypsy (Edema Ruh). Bard. Arcanist. Legend that stories are told about. Innkeeper.
Badassery: Youngest student ever admitted to The University/Arcanum. He can play almost any instrument (though partial to the lute) and sing really well. He is really good at magic, whether sympathy, naming or artificing. He convinced the reclusive Adem to teach him their secret fighting techniques. He has (so far) bested his nemesis Ambrose time after time. He has survived more than one encounter with the mythical and deadly Chandrian. He was seduced and ensnared by the legendary Fae lady Felurian, and not only survived but bested her with magic and won a special cloak. He has a penchant for collecting impressive nicknames: Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe Six-String, etc. He is a bit arrogant and quick to anger, with a tongue as sharp as his wit. But he shows signs of wisdom in that in the narrative he’s retired (for yet unknown reasons) to own an inn, and renamed his sword Folly. This series is not yet fully published, so I’m sure there’s more badassery to come – such as the whole ‘Kingkiller’ bit.
Companions: Bast, a being of the Fae who resides at the inn as Kvothe’s assistant/student.
Trademarks: Red hair. Green eyes that change color slightly when he’s angry. Ever-present lute.