Saturday, January 28, 2012

Serial Characters: My top 5 series heroes

Fictional series are all the rage. Readers have come to love characters they can follow from book to book, where they can see their heroes fully fleshed out to the detailed image writers envisioned as they put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. Given the attention span of most (including me), it's encouraging to hear that people get absorbed into literary characters and feel connections that warrant repeated visits.

From an author's viewpoint, it allows us to build on previous stories and watch our characters grow along with readers. We have as much investment in the characters, so revisiting characters we have spent so much time developing is akin to parenthood. Whereas a stand-alone novel is full of chapters, a series of books featuring one character is essentially a collection of chapters in that character's life. The hard connections from one book to the next still exist, but the plots, direction, and pacing can be changed dramatically. It allows flexibility and creativity, things for which writers are always greedy. Book series are much more common now than they were in years past (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes being an obvious counter-example), likely due to the inherent fan base that exists. The assumption is that those that read the first book will read the second, and any lost readers will be replaced by those fresh readers the new marketing scheme lures. It's a mutually beneficial relationship between author and reader that is most notable in genres such as Young Adult and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Devoted readers in these genres are immensely loyal and - thanks to a high social media presence - can serve as excellent street marketing teams.

The thriller genre has seen its fair share of multi-novel arcs, as well. Like the other genres, Hollywood has shown interest in the established fanbase and franchise possibilities. What makes for a good hero? What are today's "Sherlock Holmes" anthologies? Drop me a comment or shoot me a message. My list of five, in no particular order...

John Wells (Alex Berenson series)
I'm a sucker for a well-written military thriller, and Berenson's are among the best. As a reporter for the New York Times, he has much experience and knowledge from which to draw. John Wells, introduced as an undercover CIA agent embedded with Al Queda, is a realistic and believable hero that acts as you'd expect and has all the troubles you'd predict. He's multidimensional and relatable. His return to the States in the first book sets him up for future stories and involves his interactions with the public more than the similar, disconnected characters of other authors. {6 novels beginning with The Faithful Spy}

Shane Schofield (Matthew Reilly series)
Reilly's writing style is considerably different than most authors and may take some adjustment. His paragraphs are short (often one sentence) and he makes liberal use of the exclamation point. It's the closest a book can get to looking like a screenplay but still get 'novel' credit. That being said, he writes action sequences like no other, and his primary hero, Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield, is an entertaining creation. Reilly (an Australian) writes the USMC Captain Schofield character with as much energy and passion as a Yankee could, and the growth of the character over the books (something that, to be honest, Reilly doesn't focus on) is considerable. In the few books in the series, Scarecrow has been through some amazing events and has had some extremely poignant moments. The third book, Scarecrow, is easily the best of the bunch and one I could read over and over until the wee hours of the morning. {5 books beginning with Ice Station}

Isaac Bell (Clive Cussler series)
Years ago, I was ecstatic to come across Cussler's books. I dove into the Dirk Pitt saga and loved each book, but looking back I realized that they were rather similar. Remembering one story from another became difficult. In Cussler's defense, it's because he had written so damn many of them. His more recent trips into early 20th century America with Isaac Bell are memorable and entertaining. World War I espionage parallels the advent of the airplane. The rise of metropolitan San Francisco is portrayed alongside the growing railroad industry. It's historic and epic in scale, and Bell's detective/adventurer character straddles the lines of society in a way that allows the reader access to each and every part of it. The fact that he met his romantic interest in the first book and has remained with her thus far is somewhat unique in these serial novels, as well. {4 books - with a 5th due in March - beginning with The Chase}

Jack Reacher (Lee Child series)
The Reacher series (like Pitt) is a collection I stumbled upon after many of the books were already available in print. And, like Pitt, there are a boat-load of them. Child is a more verbose writer than any of the others on this list, and that's not meant to be a positive or a negative. His works are longer and take a little more focus to absorb, but the scope of them is varied and random. Some have Reacher trapped in a small town and working with locals on a murder or conspiracy. Others have him crossing the country (whether voluntarily or not) and pursued by multiple government agencies in a 'national security'-type situation. It's all very fluid and subjective as evidenced by Child's tendency to write different books with different points of view, often alternating back and forth from 1st to 3rd person from one novel to the next. Either way, Reacher is a consistent character. I've not read them all, yet, but his character development is slow and determined, much like Reacher himself. {16(!) books and one short story starting with Killing Floor}

Ethan Gage (William Dietrich series)
Ethan Gage is an extremely relatable character for me, mostly because he's an unabashed rogue that often cares more about himself than anyone around him. Dietrich's use of the 1st person works spectacularly well here and allows him to really reveal the character, but the change in Gage - specifically his approach to life and responsibility - over the books is what brings you back. Rarely is one moment comparable to the previous, and the twists and turns Gage takes internally are considerable. The historical setting that takes him through North Africa, Europe, and the United States during the age of Napoleon, Jefferson, and the wild frontiers makes it that much exciting a ride. His 'savant' status and quick-thinking wit bring the same excitement. {4 books starting with Napoleon's Pyramids}

Honorable mention for others my twitter followers and I find noteworthy.

Brad Thor's series starring Scot Horvath
Vince Flynn's series starring Mitch Rapp
Stephen King's Dark Tower series starring Roland Deschain
Will Adams' series starring Daniel Knox
Andy McDermott's series starring Eddie Chase
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