This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!
As much as I love a good coming of age story (and oh! how I do), I also really enjoy stories where the main character is very good at what they do. That’s not to say that there’s no internal struggle or growth (because that would be boring), but that they start the story already with knowledge and skills.
1. Bren Cameron from the Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh: Bren is an interesting example because on one hand he is very good at what he does, and gains experience and confidence throughout the series. On the other hand, he is out of his depth quite often, and has to struggle for understanding of the atevi culture. But this is in fact part of what makes him so good at what he does, so he’s on this list anyway.
2. Breq from Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: Breq is perhaps another anomaly because her power and abilities pale in comparison to what she was able to do in the past as Justice of Toren (a sentence that will probably make no sense if you haven’t read these books, which you should!). But Breq as herself is still pretty awesome.
3. Rowan from the Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein: I’ve only read the first book in this series so far, but part of what I enjoyed about it was how Rowan is so good at her job. She’s not faultless, but she is definitely smart and decisive.
4. Miles Vorkosigan from the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold: I MEAN. He had to be on this list somewhere, right? Miles has never met a challenge without wanting to not only beat it, but beat the record for beating it. He’s not so much competent as hyper-competent. And yet, LMB very wisely lets this be both a strength and a weakness for his character. He’s at once incredibly endearing and annoying.
5. Ran & Theodora Cormallon from the Ivory series by Doris Egan: Part of what I enjoy about Ran and Theodora’s relationship is the sense of their partnership, the fact that they’re good at different things, and that part of their journey is figuring out how those things fit together.
6. Eugenides from the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner: I mean. Granted his moments of bleak self-doubt in Queen of Attolia, Gen is another one of those characters who–like Miles–has never met a challenge he didn’t want to meet, surpass, and smash into smithereens. (“I can do anything I want.” Quite. Also, the conversation about six months. I rest my case.)
7. Sin Davies from the Demon’s Lexicon books by Sarah Rees Brennan: One of the things I love about Sin is her awareness of her own strength. Which, again, is not to say that she’s always hopeful and in charge. But she knows her own worth and her talent for dancing.
8. Telemakos from the Aksum series by Elizabeth Wein: What sets Telemakos apart is not so much his skills per se as his age. He’s smart and sneaky and tenacious, and he’s also very young. If I’m remembering correctly (and I’m sure someone will tell me if I’m not) he’s about 12 in The Sunbird, when he really becomes the protagonist of the series. The fact that he’s so young and yet so accomplished maybe shouldn’t work as well as it does, but for me, his characterization is so deft that it always does.
9. Lord Peter Wimsey from the series by Dorothy Sayers: Lord Peter basically does everything. He’s musical, he plays cricket, he collects first editions, he picks locks, he flies airplanes and drives cars too fast. Oh, yes. And he solves mysteries with panache. He may not be as outwardly driven as some of the other characters on this list, but make no mistake–he knows what he’s doing.
I notice that this is a very male-heavy list. Can you think of competent female main characters? I think partly our society is much more likely to denigrate women who are seen as too ambitious, and that’s reflected in our fiction. But I’m probably also missing people. Let me know!