What makes a reader want to follow a protagonist into hell — or at least into some particularly unpleasant situations? It’s not always sweetness or wisdom: Often the best-loved characters are jerks who make awful decisions. But competence goes a long way; we adore a capable protagonist who manages tough situations with ease. Four recent science fiction and fantasy books prove it.
‘Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands,’ by Heather Fawcett
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Last year, Fawcett earned justified praise for “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries,” a dark academia tale about a Cambridge University professor doing fieldwork on the fair folk, in the company of Bambleby, a colleague with a huge secret. Wilde is a fantastic character: frosty and reserved, but also generous and kind — and endlessly resourceful, deploying her deep understanding of faerie lore to get out of sticky situations.
The second Emily Wilde book follows much the same trajectory as Leigh Bardugo’s sequel to “Ninth House”: less academia, more personal romance. This time, Bambleby is in trouble, and Emily risks everything to save him, even as she worries that her academic impartiality is going out the window. In many ways, the second Emily Wilde book is even more compelling than the first, as Emily confronts the potentially dire consequences of growing too close to her research subject.