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  1. #1

    Really smart protagonists

    Hello! I find myself craving for protagonists that are borderline genius smart. I don't mean someone that the author simply describe as intelligent, or someone who's merely competent or knowledgeable, like Shara from The City of Stairs which I just finished reading. I guess I am looking for a Hercule Poirot, a Count of Monte Cristo, a Machiavelli kind of character, that would show awe inspiring insight, or devise complex and creative plans the reader can only guess at. Something that ticks me off is when a character fails to notice something that's obvious for the reader, or keeps putting off something that's obviously urgent, or leaves a glaring weakness in their plans just so the author can maintain dramatic tension.

    I have been an avid fantasy reader for over 15 years and it struck me thinking on it that I couldn't find an example of that in the genre, so I'm turning to this board for input. I'm thinking fantasy in particular but I don't mind if it's scifi or historical fiction either, although I don't really enjoy thieves/heist gone wrong type of stories or prose that's too juvenile.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Registered User Cerberus's Avatar
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    I've noticed you can quickly tell the really smart writers from the more average ones the moment they try to write a genius character. An obvious example is The Scarlet Pimpernel, where Percy was supposed to be a genius but the writing just didn't show it.

    However, if you like really smart characters who prepare subtle plans and carry them out without the writer having to cheat you in order to do it, I would definitely recommend The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Gen really is smart, and his plans are brilliantly set up and executed to keep the reader in suspense of the surprise twist at the end, but still having all the clues to know exactly what's going on. It's especially a delight to read the books a second time knowing how they end and seeing how all the hints clearly paint what's actually happening while being subtly enough worded that you think something else is going on.

    Some other examples I could mention are Littlefinger and Varys in A Song of Ice and Fire, Kaladin in Stormlight Archives, Jarlaxle in R.A. Salvatore's works, and (slightly off the beaten path for fantasy) Shikamaru from Naruto.

    There are plenty of well portrayed geniuses out there. Unfortunately there are just as many who are claimed to be geniuses, but either whoever's making the claim is wrong or the author can't properly execute the character.

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    Try R. Scott Bakker’s “Prince of Nothing series”. Kelhus has to rate as one of the most intelligent protagonists out there. I loved the books but others have found them to be too dark.

    Django Wexler’s The “Thousand Names” has a genius tactician in Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich Mieran. The book does not break any new ground so your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed it.

    Steven Erikson has a number of geniuses in his MBotF series, Kruppe, Tehol etc…

    Julian May had a number of very intelligent characters in her “Saga of the Exiles” series. If memory serves both Aiken Drum and Paul Remilliard (spelling) fit the bill. Read this about 26 years ago but I remember enjoying the books immensely.

    Good thread

  4. #4
    Well I would echo the comments of Cerberus mentioning Littlefinger and Varys From George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I think I would throw Tyrion in that mix too.

    My favorite is Dirk from Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy. Book one is The Lion of Senet and I love how Dirk used his head instead of magic to solve his problems.

  5. #5
    Couch Commander Danogzilla's Avatar
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    Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al Rassan.

  6. #6
    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian's Avatar
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    Glokta from The First Law series.

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    Quote Originally Posted by G.L. Lathian View Post
    Glokta from The First Law series.
    I was wondering if we would have a Glokta sighting on this thread.... I mean .... one that I didn't provide that is..... probably my favorite character ever.... Jab jab eh Captain? Jab jab......

  8. #8
    Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards sequence would probably rate.

  9. #9
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    If you don't mind sci-fi, there's Miles Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold. He's got so many physical ailments (short stature, brittle bones, poisoned lungs, etc) that he has to use his brains to get out of trouble. And he loves getting into trouble for most o the series.

  10. #10
    Registered User Cerberus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heather Myst View Post
    Well I would echo the comments of Cerberus mentioning Littlefinger and Varys From George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I think I would throw Tyrion in that mix too.

    My favorite is Dirk from Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy. Book one is The Lion of Senet and I love how Dirk used his head instead of magic to solve his problems.
    Silly me. Tyrion stands head and shoulders (pun intended) above most characters when it comes to well written genius. His dialogue is always witty, cutting, and insightful, usually at the same time.

    I'll also second the mention of Tehol. I may not have ultimately liked the series, but the scenes with Tehol were a delight and I consider him one of the more enjoyable characters I've read. What he manages to get done while pretending to be a lazy, borderline obscene layabout sleeping the day away on his rooftop is nothing short of spectacular.

  11. #11
    Tavore Paran and Tehol in The Malazan Book of the Fallen
    Locke Lamora in The Gentlemen Bastard series

    Three of my favorite genius characters.

  12. #12
    I feel like tons of book have really smart characters. Though many people are mentioning support characters not main protagonists. Not quite sure which the OP is looking for.

    Of the ones listed already that I am familiar with.

    Malazan Book of the Fallen - Steven Erickson
    Tehol and Bugg - These 2 are your POV protagonists in the 5th book. Yes they are hilarious, my favorite characters in a very serious book. Tehol is a true genius. Stamped by the fact that his manservant is...let's just say, something special. Again though, gotta read 4 books before you meet them.

    Tavore Paran - Military Genius, also not a huge main POV character though. Not even sure if she's ever has a POV, just often talked about.

    There are tons of genius type characters in this series. Most are military style genius, or just a "genius with a sword" type character. Some of the best characters you will meet are in this series.

    A Song of Ice and Fire - George RR Martin
    Little Finger & Tyrion - Tyrion is very smart. He's a smart schemer, not sure I'd say borderline genius. Little Finger might be borderline genius but he is never a POV character.

    First Law Trilogy - Joe Abercrombie
    Glokta - Still not sure I'd classify him as a genius. I think he's just very smart and good at what he does. He does hold quite a bit of screen time in this series though.

    Prince of Nothing - R Scott Bakker
    Kellhus - Now here is the first one I can truly agree with. Kellhus is your main protagonist and he is a true genius.

    King Killer Chronicles - Patrick Rothfuss
    Kvothe - Borderline genius. Another one I can truly agree with that fits what you are asking for.

    Acts of Caine - Matthew Stover
    Caine and Ma'elKoth - Caine always has a plan, always is one or two steps ahead even though you may not be told about it. And is an amazing fighter. Ma'elKoth is practically a God, so yes he's a genius.

    Honestly, you should read all of the above if you haven't. All of the books I mentioned here are in my Top10 of all time.

  13. #13
    Thanks guys.

    I'm familiar with most books named but some I couldn't get into, I'll try them again as I tend to drop books when I start reading them but am too tired to focus properly.

    The reason I asked for a protagonist is because a side character/dozens of POVs tend to make a character seem more mysterious and his plans more far reaching than they seem I find.

  14. #14
    Registered User Kazaxat's Avatar
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    Seems like everyone has already stated the majority of characters I would have thought to mention, but I wanted to second one in particular that hasn't gotten much support.

    Quote Originally Posted by Danogzilla View Post
    Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al Rassan.
    Guy Gavriel Kay's protagonists in general are all highly intelligent. It's one of the things I love about him as an author, as he, like noone else I've read, is able to not only display the intellect of his characters but also beautifully show the appreciation and respect for it that other characters in the story develop. The Lions of Al-Rassan is certainly one of the finer examples, but I would say nearly all of GGK's books that I've read have a similar lineup of brilliant characters.

  15. #15
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    Very good and very long web novel Worm by Wildbow
    http://parahumans.wordpress.com/
    It's a superhumans sub-genre, and while some of supehumans are merely superpowered, some of them are "thinkers". And author managed make them looking really smart.

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