While I love a book with a tantalizing plot (looking at you Dan Brown), what really makes my heart sing is an unforgettable character.
This list is not exhaustive AT ALL—there are so many more characters out there who are worthy of the title “epic”, but these books contain a few of my favorite story people of all time.
Here are 11 books with beyond epic characters.
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1. Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’s Diary
Author: Helen Fielding
Genre: Chick Lit | Women’s Fiction
Summary: Bridget Jones’s Diary is famous for many things—like singlehandedly creating the Chick Lit genre—but it’s most well-known for Bridget Jones’s herself.
Throughout the story, we see a year in the life of Ms. Jones—a woman whose list of goals are to reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week and not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.
Bridget is brutally honest (both shamedly and unashamedly) with a quick wit, questionable morals, and the worst timing of any living person.
You will relish every second you spend with Bridget, both for her unforgettable personality and her ability to make you feel like you have it somewhat together by comparison.
2. Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray
Author: Oscar Wilde
Summary: In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian sells his soul in exchange for eternal beauty and youth.
Created by one of the most infamous writers in history, Dorian Gray has earned the spot of one of the most memorable characters in history. He is grandiose, entitled, and obsessive, yet intelligent, witty, and a true lover of life.
Dorian Gray is a man that feels the pain of his wants and desires and will go to any length to avoid feeling deprivation. A complete whirlwind of hedonism and selfish ambition, Dorian Gray is a character who’s guaranteed to make a lasting impression.
3. Claudia from Interview with the Vampire
Author: Anne Rice
Summary: The interview in Interview with the Vampire is conducted with the vampire Louis. While he is a very intriguing character himself, the truly epic character of this tale is Claudia.
When we first meet Claudia, she’s five years old (still mortal at this point) living in the extremely poor, plague-ravaged quarters of 18th century New Orleans. LeStat (Louis’s maker) pulls her from an abandoned house—he’s found her sobbing over her mother’s disease-ridden dead body—and takes her as his own.
Using Claudia as a pawn, LeStat changes her into a vampire in order to stop Louis from leaving.
As Claudia becomes part of their vampire family, she develops in mind, but not in physical form, forever stuck in the five year old body she was in when she was transformed.
Claudia is a haunting character because her mind is not just that of an adult, but one that is extremely dark, conniving, and outwitting. And her tiny form makes the darkness of her mind even scarier.
4. Holden Caufield from The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger
Summary: The Catcher in the Rye is the story of Holden Caulfield—arguably one of the most iconic fictional characters of all time—and his three days off the grid in New York City.
Although he’s only sixteen, his views on life and other people are tragically adult. Telling his story of pain, panic, and courage in such a vulnerable and tender way, The Catcher in the Rye is an American Classic that appeals to all types of readers.
5. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Summary: In Gone Girl, Amy Dunne has gone missing. As the police investigation progresses, it becomes more and more evident that her husband, Nick Dunne, may have had a large part in her disappearance.
The story is told from alternating perspectives—Nick’s present day account and Amy’s diary chronicling the year leading up to her disappearance.
Getting a glimpse into Amy’s diary lets us fall in love with her sweetness, simple naivety, and humor. But the Amy we think we know soon becomes much more complex than we could have ever anticipated.
6. Valentino Achak Deng from What is the What
Author: Dave Eggers
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Summary: What is the What is the epic story of Valentino Achak Deng. At the age of seven, he’s forced to leave his village in Sudan and walk hundreds of miles by foot to cross three countries—while being pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals—in order to find freedom.
When he finally makes it to the United States, all the promise and hope of his new life—a home of his own, a college education, and human connections for instance—become more fantasy and less reality as his days progress.
Valentino is poignant and deep, ambitious and kind, yet tragically misunderstood. Valentino’s story is not always a happy one, but he is able to remain optimistic and hopeful in times when most other people would have crumbled.
7. Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Summary: Ignatius J. Reilly is the hero in Confederacy of Dunces. He’s thirty years old, a brilliant medievalist with an extremely unemployable set of skills, and lives with his mother in New Orleans.
Forced to get a job after a series of small disasters, Ignatius is none too pleased about the command and will tell anyone who listens.
Socially illiterate, way too big for his britches—both in physical form and in personality—and the unfair victim of a debilitating valve issue, Ignatius is the most unique personality ever placed inside a human form.
8. Kya Clark from Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Summary: Where the Crawdads Sing is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Kya Clark who grows up in the marsh of North Carolina.
Left by her mother when she was only six, her brothers and sisters the years following, and then eventually her father, she has no choice but to figure out how to do life completely secluded and on her own.
Despite only going to school one day in her entire life, Kya is smart and sensitive. She has sharp insights about the world and people. She’s been abandoned, ridiculed, and on the receiving end of prejudices no one—especially a child—should have to endure, yet she’s still fascinated by life.
Kya is a brilliant character who will melt your heart. And just when you think you’re starting to understand her, she throws you for loop after loop.
9. Charlie Kelmeckis from The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Summary: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told through letters Charlie writes to an anonymous receiver. In the letters, he is raw and honest about the trials and joys of high school and the confusion of growing up.
Used to always hiding away, he’s made some new friends that are challenging him to experience life from the center, rather than from the fringes.
Although Charlie wants nothing more than to be normal, he’s not. And trying to keep up with his friends leads to opening that gap more than he’d been prepared for.
Charlie is shy and caring, but he’s also holding on to a lot of guilt. Charlie’s personal story is heartbreaking, but getting to know him is something every reader should experience.
10. Eleanor Oliphant from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Summary: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of a girl who’s socially awkward, seemingly mediocre, and stuck in a life-sucking routine.
But as the book goes on, Eleanor starts to reveal her quippy and extremely witty personality and her strange—and very interesting—views on life and people.
Moved by the idea of potential love, Eleanor starts to break out of her routine. In doing so, she gains so much more than she could’ve ever anticipated. But shaking up her everyday routine also stirs up some of her past and brings it to the surface.
Eleanor is one of the most captivating and unique character you’ll ever come across. She has a tragic history and a beyond interesting view on life. Don’t miss out on the experience that is Eleanor Oliphant!
11. Harry Potter from The Harry Potter Series
Author: J.K. Rowling
Summary: In the first book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry learns he’s a wizard. He’s soon ensconced in the wild world of magic, leaving his abusive and tragic old life behind.
Harry is famous in the wizarding world because he was the only person ever to survive an attack from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—the darkest wizard ever to live.
As Harry learns how to navigate his new world, he makes lot of mistakes along the way, but he also makes true connections and friendships.
While Harry is brave, strong, focused, and funny, he is above all else loyal and loving. Harry is a very special character that will hold a place in your heart from the moment you meet him!