I‘m holding out for a hero
April 13, 2019 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I recently reread Tombs of Atuan and I understood why teenage me was so infatuated with the book. Sparrowhawk, as the male lead, is a kind and empathetic as well as intelligent man and these traits and how he uses them are crucial to the day being saved in the end. I would like to find more books with male main characters who are like that and who drive the plot by being this way.

Another book I liked for the same reason is Goblin Emperor (though it got a bit much).

What I want to avoid are leads with classical male hero traits.
Brash, charmingly cheeky, chivalrous, action-driven, or incapable of showing emotions but willing to die for the damsel...I don‘t want any of that.

I want gentle, nurturing, insightful, look before you leap kind of heroes.
Preferably speculative fiction, but will read other if excellent.

Do you have recommendations? Do more of them exist?
(I unfortunately don‘t like Becky Chambers’ books for unrelated reasons).
posted by Omnomnom to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory, is good but not my favorite of his books. But the main character definitely fits this description--he's a warm, good-hearted person who builds connections with people. (He is also a zombie.)

The main character in Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett, is a fairly naive monk named Brutha, and he's a good and kind person caught up in things above his pay grade. Quite a few Pratchett heroes might fit the bill, actually--Grimes?

And the Penric series of novellas, set in the same world as Curse of the Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Thinking about this question, I'm actually surprised to notice how few books I read have male protagonists at all.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:41 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]

Comrade! I too had a teen crush on Sparhawk.

In Megan Whalen Turner's excellent Attolia series, the different protagonists of The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, and arguably Thick As Thieves fit your description.

Depending on your taste for romance fantasy or straight romance fiction, beta hero is a descriptive term for this type as a romantic lead, and it's used by romance readers to describe non-romance books as well, so it may help you on your search.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:44 PM on April 13

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay might fit the bill quite well. His Under Heaven would probably also scratch the same itch in terms of leading characters.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 3:50 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]

The Ladies of Mandrigyn by Barbara Hambly.
posted by Weeping_angel at 4:02 PM on April 13

Seconding the Attolia series.

These are also YA, but: Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer is definitely 100% this, with a sweet, gentle, brilliant librarian (!) protagonist. Finnikin of the Rock and Graceling also feature this kind of male lead, though they're both pretty violent, action-heavy books overall (the male lead is not the main character in Graceling, if that matters).
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:09 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

What about Le Guin’s late period books, Annals of the Western Shore? There are 3 of them and they are great.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:47 PM on April 13

A Gentleman in Moscow.
posted by Dolley at 5:23 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]

Pretty much anything by T. Kingfisher. If I had to pick one, I might suggest you start with Summer in Orcus. (Read for free at the above link, or follow links from the page to buy ebook or paper versions.)
posted by sourcequench at 5:46 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
posted by Redstart at 6:17 PM on April 13

I adore T. Kingfisher and really loved Summer in Orcus, but the main character of that one is female. She fits the bill in every other way but if a male protagonist is key, that might not be the right book this time (though there are kind male characters who play major roles in the story, and I'd still enthusiastically recommend Kingfisher's work for enjoyable, imaginative stories with more richly emotional characters - especially if you liked The Goblin Emperor).

How about the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik? Both the title dragon and his captain are intelligent males who are very capable of showing and acting upon positive emotions, and while I haven't read the whole series, the first two books are flat-out charming. There is action and fighting, but that hasn't seemed like the main point of the story - it's a lot more about the characters and how they interact.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:43 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]

I would second the main character/hero The Curse of Chalion, Cazaril, as fitting these criteria perfectly - gentle, nurturing, insightful. The author is Lois McMaster Bujold, who generally doesn't write stereotypical hero-types in any of her books. I think that Dag from the her Sharing Knife series would also fit your criteria. (I love her most famous hero, Miles Vorkosigan, but he is definitely cheeky, though that doesn't win him his true love; only honesty and humility can do that).

I also think one of the male characters in Joan Vinge's Snow Queen Cycle would fit - he's the main character of the second book, a supporting character (to a female main character) in the first and third.

Going back a ways: Elijah Bailey, from Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel and its sequels is also not an alpha-hero: middle aged and agoraphobic, he copes through his wits and guts.

Also from Pratchett: I think the poster upthread meant to reference Sam Vimes, the main character of the Guards subseries of Discworld. He's grizzled and a little cynical, but also loyal, loving and really just wants to get home in time to read to his kid.
posted by jb at 8:12 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]

Seconding jb's comment about Joan Vinge's Snow Queen.
Margaret Mahy's The Catalogue of the Universe, which is not speculative fiction in spite of the title, but sort of feels as if it could be. Natasha Pulley's alternate-history novels, especially The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, might fit. Sage Walker's The Man in the Tree (my perennial AskMe recommendation).
If you're up for mysteries, Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series, or Susannah Stacy's Superintendent Bone books.
posted by huimangm at 11:22 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

2 caveats: historical romance and for much of the book the hero is unwilling to overtly express emotion (including a darcyesque proposal), but Wulfric Bedwyn in “Slightly Dangerous” by Mary Balogh is extremely intelligent, nurturing (albeit at times behind the scenes), and capable. Third caveat, the heroine is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl character, but a very practical and sensible one somehow. Wulfric also shows up in other books of the series, usually to secretly pull the strings to make everyone happy.
posted by meijusa at 12:01 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Terry Pratchett's Rincewind books also fit. All his books fit - even Death is charming and kind, if a bit baffled by humans. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. Christopher Stasheff's wizard books (may not be findable anymore). If you like historical romance, I recommend Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase.
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:22 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Definitely read Tehanu if you haven't already, it revisits the characters from The Tombs of Atuan from a more mature perspective and deals with what happens to Ged when he's stripped of the typical trappings of a heroic character -- namely, his magical power.
posted by speicus at 1:19 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for the helpful suggestions!

I am working my way through the reading list and enjoying every minute of it. You guys are the best.

Some feedback:
Curse of Chalion: SCORE!!! The main character is awesome. I admit that his mounting decrepitude as the story progresses was unintentionally hilarious. But I now love that book. I read the sequels, too, and will probably get round to the Penric books, soon.

Ladies of Mandrigyn was kind of the opposite of what I was looking for. I can see WHY it was recommended. The hero is an intelligent man, not just a formidable fighter. But the opening chapters feature the guy scorning the lady who‘s asking for his help, and she‘s taken aback because being, naturally, a dangerous smouldering sexpot, she‘s used to getting her own way with men. It just reads like most of the sexist tropes I remember from the 80s.

Summer in Orcus didn‘t fit the bill (female protagonist) but was a wonderful read so thank you so much for this.

Strange the Dreamer started off interesting, turned into a lot of young adult „first love“ type scenes and sort of fizzled out for me. But thank you!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:58 PM on May 19

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