Pageturners with insightful character development?
December 20, 2007 4:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for novels that are pageturners (genres preferred: science fiction/fantasy, magic realism, mystery/suspense/thriller) but also have psychologically acute character development. Any recs?
posted by Malad to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell and Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card come to mind.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:52 PM on December 20, 2007

Try Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series. Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe, ditto (although, admittedly, some of the recent novels have not quite qualified as page-turners). Hill's stand-alone The Stranger House is also strong on both fronts. John Banville's recent "literary thriller" Christine Falls (published under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) fits your bill, too. And I was quite impressed by James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:56 PM on December 20, 2007

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant have a few considerably developed characters, and meaty themes. Some readers balk at Donaldson's dodgy prose style and heavy-handedness however.
posted by wilko at 4:57 PM on December 20, 2007

Dick Francis is my favorite mystery novelist, and he tends to have his protagonists reflect on their psychology and motivations a lot. You might enjoy Reflex, Odds Against, Whip Hand or Come to Grief.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2007

Tim Powers.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:04 PM on December 20, 2007

I would venture Donaldson's books are not exactly "page turners", they have some strong points going for them, but they are difficult reads. (imo)

Actually, try an oldie, Alfred Bester's, The Demolished Man (wiki, might contain spoliers), was reissued a few years back. Heck of a book.

Gene Wolfe's There are Doors, is a lot easier then most of his stuff and pretty good, Some of Michael Swanwick's short story stuff might do you good as well.
posted by edgeways at 5:20 PM on December 20, 2007

Seconding Tim Powers, especially The Anubis Gates
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
posted by Paragon at 5:31 PM on December 20, 2007

The Lies of Locke Lamorra by Scott Lynch.
posted by mollweide at 5:34 PM on December 20, 2007

Anything by Ursula Leguin. Really meet your criteria well: The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness
posted by nax at 5:36 PM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was quite impressed with Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality. Each book follows (mainly) one new incarnate as they get to know their jobs and there's quite a high level of character development as they grow and mature.
posted by porpoise at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2007

Consider Phlebas was recommended by an (unfortunately) forgotten MeFite in a similar thread. I belatedly second.
posted by Mblue at 6:12 PM on December 20, 2007

The Song of Ice and Fire series, by George RR Martin, is a standard answer to this question. Longest page turner I've ever seen, but a page turner nonetheless. And really great character development.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 6:16 PM on December 20, 2007

Carol O'Connell's Mallory novels - start with Stone Angel, though that's not the first in the series. Mallory is a NYC cop, an acknowledged sociopath who was mysteriously orphaned at a young age (Stone Angel helps clear that up).

Giles Blunt's novels - start with Forty Words for Sorrow. They take place in a small town in Canada. They're pretty disturbing and pretty great.

I'll probably be back as more things occur to me.
posted by rtha at 6:29 PM on December 20, 2007

The Historian
posted by lunasol at 6:42 PM on December 20, 2007

I would recommend a different Donaldson series. The Gap Into Conflict which starts with The Real Story. An awesome sci-fi story with great character development. This is the one...
posted by HeartandSoul at 6:46 PM on December 20, 2007

I second Consider Phlebas wholeheartedly. As a matter of fact, I'd recommend any of Iain (M) Banks' books as fitting your criteria. I also recommend Ian Irvine's Well of Echoes series.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2007

I really like Lois McMaster Bujold for her characters. I've always described them as psychologically astute, which may be similar to what you're asking for. And I always read them to excess.
posted by quiet at 9:00 PM on December 20, 2007

I'm most familiar with his Recluce books, but I've heard that the Corean Chronicles are very good as well, so I'd recommend L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
posted by worldswalker at 9:12 PM on December 20, 2007

Seconding Lois McMaster Bujold.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:28 PM on December 20, 2007

I think you'd like A Dark-Adapted Eye.
posted by dogrose at 9:36 PM on December 20, 2007

I'm not sure anyone would consider Robertson Davies a page-turner, but I liked The Deptford Trilogy's look at people's characters.
posted by salvia at 11:05 PM on December 20, 2007

I was going to recommend Lois McMaster Bujold, but alas, I am reduced to 3rding.

They're both near-impossible to put down and have very believable, complex characters who genuinely change with time.
posted by Zarkonnen at 2:21 AM on December 21, 2007

Jonathan Lethem is your go to guy for this. "Motherless Brooklyn" is a literary thriller about a private detective with Tourette's, and it's brilliant IMHO. A lot of his other stuff has a sci-fi bent, "As She Climbed Across the Table" being one example. "The Fortress of Solitude" (which I'll admit to finding tedious, but other people have loved) has a small element of magic realism about it.

"Cloud Atlas", David Mitchell. This roams through history, the present day, the future and the far future. Not a perfect fit to your requirements, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Peter Hoeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow" is another literary thriller.

"Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer (there are two narratives in this, one of which is magic realist).

Salvador Plascencia's "The People of Paper". More magic realism. I haven't read this yet (it's on the list). So not a recommendation as such, but it sounds good to me. Another one on the list is David Markson's "Wittgenstein's Mistress" about a woman who is, or believes herself to be, the last person alive on earth; so it could fit depending on your definition of sci-fi.

Perhaps, also, "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. Not a full-blooded recommendation from me on this one. It's a page-turning, time-travelling love story, but I found the protagonists themselves a little dull if I'm honest.

Woah, long comment. Sorry to go on so...
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 4:13 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more: "Heroes and Villains", Angela Carter. Sci-fi, post-apocalyptic setting, and it's by Angela Carter (which makes it automatically good in my book).
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 4:21 AM on December 21, 2007

To Your Scattered Bodies Go.
by Jose Farmer.

It has to be one of the best sci-fi/fantasy series ever. I place it right next to the Dune series by Herbert and Heinlein's Lazarus Long series.

Absolutely, freaking, incredible.
posted by damiano99 at 5:35 AM on December 21, 2007

Cryptonomicon is awesome. There is so much shit going on. It's very entertaining.
posted by chunking express at 6:24 AM on December 21, 2007


Jose Farmer can't out wait Lazarus for obvious reasons.
posted by Mblue at 9:24 AM on December 21, 2007

In addition to Wittgenstein's Mistress, David Markson actually wrote some detective novels early on in his career, and two of them have recently been reissued by Shoemaker and Hoard. Definitely recommended: Epitaph for a Deadbeat and Epitaph for a Tramp.

You might also want to try PopCo, by Scarlett Thomas.

And you can't go wrong with Jonathan Lethem.
posted by dizziest at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2007

Vernor Vinge's "Marooned in Real Time" and "A Deepness in the Sky".

My favorite chapter in all of science fiction is in Marooned. The hero, on emotion surpressing drugs, reads a page of text in which terrible lies are told about him and then muses what his reaction might be, were he in his right mind.

I also like Brinn's "Kiln People".

Have you looked at this?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:02 PM on December 21, 2007

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
posted by pwally at 4:59 PM on December 21, 2007

Response by poster: These are great recommendations so far. Thanks!
posted by Malad at 5:40 PM on December 21, 2007

(Obviousfilter?) Can't talk about Orson Scott Card and not mention Ender's Game!
posted by mwang1028 at 7:37 PM on December 21, 2007

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