I’m not just talking about characters who, as the story goes along, become The Chosen One (although there is nothing wrong with those, they have a bit of magic of their own), but characters with actual extraordinary abilities.
Being part of the generation that has actually grown-up with Harry Potter (admittedly, I started reading the books because of the movies – I was 11 when the first one came out, and what a disappointment it was to realize that, despite being the right age, I didn’t receive my Hogwarts letter – in French first, and then I devoured them again, in English, when I started college), I can say that it definitely gave me a taste and a fascination for the extraordinary, the unusual and, generally, characters who are more than just your average guy (and not just because of their remarkable personality). Movies and TV have also greatly helped in my discovery of the science-fiction and fantasy genres, but books manage to take me a step further. Maybe because books are not telling me “This is what it looks like”, but rather let me a bit of space in which my own imagination can kick in.
See it as an attempt to escape the boredom of real-life, or an extreme frustration on my part for not being anything but exceptional, the point is, I live for those books that manage to show a world of magic, inexplicable phenomenons, and characters manipulating their environment as they go.
If it all started with Harry Potter – and even if, I expect, no other book will quite have that influence on me – through the years, I’m glad to have discovered a great number of books to fill this hole in my chest.
May the force be with you
In the last three years, three books stand out for this particular topic, each offering its own vision of extraordinary characters :
The Diviners, by Libba Bray : Set in the roaring 20s, the story shows characters with X-Men-like abilities : Evie’s special ability is psychometry (in which touching an object makes it possible to know about people or events connected to that particular object) ; Memphis could heal people ; Sam has the ability to make himself unnoticeable ; Henry can walk through dreams ; God knows what Theta can do ; and so many more ! It’s also heavily implied that they should unite at some point to defeat some Great Evil (probably in Book 2 ?).
I love the fact that their abilities are just part of who they are, even if they sometimes have a bit of struggle with accepting them or have to hide their powers, because DANGER !
I also really love that the story takes place in the past. When you think super-abilities, your mind tends to go to a place where holograms are a thing, where there’s a ton of practical gadgets that can help you enhance or subdue your powers. Well, this is not the case here, and it makes the whole thing more raw and real.
Vicious, by V.E. Schwab : it took me a while to come around to this one, mainly because it features characters on the dark side of the moral compass, characters doing very awful and selfish things, but the setting is everything I could ask for : Victor can amplify or diminish pain ; Eli is basically immortal (*Robert Sheehan’s voice* : “I’m immortal !”) ; Sydney can bring back the dead ; and Serena can do the modern equivalent of the “Siren Song”. The real plus, in my opinion, is that the book rationalizes the origins of these special abilities, by explaining that it comes from Near-Death experiences. The magic becomes a science, something explainable, something more palpable. Something real.
And, more recently, The Raven Cycle series, by Maggie Stiefvater : the story features psychics (tarot readings !), magical forests, ghosts and, of course special abilities : Blue amplifies people’s powers ; the psychics can all, to some degree, see the future ; Adam becomes Cabeswater’s hands and eyes ; and Ronan is the Greywaren (he can take things from his dreams – including his pet raven – and is also very connected to Cabeswater). The only thing I love more than fantasy is urban fantasy, and I really have all I need here, what with the quest for some ancient sleeping king (who is supposed to grant a favor to the person who wakes him), the prophecies, and the whole world around the characters whispering things into their ears. Everything is connected, linked, and it all revolves around the same center point.
I’ll always admire the power of imagination that goes into creating a world of magic, where authors take common things, or objects from our day-to-day lives and make them more than what they’re supposed to be, a world in which there is always something lurking under the surface, waiting to be exposed and marveled at ; a world in which everyone is so much more than what they seem.