8 Brilliant Fantasy Books With Genius Protagonists


Fantasy books with genius protagonists aren’t as common as those with their sword-wielding, warrior counterparts. While these intelligent characters may be martial combatants, their primary ‘weapon’ of choice is their wits.

Are you in the mood for fantasy books led by intelligent protagonists, or even geniuses? If so, this post has a slew of books that could be just what you’re looking to read.

Here are 8 brilliant fantasy books with genius protagonists:

For this list, I purposely didn’t include characters who were martial arts prodigies or ones with extraordinary physical skills. If you’re interested in those, this post features overpowered characters in general and this has fantasy novels with chosen ones.

Below, I’ve included book descriptions, readers’ ratings and summaries of positive and negative comments for each one of the eight books in this post’s list.

If you’d prefer a quick summary though, here’s a comparison chart.


The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

Description

“We should expect this young woman to be more powerful than our average novice, possibly even more powerful than the average magician.”

This year, like every other, the magicians of Imardin gather to purge the city of undesirables. Cloaked in the protection of their sorcery, they move with no fear of the vagrants and miscreants who despise them and their work -— until one enraged girl, barely more than a child, hurls a stone at the hated invaders…and effortlessly penetrates their magical shield.

What the Magicians’ Guild has long dreaded has finally come to pass. There is someone outside their ranks who possesses a raw power beyond imagining, an untrained mage who must be found and schooled before she destroys herself and her city with a force she cannot yet control.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.95

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

First on our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is The Magician’s Guild.

This novel delighted fans with its likable, intriguing protagonist and exciting plot. They reported that while the beginning of the book took its time, it suddenly gained lighting-fast pace. At that point, every moment exhilarated them.

Fans also mentioned how much they enjoyed all the characters, all of whom were distinct and fleshed out the dynamics of the cast. However, Sonea, the protagonist, was often their favorite.

While gifted, Sonea also came across to them as kind, brave and realistic. Despite her immense powers, she wasn’t flawless and was instead easy to relate to.

Negative Comments

What did critics say about The Magician’s Guild?

Overall, these readers said they either didn’t connect with the characters or that they thought that the story’s world was thinly developed.

For the former, some said Sonea frustrated them because she tended to be a reactive protagonist rather than a proactive one. Her stubbornness and distrust, as well, reached the point where it bothered them. 

In terms of the story’s world though, critics described it as painted with too many generalizations. For instance, they described the story as defining entire character groups as either heroes or villains because of the actions of a single one of their members. Because of this, these critics thought the world-building was unconvincing.


Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs

Description

Most everyone thinks Ward of Hurog is a simple-minded fool — and that’s just fine by him. But few people know that his foolishness is (very convincingly) feigned. And that it’s the only thing that’s saved him from death.

When his abusive father dies, Ward becomes the new lord of Hurog…until a nobleman declares that he is too dim-witted to rule. Ward knows he cannot play the fool any longer. To regain his kingdom, he must prove himself worthy — and quickly.

Riding into a war that’s heating up on the border, Ward is sure he’s on the fast track to glory. But soon his mission takes a deadly serious turn. For he has seen a pile of magical dragon bones hidden deep beneath Hurog Keep.

The bones can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and Ward is certain his enemies will stop at nothing to possess them…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.06

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Secondon our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is Dragon Bones. 

Whether it was main characters or supporting ones, this story’s delightful and likable characters captivated readers. Fans said that all of the characters came across as unique and had their own charming traits.

In particular, several of them mentioned that Ward, the protagonist, impressed them with his righteousness in the face of his dark circumstances. Oreg, on the other hand, interested and entertained them with his wit.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy Dragon Bones though, what did they say? These critics generally said that while the book started off well, it began to meander and lose focus as it progressed.

They found themselves encountering moments in the book where they didn’t understand how it tied into the overall story. Because of this, these readers eventually found the book confusing and slow.

Others said that they didn’t connect strongly enough to the protagonist, Ward. Some explained that they expected him to experience more emotionally. When he didn’t, he came across to them as unconvincing.


The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly

Description

A wizard and a computer programmer from opposite sides of an interdimensional portal must work together to save their worlds from destruction.

In a world where wizards are relegated to ghettos, it is no surprise to see one murdered in the street. But for Stonne Caris, a young warrior monk who sees the killing and gives chase to the culprit, there is nothing ordinary about seeing a murderer disappear into a black, inky portal.

The Archmage sends him in search of Antryg Windrose — a half-mad mage who understands the nature of these passages between dimensions.

On the other side of the Void is Joanna, a programmer as mild as Caris is deadly. She has spent her life in cubicles, staring into computer terminals, as far from heroism as she can get.

But when the power that is crossing between dimensions draws her through the Void, she finds herself battling to save a world she never even knew existed. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.94

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is The Silent Tower, giving us two intelligent characters in the form of Joanna and Antryg. Fans praised this story for its characters and world, which is a refreshing meld of magic and technology.

The two leads impressed them with how multidimensional they were, as well as how enjoyable they were to read about. Aside from brilliant, Antryg struck these readers as a unique fantasy character: eccentric, middle-aged, near-sighted and more. Likewise, the less quirky Joanna pairs her own brilliance with pro-activeness and competence. 

Negative Comments

Critics, on the other hand, tended to have two comments. The first was that they thought the book’s pace was slow, particularly in the beginning.

The second was that the story’s writing style included the frequent use of adverbs, which bothered them after a while. 


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Description

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price — and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.46

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is Six of Crows.

Fans of this novel often said that they enjoyed how the story had a unique character cast, featuring people from all different walks of life. It added uniqueness to all of the characters, while also introducing themes of class and race.

Other readers remarked that they liked how action-packed and full of witty banter the story was.

Negative Comments

What did critics of Six of Crows say?

In general, they commented that with so many lead characters, it was hard for them to connect with more than one or two.

It also sounded like they thought there were too many elements in the story that made it difficult for them to suspend their disbelief. For instance, these readers often mentioned that the high fear, praise and success Kaz has, even for a criminal prodigy, seemed unfounded.


Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Description

Book cover of Half a King

Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.

But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself – all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.98

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is Half a King. Readers who praised this novel reported enthusiastically that it had Joe Abercrombie’s penchant for gritty, dark and even grim settings.

While Half a King targets young adults, these readers had read Abercrombie’s adult-targeted fantasy books. They were pleased that this book still had what they enjoyed about his world-building. They also mentioned that while the story is a grim and fast-paced survival tale, it never made them feel bleak or overwhelmed.

Another highlight they mentioned was the characters. From the main character, Yarvi, to the rest of the cast, each added to the story in their own way. Several fans mentioned that the genuine friendship between the characters was particularly moving for them.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t connect with the story, they often said it was because they found it overly familiar. Half a King struck these readers as a standard revenge story in both plot and character cast.

They appreciated that Yarvi was an intelligent and cunning version of the avenging hero rather than the typical warrior archetype. However, they mentioned that they’d seen this particular twist used in previous stories as well.


The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Description

An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist.

As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler.

But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.30

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Fans praised this novels for its amazing dark humor, exciting schemes and delightful portrayal of the gang’s camaraderie. The protagonist, Locke, impressed them with the brilliant manner in which he concocts his heists. Reading how he went about it only added to the fun.

In addition, others mentioned that they liked that the author didn’t shy away from making the world-building violent or dark. To these fans, it gave the story a sense of realism and depth.

Negative Comments

Readers who didn’t enjoybook often thought it lingered too long on descriptions. To them, these explanations felt like digressions rather than world-building.

The story is also told from both the present and the past. Readers either loved this or hated it: some said it increased the tension immensely, but critics said it interrupted the story’s fast-pace.


The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Description

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life.

I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature — the story of a hero told in his own voice.

It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.54

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Second on our list of fantasy books in first person perspective is Name of the Wind. This coming of age novel has legions of raving fans. In fact, as of this writing, 69% of Goodreads reviewers rated this story a 5.

Why did this story captivate so many people? Readers suggested that its power came from a convergence of several great strengths. First off, fans praised the nuance and believably of the main character’s, Kvothe’s, point of view.

Kvothe felt real and so very human to these readers, who immediately bonded with him. They described The Name of the Wind‘s character portrayal and development as incredible.

Other readers pointed to the story’s simultaneously intricate and expansive world-building, as well as the poetic prose used to describe it. The Name of the Wind details legends, religions, magic systems and more in a vivid and engaging manner. All of this happened without ‘info-dumping’ on or confusing readers.

Negative Comments

If so many readers adored The Name of the Wind, what made readers who didn’t feel this way?

Those who didn’t enjoy the book had two main reasons. The first was that they came into the story expecting a fast-paced, thrilling ride with clear direction and purpose. Instead, The Name of the Wind is a character-driven story that focuses on immersing the reader in its characters and world. Because of this, critics described the story as slow and found themselves asking, ‘Where is this story going?’

The second main reason had to do with the main character, Kvothe. Unlike fans, critics simply didn’t like him.

Some attributed this to his extraordinary skills, which spanned multiple disciplines. At some point, they thought that this wasn’t just unrealistic, but irritating. Kvothe stopped seeming like character to them and started seeming like a wish-fulfillment tool.

Along the same lines, another reason these critics cited was Kvothe’s character flaws. It wasn’t that he had flaws that bothered them; instead, these readers were frustrated because they didn’t feel that Kvothe’s arrogance was portrayed as a negative. Either that, or it didn’t have negative consequences.

Instead, they saw it as another instance of the story unduly favoring him.


The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Description

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince.

Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.22

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

And last on our list of fantasy books with genius protagonists is The False Prince. This novel brings us Sage, a character with sharp wit, powerful observation skills, but also sympathetic flaws. 

Fans found immersing themselves in his point of view a treat, enthusing over how much fun it was to anticipate how he would react, what he’d pick up and to laugh at his snarky humor. These readers rooted for him the entire time, saying that even as they enjoyed his brilliance, it was his humanity and vulnerabilities that endeared him to them. 

Overall, fans described this book as filled with intrigue and adventure, with wit as well as heart.

Negative Comments

For the most part, critics had two reasons why they didn’t enjoy The False Prince.

The first was the plot twist. Critics typically saw it coming early on in the story and, because of this, felt that the book was predictable.

Related to thist, some critics added that in order to hide the plot twist, the book had to conceal crucial information about Sage. However, because the story was told in first person, the concealment came across as artificial: thoughts and emotions they expected him to have weren’t there. As such, these readers felt disconnected from him.


8 Brilliant Fantasy Books With Genius Protagonists

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8 Brilliant Fantasy Books With Genius Protagonists


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