Snarky is a surprising word. The official definition (snide, critical) would suggest that it’s not a compliment—I certainly wouldn’t want to be called snarky in my annual employee review. In literature, however, snarkiness can be a good thing. We like witty characters who aren’t afraid to mouth off, and we live vicariously through the hero who flouts authority and just doesn’t give a crap.
To me, that’s the good kind of snarky: someone who says and does the things I can’t. Combine that attitude with the ability to use magic, and you’ve got a heck of an interesting character.
Here are five of my favorite snarky magicians from the world of fantasy literature.
Nynaeve al’Meara in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
There are a lot of magic users (called channelers) in this epic fantasy series, so I ran a poll on Twitter. The winner was the braid-tugging Nynaeve al’Meara. She’s a wilder, which is what the formally-trained witches (Aes Sedai) call women who learn to use magic on their own. It’s a slightly derogatory term, akin to calling someone a country bumpkin.
Nynaeve doesn’t have a problem busting chops to get her way, and showing her frustration in a characteristic way (the braid tug) when she doesn’t. She carves out a place in the ranks of the Aes Sedai by sheer force of personality, though it doesn’t hurt that she’s one of the most powerful channelers in living memory.
For what it’s worth, Elmindreda Farshaw (Min) was a close second in my poll of the snarkiest character. She definitely fits the bill, but whether or not her viewings count as magic is a matter of debate.
Holly Short in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
The worlds of human and faerie collide in this young adult fantasy series starring a teenage criminal mastermind. Artemis himself has no magic, but he manages to capture a fairy named Holly Short who’s got plenty. That’s Captain Short, by the way, of the fairy police force called LEPrecon. As the first and only female captain of that unit, Holly’s not afraid to break rules and defy her superiors if she thinks it’ll get the job done.
When Artemis captures her, he bites off more than he can chew. She’s sarcastic, sharp-tongued, and quite capable of going round-for-round in the verbal ring. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that their adversarial relationship evolves into a grudging friendship, with plenty of good banter along the way.
Kell Maresh in A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E Schwab
Kell is a rare kind of magician who can travel between dimensions. His home is in Red London, where magic is revered and he’s an adopted member of the royal family. He’s usually respectful of the blue bloods, but the snark comes out when he encounters magic hobbyists—people who essentially try to buy their way into the magical profession.
Kell has no respect for these amateurs, and it shows. His derision for them (and for authority figures in general) tends to get him into trouble. Once he teams up with Lila, a pirate and thief with bigger ambitions, there’s more than enough snarkiness to go around.
Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’d be remiss not to include one of the most famous and snarky magicians to ever foil Voldemort’s best-laid plans. Harry Potter has a true gift for snide comments and sarcasm. It wins him detractors from all over the wizarding world. He’s got problems with authority and (when played by Daniel Radcliffe) a fantastic eye roll.
When Harry gets bent out of shape, anyone nearby could be the target of a cutting remark. It might be a Slytherin, or Weasley, or even a professor at Hogwarts.
Bartimaeus in The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
I saved my favorite snarly magic character for last. In the Bartimaeus trilogy, magic exists in the world, but on higher planes not normally visible to humans. So-called magicians tap into it by summoning spirits from the Other Place and binding them to their service.
A few magicians make the questionable decision of summoning Bartimaeus, a Djinni who’s been around since the time of ancient Egypt. He’s not the most powerful of magic spirits, but he makes up for that with cleverness and a self-important attitude. His point-of-view chapters are littered with footnotes, each one funnier and more sardonic than the next.
Bartimaeus does the bidding of the magicians who summon him, but the magical contract is a funny thing. He has a lot of liberty in how he decides to follow orders. Also, if the magician makes a mistake during the summoning – mumbles a word, or moves outside of the summoning circle—it renders the djinni’s oaths null and void. And when that happens, Bartimaeus makes sure that the magician won’t be able to perform another summoning.
Usually by eating him alive.
Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author.. He has co-authored more than 60 publications in Nature, Human Mutation, Genome Research, The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard. The Rogue Retrieval is his first novel. You can find him on Twitter @DanKoboldt.