As a writer, I spend a lot of time worrying about people who don’t exist. Like all those bright-eyed young heroes traipsing off to their first adventure. Sure, they look strong and noble at the start of their story, but what happens to them after they win the battle, defeat the great evil, and save the world? Do they all ride off into the sunset or board a ship to the Undying Lands? Are they okay?
I wrote my new novel, The Bone Maker, because I couldn’t stop wondering about what would happen to those once-brave-and-strong heroes if they were called to save the world again. In The Bone Maker, it’s twenty-five years later, and the five Heroes of Vos aren’t in their prime anymore. They bear scars, inside and out. One of them is broken, one has gone soft, one is pursuing a simple life, one is unable to let go of the past, and one is dead.
Life doesn’t stop just because someone says “the end.” So why should stories?
And that’s why I’ve put together a list of five (very different) novels that I love about older characters who thought the curtain had closed on their show but discovered there was still a whole lot of saving-the-world to be done.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
I remember when I read this book, my first thought was, “Whoa! You can do that?” Up until that point, I had never read a book where the protagonist was an older fellow who just wanted to retire. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood wants to drink his cardamom tea and not hunt ghuls anymore, but when the family of a former lover is killed, he can’t sit idly by. His investigation leads him and his associates—a holy warrior and a shapeshifter—straight into a nascent revolution, led by a master thief known as the Falcon Prince (love that name!) against the tyrannical Khalif. Full of action, politics, and magic, it’s tremendously fun and un-put-down-able.
The Elenium and The Tamuli by David Eddings
When I was ten years old, my mom bought me a box set of The Belgariad by David Eddings. I read those books until the spines broke. They were my comfort reads (along with Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley, and Anne McCaffrey). It wasn’t until years later that I discovered Eddings had also written another two series: The Elenium and The Tamuli, which center around Sparhawk, an older knight with aching wounds who is called from exile to restore his queen. There’s something really special about discovering that a childhood favorite has more books, and they quickly became my new comfort reads. They’re classic 1980s epic fantasy, and I love them.
Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner
The subtitle of this book is “Confessions of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom,” and it is absolutely everything you’d expect and want from a book with that subtitle. Kate Connor is perfectly happy with her life as a retired demon hunter and is not pleased when she catches a whiff of a demon at the local supermarket while she’s contending with a dirty diaper. She’s even less pleased when the demon barges into her kitchen, intent on killing her, while she has a dinner party to prepare. This book is all about achieving that work-life balancing act (when your work is top secret and highly dangerous), and it’s fabulous. Won me over from the moment she tried to hide a demon body behind the pet food.
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Granny Weatherwax appears in multiple Terry Pratchett novels (including the fantastic Tiffany Aching series), and she is one of the best fictional characters ever created. She’s essentially a wicked witch who decided to be Good. But don’t mistake her for Nice. I was introduced to her in Wyrd Sisters, which, among other things, parodies Macbeth. If you haven’t met Granny Weatherwax yet, you’re in for a treat.
Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
Ofelia is one of the rare elderly heroines in SF. She lives on a planetary colony and intends to spend the remainder of her days there, but when the company that supports the colony loses its contract, the colonists are given thirty days to leave. At her advanced age, she doesn’t believe she’ll survive the journey in cryo-sleep, nor does she wish to leave the graves of her husband and children, so she chooses to stay behind. Alone. Or so she thinks… This is an excellent first-contact novel with a highly unusual protagonist.
And one more for extra-credit: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This book doesn’t quite the fit the list because its protagonist, Sophie, is an eighteen-year-old trapped in the body of an elderly woman by a spell, but I love this book so much (Calcifer the fire demon! the wizard Howl and his hair tonics! the scarecrow chasing the castle!) that I just had to sneak it in!
Sarah Beth Durst is the author of over twenty fantasy books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Queens of Renthia series, Drink Slay Love, and Spark. She has won an American Library Association Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for the Andre Norton Nebula Award three times. She lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.