On Books with Non-human Protagonists

Featured Image: Cover painting for The Cloud Roads by artist Matthew Stewart

In my recent readings through the fantasy genre I have realised that there aren’t that many books with non-human people as the main characters or protagonists. Illustrated books from my childhood often had protagonists like bears, cats and rabbits.1 It is also much easier to find non-human characters in comics and manga, etc. I recently finished reading a beautiful graphic novel The Tea Dragon Society with very diverse characters, and tea dragons, and barely a human.

But what about prose novels with non-human protagonists for adults? While there are a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal books with people who are shape-shifters and halflings, and beings like vampires, werewolves, fairies, demons and so on, the characters or creatures like these often spend more time as human, or have very human-like cultures,2 and are often obviously based on western mythology.

Some humans might point out that books are mostly written by humans,3 therefore it is only natural that a majority of them would have a human point of view. Others may needlessly like to point out how mythological and fantastical creatures are imaginary and fictional, forgetting the fact that we are talking about fiction books here. On the whole, I believe there should be more diverse viewpoints as everyone would benefit from them.4 Only perspectives that are different from our own can help us change our thinking and worldview. And books with non-human characters also allow a chance for the portrayal of humans from different perspectives. Perhaps at the very least they may generate more tolerance and empathy for people of ones own species.

Here is a small list of favourite non-human protagonists from my own hoard of books:

  1. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells The main protagonist is Moon, a Raksura, with wings, claws and scales, while most of his kind have the ability to take groundling/human form, their queens especially cannot.
  2. Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher  Sergeant Nessilka leads her unit of goblin warriors called Whinin’ Niners, and there is also the veterinarian elf Sings-to-trees.
  3. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison The title says it all, half-goblin Maia finds himself a sudden reluctant emperor after the airship carrying his elvish relatives crashes.
  4. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton  Like Pride and Prejudice with dragons,  I should not have to say anything else.
  5. The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh The main character Pyanfar Chanur is of a cat-like species called hani, this book is sci-fi/space opera rather than fantasy, but who cares when there are cats in space with humans as the aliens!!

All these books are from award-winning authors. Not that awards should matter to any bookish person or dragon making their next reading selection. I will continue to hunt down more of such books. I also will make a separate list about my favourite AI/Robot protagonists.

Do you know of any books with non-human or fantastical creatures as protagonists. Tell me in the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts or recommendations. Thanks for reading!

1. Children’s books like: The Little Bear who had no Friends, Three Little Kittens, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
2. I could make a whole list of my favourite urban fantasy books, an idea for a separate post, but for now a good example is Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire with its partially faerie/changeling protagonist Toby Daye, and Tanya Huff’s Blood Price the vampire Henry Fitzroy.
3. With certain exceptions: See an algorithm that writes sci-fi, and the Sci-fi writing robot
4. Why should diversity be limited to the portrayal of humans? and myths and monsters from a western culture?

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