By middle grade and young adult, I'm ruling out The Lord of the Rings, even though it's sometimes shelved in with the kidlit. I love Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Galadriel, Eowyn, and the Legolas/Gimli friendship, if you're wondering.
By high fantasy, I'm ruling out anything in which a modern-day London or New York (etc.) is referenced, which includes Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. If you've ever spent ten minutes on this blog, you may know I adore pretty much everyone in HP but the villains—heck, I even have a soft spot for the Malfoys by the end. As for Percy, I love him and Annabeth and Tyson and Clarice and... pretty much everyone but Kronos and the monsters. I even loved Luke. So, yeah.
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My own arbitrary additional rules: limit one entry per book and two per author, which should keep Shannon Hale's characters from dominating the list. Peder, Enna, Finn, Rin, Razo, Britta, Dashti and Tegus, don't go feeling unloved.
1. Miri Larendaughter (Princess Academy and Palace of Stone, Shannon Hale). Perky, quick-witted, generous, brave, and tenderhearted, Miri is an honest-to-goodness heroine. Hard not to love.
2. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee (The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale). Shy and self-deprecating but gracious and persevering, Ani-called-Isi has an inner strength that is everything I want to be. Also, it's a lot of fun to write out her full name.
3. Rosie (Spindle's End, Robin McKinley). I'll spare you her full name. Her boyish, trouser-wearing, animal-loving, handicraft-hating personality brought my own teenage self back to me with a vengeance. Props to McKinley for allowing her to be feminine and vulnerable despite her toughness and masculine mannerisms. Review of the book coming soon.
4. Eilonwy or Fflewddur Fflam (The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander). I couldn't pick. Eilonwy is bossy and loyal and interesting; Fflewddur is hilarious. Honorable mention to Fflewddur's harp.
5. Prince Char (Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine). I thoroughly enjoyed Ella, but I loved Char. He's good-natured and tenderhearted and not too confident, and has a very responsive sense of humor and play. Rather a darling young man.
6. Castle Glower (Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George). I'm also rather fond of Celie. The castle, however, had so much personality in its own right that it deserves the mention here. There's a lot of forceful love and humor packed into that magical work of architecture.
7. Sophie Hatter (Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones). I'm bending my rules with this mention, since Sophie does get a brief excursion to England, but since her world exists on its own without reference to ours, I'll give it a pass. As a fellow eldest child, I sympathized with Sophie, and I very much admired her ability to grit through being cursed and having to put up with Howl.
8. Adele and Eleda (The Truth Teller's Tale, Sharon Shinn). They're not so easily separated. I had more natural sympathy for quiet Adele, but I loved Eleda's honesty.
9. Jena and her frog (Wildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier). This is set in Romania, so it's another rulebender, but it doesn't really touch the modern Western world. I'm not sure which I liked more—Jena's devoted bravery, or the frog's devoted loyalty. Their friendship was best of all.
10. Loveday Minette (The Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge). This one touches London of yesteryear, so it's also borderline. Also, I might love Maria best and Robin after, and Old Parson is wonderful, as is Wrolf—but I've chosen Loveday because, besides her having a sweet name, she's motherly and womanly and repentant of her past wrongs. She's a lot of the reason that Maria and Robin have the goodness and resources to right the wrongs of Maria's ancestor.
Which are your favorites from middle grade and young adult high fantasy?