Below is my list of favorite fantastical creatures and the books in which they feature. I've tried to think of one example where they are used really well and one example where the creature has become groan worthy. Certainly feel free to add your own opinions to the list.
1. Dragons - of course the list had to start with dragons. Whether we are talking wyverns, wyrms, drakes, western hunters, pernese, doesn't matter, I love dragons. Yet they are quite frequently a hit and miss character in books (and movies, but that is an entirely different blog post).
- The Best: Strabo from the Magic Kingdom of Landover Series (Terry Brooks). Who can dislike a dragon that can cross the mists between worlds, is intelligent and yet shockingly ego-centric, noble in a way and yet infuriatingly stubborn on other issues. By far my favourite dragon and the only down side is the limited book space he actually gets.
- The Worst: Lady Ramkin's dragons from the Discworld Series (Terry Pratchett). I don't think the world really needed exploding dragons, no matter how amusing they might be.
- The Best: Applecore from the War of The Flowers (Tad Williams). The foul mouthed fairy dominates every scene she is in and despite her small size, utterly dominates Theo as he stumbles blindly around in fairy land. Quick witted and utterly devoted, she is definitely a fine example of fairies in action.
- The Worst: Simon from A Modern Magician (Robert Weinberg). I love this story, and I love Simon's character, but he is a terrible fairy. Admittedly, they are actually changelings, and they borrow their lore from Shakespeare, and in the modern age they now pose as long lost relatives or exchange students, but something about him is distinctly unfairy like.
- The Best: All of the elves as presented in The Deverry Series (Katherine Kerr). One of the best elvish cultures created and brought to life. Particularly in the later books of the series, the elves very much become dominant characters and are thoroughly enjoyable.
- The Worst: ?
- The Best: Ariel from A Knight of the Word Series (Terry Brooks). Made from the memories of dead children, she serves The Word and delivers messages to those in need, as well as protecting Nest as she tries to save the Knight from his Demon stalker. Ariel is a fascinating character, though rather short lived.
- The Worst: Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling). Despite saying I liked ghosts with personality, Nearly Headless doesn't really work for me and most of the time I found myself wishing that he and the other ghosts of Harry Potter would simply disappear. Though, I make an exception for Moaning Myrtle who was thoroughly entertaining.
- The Best: Not technically a vampire (dhampir, half human-half vampire) I am giving best vampire to Magiere from the Noble Dead Saga (Barb & J.C. Hendee). Her dress sense, her attitude, and her continual ability to thwart destiny are incredible, as is her ability to get herself into the worst kind of trouble. Besides, the vampires she hunts are quite interesting, and very resilient - more so than the usual vampire. Makes for some very interesting reading.
- The Worst: Again, not technically vampires by any definition of the word, but I place the entire Cullen family from Twilight (Stephanie Meyer). Not actually dissing Twilight, simply pointing out that glistening, venom producing creatures that do not grow fangs and can go out in daylight, don't actually qualify (at least in my version of reality) as vampires. If she had named them something else, maybe I would have got over this already.