Paladin of Souls, a fantasy novel by Lois McMaster Bujold. I did not manage to hear the entire thing because sometimes she used her headphones but I was impressed by what I did hear mainly because the heroes were so well done. Normally in high fantasy novels the heroes are sixteen years old and are plucked from a bucolic village in the middle of nowhere to become invincible engines of destruction once their magic powers are fully revealed. More than that though they have adventures and relationships that are very much adolescent ones. That is a sensible sort of hero to write since all of the readers either are teenagers or were teenagers but it certainly doesn't cover the full range of human experience!
This is the thing about this book that got me: The characters are middle aged and they are written perfectly as such. There is a love story going on throughout the novel but it isn't full of bright eyed idealism and "You are The One!" nonsense but rather is clearly between two people who have done it all before. They have experienced marriage, love, sex, and betrayal before and are well aware that people can and do move on afterwards. This attitude is one that comes from life experience and time and the author clearly shows her characters living and falling in love as adults do.
The characters feel like real adults in other ways too. They aren't leaping in the middle of things and desperately trying to save the world as they have watched too many would be heroes be buried already. They have a measured courage that allows them to do things that are dangerous and terrifying when they really need to without the childish belief in one's own invulnerability and blind indifference to risk. I also have a real appreciation for an author that can write a gripping fantasy epic that does not rely on world threatening danger. Saving the world is fine and all but it makes it hard to imagine how the characters continue afterwards. These characters do things that are important to them and to the people around them but it is clear that the world will continue to spin regardless of their involvement. I think this amplifies the courage needed to do what they are doing though because there isn't the normal "I must sacrifice myself to save the universe!" reason for being brave. The characters try to do the best they can with what they have to work with and that manages to be much more compelling for all that it is not world shattering.
A good part of an author's ability to write convincing characters is not making them too far from human. When you read about heroes like Sparhawk, Rand Al Thor, Belgarion or Richard Cypher you get to hear about invulnerable supermen who can smash cities and lay waste to armies. In Paladin of Souls you hear about people who have some small amount of power but are still quite afraid of a dude with a knife. He has a knife! He could cut me with that! That grounding in respecting real world dangers makes the danger they are in much more poignant.
If you are a teenager you might not like this book as the heroes are likely boring and incomprehensible (much like your parents). For those who have been around the block a few times though I highly recommend the heroes of Paladin of Souls.
Picture taken from wikipedia.