In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to recommend five books based around a common theme. These lists aren’t intended to be exhaustive, so we hope you’ll discuss and add your own suggestions in the comments!
I adore a good animal sidekick. An animal sidekick illuminates so much about the character it’s decided to assist—what she loves, fears, and needs to protect. That almost-mystical connection with an animal accomplice is neatly encapsulated in the idea of a familiar—a helpful spirit that is never entirely under the control of the protagonist. An animal always has a mind of its own, and will never strictly follow the orders of its human companion.
My protagonist, Petra Dee, needed an ally in Dark Alchemy. Petra isn’t ready to trust her fellow humans, and she’s deeply rooted in her scientific approach to life. The appeal of writing a sidekick is in creating a character that complements the protagonist, a partner who will bolster her strengths and help compensate for her weaknesses. Sig, a coyote, is all animal intuition, with one paw stuck in the mud of weird West woo-woo. He challenges her to get out of her left brain and experience the world without having to take it apart with tweezers. He’s the id to her ego, and between the two of them, they manage to come up with a fully-functioning psyche. Mostly.
There’s much precedent for the animal sidekick in fantasy media. Many are universally adored: Hedwig and Crookshanks in the Harry Potter books, He-Man’s Battle Cat, Daenerys’ dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire, the horses in the Valdemar saga, and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon. I cannot begin to tell you how many versions of Toothless I own in plush form and how I turned into a puddle of cooing mush at the How to Train Your Dragon live show.
But there are more! Five of my favorites don’t get as much press:
LYING CAT, THE WILL’S SIDEKICK in Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Lying Cat is a tiger-sized, hairless blue feline who travels with an alien bounty hunter known as The Will. Lying Cat gets one line: “Lying.” She’s a living polygraph test, and calls The Will out on his fuzzy truths as much as she divines the motives of his opponents. Drawn by Staples with the perfect expression of cat disdain, she is easily one of my most favorite characters in the series.
TALAT THE HORSE, AND THE FOLTSZA AND YERIG ARMIES in The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Every young dragon slayer needs a trusty steed, and Talat serves Aerin loyally. As her father’s injured war horse put out to pasture, he provides unconditional love for an overlooked young woman with no magic. Talat heroically brings the young dragon slayer home, every time.
As Aerin gathers her army to save her kingdom, she wins the trust of the giant wild cats, the foltsza, and the wolf-like yerig. Her all-furry army helps her defeat the enemy, as the creatures follow her where no other human would dare go.
WEXTER in Axe Cop by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle
An axe-wielding super cop needs a T-Rex sidekick. Not only that, he needs a sidekick with machine guns for arms. The sunglasses are an added bonus. Wexter doesn’t get any lines, but he gets to shoot a lot of stuff. And eat a lot of stuff. And he flies through outer space, because of course he does.
FAITHFUL in The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
Faithful is a mysterious sort of cat—and is there any other kind? He might be a bored immortal, a constellation wandering around in a cat-suit, or a messenger from the Great Mother Goddess on a mission—not that these are mutually exclusive, by any means. Whatever he is, he assists Alanna in her quest to become a warrior. He appears as a black cat with violet eyes, and he’s had two incarnations that we know of. His other incarnation, as Pounce in the Provost’s Dog trilogy, helped Beka track down criminals in her work with the Provost’s Guard.
MARLOWE THE DOG in the Remy Chandler books by Thomas E. Sniegoski
As an angel masquerading as a private detective, Remy can communicate with all the creatures of the earth. Marlowe, his black Labrador retriever, gives voice to all the thoughts dog lovers imagine that their pets are thinking: “Good boy. Yes. Out? Out?” Their interactions are tender and charming—hands-down, the best depiction of a relationship between a protagonist and a pet that I’ve ever read. I dare you to read A Kiss Before the Apocalypse without sniffling. Double dare you.
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams. The Hallowed Ones and The Outside are her latest young adult novels.