Romance gets all the glory, but I’ve always been in love with stories about friendship.
Perhaps no one gets swept off their feet—maybe there are no longing glances or feelings of smoldering desire—but I contend that a deep, platonic connection between characters can be every bit as enthralling as a great love story. Or, rather, a great friendship is a kind of love story—only one that has nothing to do with sexual desire.
Yet as much as I’m drawn to stories about powerful platonic connections and “found families,” they can be challenging to find—which is in no small part why I decided to write one of my own. The ones that do exist? Those I read again and again, until the bindings crack and the pages’ edges are worn soft with age.
Here are five of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels that I think feature interesting, powerful friendships.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
There’s lots to love in Naomi Novik’s debut (and the Napoleonic wars with a dragon air force? Come on, you can’t beat that), yet it’s the connection between the loyal and fiercely intelligent dragon Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, that kept me reading. There is a tension, too, between the relationship that they’re expected to have by their society and no few of their peers—that of a master over a beast—and the one that develops between them, a friendship between equals that only deepens and matures as Temeraire ages.
Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
This post-apocalyptic ghost story grabbed me from the first page. The titular character agrees to travel to the underworld to help the ghost of a super-soldier find the spirit of his lost colleague and friend. The story and emotional bond between the ghost and his friend is played out in pieces of memory, and the glimpses of that relationship and their history are every bit as compelling as the surreal underworld through which Wasp and the ghost travel to find her.
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy Gavriel Kay’s historical fantasies are rich, detailed, and poetic—but here, as in his other novels, it’s the relationships between his characters that I remember. The Lions of Al-Rassan features three protagonists, each from different regions and religions; and though the setup is that of a love triangle, that isn’t what these people, their connections, or their story is about. The two men, in particular, are set up as romantic rivals, yet their tale isn’t one of jealousy but rather mutual respect and admiration, and as their world is slowly drawn into conflict, so are they—as leaders on opposite sides.
Beholder’s Eye by Julie E. Czerneda
Julie Czerneda is known for her wild, wonderful aliens, and my favorite among them is Esen-alit-Quar, a charming shape-shifting blue blob of a creature. Of the five remaining members of her species, she is the youngest—and when her first solo assignment goes terribly awry, she betrays her people’s most important rule and reveals her true nature to another being. A human. The growing connection between Esen and that human, Paul Ragem, is fun and fraught, heartbreaking and wonderful.
Silence by Michelle Sagara
I love Silence for so many reasons, not least of all its friendships. But the core connection here is not between two people, but a group, key among them the teen protagonist Emma and her friends Allison and Michael. Emma is still grieving the recent death of her boyfriend, when she discovers an ability to see, touch, and speak to the dead (and no, against expectations it’s not her boyfriend who she sees or tries to save). Yet for all Emma’s newfound abilities, the book does not hinge on just her choices, and she is only able to move forward with the help and support of her friends. It’s very much a book about grief and choice and human connection, and the friendships are at the heart of it all.
Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (forthcoming). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a very small dog, and a very large cat.