The phrase “two’s company, three’s a crowd” never sat right with me. People use it to indicate that a third person’s presence is unwelcome, but it’s not number three’s fault that one and two aren’t great at communicating their boundaries. I propose an update to this adage that more accurately describes my approach to socialization: “two’s company, three’s a squad.”
While writing my esports romance Don’t Hate The Player, the idea of having a squad was doubly important. My protagonist Emilia Romero is a Puerto Rican high schooler with plenty of friends IRL, but the moment she sits down to play Guardians League Online, the elite Team Fury becomes her crew. Across the aisle is Team Unity, Fury’s rivals and quite coincidentally, the online squad of Jake Hooper—the boy who’s had a crush on Emilia since fourth grade.
The best thing about writing a YA contemporary that partially takes place in a video game was being able to have typical high school drama play out in a sci-fi/fantasy environment. Emilia can deal as much damage to lunch table interlopers as can playing Pharaoh, a four thousand year old mummy lich with a soul-harvesting crossbow, and Jake is an empathetic fixer whose healer character Pythia has the make-it-better magic he wishes actually existed. They’re both essential to their squads, but Fury and Unity could not have a more different approach to what being a team actually means.
Don’t Hate The Player is a romance about finding your person, but it’s also about finding your people. I love SFF books where loners band together to kick butt, steal stuff, support each other, or simply survive, and these are some of my favorite examples of exactly those kinds of squads.
The Physical Kids — The Magicians series by Lev Grossman
In Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Quentin Coldwater is a fantasy-obsessed high school senior who longs to be a part of something special and interesting. He thinks he’s found that something when he’s accepted to Brakebills, a school for real-life magic users, but being a Magician doesn’t fulfill him for long. Quentin eventually finds his place with the Physical Kids, a group of students who use their power to go absolutely bonkers on magical hedonism. If I was going to party with one fantasy squad, they’re the ones I’d pick. No question. Magic isn’t the answer to anyone’s problems in The Magicians. The Physical Kids feel broken in ways all the power in the world couldn’t fix, and it’s only through their parallel journeys at Brakebills and beyond that help them grow together over the course of the trilogy.
The Baudelaire Orphans — A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
There’s nothing in the rules that says siblings can’t be a squad, or that a series of books initially classified as children’s books can’t grow into a poignant (and upsetting) young adult mainstay. Terrible things happened to the Baudelaires, but I always admired how nothing their dreadful world threw at them could make them doubt each other. Their trust came from the certainty that their values of being well-read and resourceful were important and they held true to that belief as the adults around them grew more gullible and useless by the page. There’s something deeply relatable in that frustration of being young, correct, and completely ignored, and the Baudelaire siblings shared that burden for thirteen entire books.
The Gentleman Bastards — The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch
What is it about crime that makes for such excellent teamwork? The titular Gentleman Bastards in Scott Lynch’s books are a well oiled heist machine whose brotherhood bands them together through their increasingly elaborate and dangerous crime sprees. The Bastards are servants of the god of thieves, which gives their gang structure and purpose beyond the thrill of the chase, and it’s within their roles as worshippers that they do their best work. Well, best might be an overstatement, considering the reckless reputation of their leader Locke Lamora. We’ll say…luckiest. They do their luckiest work.
The Stravaganti — Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman
I grew up reading the Stravaganza series and wanted to be a stravagante so badly I’d poke around antique stores hoping to find a talisman that could bring me to Talia. In the Stravaganza books, contemporary teens stumble upon these talismans—a book, a perfume bottle, a horse figurine and so on—and use them to travel to Talia, an alternate history variant of renaissance Italy. As travelers, or Stravagantes, they became members of a society dedicated to dissolving the power of the greedy de Chimchi family and worked together to save lives in both of their realities. Alternate Italian history, swordfights, magic, chemistry, and romance? Those stravagante kids didn’t know how good they had it.
The Crows — Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo
All right, I get one more heist-y squad as a treat. The family that breaks people out of prison, gets captured, dons elaborate disguises, and commandeers tanks together stays together, that’s what I always say. Kaz, Inej, Nina, Jesper, Matthias, and Wylan all come from different walks of life but are bonded by their fierce loyalty to each other and the knowledge that what they can accomplish together is worth more than the sum of what they can handle on their own. That’s the practical reason, anyway. They also just adore each other even if they’d never admit it.
Alexis Nedd is a Brooklyn-based pop culture “fanthropologist” who has only ever loved things in a big, obsessive way. As the Senior Entertainment Reporter at Mashable.com, she covers television, movies, and video games with a focus on sci-fi and fantasy universes like Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When she’s not writing for money, she’s writing for no money on Twitter, where her feed consists of deep dives on weird history (Hamilton and messed-up royal lineages are favorites) and analyzing pop culture as an artifact of society. Her writing has also appeared in Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and BuzzFeed. Don’t Hate the Player is her debut novel.