So the title is supposed to read: Familiars, Flying Bison, & Bears! Oh My! But that apparently has too many characters. *shrug* Despite the misleading title, I did not cut the bear portion of this blog post out. Oh no, there will be bears!
I’m a sucker for animals. I think they're the coolest and I’ve had pets ever since before I can remember. Growing up, it was always dogs because my parents were dog people and hated cats and I wasn’t allowed to have any smaller warm fuzzy animals because my parent didn’t think they would hold my interest. Then when I was 12, I managed to convince my parents to let me get a horse--every kids’ dream--and thus began a 28 year part of my life where I was an intense horse girl. The handsome boy pictured here was my partner in crime for 13 of those years (we were on our way home from a show in California).
I now own a very lorg doggo named Bellamy Q. Blake. He’s a 1 ½ year old Irish Wolfhound weighing in at a modest 115 lbs and is 100% a lap dog. His older brother is Amenophus, my adorable cat who thinks he’s a dog. And although I no longer own a horse, my last horse was this cutie, named Kell (after the amazing Kell Maresh from ADSOM).
And so it makes perfect sense that I would gravitate to stories that feature a strong animal companion or recurring animal side character. Nothing makes me happier then when a fantasy novel gives a character an animal companion that is bonded to them and somehow connected by magic. It's also why I put them in all of my stories. I can’t help it.
It's interesting to note, that industry wise, talking animals or animal companions are not *COOL* in YA. Middle grade is acceptable and in adult it's totally cool, but apparently teens go through a phase where all animals, especially talking or magical ones, are like, totes uncool (as per the industry). But I can say that none of my teens at my high school have been affected by this phase, and as a teen I was never affected by this stage, so like, heads up YA fantasy--GIVE US OUR ANIMAL COMPANIONS.
So anyway, I want to talk about my favorite animal companions. When I sat down to write this blog post, I was so excited and then I started to think about favorite animal companions and most were from TV. I had to really think about book examples.
Roach: This amazing equine does not get enough airtime in the show or enough mention in the books (that I’ve read so far), but a little goes a long way. She’s the Witcher’s reliable steed and I love the way Geralt talks to her and that in the show, you can definitely see her judgy eyes as she watches the majority of Geralt’s shenanigans. Also, I haven’t played the games, but apparently there is a glitch (or is it on purpose?) in the game that makes Roach end up on the roof of a house. Which is fantastic, especially if it's on purpose.
Direwolves: No matter what else Martin did in those books (or didn’t do since he seems to have given up on writing them), the direwolves are badass. Every single one of them. It’s too bad the show decided not to put more into their direwolf budget, because they were so prominent in the books, especially John and Ghost. Every one of those direwolves deserved their own story. Someone needs to hire IP writers to just write the story from their perspective. I would totally read the story of Ghost or Summer, or Nymeria. OMG, I need the Tales of Nymeria.
Appa & Crew: Look, the Last Airbender franchise hit paydirt with their crazy animal creations and with Appa and Momo and the animal friends in Korra. Who doesn't want a ten ton flying bison? (If you raised your hand, just leave now, we're obviously not meant to be friends) Appa even got his own character arc in season two and the Appa's Lost Days episodes are so masterfully done. Appa and crew are absolute animal companion goals.
In the middle grade book category, there are three strong contenders:
First up is Fox, from the aptly named Foxheart by Claire Legrand. Fox, who's actually a dog, is Quicksilver's familiar and his wit and intelligence is just the best. He occupies main character status right alongside Quicksilver. Next is Podge the racoon from Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo. This delightful racoon belongs to Katybird & manages to cause the most helpful trouble on her quest. Finally, we have Chunk, from Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega. Chunk is the ghost fighting cat that we all need in our lives. Never, never go ghost hunting without a cat.
In the YA category, I REALLY had to think about this, which is what surprised me the most and I finally came up with two. In Furyborn, by Claire Legrand, Atheria is the chavail that rescues Rielle. A chavail is a godsbeast that resembles a pegasus, but larger and much more dangerous as they are aggressive carnivores. The second is from These Feathered Flames (2021) by Alexandra Overy. In These Feathered Flames, they ride bears and each of the main characters has a bear companion. Mishka belongs to Asya and he is just the most adorable bear that has ever beared. Between the two of them, I can't decide if I want a chavail or a bear. You know what, it's decided. I want both.
I want more animal companions and familiars in stories. More animals that have like, BB8 level storylines. More Appas. PLEASE YOUNG ADULT MARKET, GIVE US ANIMAL COMPANIONS. I promise that the world wants them and will love them. (Also, like, every manuscript I have has animal companions in them, so, this is also a completely self serving request)
Thanks for reading! My September reading post will be up soon and is focusing on the sapphic books I read and loved this past month. If any of the books in this post sound like your kinda jam, click on the title to visit my bookshop page or order from your favorite local indie!