Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let’s Talk About Companions

And if you were a fan of the short-lived, but brilliant, Firefly, just FYI, we’re not talking about those types of companions. Nor are we talking about companion animals, travel companions, or companion planting (I’m not really sure what that is, but Google seemed to think it was important). What we are talking about, unsurprisingly, is the concept of companion books. In case any readers are unfamiliar with companion books, take a little journey with me.

Once upon a time, an author writes a book, edits it fiercely, submits it to agents, wins an agent, gets a book deal and a lovely editor with a grand publishing house, edits feverishly, waits, and then poof, overnight success. And then, the author has to write another book and decides not to write it about Character A, who was beloved by millions, but instead about Character A’s third cousin, twice removed. Consequently, the world of the story is similar, but without the beloved Character A. The cover of this new book reads, The Danger-fraught Journey of Character A’s Third Cousin, Twice Removed, A Companion Book to The Thrilling-fraught Journey of Character A.

So, that’s a companion book. And I’m very curious to know what other devoted readers think of these companion books, because sometimes they rankle me and other times they make me gush. Case in point, with the gushing (cause you know I’m not going to spill about the rankling), is FIRE by Kristin Cashore. But we really can’t begin with FIRE; we have to begin with GRACELING, her first book involving this story world and its wonderful inhabitants.

Let’s see if I can be not-with-the-gushy... okay, probably not. I loved GRACELING. I loved Katsa. I loved Po. I loved the story’s journey, the sense of the geography, the characters, their flaws, and the exceptionally pleasing ending (although, I did get miffed that the book ended... period, but nobody buys infinity books anymore, so books have to end—drat them). And what got me through the trauma (my own, not having to do with the plot) of the book’s end was that I knew there was another book, and I assumed that it continued the tale of Katsa and Po. So, off I went to the bookstore, picked up FIRE, and walked directly to the register, but stopped abruptly when I saw on the cover the fateful words, “A Companion to GRACELING.” What?! No Katsa. No Po. What? Huh? No! And so, grumbling inwardly (hopefully), I marched up and bought FIRE, while mourning the loss of my bubbly excitement.

At home, after whining to my exceedingly tolerant BFF, I opened the book. And whoosh. Ms. Cashore, after an interesting prologue, had me at the first line. And tell me, why wouldn’t she?

It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. What surprised her was that he shot her by accident.

What followed was Ms. Cashore’s brilliant writing, exceptional story crafting, and me devouring the book with speed the equivalent of a cheetah in a land race. The story was so engrossing that I was instantly more concerned with Fire’s journey and much less worried about missing Katsa and Po. (This doesn’t mean that I am not anxious to have their story continue, because I certainly am. But I am much more excited that I have a new favorite author, whose writing I will follow wherever it goes.)

Since I don’t like to give plot descriptions in my book reviews (because I don’t like to read them before I read a new book), I will give you a few more glimpses into Ms. Cashore’s beautiful writing.

For example:

Their arguments, however they squashed her, were drawn from the wells of two very large hearts.

I loved this line and its gift of remembrance that very few of our loved ones mean to do the damage they sometimes do.

Fire added immaturity to the things she could accuse him of in the fight they weren’t going to have.

If I had a cupcake for every imaginary fight I had prepared in my mind, I would have fallen over from sugar shock a long time ago.

The enthusiastic massacre began once more.

You’d think this line was horrible, until I tell you this: the line is in reference to children attempting to play instruments. Massacre is the only good word for it.

So, companion books? What do you think? My take is that companion books are only as good or bad as the connections we are able to make with the new characters. I connected with the characters in FIRE and consequently loved it. Probably the most well known (and unfortunately somewhat squashed) and desired companion book in sort-of existence is MIDNIGHT SUN, Stephenie Meyer’s retelling of the story of TWILIGHT from hottie Edward’s perspective. I did read it after Ms. Meyer posted a portion on her website and loved it, and like many others hope that one day the muse will be there and Ms. Meyer will finish it. My favorite of all companion books would have to be the LORD OF THE RINGS (not sure of the distinction here between sequel and companion, but the feel of the books is different enough for me to think companion). My least-liked companion book had everything to do with a new main character I couldn’t stand, and I only read it to get to the bits that included a couple previously known characters, though I ended up disliking even most of their parts.

But I would love for you to weigh in: companion books, love them or hate them? What are your favorites? Do you dream of writing companion books of your own? And why aren’t you reading FIRE yet? (Note: it really doesn’t matter whether you read FIRE first or GRACELING; there’s a case to be made that FIRE might just make a better setup for GRACELING if you read it first. What does matter is that you don’t miss these amazing stories.)

Quote for the Day from FIRE.

From the warmth of her fondness for her horse she constructed a fragile and changeable thing that almost resembled courage.


Kasie West said...

I guess I had better love them because I'm writing them. LOL I think you hit it right on, if the author can make you love the main characters then it's like reading a whole new book that seems familiar. It's nice also because you don't have to work to learn about the world, you just get to enjoy the story.

Indigo said...

I never thought in relation to companion books versus series. Honestly I never paid much attention to notice if it was a mere companion. To me the familiar characterizations would of been enough to keep me entertained.

After this well thought out post, I will probably be paying more attention.

I just realized most of Charles de Lint's books could be classified as companion books. Each book stands on it's own, yet touches on familiar character in other books he's written. (Hugs)Indigo

Julie said...


I, too, have ideas for companion books for some of my stories, so I am certainly for them. But, hey, I'm for most books. Thanks for stopping by, and I can't wait until I can buy your books, plus companions!

Julie said...


I love it when a familiar character shows up in a companion book. I think the reader appreciates it more that way. Glad you liked the post. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm a fan of Firefly & your first comment made me laugh :)

I generally like companion books. I've been pleasantly surprised on several occasions when the book brought me into a familiar world. Lots of fun!

Julie said...


I was so hoping that I wasn't the only one who would get the Firefly reference. Thanks for assuring me that others found that brilliant show. But now I must ask, are you a fan of other Whedon projects? Buffy? Angel?

Thanks for the comment.

Terresa said...

As a Youth Services Librarian, I should be spanked about now. No, I haven't read Fire yet. But will.

I like companion books, most of the time. Although as far as Twilight is concerned, only book #1 is a worthwhile read.

Also, with Ender's Game by Card, I only really loved that book, not any of the companion books.

Thought provoking post!

Tricia said...

My only experience with companion books is Fannie Flagg. Each book has a large cast of characters, each taking a turn at being a main character.

Stephen King gives some of his main characters bit parts in other books so there is always a familiar face lurking around.

sanjeet said...
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