Hello Virtually Readers! So in the last few weeks I’ve read several sets of companion novels. The first was the Six Impossiverse series by Fiona Wood, three contemporary stories featuring Australians. The second was Dramatically Ever After, the sequel to Bookishly Ever After, which I liked even more than the first book. I’m also partway through What I Thought Was True, a companion novel to My Life Next Door and the Boy Most Likely To. These are all companion novels, so I thought I’d talk a little more about what companion novels are and are not today. Yay!
So what is a companion novel? Without any research, I can tell you that it’s a book that’s in the same universe as other books by the same author, but usually featuring different characters and different themes. Some series do have changing protagonists, so what makes companion series different from normal series is that a companion novel does not continue the overarching plot of the main series.
The Six Impossiverse and the Ever After books are two examples of how companion series can work. The Six Impossiverse has three books, so far. The first one focuses on themes of family and friendship, the second on ideas of identity and loss, the third on identity, but in a much more specific way, poverty, and belief. Each book has a similar format, though, focusing on one or two characters struggles over about a term in the Australian school system, leading up to some ‘big event’ or ‘realisation’ at the end (which is pretty typical for stories anyway). There is one character who appears in all three books, and quite a few who appear in the second and third book (by publication order). Basically, the themes and characters are different, but the format and content are the same.
In the Ever After books, only two of which are out so far, the themes of identity, new relationships, and confidence in yourself remain between the two books. They have a similar ‘feel’ of coziness and fun, but the characters are different. In Bookishly Ever After, the story is set partially during the term and then during a summer camp, with excerpts from various (fake) YA novels. Dramatically Ever After is set a few months later, focusing on Phoebe’s best friend, and set (mostly) over the course of a week at a conference which Em is attending, with excerpts from emails and social media chats.
These are two ways to write companion novels, and both make quite a lot of sense. One is to keep the themes the same but vary the characters, content, and format. The other is to have similar formats but to make the style and themes quite different. There are probably other ways to do it—for example with companion series like Cassandra Clare or Tamora Pierce’s books, the idea of becoming yourself and conquering a war or evil remains, but in totally different ways.
I like reading companion novels for a lot of reason. For one, it’s really nice to get ‘updates’ on where your characters are. With contemporary novels, authors often feel compelled to create ‘drama’ in sequels, break up friendships and couples for the sake of plot, and that’s kind of irritating if you ask me. So I like the this way, that doesn’t have to happen. In fantasy books, or even contemporary, it’s interesting to see a different perspective on the same events, or a different part or time of the world. Contemporary novels make all the other books in the series richer. But because there are often big shifts in characters, content matter, or themes, and each novel can stand by itself, I don’t feel like I have to read the whole series to know how the story goes.
The lines can get a bit blurred—for example, Morgan Matson’s books contain cameos from her other series but I’m not sure if that is enough to count as companion novels, because those easter eggs don’t necessarily make a story richer. In the same way, with My Life Next Door and The Boy Most Likely To, the two books have basically the same set of characters and are set very closely in time and place, but with different key characters and themes—TBMLT is ultimately a lot grittier. And so far, What I Thought Was True seems to be almost totally separate. Gemina and Illuminae are companions in the sense that the main characters change, but the overarching plot of evil BeiTech remains. So the line can blur quite easily. Companion novels are interesting for this reason, and as such, and integral part of the discussion about series and why they’re good and why they’re irritating (the story just goes on!)
What do you think of companion novels? What are some of your favourite ones? Tell me in the comments.