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Moving on Companionably; on companion novels

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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18 thoughts on “Moving on Companionably; on companion novels

  1. I lovee companion novels even just because of the ability to see characters I’ve loved from other books by the author. The most notable ones that come to mind for me (outside of the ones you already mentioned) are Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, which meshes pretty heavily with the world of PJO, and Miranda Keneally’s Hundred Oaks series. I think companion novels go over the best for me when they introduce me to another side of the main character(s) or they focus on the side characters in a meaningful way

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    1. Yeah, Rick Riordan is a big author who I toaly forgot. HIs little easter eggs across different planes of mythology are very cool. Miranda Keneally is one of those authors I see around all the time, but haven’t read yet; maybe one day soon. I agree; I think they can give more depth.

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  2. I honestly don’t know how I feel about them? I read The Grisha Trilogy was glad it was over and I liked Six of Crows a lot more (though, I felt a little empty on the inside so I didn’t enjoy it all that much). I haven’t read many companions. I’m just used to reading series. I’ll try to read the Six Impossiverse, though.

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    1. It’s been so long since I read Grisha, I wonder what I’d think of it now. Six of Crows definitely had a very different vibe. I hope you can find the Fiona Wood books in the UK–I think you’d especially like Cloudwish, though it is romance heavy.

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  3. I love the concept of companion novels, but I have not actually read any that I really like. Ted Dekker writes a lot of book series’ that are companions of each other, and I like some of his broader ideas, but I only read a few of his books because I did not care for his writing style or his characters. I don’t know if Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow count as companion novels, but I did enjoy those.

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    1. That makes sense. I haven’t heard of Ted Dekker, and I haven’t read Enders Game, but its interesting to know how many different genres have companions. In some ways the These Broken Stars series are companions; there is an overall narrative arc, but different characters and seperate stories.

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  4. Companion novels have been jarring for me, because I WANT TO HAVE THE CHARACTERS I ALREADY LOVE, not these new losers. Still, I do think that they can provide more insights into universes that can be difficult to understand or mysterious. I think the GRACELING books are more companions than a trilogy. THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER also adds some information about the TWILIGHT universe, although I love the reimagining, LIFE AND DEATH, quite a lot. It’s also interesting because while someone like Rick Riordan writes his books in series, they all seem to be companions to one another because Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase and the Kane Chronicles all take place in the same universe. That’s a little interesting to me.

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    1. “not these new losers” haha, I guess it depends on your expectations a little bit. Oh yeah, the Graceling books are a great example. You make me think I want to reread twilight haha. Yeah, that’s true. The fact that there are so many gods isn’t really confronted, but whatever; Riordan is lots of fun, though I think of Heroes of Olympus and The Trials of Apollo as sequel series, the other ones are certainly companions.

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  5. I agree that companion novels are often better than sequels, it allows the author to explore a new story and new characters so that the previous character’s can have a complete story.

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  6. Your first reason for why you like companion novels, is my number one reason for why I love them. I like being able to keep tabs on characters I liked. I read a lot of contemporary romances, and the companion format is quite popular there. When I read another book in the series, I feel like I am catching up with an old friend. There are a few YA contemporary authors, who like to keep the world. Dessen cycles through some familiar places, and always has these nods to past books in the stories (easter eggs). Albertalli did the same with her two books, having Simon, etal make small appearances in Upside. It’s a treat for the fans, and I always find it so fun. Great post!

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    1. It’s so nice to have a follow up when you care about characters. I haven’t read quite enough Dessen books to notice that, but there are definitely others–Morgan Matson and Huntley Fitzpatrick come to mind. I haven’t read Upside yet–another reason too! I’m so glad you enjoyed readthing this.

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  7. I love companion novels that shift the focus to side characters. I tend to like side characters a little more than protagonists, but they almost never get the time to shine.

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  8. I love companion novels! In particular, Tamora Pierce’s. It’s so fun to see how things have progressed in the world while also following new characters.

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  9. I agree– I think companion novels are a great way to continue giving updates on certain characters without making it feel like the same story is dragging on forever. One of my favorite companion novels is Silent to the Bone, which is a companion to The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg.

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