Updated: Nov 19
As both a fantasy and animal lover, it may come as no surprise that I adore the animal/creature companion trope, be it a bond partner, a familiar or simply a beloved pet. What began as an entertaining story element in my childhood reads, such as Narnia and The Jungle Book, turned into full blown love once I read The Immortals by Tamora Pierce in my early teens. Since then, I've always been drawn to books that hint at any sort of animal companionship (anyone else a Nighteyes fan?). It's also a trope I gravitate towards in my own writing, from ghost rams, scorpion gods, crusteaseans, dingos, my own invented rarkyn and more.
So, without further ado, here is THE LIST, and hooly dooly, it's huge. (I wish I'd made it sooner, I made so many discoveries while putting it together!). In fact, this list is so long, I've had to break it into two posts as my content platform couldn't handle the size of the article! You can read part two here.
To help you navigate the titles, I've added tags for the different types of animal companions.
Tags: dog, cat, wolf, horse, bat, frog, toad, magical creature, invented animal, monster, demon, imaginary, bird, bear, salamander, rat, mice, crow, raven, unicorn, pegasus.
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1. The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.
Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.
2. The Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore
Companion: cat (panther)
Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden, first introduced in The Icewind Dale Trilogy, quickly became one of the fantasy genre's standout characters. But Homeland first reveals the startling tale of how this one lone drow walked out of the shadowy depths of the Underdark, leaving behind a society of evil and a family who want him dead. It is here that the story of this amazing dark elf truly began.
Note: This series can be read in publication or chronological order. The book listed is the first chronologically.
3. Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb
Companion(s): wolf, dragons (in later books)
In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals - the old art known as the Wit - gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.
See also The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince (prequel).
3. Tales of the Outlaw Mage series by Amy Wegner Campbell
Walking Disaster. Ruiner. Spook. Sorcerer. The reason we can't have nice things.
The citizens in the town of Bristle have called Blaise every name in the book. Born a Breaker, his unbridled magic wreaks havoc with a touch. As his peers land apprenticeships, Blaise faces the reality that no one wants a mage who destroys everything around him. When enemy soldiers storm the town hunting for spellcasters, he has no choice but to escape and rush headlong into the unknown.
A chance encounter with a pegasus sets Blaise on the path to a new life. Despite the machinations of a surly gunslinger, he finds a place to belong in the hardscrabble world of the outlaw mages.
But even an outlaw mage can't outrun his past, and Blaise's returns with a vengeance, threatening his chosen family. Can Blaise find the grit to harness his volatile magic into a saving grace, or will his most dangerous challenge be his last?
4. The Faithful and the Fallen series by John Gwynne
A black sun is rising …
Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage.
The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars.
High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.
5. The Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series by Garth Nix
Companion(s): cat, dog
Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him.
With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen series, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn't always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.
6. Spellslinger series by Sabastein de Castell
Companion: invented animal (squirrel cat)
There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is simply to reach the age of sixteen. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.
Magic is a con game.
Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage's duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There's just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path. Ferius Parfax is one of the mysterious Argosi - a traveller who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She's difficult and unpredictable, but she may be Kellen's only hope...
7. Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls by Jane Lindskold
The Magic That Doesn't Go Away
Cutbacks have forced Sarah out of the asylum in which she was raised—and into a strange new place where the Head Wolf rules the beautiful and the doomed.
But Sarah can never truly assimilate, for she possesses wild talents. Walls tell her their secrets. Safes tell her their combinations. And a favorite toy dragon whispers dire warnings about those who would exploit her for their own malevolent purposes. There's no place Sarah can hide, from her pursuers or from her past…
8. Ariel by Steven Boyett
Companion: magical creature (snarky unicorn)
At four-thirty one Saturday afternoon the laws of physics as we know them underwent a change. Electronic devices, cars, industries stopped. The lights went out. Any technology more complicated than a lever or pulley simply wouldn't work. A new set of rules took its place—laws that could only be called magic. Ninety-nine percent of humanity has simply vanished. Cities lie abandoned. Supernatural creatures wander the silenced achievements of a halted civilization.
Pete Garey has survived the Change and its ensuing chaos. He wanders the southeastern United States, scavenging, lying low. Learning. One day he makes an unexpected friend: a smartassed unicorn with serious attitude. Pete names her Ariel and teaches her how to talk, how to read, and how to survive in a world in which a unicorn horn has become a highly prized commodity.
When they learn that there is a price quite literally on Ariel's head, the two unlikely companions set out from Atlanta to Manhattan to confront the sorcerer who wants her horn. And so begins a haunting, epic, and surprisingly funny journey through the remnants of a halted civilization in a desolated world.
9. The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Ages ago, sorcerers of unmatched power sundered a world into four realms--sky, stone, fire, and water—then vanished. Over time, magicians learned to work spells only in their own realms and forgot the others. Now only the few who have survived the Labyrinth and crossed the Death Gate know of the presence of all four realms--and even they have yet to unravel the mysteries of their severed world...
In Arianus, Realm of Sky, humans, elves, and dwarves battle for control of precious water—traversing a world of airborne islands on currents of elven magic and the backs of mammoth dragons. But soon great magical forces will begin to rend the fabric of this delicate land. An assassin will be hired to kill a royal prince—by the king himself. A dwarf will challenge the beliefs of his people—and lead them in rebellion. And a sinister wizard will enact his plan to rule Arianus—a plan that may be felt far beyond the Realm of Sky and into the Death Gate itself.
10. The Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey
Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a runaway, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen's own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.
But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason that could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen's heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen's own foes.
Note: This series can be read in publication or chronological order. The book above is the first published in the series.
Related content: Mega List of LGBTQ+ SFFH by Australian and New Zealand Authors
11. Cradle series by Will Wright
Companion: invented animal (turtle dragon) (in later books)
Sacred artists follow a thousand Paths to power, using their souls to control the forces of the natural world.
Lindon is Unsouled, forbidden to learn the sacred arts of his clan.
When faced with a looming fate he cannot ignore, he must defy his family's rules...and forge his own Path.
12. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs-a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts- five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.
13. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
Thousands of years ago the land is one dark forest. Its people are hunter-gatherers. They know every tree and herb and they know how to survive in a time of enchantment and powerful magic. Until an ambitious and malevolent force conjures a demon: a demon so evil that it can be contained only in the body of a ferocious bear that will slay everything it sees, a demon determined to destroy the world.
Only one boy can stop it—12 year old Torak, who has seen his father murdered by the bear. With his dying breath, Torak’s father tells his son of the burden that is his. He must lead the bear to the mountain of the World Spirit and beg that spirit’s help to overcome it.
Torak is an unwilling hero. He is scared and trusts no one. His only companion is a wolf cub only three moons old, whom he seems to understand better than any human.
Theirs is a terrifying quest in a world of wolves, tree spirits and Hidden People, a world in which trusting a friend means risking your life.
14. Of Blood and Bone trilogy by John Gwynne
Companions: wolven, bears, crows
A race of warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands, but their peace is brutally enforced.
In the south, hotheaded Riv is desperate to join the Ben-Elim's peacekeeping force, until she unearths a deadly secret.
In the west, the giantess Sig investigates demon sightings and discovers signs of an uprising and black magic.
And in the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests. The work of a predator, or something far darker?
It's a time of shifting loyalties and world-changing dangers. Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise...
15. The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
Companion: invented animal, cat/kitten-like creature.
The emperor's reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire's many islands.
Lin is the emperor's daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright - and save her people.
16. Nevernight Chronicles by Jay Kristoff
Companions: magical creature, cat, wolf (later books).
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.
Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.
Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?
17. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
Companion: invented animal (billy-bumbler)