Books with daemons or other magical creature companions
June 21, 2017 5:49 PM   Subscribe

My almost-twelve-year-old is looking for books with daemons or similar companions. She loved Pullman's Materials books and is looking for something similar. She also complains that what she's generally being offered is too simplistic. She wants something a little more challenging. What are your recommendations?
posted by Stanczyk to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If she has not read them yet, I recommend the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K LeGuin.
posted by feste at 5:51 PM on June 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

I really loved the Bartimaeus Trilogy around that age-it's about a young magician in magical London and the powerful djinn he summons. Very funny and the djinn narrates with the help of footnotes to convey multiple thoughts at once, which might make it an interesting read.
posted by clarinet at 5:56 PM on June 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Bartimaeus Sequence did it for me when I was of more or less the same age. I'm not sure I'd say it's more or less complex than His Dark Materials, but it certainly deals with similarly intense themes - in this case, the free agency of the daemons and the... political fallout of magic?
posted by sagc at 5:58 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

If she's comfortable with death and related themes, the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix is outstanding and features a cat companion with a really interesting twist. She might be a little young though, it's all about (usually) benevolent necromancers and has a lot of spooky stuff with legitimate danger and psychologically scary ideas, but it features great young female main characters and world building that doesn't feel like anything else in the genre.

What has she been offered that feels too simplistic? There are a bazillion different animal companion YA fantasy books out there, is she objecting to most of those, or are people telling her to read Coraline?
posted by Mizu at 5:59 PM on June 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Eragon is also a book along these lines. Big books, the Inheritance Cycle.
posted by jessamyn at 6:02 PM on June 21, 2017

They're probably dated, but the MythAdventures books are sort of a funny take on the theme and I adored them when I was in middle school.
posted by empath at 6:04 PM on June 21, 2017

How about the Pern books by Anne McCaffery? They don't hold up over time, but I absolutely loved them at her age. Plus, dragons! And mini house dragons!
posted by spindrifter at 6:14 PM on June 21, 2017 [15 favorites]

It's not a huge plot point (and doesn't come into play until the second book) but in Tamora Pierce's The Song of the Lioness series, the main character, Alanna, had a cat named Faithful, who can talk (but only to her) and may or may not be immortal.

I loved those books when I was her age but this was 20+ years ago (and the books are from the '80s) so I don't know how well they've aged. I don't remember anything too questionable in them, though. (I was reading a lot of adult books at this age and these didn't feel too simplistic for me.)
posted by darksong at 6:26 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Neil Gaiman. Pretty much all of it, prose, comic books, illustrated books, the whole enchilada.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:27 PM on June 21, 2017

One of the main characters in the Young Wizards series has a talking dog, who fulfills a sort of "wizard familiar" role. He's adorable, funny, and becomes increasingly more important to the story as the series progresses. The series itself is my favourite YA fantasy of all time. It's about modern-day teenaged wizards who have to deal with real life & saving the world, both at once. Big, existential themes, world-ending events, and a lot of deep stuff thematically—not simplistic at all, and would definitely suit someone who enjoyed Pullman.

Seconding the recommendation for the Old Kingdom books. Like Philip Pullman's stuff, they have a sense of majesty and foreboding, and excellent female heroes.
posted by stellarc at 6:31 PM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oooh, also delightful is Dealing with Dragons. Not as complex as some of the ones mentioned above so she might think it's not tough enough(?) but the heroine is excellent and nuanced and she has an excellent dragon pal.
posted by clarinet at 6:46 PM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy, from the Dragonriders of Pern series might fit. Bonus: young female protagonist for the first two books. There are also advantages to reading Dragonriders of Pern from the beginning rather than jumping in at the Harper Hall Trilogy (4th, 5th & 6th in the series), but I mention those 3 because they were specifically aimed at a younger (female) audience.

Caveat: McCaffrey started writing the Dragonrider series in 1967 (the novellas which combined to become the first book won her a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award - she was the first woman to win either), and although her books were feminist in many ways, and I would imagine were progressive for their time, some of her views on homosexuality and gender roles within romantic relationships have not aged particularly well.

[on Preview: jinx to spindrifter]
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:54 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Stormlight Archive. World building is great: well thought-out climate and ecosystems and physiology blend in with "spren" - sort of spirits of things. The main two young man and young woman protagonists each also have sort of a friend spren/familiar/daemon. Series also features an awesome professor-mage-heretic princess, some philosophy, and plenty of adventures and action. Some may say she's a bit young for it (it's not made or marketed for YA) so maybe you should read a hundred pages ahead of her and decide :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:55 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Echoing the recommendations for the Bartimaeus books and Dealing with Dragons. Maybe Mercedes Lackey's Herald series would work - depending on which books she picks, there are either magical telepathic horses or bird companions. Also the Pern books, as mentioned above, although neither series tends to have a lot of shades of grey and Lackey's views on relationships are more modern than McCaffrey's. I liked the Terrier series from Tamora Pierce more than the Lioness ones, but they do have the same cat character in them. If companions can be defined more loosely, possibly A. Lee Martinez's Divine Misfortune, where everyone chooses a god to worship (and a raccoon-shaped one chooses to interact quite directly with his two followers).
posted by tautological at 6:57 PM on June 21, 2017

Oh! Inspired by the recs for the Song of the Lioness books—Tamora Pierce's The Immortals quartet should suit your request equally well, perhaps even better! The series is set in the same universe (the kingdom of Tortall) as the Lioness books, and features some of the same characters, but instead of being about a lady knight they're about a "wild mage:" basically, about animal magic. The protagonist is a young woman who can talk to (and heal) animals, and so she always has at least a couple animal companions with her on adventures—including a baby dragon, who she meets at the end of the first book. Throughout the series, other major animal companions include a grumpy horse, a chatty marmoset, a magical reanimated fossil, and a loyal pack of wolves. Pierce does a wonderful job of characterizing all of the animals; they're as important to the narrative as the human characters, and so they get a lot of page time, accordingly.
posted by stellarc at 7:13 PM on June 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

She might enjoy Terry Pratchett's Eric in which, through a series of accidents, the protagonist is actually supposed to be a demon familiar to a twelve-year-old. He's not -- it's been a terrible mistake, and he's just a very poor wizard -- but he's compelled to try to help out anyway. This one's got a lot of parodies of classical mythology and the mythos of Hell, so picking up on some references could be challenging.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:20 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dresden Files (some adult content)
Seconding Bartimaeus (strongly)
posted by pyro979 at 7:31 PM on June 21, 2017

Older and a little bit different, but maybe Moon of Three Rings (animals/animal companions are a significant plot element). There are sequels (particularly Exiles of the Stars), but it can stand alone.
posted by gudrun at 7:46 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Has she read The Mapmakers Trilogy by S.E. Grove? The first book is The Glass Sentence and it's set in late 19th century Boston. In the Great Disruption of 1799, all the continents were flung into different time periods, and our heroine goes on a journey in search of her parents, who disappeared some years ago. They directly compare it to Pullman on the cover; it's complex and enjoyable.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford is really good (it won the Edgar for Best Juvenile Mystery) and will make her want to play RPGs.
posted by mogget at 7:47 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jennifer Roberson's Cheysuli series. Protagonists shape change into animal forms and also have animal companions! And the books are wonderful. Maybe a little old for eleven... Thirteen would be fine, imo, so depends on where your comfort level is.
posted by mirabelle at 8:03 PM on June 21, 2017

I opened this thread specifically to ani-recommend the Pern books. It's more than just "old-fashioned" (read: bigoted) attitudes coming through; for example, one of the earlier books has a rape scene where it is of course okay in the end because the woman actually wanted it.

I loved the books when I was her age, but I wouldn't recommend them to a twelve-year-old girl.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:09 PM on June 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones is this sort of story in reverse - the animal is the protagonist. Eight Days of Luke by the same author has a human protagonist, but the sidelick is a god. Both are highly recommended. Five Children and It by Edith Nesbitt is an older classic, the kids find a magical wish-granting creature in a sand pit.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:06 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

12 is the perfect age for Mercedes Lackey. The pretty, psychic horse Companions and Bondbirds are nice, but the stories can get very dark. She wrote some of the first gay characters in kids fantasy. She wrote, like, 90 bazillion of them, too. If she likes one, they'll keep your kid occupied for months.
posted by irisclara at 10:11 PM on June 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

Aaron Corwin's short story "Brimstone and Marmalade" is probably a fit though it may not appear so initially because it's written as if it were a story for young children. But that's because it's for anyone old enough to appreciate that vicious demons hungry for souls don't usually show up as pets in stories for children, so the contrast is supposed to be funny. It sounds like your daughter would get the joke.

If SF might work, the Star Kingdom books by David Weber and Jane Lindskold are YA novels featuring telepathic treecat companions. I've bounced off other books by Weber but enjoyed the first of these. Incidentally, the Telzey Amberdon series by James Schmitz at least starts off with a telepathic alien cat as well, and it's fun 60s SF with wide appeal.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:18 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing the recommendation for Mercedes Lackey. Also, Tamora Pierce's "Protector of the Small" has a fantastic female protagonist who has an irritable horse, a dog, and some sparrows as her companions. Oh, and she has to deal with a very annoying baby griffin at one point.

In Robin McKinley's "The Blue Sword" and "The Hero and the Crown," dog and cat equivalents are present. I wouldn't say they have a large role, but those books are generally great, anyway.

Andre Norton's "Beast Master" books feature near-sentient animals, although the first book features a very grim revenge plot. Norton and Lackey wrote a great trilogy of "Elvenbane" books, that feature dragons, but there's a cliffhanger ending.

Patricia Wrede's "Dealing with Dragons" also features sentient dragons, is thoughtful and entertaining, and features a strong heroine. The first book is told from the male POV, but the subsequent books are from the female perspective (and much better to my way of thinking).
posted by dancing_angel at 10:45 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Binti-Nnedi Okorafor. Not demons, but mysterious talismanic objects, aliens, and hybridization.
posted by Gotanda at 12:46 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another Garth Nix -- in my tweens I read several of the Seventh Tower series (right after finishing His Dark Materials, in fact) - it features a neat system of light-based magic, and the characters' animate shadows have very striking similarities with daemons.
Every Chosen, upon being born, gets a shadowguard bound to them in Aenir. These creatures protect their master Chosen until their Chosen binds a much more powerful Spiritshadow when they come of age, at which point the shadowguard is released back into the land of Aenir. Shadowguards, unlike Spiritshadows, may shift their shape to anything.
(...) A Spiritshadow feels, to some extent, what their master feels, including pain and emotions. The reverse of this is also true.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:54 AM on June 22, 2017

Lots of recommendations for Garth Nix, and rightly so, but if your daughter is more the dog type and more likely to enjoy a nerdy librarian who comes into her own through shape changing (rather than a slightly prissy school prefect who kills zombies with her magic sword and bells), she can start with the second book of the Old Kingdom sequence, Lirael.

Seconding the anti-rec of the Pern books. The ones Harper ones are better, but the classic books of the main storyline are retrograde. Aside from the rape apologia, there is a LOT of normalizing partner abuse -- the first book has this awesome, strong tempered lady character who gets revenge for the murder of her family and is spunky and tough and clearly meant to be aspirational for the reader. But y'know, also talks about how her partner shakes her when he's angry with her, and it's played off as cute and adorable.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:50 AM on June 22, 2017

I feel like it's my most-recommended book on Metafilter and to no avail, but when I was twelve I loved Philip Pullman and also loved Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn series.

It features talking animals with agency and politics of their own, who help or hinder the human characters who can understand them - but only psychics can. Like some of the others above, it doesn't hold up well in terms of quality of writing or plot but at the time I thought it was groundbreaking (and twenty years later I am still eagerly awaiting the final installment!).

There are lots of other apocalyptic sub-plots and the animals are not 100% of it, but there's a strong female narrator, some romance but no rude bits and they're big, chunky reads with layers of plot.
posted by citands at 4:47 AM on June 22, 2017

Shameless plug for a friend, but I wouldn't suggest it if I didn't think it would tick the box: Left-Hand Gods by Jamie Lackey. Demons, dragons, three-dimensional characters, a magic horse--it's got it all.

Also, she may be a little too young for this one right now, but Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore was HILARIOUS and featured a hapless human and his hilarious demon companion.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:19 AM on June 22, 2017

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip focuses on a teen living with an entire menagerie of sentient magical creatures. One of my favorites as a teen, and definitely a YA/adult crossover so not just for kids.
posted by veery at 8:53 AM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth has wizards/sorcerers whose magic powers are largely based on magical/extradimensional/alien/demonic servants who can do almost anything. It's a bit of a minor point and I think only shows up in one of the four novels, but it's the first thing I thought of.

Pratchett's Discworld has lots of magical creatures, though possibly few that fall under the description of companion, saving perhaps the Luggage. However, much of the analogous technology of Discworld (PDAs, cameras, etc.) are based on the use of magical imps.

Possibly these are a bit outside what they're looking for, but I didn't see them mentioned and they're quite good series.
posted by runcibleshaw at 12:17 PM on June 22, 2017

I read the Graceling trilogy, by Kristin Cashore, and REALLY liked them. I don't recall there being animal companions, but the characters are complex, the worldbuilding is great, and the treatment of grief and how humans can be cruel and how humans can be great and rise above is amazing, especially for youth/teen fantasy.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2017

Thirding the Pern anti-rec. I bought the three-book volume for my son and then decided to read it before him. Glad I did! I didn't have any memory of the straight-up sex, for one thing, nor the sexism. My ten-year-old doesn't need that in his life.

Has your child read *all* of the Pullman books and stories? Some people miss the stuff that was released after the first books.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:55 PM on June 22, 2017

Seconding Dealing with Dragons and the Young Wizards series as excellent YA fantasy. In particular, the third book of the Young Wizards series, High Wizardry, stars an 11-year-old girl and her sentient computer companion.

Rachel Hartman's Seraphina/Shadow Scale duology, while lacking a direct 'animal companion' theme, has an awesome young female protagonist, and is as progressive as Pern isn't.
posted by NMcCoy at 9:58 PM on June 23, 2017

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