Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Friendships across the gender divide

Okay, did you see this one coming?

It’s dramatically more difficult to think of just-good-friends when you are trying to think of male-female friendships. In fact, one of the things I so disliked about Tana French’s IN THE WOODS was that she so successfully set up a just-good-friends kind of relationships between her protagonist (a guy) and his partner (a woman). And then ruined it by introducing a completely unnecessary sexual relationship.

Well, I guess it was necessary to ensure the protagonist completely ruined his life through his horrible decisions, if that was the goal.

It’s easier to think of stories like that, that introduce an unnecessary sexual relationship because the author seems to think Sex Is Required and Actual Friendship Is Impossible and all that sort of thing. Elaine T mentioned in the comments of an earlier post that some readers seem to really believe every friendship really ought to lead to a sexual relationship, and that certainly does sometimes seem true of authors. Here I am thinking of a book I liked a lot: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by MR Carey. I felt that the eventual sexual relationship between Miss Justineau and Sergeant Parks was gratuitous, unnecessary, and not really believable. It didn’t drive me wild because I didn’t think it actually hurt the story as was true for IN THE WOODS, but it seemed shoehorned in. No doubt other readers feel differently, but.

There are relatively few stories in which we do actually see friendships between male and female characters. I can think of just a very small handful; I hope you all will suggest others. Again, I am specifically looking for friends rather than relatives:

1. Shara and Sigrud from CITY OF STAIRS. There is no implication of any sexual attraction between them. They depend on each other, trust each other, all that good stuff, but friendship is as far as it goes. I hope it stays that way as the trilogy continues — and I think it will.

2. Piper and the guys in the contemporary FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB by Antony John. This is a story that handles both friendship and family relationships very well — it reminds me of Melina Marchetta’s contemporaries.

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3. Speaking of Marchetta, Thomas and the girls in The Piper’s Son. Again, friendship and family. The father-son relationship is so complicated in this one, too. Also the relationship between Thomas and his aunt, who is a secondary protagonist. Marchetta just does all kinds of relationships so well. For that matter I really like the romance in this one, too.

4. Wen and Justin in Sharon Shinn’s FORTUNE AND FATE, which incidentally is my favorite of the Twelve Houses books, also a kind of epilogue so not actually part of the main series. There is an important romance in the book (I mean, this is Sharon Shinn we’re talking about, here), but the friendship between Wen and Justin is important and one of my favorite parts of the story.

5. The last one I could think of was The Fionavar Tapastry trilogy by Guy Gaviel Kay, with Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave. Their paths wove together and apart during the course of the trilogy, but the friendships between these five protagonists are of central importance and do not generally move into romantic relationships.

Five is a pretty tiny sample. Anybody have a suggestion for other examples of friendships between unrelated male and female characters in SFF (or other genres)?

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10 Comments Friendships across the gender divide

  1. Louise

    Harry and Hermione! Polly and Digory from the Narnia books, as well as Jill and Eustace (I will fight anyone who tries to match those two up as romantic interests). I am one of the few people in the world who likes the fact that Laurie and Jo, in Little Women, ended as friends instead of married (though I still kind of hate Amy).

    Most of the examples I can think of are strictly MG, though, which is sad. I hate this myth that men and women can’t be friends without an element of romance creeping in whether they like it or not! One reason why I love the Jarvis-Peggy friendship on Agent Carter, and the Zoe-Mal friendship on Firefly.

  2. mona

    Tamore Pierce does this very well. Most of her main characters have good cross-gender non-romantic friendships.

    Also, Mistborn’s Vin and Kelsier.

  3. Elaine T

    Sinclair’s DARKBORN, LIGHTBORN, and SHADOWBORN came close, but at the end the two were talking about having a kid, although they weren’t intending to stay together. It was more of a “I’ve liked you all my life and I’d like a child” situation IIRC. Most of their lives they could only talk through walls as light would kill him, and darkness or shadow kill her. Then magic happened :-) and he could come out into sunlight. He still loves his wife, who still loves him. And said wife is very fond – probably tempted – by someone else but never acts on it and that guy seems to feel similarly, and then the not-husband vanishes till the epilogue so not a problem.

    I liked the way the Marvel movies showed Black Widow/Natasha trying to get Steve to date women. Clearly not trying to set up a romance between those two. It was nice to see friendship there instead. Natasha & CLint, too.

    I’m thinking Bujold must have done some but all I can think of is Ethan of Athos and Elli. Maybe Caz and Iselle’s grandmother?

    Pratchett’s Tiffany and Roland are first loves who end as good friends.

    It’s not just unrelated people that some people can’t see not having sexual components, if the bond is strong enough I’ve seen it with close relatives because the writer seems to think that just being the last survivors of your family, and going through hell together isn’t enough to explain the strong tie between them. (stops before really going into rant mode.)

    Tristan and Ninevrisee. (sp?)
    Side characters in DWJ stuff, like Chrestomanci’s staff.

    DRAGON OF THE LOST SEA, Shimmer (dragon) considers Monkey a friend, and her humans, Thorn(boy) and Indigo(girl) are friends, but that’s an MG/YA.

    Kate and James, and Cecy and Thomas, from ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT. Mendenbar and Morwen, Cimorene and Telemain.

    I think Bet Yeager has some in CJC’s RIMRUNNER, but it’s been long enough since I read it that I can’t remember. And that there are some in the HELLBURNER books, too. But I may be wrong.

  4. Karen K

    I second Mona’s comment on Tamora Pierce. It is one of the many things I love about her writing.

    I would also say that Gail Carriger and Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant have good mixed gender ensemble casts where men and women can be friends. In fact, in Mira Grant’s latest short in the Newsflesh world, Do Not Taunt the Octopus (Best title ever. I want the T-shirt), the main character is reflecting on her friend, who is male.

  5. Hanneke

    Jewel and her gang, in the House War and Sun Sword series by Michelle (Sagara) West; there are other examples in those books too, that are more implied and less detailed. Her Queen of the Dead trilogy centers around three teenaged friends, two girls and a boy, with no romantic interest in each other; the boy is on the autism spectrum and a good part of the team but not romantically inclined. The girls seem to be developing some romantic interests outside their friendship (the third book is still to come), but that doesn’t negate the importance of the friendship.

  6. Sia

    Nita and Kit of the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. (Although maybe this turns into romance later, I haven’t finished the series yet).

    Kaye and Corney in Holly Black’s Tithe.

    Sylvi and Ebon of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus. If that counts, since Ebon is a pegasus!

  7. Kootch

    Shara and Sigurd is a pretty good example. Cammon and the others in Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series, Malian and Kalan in Helen Lowe’s “Wall of Night” series, Vlad and Kiera the Thief in Brust’s Taltos series, Kvothe and Auri in Patrick Rothfuss’ series, Cithrin bel Sarcour and Captain Marcus Wester in Daniel Abraham’s “Dagger and the Coin” series. Hard to decide with ongoing series because you never know when the author has a brainfade and bring in romance.

  8. Craig

    Two fairly extensive SF series built around such a friendship are David Drake’s RCN series (Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy), and Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series, with Chase Kolpath as the Watson/Goodwin figure.

  9. Rachel

    Thank you all for commenting! Some of those are SO OBVIOUS once someone else points them out (Alex Benedict and Chase Kopath, Vlad and Kiera the Thief), but there are LOTS of suggestions for books I haven’t read. What could be better than another sudden expansion of the TBR list?

    Sia, I’m leaning toward no for Sylvi and Ebon or other cross-species friendships where no shape-shifting is possible. Actually, I guess that’s a whole ‘nother category of friendship, and the hard part there is not to stop the friendship from turning into an unnecessary or inappropriate romance, but to stop the nonhuman friend from turning into a pet. Tricky! But there’s nothing I like better if the author can pull it off.

    Now I am once again thinking of how much I would like to see the Pegasus duology/trilogy/whatever actually finished…

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