Central friendship, no romance

Now, I have nothing against romance in SFF, or other genres. I’m reading a romance right now — the last of Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series — and as you know I like plenty of fantasy novels where the romance is central, such as nearly all of Sharon Shinn’s books, say.

However, I also greatly appreciate a story where the central relationship is between siblings or friends, and where there is no romance whatsoever. I have two out like that now — The White Road of the Moon and now Tuyo.

Out of curiosity, I asked the other participants in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off if anybody else had a book where the central relationship in the novel is a friendship and there is no romance to speak of. I thought I might get a very tiny number of positive answers to this question, but there were more than I expected — twenty-four. Out of three hundred entries, that’s 8%. Personally, I wouldn’t have expected that high a percentage of the entries to center friendship and include no romance. I’ve included two more here which are from last year’s entries.

Let me share those with you here. I’m going to include just a snippet of the description for each one; click through if you’re intrigued by anything here. Personally, I think #12 is the standout here. #9 is funny and sounds promising. #17 and #19 have well-written descriptions that also sound pretty good. So does #22. Then #25 and #26 both sound good as well. Let me see, that’s seven out of twenty-six — about 25%. I’d say that’s not a terrible ratio for self-published fantasy.

I know these are short snippets, otherwise this post would have been REALLY long, but which if any do you think sound like they’d be worth clicking through read the full description and look at the Amazon page?

  1. Steve Rowland, Sentenced to Troll.

For his endless trolling in real life, [Chad is] forced to play as a forest troll, the most hated race in Isle of Mythos, so that he can finally experience what it’s like to be on the other side. … Playing as a monster in a world where it ain’t easy being green, what could possibly go wrong?

2. Travis Riddle, Spit and Song.

Kali is a merchant who yearns to leave the harsh deserts of Herrilock and travel across the sea … Failed musician Puk hits rock bottom after yet another catastrophic performance …

3. Kate Ramsey, Finding Fairy Tales — this one is MG.

Twelve-year-old Molly daydreams of escaping her boring life on an onion farm. But with imagination outlawed, she’s forced to keep her impossible hopes a secretHatch knows he has to hide his vivid creativity … Teaming up with a spy and their magical house cats, the two children must survive the wastelands and evil dwarves to reach Fairy Tale’s island prison. And with the Emperor’s henchmen pursuing them across the realm, they may find fulfilling their wishes has a terrible price.

4. JT Williams, Of Shadows and Blood.

Kealin Half-Elf has only been [a vampire] for a few weeks and already he is changing. He feels a hunger he has never felt before. … his traveling companions have their own secrets, especially the mysterious wizard Evurn -a shadow elf returning home after generations in hiding. 

5. Gabriel, Neon Red.

Shimon Astrai has been resident of modern Pangaea until the age of eight. One day, while on vacation with his family, he enters a parallel world on accident – the Demon Realm, inhabited by savage creatures and conditions that dictate to kill or be killed.

6. Marc vun Kannon, Unbinding the Stone

All Tarkas wanted was to live the life he’d made for himself, get married, have children, as generations of his fathers had done before him since the beginning of time. The Gods had other plans, and Tarkas couldn’t say no … he finds himself plunged headlong into a new world and life, full of magic, mayhem, monsters, and mystery.

7. Tod Maternowski, Exmortis.

Ash Xavier, a headstrong young knight, [finds his] faith challenged when the long-forgotten gods of ancient civilizations send their avatar to obliterate the remote holy fortress of Exmortus Abbey — his home.

8. Lola Ford, Heartscale.

On one side of the world Graith discovers a dying dragon in his barn. While the country is hunting after the monster, he doesn’t hesitate in doing his best to aid her. … [In a land] where the future ruler is decided by dragons, Nerie is chosen by the Kiriga, the golden hatchling. … Thrown into a chaotic palace life, she’s forced to balance learning to be princess and being bonded to a dragon.

9. Joel Spriggs, Another Dead Intern.

There is nothing normal about an internship with Hemlock Connal, Preternatural Investigator! Hemlock can’t keep interns alive. Morgan Burns is trying to break that trend, but finds survival to be an uphill battle. Faced with mobsters, drug rings, covens, and even fantastical beasts, will Morgan find a paycheck… or a grave?

10. David Samuels I, Exile.

After twenty years of heists and robberies, Emelith’s luck runs out when her partner betrays her on a contract. Now she’s out for blood.

11. JA Andrews, Dragon’s Reach.

Sable, a reluctant thief from the slums, can feel truth when people speak. … Escape [from a gang boss] comes in the form of an odd set of companions: a dwarf running from the past, an actor with a magical, glowing tree, a too-helpful kobold, a playwright with a knack for getting stories out of people, and a man and woman with suspicious, magical powers.

12. Phil Williams, Under Ordshaw.

Welcome to Ordshaw. Don’t look down.

Pax thought she knew the dark side of Ordshaw. A poker pro who hustles bankers and gangsters, she can take care of herself. But she’s about to discover the shadows hide worse things than criminals. People have disappeared simply for discovering what’s lurking under Ordshaw. To get her life back, Pax needs to go much further than that.

13. Opal Edgar, Tosho is Dead.

“I’m dead. And I’m not in Heaven. Everything’s wrong and someone’s really angry at me. Let’s outrun, scratch that, let’s outsmart purgatory.”

14. Jeffrey Kohanek, Wizardoms: Eye of Obscurance.

A clever thief, a determined acrobat, and a troubled dwarf are joined by an old storyteller as they attempt the impossible: Assassinate a wizard lord. Their slim hope relies on an enchanted amulet, the Eye of Obscurance.

15. Marion Blackwood, A Storm of Silver and Ash.

The Oncoming Storm is a name whispered in awe throughout the Underworld. She’s known as a master thief and a lethal knife-wielder – some even say she has the skills of an assassin. All of it is true. She’s also a sarcastic smartmouth with the social graces of a bull.

16. Grace Bridges, Earthcore.

Amateur geologist Anira Fraser is in Picton, facing her final high school athletics competition. Along with her friend Tiger McRae, she realises their presence is disturbing the area’s guardian spirits.

17. Patrick Samphire, Shadow of a Dead God.

It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favour to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?

18. Jamie Edmundson, Og-Grim-Dog

Two heads are better than one. Three can be a real pain in the arse.

19. Matthew Sylvester, Hell Hound

A foul-mouthed bounty hunter and assassin, Jane Doe is not your average witch. Working for the ruling magical class in Britain – the Merlins – she takes on the jobs and creatures that other members of the magical community wouldn’t touch with a six-foot spell staff.

20. Derek Prior, Last of the Exalted.

The dwarves are a dwindling race on the brink of civil war. … As rival dwarven armies converge on Jeridium, the Senate send the assassin Shadrak the Unseen to the Southern Crags to find an old friend in a desperate bid to avert the coming catastrophe.

21. Emilie Knight, Era of Undying.

There hasn’t been a Blood Warrior for decades. Everyone assumed they were extinct and couldn’t return. Turns out they were just in hiding.

22. Jed Herne, Across the Broken Stars.

Twenty years since fleeing the war that killed his fellow angels, Leon’s a broken man, desperate to forget the past. He thinks he’s the last angel. But then a young fugitive stumbles onto his doorstep. She’s an angel, too. And she has a riddle leading to a mythical land, where legends say angels still live.

23. DH Willison, Harpyness is Only Skin Deep.

Humans consider consorting with a harpy a capital offense. Harpies consider the human citizens a tasty part of a balanced diet. Yet [Darin and Rinloh] must overcome a most monstrous conspiracy as the citizens of the city begin disappearing, with a list of suspects as big as the inhabitants of Arvia.

24. David Hambling, War of the God Queen.

Thrown back through time, Jessica has only her wits.

She was fresh out of architecture school and ready to take the world by storm. She wasn’t prepared for what came next: an alien encounter that sent her falling through a portal into another world.

25. Vincent EM Thorn, Skies of the Empire.

In the Skies of the Empire, there are only two things more terrifying than dragons: the attentions of the gods, and the machinations of the Fae. Airship pilot Cassidy Durant finds herself entangled with both when a Faerie named Hymn saves her life in exchange for protection against unknown enemies. … Meanwhile, reluctant mercenary Zayne Balthine is tasked by his employer, a devout worshiper of the Desert Goddess, to break into the Imperial Palace. It’s not his first suicide mission, but this time, things are different. That he’ll die should he fail is nothing new. But if he succeeds, he will be responsible for unfathomable death and devastation.

26. Patrick LeClerc, Broken Crossroads.

Trilisean is an acrobat turned burglar. Conn is a jaded former mercenary. Against the background of deadly blades, subtle schemes, glittering treasures, dark sorceries and fell servants of forgotten gods, fate has thrown them together.

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12 thoughts on “Central friendship, no romance”

  1. I can’t believe they forgot The Book That Always Appears on Lists!
    It’s not science fiction but it comes under the Fantasy label I suppose. And the friendships are the best part of the story.
    Yes I am of course referring to Watership Down :)

  2. Evelyn, first YES to Watership Down, but second, this long long list just included entries in this year’s self-published fantasy blog off. I was quite startled to find that many people raising their hands that their book qualified!

  3. You are right. The Floating Islands too. There will be just a tiny bit more romance in the sequel … eventually.

  4. The only snippet that stood out to me was #18, and that’s only because the snippet plus the last syllable of the title made me imagine a first-person story told by one of the heads of Cerberus. But it looks like it’s just a third-person story about a three-headed ogre, which is a lot less intriguing.

    Evelyn and Yen, good catches.

  5. Thanks a lot for the links! I’m resigned to romance—I generally find it a waste of most of the plot, because you can usually tell from the back cover who will be involved and how it will go. I would rather read friendship novels (although even then I’ve seen people read friend as “no that was really supposed to be romance.”)

    I also find it irritating that in moments of life-threatening danger people will stop to sleep with each other rather than focus on their own survival. It breaks immersion for me.

  6. Off topic, but Evelyn did bring up Watership Down Passive Guy has an entry this morning about the author’s estate clawing back the rights from the guy who’d been claiming to have them since 1978. And making money off it, of course.

    Some McKillip has more parental than romance relationship driving things, but off hand I can’t think of any others with friendship till I go back to Rohan’s Winter of the World where a very important friendship is between the Merlin/Arthur pair.
    But the Merlin figure is driven by and for the swan maid/valkyrie, even more.

    oh, duh, Tolkien, the hobbits, of course.

  7. Megan, I could not agree more. We should never see dreamy, romantic thoughts when:

    The characters are fighting for their lives, or

    One or both characters have just been seriously wounded, or

    The characters should be tightly focused on saving the world as a time limit clicks down toward zero.

  8. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin are good friends for 20 odd volumes. And it inspired two more serials beyond, with similar characters: Naomi Novik Temeraire and Lawrence, and David Drake RCN, Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy.

    O’Brian writes so well, too–like very good 19th century prose.

  9. Just because I’m binging her books – Martha Wells has some elements of romance in many of her books, but I wouldn’t call it the central element in all of them, and some lack it altogether. City of Bones, or the Murderbot series, for example. And even though Madeleine was one of the POV characters of Death of the Necromancer, and the other POV was her romantic partner, theirs was an already established romance, and I always felt like the developing relationship between Nicholas and the Inspector (whose name I can’t remember) was much more riveting. Plus the friendship between the Inspector and his doctor friend, and Nicholas and his friends (names, names! Ahhh!) And Madeleine and her grandmother.
    M.C.A. Hogarth has a series – Dreamhealers – which is described somewhere as a love story without the romance. It’s a really nice series, very sweet. About a very deep friendship. My one caveat with her books is that the characters, even when they are screwing up, are still so damn noble. Makes me long for a little Miles Vorkosigan.
    Megan Whalen Turner’s first Thief book develops the relationship between Eugenides and the magus. No romance at all in that one. Can’t wait for the new one!

  10. Inspector Ronsarde; and yes, the relationship between Nicholas and Ronsarde is my favorite part by a mile. Plus, yes, I like romance when Martha Wells does it, but she doesn’t always include more than a touch and she always handles friendships very well.

    I need to look up that MCA Hogarth series. For sure. I like noble characters, even if they’re a bit too good to be true, so your caveat won’t necessarily matter to me a bit.

    ALSO YES, I really want MWT’s next book to come out NOW.

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