Friend in need. When I read that prompt, I was also listening to Dave Gahan singing
I'm taking a ride with my best friend
I hope he never lets me down again
And just like that the idea for this article was born.
There are lots of friends in need in fantasy. Watching them come through, forging bonds as strong as family, are often part of our favourite book memories. Sometimes though, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they're not safe as houses. And because it plays so much against expectations, because it can be such a formative point of a character's arc, it can be a superb moment. It's rarely done (maybe more in grimdark, but such as I've read doesn't seem to feature many characters with friends to begin with), but when done well, it produces wonders. So here's five of my favourite examples.
Warning: Some spoilers for Midnight Falcon, The Wounded Kingdoms, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, The Wounded Kingdoms and Dominions of the Fallen
The Traitor Baru Cormorant Seth Dickinson
I put this one first because it's the most straight forwards and also, should you be writing a large chunk of text at once, the least spoilery. Because if you can't figure out the general arc of a book with this name, I don't know what to say. Baru Cormorant is a traitor and traitors are not generally known for their ability to be there for all of their friends. In fact, she lets down so many of her friends, and is occasionally let down in return, that I'm honestly not sure what to pinpoint, although there's a truly breathtaking moment right at the end, other than maybe don't befriend Baru Cormorant if the option ever comes up?
Mythago Wood Robert Holdstock
When Stephen Huxley returns to his boyhood home after the War, he finds his older brother Christian waiting, somewhat disturbed and full of news in what he's found in nearby Ryhope Wood. Together the brothers start to rebuild life and explore the strange mythic resonances they find there. That is, they do so until Christian loses himself in the wood where he fully embraces the dick side, trying to kill poor Stephen on multiple occasions.
Dominions of the Fallen Aliette de Bodard
Annamite Immortal Phillipe and newly fallen angel Isabelle are brought into the House of Silverspires, once ruled by Lucifer himself, at the same time. There they form a strong friendship, mainly fueled by Isabelle's insistence, strong enough that when Isabelle dies, Phillipe tries to bring her back from the dead. And does. Friend in need, right? Well. Friendship only goes so far here as Phillipe, driven by fear, only half-completes the ritual. Isabelle comes back completely mortal, minus magical powers. Given how we see him trying to make amends in the next book, and his fear that she might remember what happened, it seems Phillipe would agree it wasn't an entirely friendly act.
The Wounded Kingdoms RJ Barker
Once upon a time, an apprentice assassin named Girton was stuck in Gothic warrior Eton. This went predictably badly, but he did at least make friends with Rufra, the runt of the litter and arguable true heir to the throne. Then inarguable when our assassin puts him on the throne. Over the course of the trilogy, we see how that decision goes sour for both of them. Neither really lets each other down, except in a sense of emotional support, in which case they really do kinda big time balls it up. Which ends... well, it could have ended worse.
Midnight Falcon David Gemmell
Saving the best for last, particularly as it happens fairly early on so I can spoil a little more. Bane and Banouin are boyhood friends in the Rigante, linked by their outcast status and affection for Banouin's mother, Vorna. When Banouin decides to leave for the great city of Stone, Bane goes with him. When Bane gets into trouble (not a spoiler, see the blurb/title/cover/character name/EVERYTHING), Banouin decides to ahead without him. I mean, he doesn't want yer man Trouble O'Rowdy with him in the big city, does he now? There are no immediate consequences for this. But down the line, as the characters grow and their arcs become clearer and they're drawn back together, you realise it is the heartspring of all the book's themes. Not every relationship is forever, not every friend that replaces family is in fact family. And that's alright. We can be fine people and soar like the midnight falcon anyway.