Seven stirring adventures with animal companions

Published on: 27 March 2023

Alex Neptune author David Owen shares his favourite stories that star memorable animal companions.

Animal companions are a mainstay of adventure stories. A book is rarely harmed by the presence of something cute and furry, but it’s how their unique animal characters show us a new perspective on the world, as well as their fierce loyalty and selfless bravery, that earn fictional pets a place in our hearts.

Here are some of my favourite adventure stories starring animal and human friends to read with your chosen beastie cuddled on your lap.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Pets all have private lives far richer than we can perceive or imagine, but few have such a colourful history as Mogget. This cat companion of the Abhorsen, a magical human charged with maintaining the border between life and death, is actually an incredibly dangerous being bound in feline form by his collar.

As well as getting on with the dangerous job of protecting the Old Kingdom from dark magic, Mogget’s owner must also withstand the cat’s acerbic wit and frequent attempts to escape and horribly murder them. Standard cat behaviour, basically.

The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Few animal companions are as useful in a pinch as an armoured polar bear. So it proves for wily protagonist Lyra as she recruits the exiled king Iorek Byrnison to help her travel across frozen Svalbard to rescue her best friend and uncover a plot to collapse the barrier between worlds.

Ironclad bears aren’t the only animal companions in Lyra’s world, of course. Every person has their daemon, a physical manifestation of their soul that reveals something fundamental about their character. Talk about wearing your hart on your sleeve (sorry).

Jennie by Paul Gallico

Most cat lovers dream of spending a day as their feline friend. Jennie might be as close as you’ll ever get. After being hit by a car, young boy Peter is astonished to wake up in the body of a cat. He is promptly taken under the paw of stray cat Jennie, who inducts him into the feline world as they embark on an epic adventure together.

Despite its well-worn concept, Jennie captures cats – their quirks, secrets and contradictions – better than any other book I’ve read. Just be prepared to cry.

Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin

After cabin boy Syms falls overboard from Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos, he washes up on a wild island that might just be home to actual dragons. He narrowly escapes with his life – turns out an active volcano is slightly dangerous to be around – and ends up in possession of Farthing, a small lizard who may hold a rather large secret.

As well as combining adrenaline-pumping thrills with fascinating historical detail, Darwin’s Dragons also provides a thoughtful commentary on conservation more relevant to the modern world than ever.

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

Humans (‘Big Feet’) are largely peripheral in this story of a cat clan ruling the streets of Nizamuddin, Delhi. It’s the animals who bring this urban setting to life, the cats living by a strict code to both survive and live in piece with the other creatures around them. Until a pet kitten with telepathic powers warns of them of a terrible danger that threatens to turn their world upside down.

The lives of The Wildings’ diverse cast of cats are so rich and detailed, their story so frightening, that even the most ardent dog-lover will root for their success.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

You may have noticed my list is dominated by cats (they’re the best, after all), but there’s no doubt dogs are great companions for an adventure. Manchee isn’t any old dog, either. Thanks to an alien germ, his owner Todd Hewitt can hear his every thought (more often than not about bowel movements).

When Todd must flee his hometown, Manchee joins him on a tense, treacherous journey across an alien landscape. Hearing the dog’s every thought lays bare his unconditional love, loyalty and bravery, making it impossible not to fall in love with the faithful hound. There’s a reason that, 15 years later, the author is still receiving hate mail for Manchee’s fate.

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall

Yes, I’m a cat person. The private lives of cats make them perfect emissaries from other worlds. And so it goes that, when a girl from her school goes missing, the titular Maggie Blue is led by irascible talking cat Hoagie into a strange new world to rescue her.

Although he’s not always the most reliable guide, it’s Hoagie’s character that endears him. Torn ears and a missing eye speak of fierce fights narrowly won, while his jazz rhythm humming is oddly comforting, even when a world of danger seems to lurk around every corner.

Alex Neptune, Dragon Thief and Alex Neptune, Pirate Hunter by David Owen are out now.

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