Tough Travels: Snarky Sidekicks

I’ve been a bit absent on the blogging front this month for all the usual end-of-year reasons (including trying to finish a draft of a novel-in-progress), but I plan to get stuck back into the regular posting at the start of the New Year. Since it’s the final Tough Travels of 2017, however, I thought I’d make an effort to fit one in before then!

This feature was originally created and run by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and is now hosted by Laura Hughes at Fantasy Faction, but it will move to The Fantasy Hive next month. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it puts the spotlight on a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.

This month’s theme is snarky sidekicks:

Why is everyone so serious all the time?  Perhaps they need a friend that is there with a quick bit of wit to liven up the day… even if the day is looking to quickly turn to blood.

Sidekick characters aren’t always a hit with me – perhaps I’ve seen too many annoying animal sidekicks in Disney films, but I’m a little suspicious of any character that slides too easily into the stereotype. HOWEVER, a truly witty, snarky, and loveable sidekick can definitely win me over. So here are my four favourite snarky fantasy sidekicks:

Mogget (Sabriel)

Book Cover: SabrielI’ve mentioned Sabriel a few times already for this feature, but I have to mention it again, because Mogget is probably my all time favourite snarky sidekick. He’s a dangerous Free Magic Being bound in the form of a cat by a magical collar and bell.

There’s a wonderful tension with his character, because even though he usually plays the helpful, cynical sidekick  (in his deceptively cute cat form), he is often pursuing his own devious schemes, and persuading people to remove his collar and free him. For many of the books, you never quite know whether he is good or evil… but you fall in love with him anyway.

Sevro (Red Rising)

Book Cover: Red RisingI know the Red Rising saga is generally considered more science fiction than fantasy (it’s in the YA dystopia vein), but I love this sidekick so much I had to include him.

When we meet Sevro is smelly, dirty, vicious, half-wild and constantly underestimated by most of the people around him… and to be honest, I don’t think this changes much over the course of the series. Nonetheless, he still manages to become one of the most compelling, interesting and likeable sidekick characters I’ve ever come across.

Jean Tannen (The Lies of Locke Lamora)

Book Cover: The Lies of Locke LamoraJean Tannen might be the muscle that Locke Lamora relies on when his clever words aren’t enough to get him out of trouble… but Jean is much more than a protector or intimidator. He’s the guy who picks Locke up and gets him back on track when he’s in a self-pitying slump, reigns in his manic behaviour when he gets too wound up in his mad schemes, and keeps him grounded. He’s also a constant source of colourful insults and foul-mouthed amusing snark. Most importantly, he’s an unfailingly loyal friend… in fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a sidekick quite so loyal as Jean Tannen.

Liraz (Daughter of Smoke and Bone)

Cover Image: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my favourite YA fantasy romance series. The main character’s best friend Zuzana is perhaps a more obvious sidekick choice, but since she was one of the only things I didn’t like about this series (in fact, she’s probably an example of the kind of snarky sidekick character I don’t like), I’m focusing on Liraz instead, who I loved. She is one of the love interest’s (her brother’s) sidekicks – a powerful and brutal angel, and a soldier who always does her duty no matter how grim it might be – but when her brother falls in love with an enemy, we come to see that Liraz has a well-concealed softer side.


For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself and see next month’s theme, check out the host page on Fantasy Faction.

And if you have your own favourite fantasy sidekick, feel free to mention them in the comments!

< Last Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Mentors’

Next Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Elves’>

40 thoughts on “Tough Travels: Snarky Sidekicks

      • Thanks Nicola! Yes, Darkhaven is excellent, and now is the perfect time of year to give Hogfather a go, too…

        Please do drop me a message if you ever fancy writing something for the Hive. I love your articles. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes true! And thanks! I’d love to write something for the Hive – at the moment I’m struggling a bit to keep up with everything (as evidenced by my blogging slackness this month 🙂 ) but if that changes and I have the time and inspiration for an article I’ll definitely get in touch.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Good luck with finishing your novel! I’m rooting for you! 😀 And thanks for the great discussion, as always. I love snarky sidekicks. I have not read Locke Lamora yet, but was planning to. Your description only makes me want to get at it sooner,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve missed you on here!! But you know, totally understandable, especially when you have such awesome reasons as finishing up a WIP! I hope it goes really well 😀 hehehe gotta be honest I absolutely love a good snarky sidekick! (I’ve seen too many Disney films too, but they’ve clearly just ingrained the idea that’s good into my head, perhaps indoctrination by osmosis 😉 ) Anyway YES to your choices!!! I love Mogget- and you’re so right about him being such an ambiguous character!! (gosh also reminding me how much I love those books, as if I needed reminding 😉 ) And Sevro is ridiculously awesome!!! 😀 And I love Liraz (gotta admit to liking Zuzana too to be honest 😉 ) Anyway love this post!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yes I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll come together without too many hitches (so far so good 🙂 ). Ah yes I think my suspicion of sidekicks is a personal thing because most people I know love them. I did actually really like some of the Disney sidekicks, it was just the ones that got on my nerves that spoiled it. I’m glad you love Mogget and Sevro too!! And yes, I know many people who like Zuzana so I think she just wasn’t my cup of tea (I’m wondering if it was the way she was voiced in the audiobook… but I’ll never know because that is the way I will hear her forever now even if I read it 😀 ). Actually I came to like her much more in the sequels, but in the first book she really irked me! But it seems Liraz wooed us both 😉 Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome! Brilliant!! I’m sure it’ll go great 😀 hehehe I can understand that 😉 They’re awesome!! I can understand that. I get that though- I think that she was a bit superfluous in the first book to be honest. That’s good at least 😉 hehe absolutely- she’s just amazing 😀 You’re welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for keeping up with the Tough Travels series. I’m only following it through your blog, so I appreciate your diligence. I’m looking forward to reading your new book.
    The Disney sidekicks that come to mind make me want to vomit through my laughter, or vice versa. I don’t even know if Shrek was Disney, but it might as well have been. For all its good points, the pattern of white hero, sidekick-of-color has to stop. I don’t care if Eddie Murphy is funny. The Ice Age sidekick was the same way, funny as hell, but still felt wrong. Fortunately, the physical humor of Disnified sidekicks and Homer Simpson aren’t so easy in literature.
    Jean Tannen is awesome. I like Bug and the twins, too. My WIP’s sidekick has some spunk, but needs work to become a consistent, believable character. I’ll have to check out your other recommendations. The cat guy sounds very interesting.
    One thing I’ve noticed, but haven’t put much research into, is most sidekicks (now that I think about them) are physically different from the hero. Either small, or on the chubby side. I’m thinking smaller: Ice Age, Shrek, Lyra’s daemon or bigger: Samwise Gamgee, Jean Tannen, Lyra’s polar bear). Perhaps this is just because those are the two options other than “same approximate size,” and it’s nothing, but it still feels kind of formulaic to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!! I’m glad you’re enjoying following the series on here.
      I think Shrek wasn’t Disney, but definitely a competitor. That’s interesting what you say about white heroes and sidekicks-of-colour, now you mention it I have seen that in quite a few other movies and shows – definitely a pattern that needs to be broken or reversed more often. And that’s true that sidekicks and heroes tend to be physically different, with physically weak or small heroes having larger, stronger sidekicks, and vice versa. Asterix and Obelix is the most extreme example of that that comes to my mind.
      The difference makes a lot of sense to me though – I think with a sidekick there is always a sense that they are compensating for something the hero lacks, or that the two are somehow complementing each other and forming a good team, both visually and character-wise. It would definitely break the mould if they were physically the same, but I feel they would still have to have very different personalities so that there is a sense of difference, otherwise I think I might wonder what the point of the sidekick was at all. Just my thoughts though! Sidekicks are definitely tricky to write and give their own strong but realistic character, I often struggle with them. Good luck with working on the sidekick in your WIP!


  4. I’m thinking of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in Fritz Lieber’s classic swords and sorcery series. Fafhrd being the big muscular warrior and Gray Mouser being a clever, sharp-tongued rogue. Any pair does have to mesh both physically and intellectually in order for the story to work.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Amazing post, Nicola! Unfortunately, I have yet to read these books (which the exception of DoSaB) but I have them on my TBR.
    I really liked Zuzana but I agree that she might fall into the annoying category sometimes. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Liraz’s character as well and especially how it grew and progressed throughout the story. I loved her bond with her brothers and how fiercely protective she was. She broke my heart one too many times! I just wanted her to have her happy ending ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh that’s great they are on your TBR, I hope you like them when you read them!! Yes I thought Zuzana did have her strong moments, particularly in the later books, but on the whole I guess she just wasn’t my kind of character. Yeah Liraz changed so much throughout the story – she went from a character I was afraid of and didn’t like to one I adored. She really was so fiercely protective, and she had it so rough I also desperately wanted her to have her happy ending!!


  6. Mister Kindly from Nevernight, is one of my favourite sidekicks, if a fear eating shadow can be considered a side kick. I love snarky, witty characters, but I’m finding it a little over done lately. If everyone is like that, it looses the effect, everyone blends in to each other.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think these kind of characters run the problem I had with Buffy back in the day. If everyone snarks and drops witty one-liners, well, what really separates them from each other? Sarcasm is often the lowest form of wit, I think to a point. As fun as snarkers are, sometimes these characters make ridiculous comments that would earn a “you are stupid, stop talking please” reaction from people in real life. Good humor often has snarkers’ dialogue fall flat, or the straight man actually come back with a witty retort. The rapport between sidekicks and heroes is so important from a story and character perspective. The best ones aren’t just snark bombs but have the classic development of emotional maturity smart-alecks should have. You don’t want these characters to be walking joke dispensers. Good article though. Fitz is a great example!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You make a really good point – actually that’s probably why I sometimes find the snarky sidekick trope annoying: when they feel like they are just walking joke dispensers with no depth or distinguishing features they quickly become tiresome. The best sidekicks have more to offer in the story than just sarcasm and the occasional witty quip!


    • I was thinking the same thing. One function of a snarky sidekick is to keep the hero from taking him- or her-self too seriously, and that’s needed. But taken to an extreme, the snark can actually keep the reader from taking the hero, or indeed the story, seriously.


  8. I adore the Disreputable Dog in Nix’s Sabriel series. Not quite a true sidekick, but often snarky. Totally agree re: Sevro in Pierce Brown’s epic space opera. Loved him (and his dad.) You left out Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, which is loaded with the snarkiest of snarky sidekicks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes the Disreputable Dog is great too, and I love Six of Crows!! I didn’t list any characters because although they were very snarky, none of them seemed like sidekicks… I suppose they were kind of all sidekicks to Kaz in a way? Especially Inej. But they were also all kind of main characters too… Anyway, because they didn’t quite fit the traditional ‘hero + loyal sidekick’ mould I overlooked them, but I loved them all!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I LOVED Mogget! Definitely an amazing snarky sidekick! (especially when being read by Tim Curry in the audio book… I love you Time Curry…) if you want a great sidekick who is snarky without even trying to be (because she is a robot who can’t lie) Sasha in Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese is hilariously “snarky” without even trying to be (if you can stray into the sci-fi world!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you agree, Mogget really is awesome! I’ve never listened to the audiobook (though I love audiobooks) but you’ve made me curious to hear something read by Tim Curry now. And I’ve never heard of Starship Grifters, but I regularly stray into the sci-fi world so I will check it out!


  10. Inspired by other suggestions here I offer you – The Skull in The Jar from Jonathan’ Stroud’s Lockwood and Co – the sidekick that can get you killed – whilst making a revolting face. And how about the night horse from CJ Cherryh’s Rider at the Gate? (It’s more SF than fantasy, but still). This psychic horse-like creature has many thoughts but primarily, and at awkward moments, ‘is that bacon? I want bacon!’. You never think of horses as being sarcastic but this one definitely is.

    I agree that the sidekick must do more than offer one-liners and light relief. They have to be part of the story, important to the plot, so that the story would not work without them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi everyone. I am late to the party, but commenting anyway.

    First off, I was told that Shrek was an intentional parody of all things Disney by an ex-Disney employee.

    Second, sounds like there are some great books mentioned in this post that I ought to go out and read!

    Third … I believe this snarky sidekick role goes all the way back to the Arthurian legends. In those, there was a well-known role of the mocker. In the Arthurian stories, this is Sir Kay. Whoever the hero is of a particular story (Lancelot, Gawain, or one of many others), Sir Kay is always his antagonist at court. He can get away with saying things, even about the king, that nobody else can. He is supposed to push them by being as disrespectful as possible. It’s not that his criticisms are always justified, but I think it’s to keep the king and his court from living in an echo chamber where they are only praised all the time.

    In the chronicles of Narnia, we don’t usually see a clear pattern of hero + sidekick. But this mocker role shows up in characters who are peppery but loyal, such a Trumpkin the dwarf and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, who always predicts the worse about everything and everyone, but who has your back when you need him because he has anticipated this disaster.

    In C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, Ransom (a sort of king) has a sharp-thinking, viciously arguing Scottish friend as part of his loyal crew. He is their designated skeptic. “It’s an important office.”


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