When I sat down to write Thick as Thieves, I introduced one character and immediately added another. From the moment in the third paragraph when my characters started interacting, I knew I had a buddy novel on my hands. What fun!
Buddy novels are great because they’re all about the couple. That’s right, the team. First and foremost, the buddy novel examines friendship, not romance. That’s not to say romance can’t brew between buddies. Thick as Thieves is a romance in the making—a bromance really—a rough and tumble sword and sorcery tale wherein the main characters navigate a friendship that starts with an explosive kiss and goes downhill from there.
Fantasy, of course, allows for great fun bending the genre. Because of a misadventure with a unicorn horn, Vorgell the giant barbarian wants sex constantly. It’s never far from his mind and his relationship with sex is absolutely straightforward: he likes it. He wants it. Now would be nice. When he’s thrown into a cell with a good-looking young man, his enchantment expands into full-blown lust at first sight.
The object of his desire? Madd, a pretty male witch. Madd may be fetching, but sex is the last thing the imprisoned thief wants, especially from Vorgell. That’s established on the first page. So what brings these men together?
The glue of every buddy film: They need each other. Whether or not they end up in bed together, they need each other to survive. They fight common foes, become buddies, and stand together against the world.
Men have been buddies in literature for as long as there’s been literature. The epic of Gilgamesh celebrates a profound male friendship. One of the classic, albeit tragic, buddy stories in modern English is Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This spare novella features Lenny, a mentally challenged giant, and George, his smart but physically less intimidating friend. Another famed pair is Fafhrd the crafty barbarian and the Gray Mouser, his nimble friend, thieves who share numerous adventures in a series of fantasy novels penned by Fritz Lieber. I discuss this pair at greater length elsewhere. But it’s notable that these tales pair a small man and a bigger one.
Whatever the genre, buddy stories love to team up dissimilar characters. A famous buddy pair from TV appears in the 60s show I Spy, which featured a black and white pair that was groundbreaking for times: Alexander (played by Bill Cosby) and Kelly (played by Robert Culp) pose as tennis players who in reality are international spies. Something more modern? How about Person of Interest? Mysterious, physically weak genius Finch joins forces with Reese, a smooth former covert agent who can single-handedly take down armies. Together they prove two will always be better than one.
The buddy set up works by making the friendship the primary thing holding the characters together. They aren’t bound by family, culture, physical similarity, or even sex necessarily. What binds them together is… each other. Buddies are loyal to each other beyond governments, villains, social constraints, or whatever romances they might have with other people.
And if their romance is with each other? Watch out. Getting buddies into bed is what slash fan fiction is all about.
After Vorgell the barbarian fucks himself with a unicorn horn, he ends up in a cell with Maddog, a pretty young thief. It’s lust at first sight for Vorgell—but honestly, he can’t help it. Unicorn horn is a potent aphrodisiac, and now he can’t stop thinking about sex. Luckily, Madd is one male witch who knows how to put Vorgell’s new magical body to good use when he tricks Vorgell into a kiss that helps them escape.
Vorgell may desire sex in general—and Madd in particular—but Madd has no intention of being screwed by a man twice his size. He has problems of his own, including an enchanted collar that causes him to desire his most hated enemy. He wants that collar off as soon as possible, but that requires stealing a basilisk egg from the castle they just escaped.
Drawn together by lust and magic, the two men join forces and soon find themselves up to their necks in witches, wizards, and trouble. Vorgell and Madd might just be perfect for each other, but first they have to survive long enough to find out.
Their reward from Thencu purchased a closet of a room slapped up against the back of a completely disreputable tavern. It was better than sleeping on the street, but just barely. The only things in the room’s favor were a silent owner and easy access to ale.
“We’re partners, get it?” Madd was determined to firm up his bargain with Vorgell. Clad in just purchased clothing, complete with cuffed boots and a couple of leather straps to augment his already mighty chest, the big man looked almost handsome despite the lustful glint in his leer. “Here and there I’ll suck your dick, but just for the magic.”
“I don’t know if I’m happy with that.” Vorgell awarded him a lopsided and slightly inebriated smile.
“What’s the problem? It’s not like you won’t get off on it.”
“But I expect more from my boys.”
If Madd clenched his teeth any harder, he would break them. “First off, I’m not your boy. I’m no one’s boy. And you are not my master.”
“But you’re trying to be mine. Setting rules. I don’t like rules. Rules are just a way for some men to impose their wills on other men.”
“Fine, be an anarchist. But your anarchy stops within an arm’s length of my skin. I’ll suck you for magic, or if I’m feeling in the mood for it… but not just because you have a perpetual hard-on.”
“Fine for you, but what about me? Shouldn’t I get something from our partnership?”
Vorgell grinned. “I like to kiss. And snuggle.”
Madd considered. The man really couldn’t help thinking about sex, but there was a chance Madd could help him control it. Being partners in survival with an overgrown barbarian was certain to involve negotiations. “No kissing. But I might snuggle,” he conceded. “If it’s cold.”
“Fair enough.” Vorgell yawned and stretched out on his blanket. He was too long for the bed, so was making do with the floor. “I’m sleepy.”
Madd waited until the big man was snoring before he placed his own head on the pillow. He could barely believe his luck had actually—for once—taken a turn for the better, but maybe it really had this time. Maybe Vorgell could be trusted. Maybe between the two of them, they could both stay alive.
Tali Spencer fell in love with writing at an early age and never stopped. Thanks to a restless father, she grew up as a bit of a nomad and still loves to travel whenever she can. Her longest stint in one place was Milwaukee where she went to college and enjoyed a series of interesting careers including respiratory therapist, airport executive, and raising three surprisingly well-adjusted sons. She later married her true love and put down new roots in Philadelphia, where she lives in an ongoing Italian American family sitcom. At least she’s learned how make good pasta. When not writing, Tali reads everything from sweet goofy romances to Lebanese cookbooks, manages her fantasy football team—go Gekkos!—and takes long walks with her loving, if slightly neurotic, poodle.