One of the great joys of my life has been finding queer fiction that I wasn’t expecting. Whether I was expecting or not, queer inclusion in a fantasy novel always makes me way more invested than I might have been otherwise. We all need a little escapism and fantasy, the place where everything can happen, it always tends to be straight people flouncing around the world and getting to do all the cool stuff.
My first true love in the fiction world was fantasy, so here are seven of the books that I’ve fallen in love with that feature queer fantasy narratives.
7) Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
I almost feel like the world that Jacqueline Carey has created needs to be a part of this list simply for the scope of it. In Terre D’Ange, there is one precept that needs to be followed above all the others: Love as thou wilt. This means that whatever your sexuality, you’re welcome in this fantasy land with cutthroat political intrigues. The downfall of Kushiel’s Dart for me is that the majority of the pairings in the novel that are important are ones that are straight relationships. The setting begs for queerness and would have been immensely satisfying if there had been more queer main characters. Phedre, despite her attraction to both men and women, is surrounded by people who (at the very least) appear to be straight and that was disappointing to me. Don’t let that turn you off though, this is one of my favourite books of all time.
If you’ve read my review of the Captive Prince, you’ll know that I have some mixed feelings about its setting. While I was intrigued by the characters, the harem setting that dominates the first book squicks me in the worst possible way. While the power balance becomes less odious in later books, it was hard for me to get past the complete and utter lack of consent in the first novel. Still, if you’re looking for sexual tension, a hateship, and a main character who came across as grey-asexual, then this is a good trilogy to pick up.
I’ve been getting more into graphic novels in recent years and Nimona still remains my favourite. You get the best of all worlds with a strong female lead, queer main characters, and an adventure that is both hilarious and heartwarming. I don’t want to say much more in case I spoil it, but if you like quirky adventures that aren’t afraid to invoke the powers of humour and all the feels, then you need to check Nimona out. To have someone who delights in being a villain is rare enough, but Nimona does it and does it so charmingly that I was disarmed by this book.
I picked up Have Mercy on a whim and was shocked by how deeply I fell in love with it. The first thing you need to know is that this book is a sausagefest, utterly and completely. If you’re looking for strong female characters or some diversity when it comes to gender, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for a diverse amount of relationship types within the story, then you could do worse than Have Mercy. The way that the different interactions between the men in this novel are fascinating and cover a wide range of emotions. I felt myself choking on the tension between two of the main characters in the novel and I loved every second of it. If you’re looking for an intense read that goes in hard and doesn’t stop punching until the very end, this is the novel for you.
Achilles is a character who has been done and redone, so many times that it’s hard to remember what he’s supposed to be like. From the hateful bastard that he was in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books to the tragic hero that Brad Pitt played in the movie Troy, Achilles is a complicated character that comes with a lot of expectations. The Song of Achilles is the first novel I’ve read about Achilles that I felt moved the character beyond his myth, adding depth and humanity to a figure who was meant to be larger than life. I loved every second of this novel even as it tore me to shreds. The book is beautiful and poignant, meshing the historical with the myth while breathing new life into an old story.
Most of what I’m going to say here is a retread of my review of The Chimes, but it’s such a charming world. The world is fascinating, I love the characters, and once you find the rhythm of the novel, you’re going to love it. There are a couple reasons why this novel is number two and all of them are spoilery, but there is a sweetness to the Chimes that has stuck with me (and made me hope that there are further installments). I love, love, love this book and although it can be hard to get into with its first person narrative and the immediate immersion in the world, it’s 100% worth the time.
This novel will have everything you want as a fantasy fan. Political intrigue? Check. Action? Check. Characters who are memorable and likeable in their own way? Double check. When people ask me for queer fantasy novels, this is always the first one I point to. It was written over thirty years ago and I would still hold it up as a triumph to the genre. Swordspoint had my heart stuck in my throat for the majority of the novel as I navigated the intricate rules of Riverside, trying to guess at what was going to happen and failing miserably. The world is ugly and that somehow makes it more vibrant along with the strange sense of rightness within it. The characters are interesting and well-fleshed out, slowly dragging you into a political intrigue that had me unable to put the novel down.