I read a lot. Probably no surprise. Nor will it surprise anyone that I lean heavily towards speculative fiction. I adore fantasy, science fiction, weird fiction, pulp thrillers, romance, mysteries, and even horror. Far more so than mainstream, non-genre literature, the speculative genres tend to attract queer authors and feature queer protagonists.
So, in honor of Pride Month, here are my top thirteen recommendations in queer* speculative fiction, in alphabetical order. These cover a variety of genres. Some were written by queer authors and feature queer protagonists; others feature queer protagonists, but I am uncertain as to how the authors identify. Most are also Pagan/polytheist-friendly.
Also, this is obviously a far from comprehensive list. Please, by all means, post your favorites in the comments below. Spread the word! Bring attention to classic, lost texts as well as modern, under appreciated works.
Let’s get started!
The Harwood Spellbook series by Stephanie Burgis features both heterosexual and lesbian couples. Set in a magical, matriarchal alternate Britain, the books include fae, trolls, unrequited love, star-crossed love, exquisite ballgowns and equally exquisite manners, and enough happily-ever-afters to restore your faith in humanity.
I’ve referenced Effie Calvin in numerous previous book reviews, but I’m going to mention her again. Her Tales of Inthya series — queens, princesses, dragons, knights, Goddesses, magic, mermaids — is my comfort fantasy read. The Inthya books are also explicitly polytheistic and are set in a society that treats women, men, and non binary (or neutroi) individuals as equals. Noble heroes fight for love and honor, and the heroes always prevail, even against impossible odds.
KJ Charles has several series and stand-alone novels featuring queer characters. My two favorites are the A Charm of Magpies series, and Spectred Isle. The first, set in Regency era England, focuses on Lucien Vaudrey (recently returned from exile) and Stephen Day (part of a secret magical society). They battle prejudice, their own uncertainties, and sorcerous villains to win their happily ever after. Spectred Isle, on the other hand, is set in the years immediately following World War I; British history, folklore, and folk magic play a central role as a disgraced officer and a soul-tired mage try to save their country from a terrible evil loosed by the grief and destruction of the recent war. [Note: explicit sexual content, references to war, and PTSD.]
Clara Coulson has penned several urban fantasy series. For the purposes of this list, I recommend City of Crows (currently sitting at eight books). Calvin Kinsey is a detective with the Department of Supernatural Investigations. Mocked as a waste of government resources, the DSI is actually critical for defending the public against magical threats that most people dismiss as fairy tales, hallucinations, or fake news. Kinsey himself is unapologetically bisexual, and his co-workers and friends accept his sexual orientation without question or comment. [Note: the series includes scenes of torture and violent death.]
T. Thorn Coyle is a well-known author, activist, and magical practitioner. They have penned both fiction and nonfiction, short stories and novels, many with queer protagonists. Consider The Witches of Portland series, which features heterosexual, same-sex, and non binary romances (along with some awesome magic). There is also The Steel Clan Saga, set in a post-magical apocalypse world. The first book, We Seek No Kings, centers around non-magical motorcyclist Jenny and Anandita, an herbalist, as they fight to protect their small community from an ancient magical foe.
Morgan Daimler is a scholar, poet, teacher, and dedicant of the Aos Sidhe. Most of their books center around the Fae, and their fiction is no exception. For the purposes of this list, take a look at the Between the Worlds books. A century after the human and elven realms slammed into one another, the two peoples exist in an uneasy balance. Allie McCarthy, the half-elf owner of an occult bookstore, finds herself repeatedly and reluctantly drawn into murder investigations, dark conspiracies, and roommate drama. No spoilers, but the series features polyandry, as well as gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters. [Note: includes scenes of intoxication, ritual sacrifice, and attempted sexual assault.]
Megan Derr has written dozens of fairy tale and fantasy novels, and short stories. My two favorites are Wick and the Jewel Bonds series. Wick contains five loosely interconnected stories, each featuring a different gay couple; as the men fight to bring down a corrupt institution and save a group of abused children, they discover the power of love, friendship and — most importantly — forgiveness. Jewel Bonds, on the other hand, is composed of stand-alone short stories which are all set in the same fantastical world, but which only tangentially reference one another. They are, for the most part, sweet love stories, with mages and knights battling their own fears to find the love their deserve.
In KD Edwards‘ The Tarot Sequence the nascent space program of the 1960s discovered that Atlantis was real. World War III soon followed, and ended in a draw. The surviving Atlanteans fled their irradiated homeland for the eastern United States, where many carried on as though nothing had changed. But everything had changed. The series (two books so far, with more to follow) focuses on Rune St. John, the last survivor of the Sun Court, as he battles legendary monsters, monstrous humans, and dark conspiracies. Cool magic, snappy dialogue, and lots of tarot imagery. [Note: contains references to sexual assault, and scenes of violent death.]
Rhys Ford‘s bibliography includes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, murder mysteries, and urban fantasy. They all feature gay protagonists, many of whom are of Asian descent. For the purposes of this list, I suggest Dim Sum Asylum and The Kai Gracen series. The first is a stand-alone novel set in a world where magic is out in the open, and human and fae live side-by-side. Roku MacCormick and Trent Leonard are detectives with the Chinatown Arcane Crimes Division (hence the title); when they aren’t hunting down dragon egg smugglers or enchanted fertility God statues, they’re chasing a serial killer who always seems to be one step ahead. The Kai Gracen series is set in a post-magical apocalypse world where a war between humans and fae has only recently sputtered to a stop because both sides were too exhausted to continue. Kai Gracen is a hunter, tracker, and guide who will kill or find whatever you need for the right price; unfortunately, he keeps accepting jobs that he should really, really turn down. Think Blade Runner meets Mad Max by way of Reign of Fire. [Note: contains references to and depictions of torture and abuse.]
Jordan L. Hawk has written a number of paranormal mystery and romance series, all featuring gay or lesbian couples; most notably are Hexworld, The Pride, SPECTR, Spirits, and the Whyborne and Griffin series. While I recommend them all, a good place to start is the Hexworld books. Set in fin de siècle New York, the series focuses on the magical police force (and reformed criminals, and outsiders, and exiles) that protects the city. A unique magical system, exciting action sequences, and romance that will seriously tug at your heartstrings.
TJ Klune hit the bestseller lists (and deservedly so) with The House in the Cerulean Sea, but my first exposure to his work was The Lightning-Struck Heart. It’s a ribald, gay, epic fantasy adventure. Thank Galavant meets Monty Python, but … more. If you want more serious fare, try Klune’s Green Creek series, which follows the adventures of a diverse family of werewolves; I was ugly crying by the end. [Note: the Green Creek books contain references to torture and child endangerment, as well as scenes of violent death.]
Archer Kay Leah wrote one of my favorite Pagan science fiction novels, Of Kindred and Stardust. It is also the only explicitly polytheistic sci fi that I have ever read that features a demi sexual/hetersexual/queer polyamorous relationship. I hope for more from Leah in the future.
Ana Mardoll has only written a few books, including the fantasy short story collection, No Man of Woman Born. I am constantly recommending this collection to anyone looking for fantasy featuring non binary and transgender characters. (Mardoll also wrote Transcending Flesh: Gender and Body Diversity in Futuristic and Fantastical Settings, which is a great resource for authors.]
Plus one bonus recommendation: the Sword and Sonnet collection. These are exquisite, romantic, exciting stories featuring female and non binary warrior-bards in a variety of fantastical settings. The anthology is awesome by itself, but will also lead you to a whole bunch of new authors.
There you have it! My personal recommendations of queer speculative fiction. As noted above, I welcome more suggestions, so please post them below, and enjoy!
*Queer being here defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, pansexual, nonbinary, et cetera. E.g., anything other than cishet.
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]