Greetings! And okay, I know the blog looks, uh, unfinished at the moment. But I very much wanted my first post to go live on the first day of Pride, so – I promise I’ll have things looking more professional around here soon! But I see no need to wait on pretty graphics to showcase 11 amazing works of queer spec fic that you definitely need to read!Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1) by Seanan McGuire
Representation: Asexual, Transgender, PoC
Genres: Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward ChildrenNo SolicitationsNo VisitorsNo Quests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
The book that inspired the title of the blog! Honestly, the fact that I shamelessly borrowed the title for my blog should tell you exactly how much this little book means to me. Every Heart a Doorway sent shockwaves throughout the SFF world when it was published in 2016, and with good reason: besides exploring one of the biggest questions most fantasy fans grew up with (namely, ‘what happens to the kids sent home when the portal fantasy is over?’) it was also the first time many of us saw a main character declare herself asexual – not implied or hinted at, but right there in black and white on the page.
The entire series is great on diversity (as is virtually any work of McGuire’s), and the central concept – a boarding school for those who’ve visited other worlds, and want nothing more than to go back – is so utterly brilliant (and brilliantly executed) that I challenge anyone not to fall in love with them!The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms, #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Representation: PoC, Transgender
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.
The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.
They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.
The Lotus Kingdoms series (book two was just released at the end of May) is a sort-of sequel to Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy. I do recommend the Eternal Sky – think the traditional tropes of Epic Fantasy, but transplanted to Asia and spun through with Bear’s unique imagination – but it’s absolutely not necessary to read ES to enjoy the Lotus books.
In a world where every kingdom has its own sky, the Lotus Kingdoms are lit by a river of stars. Cousin-queens Sayeh and Mrithuri both face their own challenges in holding on to their thrones – Mrithuri is unmarried and heirless, and while Sayeh has a son, she is a transwoman (considered ‘third-gendered’ in her culture), which some consider a bad omen. Into this struggle comes the Gage, a sentient automaton, and the Dead Man, who together carry a priceless message that cannot wait…Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier, #1) by Lara Elena Donnelly
Representation: Gay, PoC
Genres: Secondary World No Magic, Queer Protagonists
Le Carré meets Cabaret in this debut spy thriller as a gay double-agent schemes to protect his smuggler lover during the rise of a fascist government coup
Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party—nicknamed the Ospies—is gaining popular support to unite Gedda's four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision.
Not everyone agrees with the Ospies' philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril's cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies' watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone—the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies—dictate his life.
Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means—and people—necessary. Including each other.
Amberlough – the first in the now-complete Amberlough Dossier – is a fantasy without magic; it’s set in a world that has plenty of similarities to our own 1920s, but is very definitely not our world. For one thing, Amberlough is packed full of racial and sexual diversity – although that doesn’t make it a utopia, unfortunately. This is a deliciously lush firecracker of a book, where none of the main characters are ones we’d typically call ‘good’, but you’ll find yourself rooting for all of them anyway.
Well, most of them, at least.
It’s also a not-especially-subtle examination of modern politics, re the rise of neo-fascism, but it’s never preachy. Not something to pick up if you’re looking for a happy book, but if you want some grit in there with your queerness, you should definitely check this out.Mr. Big Empty by Gregory Ashe
Representation: Gay, Bisexual, Mental Health
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Vie Eliot arrives in the small town of Vehpese, Wyoming with little more than the clothes--and scars--on his back. Determined to make a new life for himself after escaping his abusive mother, he finds that living with his estranged father brings its own problems.
Then Samantha Oates, the girl with blue hair, goes missing, and Vie might be the only one who can find her. His ability to read emotions and gain insight into other people’s darkest secrets makes him the perfect investigator, with only one small problem: he wants nothing to do with his gift.
When the killer begins contacting Vie through a series of strange cards, though, Vie is forced to hone his ability, because Samantha was not the killer’s only target.
And, as Vie learns, he is not the only psychic in town.
First in the mindblowing Hollow Folk quartet, Mr Big Empty is fantasy like you’ve never seen it before. I’m not even going to try to put my love for these books into words: instead, I’m going to shamelessly link to Kathy of Pages Below the Vaulted Sky, who is the only one who’s come close to capturing how epic these books are. Go check out her review immediately!Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Representation: Asexual, F/F
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.
He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.
Who are the Sawkill Girls?
Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.
Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.
Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.
Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.
Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.
Sawkill Girls is a wonderful, raw, powerful standalone novel of dark magic, harsh choices, and female friendship. It’s absolutely incredible, and beautifully written: after the first few pages I was glued to my seat. This book is a battle-cry and a howl of triumph for girls everywhere – especially queer girls! – and it needs to be so much more famous than it is.Wake of Vultures (The Shadow, #1) by Lila Bowen
Representation: Genderqueer, PoC
Genres: Queer Protagonists
A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.
Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She's a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don't call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood and he turns to black sand.
And just like that, Nettie can see.
But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn't understand what's under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding—at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead her to find her true kin . . . if the monsters along the way don't kill her first.
I’ve been slowly making my way through Bowen’s Shadow series – I’m still on book two, in fact, and I picked up Wake of Vultures and put it back down several times. But once I made it beyond the first few chapters, it sank its claws in and did not let go. Superficially, it fits a number of tropes we’ve seen before – mixed-race, abused young woman runs away to make her fortune, encounters the supernatural hiding beneath the ‘real world’ – but honestly, it defies every convention you try to throw at it. The setting is Western – cowboy-type western – with vampires and coyote shapeshifters and an evil child-eating owl all running around, and I really can’t slot it neatly under any genre label except ‘fantasy’. Which, given the themes at the heart of the story, is only too appropriate.A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe (The Salvagers #1) by Alex White
Representation: F/F, Disability
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Furious and fun, the first book in this bold, new science fiction adventure series follows a ragtag group of adventurers as they try to find a legendary ship that just might be the key to clearing their name and saving the universe.
Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she's washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she got something real--the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction. Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world--until she witnesses Mother murder a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah has only one lead: the killer also hunts Boots.On the wrong side of the law, the two women board a smuggler's ship that will take them on a quest for fame, for riches, and for justice.
The Salvagers trilogy (book three out next year!) is a ridiculously delightful series. It’s also a Science Fantasy trilogy, set in a future where interplanetary travel is commonplace but where everyone (well – almost everyone) is born with magic, and a specific magical skill at that. I’d never really seen magic and sci-fi mixed up together before these books, but White does it brilliantly, and for that alone I’d encourage people to give it a try. Superficially it starts out as a sort of heist/treasure-hunt plot, except that there are murdering gods and magical NASCAR racing and jeez, just go and grab book one already!Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Representation: Genderqueer, PoC, Disability
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Epic Fantasy
Jacqueline Carey is back with an amazing adventure not seen since her New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.
Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.
In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.
If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.
Starless is not my favourite of Carey’s works – I hope that sometime soon I can write a gushing review for her Kushiel series – but it’s still amazing and deserves more recognition. It’s a standalone Epic Fantasy, which I thought couldn’t be done, but after so many years as a Carey fan I really should know better than to doubt her, because of course she pulls it off beautifully. Set in a world where the night sky is starless because the gods – the stars – fell to earth long ago and now lay claim to terrestrial territories, it’s the story of Kai – a warrior trained by desert monks – and Zariya – youngest daughter of a family of immortal mortals – and the incredible, divine-wrought bond they share. Facing challenges from the relatively small – gender roles and royal etiquette – to the epic – the threat of the end of the world – they, and their friends, have to cross realms of incredible magic in order to save the gods and humankind alike.Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Magical Realism
The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.
The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.
But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.
Every single one of McLemore’s books are exquisite, and all but Weight of Feathers feature diverse sexualities and gender identities. (And Feathers was a while ago – maybe there’s queerness in there and I’ve just forgotten). Blanca & Rosa is her most recent novel, a modern and magically realist take on the fairytale Rose White and Rose Red, complete with bear. Besides being an incredibly well-written book for its own sake, Blanca & Rosa also features a depiction of genderqueerness that even allies may struggle to wrap their minds around – which is good; there’s far more than one way to be genderqueer, and we need more examples from across the spectrum.Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
IN SPACE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU SING
A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented-something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.
Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix - part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.
This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny - they must sing.
A one-hit-wonder band of human musicians, dancers and roadies from London - Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes - have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.
I’m not sure where you’ve been if you’ve missed out on Space Opera, but gods are you in for a treat! Famously described as ‘Eurovision in Space’, Space Opera is – well, Eurovision in space! Except with even more glitter.
In short, aliens show up and declare that to prove themselves self-aware/worthy-of-existence, humans must compete in space Eurovision – which is how aliens sort out their enmities, don’tcha know? No more galactic wars, no: it’s all very civilised now.
The problem? If humanity doesn’t make it to second-last place or higher, they’ll be exterminated. And the band the aliens recommend for the job is, uh – not exactly the Beatles.
In fact, one of the band-members is actually dead.
It’s an epic, hilarious, queer-as-fuck, glittery gorgeous book, fiercely hopepunk and beautifully strange, and I envy you if you’re about to read it for the first time, I really do. You are in for an experience!The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, #1) by K.D. Edwards
Representation: Gay, Bisexual, Neurodivergent
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.
With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?
Ah, Last Sun, how I do love thee. Let me count the ways… No, for real, LS shot right up to the top of my favourites list when I read it last year (although I will admit it shares that top spot with a few other incredible books), and it doesn’t look to be giving up its place any time soon. It’s one of many books on this list that I want to sit down and write a proper review for, but in short, it’s an unapologetically queer urban fantasy that for once feels genuinely magical, like I could just step into the pages into a world that’s just waiting for me between the lines. The worldbuilding is incredible, the relationships made me hug my e-reader to my chest, I laughed out loud and I cried – I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. If you’ve been searching for magic that truly feels magical – as in, strange and wondrous and beautiful and terrible – if you want normalised queerness and platonic bonds worth more than gold, if you want to crack up and be on the edge of your seat – then darlings, I have just the book for you.
I’ll be posting about queer books throughout Pride (and, let’s be honest, afterwards as well), so until next time, dear readers!