Your Gender Binary Is Imaginary; Genderqueer Characters in Fantasy (+ Bonus SciFi)

Posted 29th June 2020 by Siavahda in Lists, Queer Lit, Recommendations / 2 Comments

Genderqueer Pride dragon by Kaenith!

More and more, we’re having an easier time finding cis queer characters in Fantasy – not an easy time; there’s still not enough of them, and publishers often don’t advertise the fact that a book is queer. But there’s more than there used to be, and the number’s steadily increasing.

It’s much harder to find queer characters who aren’t cis – whether that means trans, genderfluid, agender, or any other nonbinary identity. Especially if you want to read books where they’re PoV characters, not minor characters who don’t get much page-time.

Hence this list.

What these characters have in common is that they are not cis – their gender identity doesn’t line up exactly with the sex they were assigned at birth. Some are recognisably transgender, even though that does not mean the same thing to all of them; some are much more fluid; some, whether human or not, don’t define themselves by human genders at all. I’m not going to assign them labels unless they’ve claimed those identities for themselves on-page.

I created a Goodreads list for genderqueer leads in fantasy and sci-fi here, by the way, so please feel free to add your own recommendations to it – or leave them in the comments, since I’m always on the lookout for more to read!

This list in particular is nowhere near exhaustive, and I hope to do follow-ups in the future to feature more genderqueer leads in spec-fic!

Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Goodreads

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.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Starless is a standalone epic fantasy, which is honestly not something I thought could exist – or at least, not something that could exist and be done well. As usual, though, Carey exceeds all expectations.

The protagonist and first-person narrator Khai is raised and trained by warrior-monks so that he can eventually meet and protect the princess he was bound to at birth. Although the realisation that he is genderqueer, and his subsequent explorations of his gender identity, are not the driving plot – Khai and his princess do, after all, have to save the world – that part of the story made me especially happy, and as a genderqueer person myself I thought it was depicted very well and respectfully. I mean, it’s Jacqueline Carey, so I knew it was going to be elegantly done, but I’m still grateful that the narrative treated it as merely an aspect of Khai’s character instead something to be sensationalised. Several of the book’s minor characters are pretty tactless and inappropriately nosy in a few scenes, but it’s very clear to the reader that this is, at best, vulgar and tasteless, and it’s a very brief and minor part of the book.

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow, #1) by Lila Bowen
Goodreads
four-stars

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.

Lila Bowen’s Shadow series opens with Nettie, a young biracial Native American/Black woman working as a slave for people who are definitely not her parents. Over the course of the first book she shucks any hint of femininity and lives as a man – taking the name Rhett – despite still using female pronouns for herself in her own mind. However, early in book two Nettie becomes Rhett in mind as well as presentation and uses male pronouns from then on out. More plot-relevant is the fact that Rhett is the Shadow, a personage whose duty it is to put down monsters – and in this Wild West setting, there’s plenty of those, from vampires to shapeshifters to harpies, although not all are evil and several actively help Rhett with his tasks. I love Rhett a lot as a character – he’s prickly and snarky and isn’t interested in being some kind of Chosen One one bit, thank you – and his internalised misogyny is realistic even while it’s pretty sad (I’m hoping/assuming he’ll work out that women don’t actually suck fairly soon). This is a series that was recommended to me multiple times over the years, and I always bounced off the Wild West setting, but I’m glad I finally powered through the first few pages of book one, because once I did I was completely hooked. Strongly recommended!

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Goodreads

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 entirely sure where you’ve been if you missed the glitterbomb that was Space Opera‘s release (and Hugo nomination!) but if you haven’t read it yet, you are in for SUCH a treat! It’s been pretty accurately described as Eurovision in space, with the future of the human race as the stakes. It’s wild and wonderful and the lead character identifies as a gendersplat, and honestly, you simply have not lived if you haven’t read this yet. Go grab a copy already!

Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler
Goodreads

The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.
Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly's quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.

Sea Change is one of my all-time favourite books and incredibly dear to me. It’s darkly weird with a magical, fairytale-esque feel to it, despite the brushes with horror – so, an old-style fairy tale, basically. It’s about a young woman who’s best friend is a kraken (yes, you heard me) who must go on a quest of sorts to rescue him when he’s kidnapped and sold. What results is actually a bunch of interlocking quests; this person wants x, which can only be gotten from that person, who wants y, and y must be earned with some other magical object that requires heroic (or not so heroic) tasks to be won. It sounds messy, but everything’s perfectly on point and it never feels formulaic or predictable (anything but!) I desperately shove this book at everyone I can, okay, because the writing is just beautiful and it is a crime that it’s not more well-known.

It earns a spot on this list because the main character becomes physically agender as a result of one of her magical bargains; she continues to self-identify as a young woman, but presents as a man, since that makes her life so much easier. There’s some great, incisive commentary on gender roles and beauty standards, but fear not; it never takes away from the rescue the kraken!!! storyline.

Thief of Songs by M.C.A. Hogarth
Goodreads

The lowland conquerers have taken everything from him, or so the composer Amet Emendexte-ilye was taught: prestige, autonomy, wealth, and most importantly, magic. But when one of them steals his fiancee, Amet avenges himself on them all by writing music and giving it away in defiance of the lowland laws. It is a very satisfactory vengeance, or so he thinks, until he discovers the kingdom's royal composer is planning to debut Amet's work—as folk music!
So he's riding east to set the record straight. But he has no idea how compelling a decadent lowland hermaphrodite can be. And before it's over, this thief of songs may be stealing more than his music....
A lyrical romance, set in a second world fantasy. Leave the world behind today!
Heat Level: ** (not-explicit, some sensual thoughts) Relationship: Hermaphrodite/male with poly asexual neuter third Length: Novel

The Twin Kingdoms series is joyful escapism fantasy, the kind of books that just make you so damned HAPPY. Set in a kingdom with four genders – cis male, cis female, hermaphrodite, and agender – the first book is a polyamorous fantasy romance centred around music and magic; the hermaphrodite royal composer, already in a relationship with an agender individual, falls for a cis guy. The second book builds on the triad from book one, focusing on the relationship between the agender, asexual member of the triad and the pansexual cisman – with bonus sea serpents! There is absolutely nothing I do not adore about this series, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more books – alas, so far the series hasn’t sold so well, so the author has had to focus on other projects. SO GO BUY THE BOOKS SO WE CAN HAVE MORE ALREADY! Seriously, you won’t regret it!

Static by L.A. Witt
Goodreads

After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: that Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static—unable to shift—and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters . . . and to his heterosexual boyfriend.

Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter, and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this.

Especially if he’s static forever.

I read this one years ago, so I don’t know if I’d feel the same way about it now, but I remember really loving it. Set in a world identical to ours except for the fact that some people are shapeshifters who physically change between male and female at will, it’s about what happens when the lead – who believes himself to be straight – discovers that his girlfriend is one of these shapeshifters. Way worse is the fact that she is now stuck as he, due to the seriously fucked-up actions of their family. This one could definitely be triggering for some people, what with various degrees and flavours of queerphobia (including forced body modification) and body dysphoria, and I do wonder how it would read now – when it was first published I’d never heard of the term genderfluid and I don’t remember it being used in the text. But I don’t mind telling you that all ends well – I’m never going to knowingly recommend books with awful endings, especially ones dealing with these kinds of topics.

Every Day (Every Day, #1) by David Levithan
Goodreads

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone A wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

This one is a contemporary YA with one fantastical element; the main character A, who wakes up in a new body every day. A has no control over who they temporarily possess, and switches between all kinds of bodies. It’s a deft way of making some pointed comments about mental illness and disability – the passage where A mentions that they’ve ‘been’ people with bipolar disorder etc before, because such things are in the physical brain that A gets along with their new daily body… I don’t know, that hit me really hard. A has no gender of their own, and I’m not sure how they’d identify if someone could custom-make a perfect body to A’s specifications, but A definitely belongs on this list. The story itself is about A falling in love with a perfectly normal girl Rhiannon, and how exactly they can make that work. There’s finally a proper sequel (book two is book one retold from Rhiannon’s perspective), and I’m really excited to see where the story’s gone.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Goodreads

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She's used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she'd be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.
Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship's leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.
When the autopsy of Matilda's sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother's suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother's footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she's willing to fight for it.

This is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, but is probably best not read lightly; Aster is an autistic, intersex Black woman living on a generation-ship where the people of the lower levels of the ship – inevitably people of colour – are effectively slaves. The violence and cruelty is disturbing, but in fairness, it damn well should be. That said, it’s also an incredibly beautiful book. You can read my full review here, but in essence, Aster discovers a possible link between her dead mother and the now-dying captain of the ship, which leads her to some deep, dark secrets that could change everything for everyone. That’s really only skimming the very surface of what Unkindness is about – it’s a rich, complex book with many interlocking stories, about rebellion and oppression and social justice, racism and sexism, sexuality and community and violence, featuring a cast with a range of gender identities, sexualities, and places in the ship’s hierarchy. But it’s not a lecturing, moralistic book; it’s a fierce book that comes alight in your hands, all starfire and blood and howling. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read.

“I am a boy and a girl and a witch all wrapped into one very strange, flimsy, indecisive body. Do you think my body couldn’t decide what it wanted to be?”

An Unkindness of Ghosts

There’s no way a quick description of this one can do it any justice, so I urge you to check out the Goodreads page and see what people have said about it. I do genuinely think it’s one of the best books ever written, and it single-handedly propelled Rivers Solomon onto my auto-buy list of authors.

River of Teeth (River of Teeth, #1) by Sarah Gailey
Goodreads

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.
Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.
This was a terrible plan.
Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

This series of novellas (collected in an omnibus as American Hippo) is set in an alternate USA where Congress decided it would be a good idea to import hippos for farming – something they apparently actually considered at one point?! Anyway, it’s a brilliant, exciting story of a very mixed gang – including a nonbinary expert in demolitions and poisons who uses they/them pronouns, and a gender-nonconforming, overweight con-artist who gets her way by seducing anyone she pleases, fuck you big women are gorgeous too – all riding hippos instead of horses as they go try to earn a pile of gold by clearing all the (very dangerous!) wild hippos out of a place the government doesn’t want them in anymore. Strongly recommended!

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate, #1) by J.Y. Yang
Goodreads

The Black Tides of Heaven is one of a pair of standalone introductions to JY Yang's Tensorate Series. For more of the story you can read its twin novella The Red Threads of Fortune
Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What's more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother's Protectorate.
A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother's twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

In the Tensorate series, all minors are genderless until they become old enough to choose a gender for themselves – at which point magic is used to shape/alter their bodies as appropriate. Sadly, this does not equate to a perfect utopia: there’s a tyrant on the throne, one who definitely needs removing. Add a rebel group trying to promote an Industrial Revolution to counter the tyrant’s stranglehold on magic, prophets, and dragons? And you have a pretty much perfect series!

Besides the picking-a-gender-at-adulthood thing, we also meet several characters who decline to choose a binary gender, or who chose not to go through the magical body-sculpting process to match their body to their gender.

The 5th Gender: A Tinkered Stars Mystery by G.L. Carriger
Goodreads

A species that has no word for murder, has a murderer aboard their spaceship.
ALIEN
Tristol lives in exile. But he’s built a life for himself aboard a human space station. He’s even begun to understand the complex nuances of human courting rituals.
Detective Hastion is finally flirting back!
MURDER
Except that Tristol’s beloved space station is unexpectedly contacted by the galoi – a xenophobic species with five genders, purple skin, and serious attitude. They need the help of a human detective because there’s a murderer aboard their spaceship. Murder is so rare, the galoi don’t even have a word for it.
Tristol knows this because he is galoi.
ROMANCE
Which means that he and Detective Hastion are on the case… together.
Delicate Sensibilities?
Contains men who love other men in graphic detail, regardless of gender, biology, or skin color... and lots of emotively sexy tentacle hair.
New York Times best selling author Gail Carriger (writing as G.L. Carriger) brings you a light-hearted romantic cozy mystery featuring an adorable lavender alien and his human crush.

This one is a fun little romp – is there a scifi equivalent of paranormal romance? Because this is kind of that, but with aliens! I wrote up a full review of it here, but in short: it’s a murder mystery involving an alien race that doesn’t even have a word for murder – but does have five genders. One of these gender identities is particularly important to the book, and really brilliantly explored through one of the main characters, Tris. Despite touching on some serious topics, it’s fun and a bit silly (in a good way) with very enthusiastic sex scenes!

The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1) by Kameron Hurley
Goodreads

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.

Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father's people or loyalty to her alien Empress.  

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise - and many will perish.

The Worldbreaker trilogy is amazing features multiple cultures that feature more than just two genders, with a variety of pronouns used. However, this is just a normalised part of the setting: the actual plot follows the rising of a deadly star and the death of worlds – some of which aren’t going down without a fight. Brace yourself for star-magic, semi-sentient plant-life, and a war where the winners will be those who can kill their own alternate selves the fastest.

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve
Goodreads

When genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth wakes from death after a car crash that killed their parents and sisters, they have to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie. Always a talented witch, Z can now barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with Mrs. Dunnigan, an elderly witch, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered in an apparent werewolf attack, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to monsters, and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.

Out of Salem is a weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeird little book, and it’s definitely not all softness and light, but it’s still a really good read. Set in a world that looks a lot like ours, except you can buy unicorn blood at the healthfood store and being the seventh son of a seventh son packs a real punch, it starts when one of the main characters, Z (they/them pronouns) wakes up reanimated after a car crash. Necromancy is illegal, but since Z didn’t cast the spell in question, there’s not much the authorities can do. Z needs to find a way to make a new life for themself, even now that they’re undead. Luckily, there’s a cat lady and a lesbian werewolf who might be able to help with that.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells
Goodreads

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

The Murderbot series (novellas with one full novel in the series so far) follows the titular Murderbot, an AI whose body is mostly robotic with some fleshy bits. The series has gained a (well-earned) cult following, because who doesn’t empathise with a big scary robot who just wants to be left alone so they can watch their favourite soaps?

No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll
Goodreads

Destiny sees what others don't. A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father's death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he's ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny. From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character's gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.

No Man of Woman Born is an anthology of short stories that play with the idea of gendered prophecy – inspired by the famous fall of the Witch-King in Lord of the Rings, wherein the villain who can be killed by no man is slain by Eowyn, a woman warrior wearing men’s armour. Here, the characters’ genders don’t match their biologies, but are recognised by prophecy/fate even if not always by the people around them. A seriously cool concept to play with!

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

This novella follows an agender monk whose order is primarily concerned with gathering facts – and by that I mean, stories. They and their avian companion interview and record the story of one of the old empress’s waiting women, and it is such a beautiful book! Happily, we’re even getting a sequel later this year, which I can’t wait to read!

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

A thought-provoking and haunting novel about a creature that escapes from an artist's canvas, whose talent is sniffing out monsters in a world that claims they don't exist anymore. Perfect for fans of Akata Witch and Shadowshaper.

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster--and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also uncover the truth, and the answer to the question How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

Pet‘s mc is a brown trans girl living in a post-modern utopia – or as close to utopia as mortals can get. But when she accidentally summons a Biblical-style angel out of one of her mother’s paintings, she’s forced to examine her society with new eyes. An absolute masterpiece.

The Name of All Things (A Chorus of Dragons, #2) by Jenn Lyons
Representation: Genderqueer MC, Bisexuals in main cast

You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D'Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel's plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin's old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world―the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D'Mon.

Jenn Lyons continues the Chorus of Dragons series with The Name of All Things, the epic sequel to The Ruin of Kings.

This is the second book of the Chorus of Dragons series, and you really ought to read book one first, just because it’s so good – although Name of All Things actually stands pretty well on its own, since most of it takes place during the same time as the events of Ruin of Kings. (You’re still going to miss a lot if you don’t read the first book first, so…read the first book first!)

In Name of All Things, Lyons introduces us to a gender system which is based on dominance of personality, and has nothing to do with biology whatsoever. So despite using she/her pronouns, the main character, Janel, is not a woman – she’s a stallion.

It sounds complicated, but it’s actually surprisingly easy to get your head around, and super simple in practice. I love this gender system a lot, especially in how it’s tied to the cultural views of honour and responsibility, and it’s a great example of genderqueerness in Epic Fantasy!

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner

A “brilliant and terrifically fun”* debut novel brings an enchanting new voice to fantasy.

Onna can write the parameters of a spell faster than any of the young men in her village school. But despite her incredible abilities, she’s denied a place at the nation’s premier arcane academy. Undaunted, she sails to the bustling city-state of Hexos, hoping to find a place at a university where they don’t think there’s anything untoward about providing a woman with a magical education. But as soon as Onna arrives, she’s drawn into the mysterious murder of four trolls.

Tsira is a troll who never quite fit into her clan, despite being the leader’s daughter. She decides to strike out on her own and look for work in a human city, but on her way she stumbles upon the body of a half-dead human soldier in the snow. As she slowly nurses him back to health, an unlikely bond forms between them, one that is tested when an unknown mage makes an attempt on Tsira’s life. Soon, unbeknownst to each other, Onna and Tsira both begin devoting their considerable talents to finding out who is targeting trolls, before their homeland is torn apart…

*Kat Howard, Alex Award-winning author of An Unkindness of Magicians

Unnatural Magic is the ‘trolls not gender roles!’ book, so it’s only appropriate to let it wrap up this list. Besides being a ridiculous amount of fun, this book explores both a non-human gender system, via the trolls, and gender-nonconforming humans. This is seriously one of my favourite books EVER, and is pretty much perfect in every way. (Those two facts may be related!)

That’s it from me for now. Share some of your fave genderqueer characters in fantasy and scifi in the comments!

2 responses to “Your Gender Binary Is Imaginary; Genderqueer Characters in Fantasy (+ Bonus SciFi)

  1. Adrienne R

    I love Starless by Jacqueline Carey!

    Would The Bone Doll’s Twin (Tamír Triad #1) by Lynn Flewelling fit your requirements?

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