Genre fiction has long been dominated by straight white authors who enforce the norm within their work. Although things are changing in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, we still have a long way to go for representation. Since June is Pride Month in the United States, we are taking the opportunity to highlight some genre novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists. Add these to your reading list, along with some of the excellent black authors of science fiction and fantasy that we have highlighted recently. No better time for reading than during a long summer in quarantine after all.
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
Image via Tor
This fantasy novel breaks all of the conventions. It focuses on an Orc race and a young girl who has been trained first to be a virgin sacrifice to an old god. Then trained as a spy and an agent for a mysterious sorcerer. Along the way she falls in love with another young woman who has been manipulated by her people. The relationship here is sweet and nuanced, and the writing is beautiful. One of the most highly acclaimed fantasy novels of 2019. The Unspoken Name should be on the list of any fantasy lover.
The Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E. Schwab
We have written about our love for V.E. Schwab’s excellent Darker Shade of Magic series in the past. This fantasy trilogy centers around parallel Londons where magic exists to varying degrees. Although the main character does have a heterosexual romance, this series makes the list for the excellent m/m romance between two of the other protagonists. A moody prince and a swashbuckling pirate have history and layers to their relationship that grows and unfolds over the course of the three books. Schwab has also written other LGBTQ characters in her other genre novels Vicious and Vengeful.
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
Image via Hachette Books
Another series that we are always talking about is The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and it is no secret as to why. This triple Hugo award-winning series is wholly unique, and the relationships in the series are no exception. At one point the main character is involved in a polyamorous relationship with two men. The men involved are clearly deeply in love with each other. This is refreshing to see in a fantasy novel (even if it does spoiler alert end in tragedy). Jemisin has written other bisexual characters and polyamory in her excellent Inheritance trilogy as well. LGBTQ characters are always represented in Jemisin’s excellent genre novels.
A Chorus of Dragons Series by Jenn Lyons
Image via Tor
Are you in the mood for a wild romp reminiscent of your best D&D adventures? Then look no further than Jenn Lyons who has wrapped up all the fantasy tropes in one package in order to subvert them. The Chorus of Dragons series has three books out currently, and each of them delves deep into gender norms and sexuality. The main character spends much of the three books grappling with his own bisexuality and attraction to another male character.
Lyons does an excellent job of setting up a broken society that reviles homosexuality, and gives her male characters personal issues to grapple with when it comes to toxic masculinity. The second book also digs into the main ‘female’ character of the book who comes from a society where one’s outer appearance does not necessarily indicate their true gender. A highly entertaining series that incorporates LGBTQ issues in genre novels in a thoughtful and incisive way.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Image via Orbit/Hachette Books
Ann Leckie has never shied away from bold storytelling decisions in her work. In her fantasy novel The Raven Tower, she gives us a transgender warrior who is guided by the strange god of the tower. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this novel abounds with intrigue and mystery. The exploration of the relationship between gods and men is fascinating, as well as the consequences of praying for what you truly desire. With a queer romance, a genderless god, and a trans man as the main character there is certainly a lot of LGBTQ representation in Leckie’s first fantasy novel, outside of her main genre of science fiction.
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
Image via Open Road Media
This novel by acclaimed speculative fiction author Nalo Hopkinson explores the African diaspora through the eyes of a goddess and three women who are closely connected to her. There is the 18th century slave and healer. Another is a Haitian woman who is an actress and dancer, and a mistress to some powerful white men. The third is a prostitute who becomes a saint. The goddess Lasirén affects their journeys by possessing their bodies. These women all struggle for ‘freedom from sexual and emotional slavery.’ The Salt Roads features a number of LGBTQ characters, and several f/f relationships over the course of the narrative. One of the main characters (Mer) is involved in a relationship with another woman. Hopkinson is known for her provocative storytelling and unconventional writing style. The Salt Roads is a highlight from her storied career.
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
Image via Tor
We recently reviewed The Future of Another Timeline and feel like it deserves a place on this list. There are numerous LGBT characters in this short novel about feminism and time-travel. The action in the story really begins when the members of the Daughters of Harriet realize that one of their own has been edited out of their timeline. That character is a trans woman named Berenice, who was murdered. Several characters travel back in time to stop the murder, and this event really kickstarts the story. Newitz addresses the murder of trans people in her novel in a way that few authors have ever done. The main character of Tess is also heavily implied to be a lesbian, although the queer romance is very understated. However Newitz is clearly dedicated to representation in her work, and that shows in The Future of Another Timeline.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Image via Harper Collins
Madeline Miller has made a name for herself translating old myths into contemporary adaptations. Her stunning novel Circe was one of my favorite books of 2019. However, her debut novel The Song of Achilles is where she broke into the world of genre fiction. This novel tells the story of the famous warrior Achilles through the eyes of his male lover Patroclus. Miller is deft at taking on obscure characters from Greek myth and weaving a compelling story around the scant information found in the original texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey. This might be the only book on this list that focuses primarily on the queer relationship between two male characters. A compelling story with finely drawn characters, The Song of Achilles should be on everyone’s list.
The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley
Image via Penguin/Random House
The Worldbreaker Saga starts with the first book The Mirror Empire, a grimdark epic fantasy story about an orphan with a mysterious past. In this series Hurley has built something that is rarely seen in epic fantasy, a non-heteronormative world. The main female character has multiple relationships with other women. There are entire societies that have multiple genders. One of the characters is intersex, and their gender changes with the season. Hurley excels at unconventional worldbuilding, and breaks away from the standard high fantasy medieval world.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Image via Penguin/Random House
This one is a bit unconventional for this list (but then most Le Guin is unconventional). But we include it for its groundbreaking study of sex and gender on an alien society. The Left Hand of Darkness is set on a world where individuals are ‘ambisexual’ and can transition between male and female. An entire world of trans people imagined at a time before trans issues were part of the global conversation.
The book follows an off-world diplomat named Genly Ai as he struggles to understand the world and its people. Over the course of the novel, Genly forms a relationship with one of the Gethen people (Estraven). He comes to love and respect Estraven, who fluctuates between male and female throughout the text. There is a subtle implication of romantic love, but the larger focus is on gender. This novel is part of Le Guin’s long Hainish Cycle, but like most of the books in the cycle it can absolutely be read on its own. A groundbreaking novel that is a must read for any sci-fi fan.
There are many more genre novels with LGBTQ representation that did not make it onto this list. But we think that these books are a good place to start. What are your favorites? Join the conversation today with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter and let us know.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.