Sunday, June 26, 2011

10 LGBT Fantasy Books

Today is Gay Pride Day and in celebration I thought I's share ten books that feature LGBT protagonists. Some people may not be comfortable reading books with gay characters, but I've noticed a huge difference in the way gay relationships are often written compared to straight relationships.

One of the things I hate most about books is instant attraction. Two characters see one another and as the reader I know instantly "this is the one." I hate that. How boring can it possibly get? That's not because two people can't be instantly attracted to one another. When I first saw Ryan I knew I wanted to get to know him. But that initial interest had to develop into love and lots of books miss the latter part of the equation. When gay relationships are featured in books, they usually avoid this problem and are more fleshed out. It’s as though these relationships are treated with more delicacy and it makes them feel more authentic to me. Too often authors just throw two people together and that’s that. This laziness annoys me to no end. I want characters that have to make the hard decisions and grow into their love a little day after day. I don't want to be told these people belong together. I want to be shown. And books featuring gay relationships are more likely to do this. (I know I bring this up all the time, but that's because too many books fail at this.)

It makes me wonder why the relationships are handled so differently though. Is it out of the need to make the gay relationship more palatable for some people? Is it out of the hope people won’t disregard the relationship as something trivial or as simply an attempt to be shocking on the part of the author? I don’t know the answer but it is kind of interesting. Some of the most tender and touching relationships I’ve read have been between two men. And though some are more touching then others, I can’t think of one fantasy story where the characters treat their relationship with the same disregard as a character like Anita Blake. Instead the budding relationship is treated as something delicate and fragile.

That being said, here are ten books I'd recommend reading:

1. Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley
Kirith Kirin is like no other fantasy that you have ever read. Jim Grimsley has created a fantasy that could have come right from our world where power and greed can tempt, and sometimes conquer, even the most rightist person and where knowing who your friends and enemies are can be very difficult if not impossible. Yet it is not our world. For in Kirith Kirin's world magic is real, immortals walk the land, and people are sometimes the playthings for the dark arts.
The Blue Queen, upon resuming the throne while King Kirith Kirin's eternality is renewed in the Arthen forest, has partnered with a magician of the dark arts. No longer does she need to leave the throne to renew her eternal nature. Swayed by promises of the dark magician, she has claimed the throne forever and is extending her influence to the far corners of the world.

Malleable grey clouds, sidewinding wind, and intelligent lightning bolts made the trip across the vast Girdle nearly impossible. Out of nowhere, the Blue Queen's Patrols made haste to kill the boy and the warrior before they could safely reach the deep forest of Arthen. Riding upon two magnificent stallions, one a royal Prince out of Queen Mnemarra, Jessex and his uncle Sivisal reached Arthen despite a deadly storm that reeked of magic.

Thus begins Jessex's new life as he enters Arthen and moves into the royal court of Kirith Kirin.
This book is really Jessex's coming to age story. Even though the story gets bogged down by too much telling and not enough doing, I was completely side-blinded by this book. I laughed and I cried. It was wonderful. I also liked that this is a stand alone story.

2. Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
In Greek myth, Alcestis is known as the ideal wife; she loved her husband so much that she died and went to the underworld in his place. In this vividly-imagined debut, Katharine Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal and reveals the part of the story that’s never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld?
In this book Beutner gives voice to a character that had none. In this story we get to follow Alcestis on her trip to the Underworld and see the many surprises that come up along the way. Overall the story was surprising and refreshing. I didn't love this book as much as I did some of the others on this list, but it's worth checking out.

3. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be…Luck in the Shadows.
Where the last two books are heavy on the characterizations and lighter on the plot, this books is all about the action. From the beginning this story takes you on an adventure and romance has little to do with it. Instead the romance is built throughout the novels and feels as natural as breathing. Both characters are complex and I loved the first two books in this series.

4. Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
Though Vanyel has been born with near-legendary abilities to work both Herald and Mage magic, he wants no part of such things. Nor does he see a warrior's path, wishing instead to become a Bard. Yet such talent as his, if left untrained, may prove a menace not only to Vanyel but to others as well. So he is sent to be fostered with his aunt, Savil, one of the famed Herald-Mages of Valdemar.

But, strong-willed and self-centered, Vanyel is a challenge which even Savin cannot master alone. For soon he will become the focus of frightening forces, lending his raw magic to a spell that unleashes terrifying wyr-hunters on the land. And by the time Savil seeks the assistance of a Shin'a'in Adept, Vanyel's wild talend may have already grown beyond anyone's ability to contain, placing Vanyel, Savil, and Valdemar itself in desperate peril...
Is there anyone who hasn't heard of this series? Vanyel is an outsider in a world that ostracizes people who don't belong. As we follow Vanyel on his journey, the reader learns all about magic and the world around Van. Even though this book is actually pretty light on the plot, I still really loved this book. Part of me wants to be critical and complain about the obvious message this books has, but I can't. At the end of the day I loved this book. It broke my heart in a thousand little pieces and I've never wanted a character to find happiness as much as I did for Van. I think I pretty much cried throughout the entire trilogy if I'm being honest. But I like that in a book.

5. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
In the highly stratified world of Kushner's nameless old city, the aristocrats living in fine mansions on the Hill settle their differences by sending to the thieves' den of Riverside for swordsmen who will fight to the death for a point of someone else's honor.

Young Lord Michael Godwin is so taken by these romantic figures that he studies the art himself until challenged by the best of them.

Master of the Sword, Richard St. Vier is picky in his contracts and precise in his killing but he nevertheless becomes embroiled in the nobility's political, social and sexual intrigues. When his lover Alec is kidnapped by Lord Horn, St. Vier must take drastic action.
This is one of those fantasy books that doesn't deal with magic, but rather with political intrigue. If that makes some of you groan well, what can I say? I love political intrigue. This story is familiar and yet wholly its own in a way I can't easily explain. I loved the characters and thought they were different from what I was expecting. Even though the romance aspect of this book isn't as pronounced as in some of the other books here, I liked it. I guess that's all I can really say.

6. The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman
Welcome to 21st century Atlanta.

During your stay, depending on your tastes, you can cruise gay midtown (I hear that the Inquisition Health Club has introduced manacles and chains to the aerobics class) or check out the Reverend-Senator Stonewall's headquarters at Freedom Plaza (watch out for the Christian Militia guarding it, though) or attend a sky-clad Wiccan sabbat (by invitation only). Avoid the courthouse, where the Cherokee have turned out in full war-paint to renegotiate a nineteenth century land deal.
Also stay away from all cemeteries, at least until the police find out why someone is disinterring and crucifying corpses.

As you can tell, this is a lively novel, full of intricate plotting and engaging off-beat characters. Among the latter are a gay detective, a Wiccan family, an ambitious televangelist with an eye on the White House, an artist whose medium is flesh and blood, a Cherokee drag queen--and then there's poor Benji, who would just like to make it to his fifteenth birthday, assuming the MIBS don't get him first or his Baptist parents don't ground him for life because his new girlfriend is a witch.
One of the few urban fantasy books I've read with a LGBT protagonist. There's solid plot and a lot of action in this story. Relationships aren't the primary focus of the book, but Hartman still managed to make it special in a way. One of the my favorite lines in the books was, "In his overly dramatic way, Daniel once told me that while his body might have racked up the mileage, his heart was still virgin territory. But I don’t want a virgin. I want someone who has been hurt, and stepped on, and had every last illusion shattered. Someone who comes to me cautiously, knowing the falling in love is easy and staying in love is hard, that passion dies and most relationships are doomed before they start. Someone I can love and an equal, not a student." This book has a little bit of everything: science fiction, detective work, fantasy, religious commentary, politics, and all kinds of goodies.

7. Ash by Malinda Lo
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing and romantic, Ash is an empowering retelling of Cinderella about choosing life and love over solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.
This is a re-telling of Cinderella with a surprising twist (which is why it's on this list). Ash and Kaisa’s relationship is just so damn sweet. It perfectly suits the lyrical fairy tale style Lo wrote this book in and I love the fact that it’s not the expected “prince charming” of the original Cinderella. Even though the front jacket makes Ash and Kaisa’s relationship clear from the beginning, I still kept waiting for it to happen. The slow budding of their relationship was torturous and realistic at the same time. You can read my full review here.

8. Melusine by Sarah Monette
"Melusine - a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption - and destinies lost and found." "Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But his aristocratic peers don't know his dark past - how his abusive former master enslaved him, body and soul, and trained him to pass as a nobleman. Within the walls of the Mirador - Melusine's citadel of power and wizardry - Felix believed he was safe. He was wrong. Now, the horrors of his previous life have found him and threaten to destroy all he has since become." "Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. Raised as a kept-thief and trained as an assassin, he escaped his Keeper long ago and lives on his own as a cat burglar. But now he has been caught by a mysterious foreign wizard using a powerful calling charm. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay - but for Felix Harrowgate." Thrown together by fate, the broken wizard Felix and the wanted killer Mildmay journey far from Melusine through lands thick with strange magics and terrible demons of darkness. But it is the shocking secret from their pasts, linking them inexorably together, that will either save them, or destroy them.
When I think about this book part of me wonders why I liked it so much. Because there are plenty of things to dislike about this story. Felix's treatment is pretty horrific and his parts of the book dragged on. Monette's story building and Mildmay saved this book though. By the end of the story I loved both Felix and Mildmay and I genuinely wished for their happiness. I thought the story got better as it moved along and I'd recommend reading all four books in the series.

9. The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genly Ai is an emissary from the human galaxy to Winter, a lost, stray world. His mission is to bring the planet back into the fold of an evolving galactic civilization, but to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own culture and prejudices and those that he encounters. On a planet where people are of no gender--or both--this is a broad gulf indeed. The inventiveness and delicacy with which Le Guin portrays her alien world are not only unusual and inspiring, they are fundamental to almost all decent science fiction that has been written since. In fact, reading Le Guin again may cause the eye to narrow somewhat disapprovingly at the younger generation: what new ground are they breaking that is not already explored here with greater skill and acumen? It cannot be said, however, that this is a rollicking good story. Le Guin takes a lot of time to explore her characters, the world of her creation, and the philosophical themes that arise.
I've decided to add this book the the list even though I haven't read it since it's science fiction and I wanted to throw some variety into the mix. This book is pretty much a science fiction classic and it's exploration of gender had me interested from the start. I've put it on hold at the library, but you can read tons of reviews for the book at goodreads (just follow the link).

10. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Lushly written with rich and vivid characters, Santa Olivia is Jacqueline Carey's take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth.

Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. Loup's father, a fugitive "Wolf-Man" who had a love affair with a local woman, was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon.

After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint - Santa Olivia - uses her special abilities to avenge the town. Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered and, like the reincarnation of their patron saint, bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.
Another urban fantasy book that completely surprised me. Maybe it's the dystopian vibe this book has, but I was hooked from the beginning. As the relationships unfold they feel natural and very sweet. All in all this is a great story and I can't wait for the sequel.

So there you have it. Keep in mind that this is just ten out of many. If you're interesting in more you can find two really good lists here and here. Unfortunately not one of these books represents the "T" in LGBT. I don't know if this is simply my ignorance, but the fantasy book I can think of with a transgendered character is Eon by Alison Goodman (I didn't add it to this list though since it's a secondary character). Tons of books feature girls pretending to be boys, but that doesn't cut it. I'll look to see if I can find more though.

ETA: The Book Smugglers out out a great list his morning that features more contemporary fiction. You can find it here.


  1. Yay, Ash! I loved that book so much. The Left Hand of Darkness was also really good (like pretty much everything I've read by Ursula K. Le Guin). It is more of a slow exploration than a traditional story arc, but I don't think that detracts from the value of the book. It's an experience. She explores that same world again in one of the pieces in one of her books of short stories, which is also worth looking for (I think it might have been in The Birthday of the World).

  2. I'm reading it today! I can't wait. I'll update this post when I'm finished.