Fantasy literature has always been rich with imaginative worlds, fantastic creatures, and epic battles. But the genre is also known for its exceptional exploration of identity, culture, and diversity. In recent years, LGBTQ representation in fantasy books has greatly improved, introducing readers to an expanding universe of characters and relationships that challenge stereotypes and foster inclusivity. In this article, we’ll delve into the importance of LGBTQ representation in fantasy literature, visit some classic gems you shouldn’t miss, and explore a variety of diverse contemporary works. So without further ado, let’s begin our journey into the best LGBTQ fantasy books of all time.
The Importance of LGBTQ Representation in Fantasy Literature
As readers, we all look for stories that resonate with us emotionally and intellectually, allowing us to see ourselves in the narrative. For many, this means finding characters who share similar backgrounds, struggles, or identities, whether racial, gender, or sexual. LGBTQ representation in fantasy literature is essential for this very reason, as it broadens perspectives and allows readers to better understand different lived experiences.
Beyond this personal resonance, LGBTQ representation in fantasy literature is important for several other reasons, which we’ll explore below.
Breaking Stereotypes and Encouraging Inclusivity
Historically, LGBTQ characters in literature have often been portrayed in stereotypical ways. These portrayals perpetuated limiting and harmful misconceptions about the LGBTQ community. Fantasy books featuring diverse and accurate LGBTQ characters challenge these stereotypes, opening readers’ minds and creating understanding and empathy.
Moreover, these books foster a sense of inclusivity by showing that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations are part of the fantastical worlds they create. This representation encourages a more inclusive and understanding society, both within and outside these stories.
The Evolution of LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy
Over the years, LGBTQ characters have become more prevalent and nuanced in fantasy books. What started as an occasional token character or subplot has evolved into more complicated narratives featuring central LGBTQ characters engaged in multi-faceted relationships.
This development has coincided with a broader societal shift toward understanding and embracing the LGBTQ community. As more authors take on the challenge and responsibility of crafting believable and diverse LGBTQ characters, the genre as a whole broadens and becomes more enriching for all readers.
One example of this evolution can be seen in the works of N.K. Jemisin, a Hugo Award-winning author who has created complex and compelling LGBTQ characters in her acclaimed Broken Earth trilogy. These characters are not defined solely by their sexuality or gender identity, but rather are fully realized individuals with their own unique personalities, motivations, and storylines.
In addition to Jemisin, other authors such as Tamora Pierce, Malinda Lo, and Scott Tracey have also contributed to the growing representation of LGBTQ characters in fantasy literature. Their works offer readers a diverse range of experiences and perspectives, helping to break down barriers and foster greater understanding and acceptance.
The Power of LGBTQ Representation in Young Adult Fantasy
Young adult literature has long been a powerful tool for exploring complex issues and inspiring social change. This is particularly true when it comes to LGBTQ representation in fantasy literature, as young readers are often still in the process of discovering and accepting their own identities.
Books such as Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On and Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End offer young readers LGBTQ characters to identify with and root for, while also exploring the challenges and triumphs of being part of the LGBTQ community. These books can be a lifeline for young readers who may feel isolated or misunderstood, offering them a sense of belonging and hope for the future.
Overall, the importance of LGBTQ representation in fantasy literature cannot be overstated. From breaking down harmful stereotypes to fostering inclusivity and empathy, these books have the power to change hearts and minds, both within and outside the pages of their stories.
Classic LGBTQ Fantasy Books You Shouldn’t Miss
Though LGBTQ representation in recent fantasy literature has come a long way, there are many classics you shouldn’t miss. These groundbreaking books helped pave the way for today’s authors, and they continue to captivate readers with their compelling stories and characters. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at three of these classic books: The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, and The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez.
The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey
Beginning with Magic’s Pawn in 1989, The Last Herald-Mage trilogy tells the story of Vanyel, a young gay man who discovers he has magical abilities. This series is widely regarded as one of the first mainstream fantasy series featuring an LGBTQ protagonist. Through Vanyel’s story, Lackey confronts issues of prejudice, identity, and loss, offering readers powerful emotional resonance that still holds up today.
The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy is a must-read for any fan of LGBTQ fantasy. Lackey’s world-building is masterful, and her characters are richly drawn and deeply sympathetic. Vanyel’s struggles with his own identity and the prejudices of those around him are both heart-wrenching and inspiring, and his journey from a troubled young man to a powerful mage is a story that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Ellen Kushner’s 1987 novel Swordspoint is a swashbuckling tale set in a city where duels are settled with the lethal art of swordplay. This book is notable for its candid portrayal of a same-sex relationship between the protagonist, Richard St. Vier, and his lover, Alec. This trailblazing fantasy novel has since spawned several prequel books and inspired an entire subgenre, known as ‘fantasy of manners.’
Swordspoint is a thrilling read that combines action, romance, and political intrigue in a way that few other books can match. Kushner’s prose is elegant and evocative, and her characters are complex and compelling. Richard and Alec’s relationship is both tender and fraught with tension, and their struggles to navigate the dangerous world of the nobility will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
Published in 1991, The Gilda Stories is a unique LGBTQ vampire novel that follows the protagonist, Gilda, from her birth as an escaped slave in 1850s Louisiana to the end of the 20th century. This groundbreaking book weaves together elements of Black spirituality, black feminism, and LGBTQ themes, making it an essential addition to your fantasy reading list.
The Gilda Stories is a haunting and beautiful book that explores themes of identity, community, and the power of love. Gomez’s writing is lyrical and poetic, and her characters are unforgettable. Gilda’s journey through time and space is both epic and deeply personal, and her relationships with the people she meets along the way are both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Overall, these three books are essential reading for anyone interested in LGBTQ fantasy. They are groundbreaking works that helped pave the way for the diverse and inclusive fantasy landscape we have today, and they continue to captivate readers with their timeless stories and characters.
Contemporary LGBTQ Fantasy Books Making Waves
Modern LGBTQ fantasy books bring fresh voices, diverse stories, and innovative ideas to the genre. These books not only provide representation for LGBTQ individuals but also showcase the talent and creativity of today’s authors. Below are some contemporary titles making waves in the literary world and highlighting the achievements of these authors.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Samantha Shannon’s epic standalone novel The Priory of the Orange Tree is a sprawling, intricately detailed story of magic, dragons, and political intrigue. The novel is set in a world where dragons are revered and feared, and their existence is crucial to the balance of power. The story follows the parallel journeys of several characters, including a same-sex love story at the heart of the novel. The relationship between two women, Sabran and Ead, is not only a captivating read, but it also showcases an LGBTQ romance as an integral and powerful thread within the narrative.
Shannon’s world-building is masterful, and her characters are complex and well-developed. The novel explores themes of power, identity, and love in a way that is both thought-provoking and entertaining. The Priory of the Orange Tree is a must-read for fans of epic fantasy and LGBTQ literature.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The House in the Cerulean Sea tells the heartwarming story of Linus, a caseworker who investigates magical orphanages, and Arthur, the caretaker of a unique home filled with magical children. The novel is a delightful mix of fantasy, humor, and romance. Klune’s writing is witty and charming, and his characters are endearing and relatable.
At the heart of the novel is the tender romance between Linus and Arthur. Their relationship is not only a beautiful love story but also a commentary on the societal expectations placed on LGBTQ individuals. Klune’s portrayal of their love is nuanced and realistic, and it serves as a reminder that love knows no boundaries.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is a feel-good novel that will leave readers with a smile on their face and warmth in their heart.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Starless Sea is a gorgeously-written, labyrinthine tale about a hidden world beneath the earth, composed of countless stories, mythologies, and love letters. The novel is a tribute to the power of storytelling and the magic of books. Morgenstern’s prose is lyrical and evocative, and her imagery is breathtaking.
Amidst its intricate narrative, Morgenstern weaves in a same-sex love story that will captivate readers. The relationship between Zachary and Dorian is both tender and passionate, and it adds another layer of depth to the already rich story. Morgenstern’s portrayal of their love is poignant and authentic, and it serves as a reminder that love is a universal experience.
The Starless Sea is a mesmerizing book that will transport readers to a world of wonder and enchantment.
Diverse LGBTQ Fantasy Worlds to Explore
As the range of LGBTQ fantasy books has expanded, readers can now explore an ever-growing variety of diverse worlds populated by intriguing and multifaceted characters. Below, we’ve gathered some must-read LGBTQ fantasies that transport readers to new and exhilarating landscapes.
The Tensorate Series by JY Yang
The Tensorate Series, beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven, offers a richly-imagined, Asian-inspired world where individuals can alter reality using the titular Tensor magic. These novellas explore themes of gender, identity, and power, with characters who can choose their gender at adolescence. The series has been praised for its inventive world-building and engaging storytelling.
The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
As part of The Tensorate Series, The Black Tides of Heaven deserves separate mention for its compelling story and lush fantasy world. Central to the narrative is the sibling relationship and the complex dynamics that unfold as the characters navigate their identities and powers. Neon Yang’s innovative storytelling pushes the boundaries of fantasy literature and challenges readers to reconsider gender norms.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The City We Became is an urban fantasy that envisions cities as living, breathing entities with avatars that represent them. In this New York City-inspired world, every borough has a human avatar who must defend the city against a monstrous, supernatural force. With a diverse and inclusive cast of characters, Jemisin deftly explores themes of identity, culture, and the power of human connections.
Each of the titles mentioned above adds value to the ever-evolving landscape of LGBTQ fantasy literature, weaving inclusive, captivating stories that draw readers into vibrant and diverse worlds. These books are not only entertaining but also essential to the growth and development of the fantasy genre. So grab your next great LGBTQ fantasy read, escape to new realms, and witness the magic these works have to offer.
What does LGBTQ stand for?
LGBTQ is an anagram for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer. It is an umbrella term used to describe people and communities who do not have sexualities or genders that conform to heteronormative ideas.
Are LGBTQ fantasy novels cozy or dark fantasies?
LGBTQ fantasies can be written to include the tropes and themes of any of the subgenres of fantasy. The only difference is they will include explicitly queer characters.
Who writes the best LGBTQ fantasy books?
F. T. Lukens, the author of So This Is Ever After, and Aiden Thomas, the writer behind Cemetery Boys, are two very popular writers of LGBTQ fantasy novels.