22 Must-Read Sapphic And Lesbian Novels – From Pure Romance To Full Fantasy

The word “sapphic” and “lesbian” comes from the poet Sappho who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos around 600 BC.

20+ Must-Read Sapphic And Lesbian Novels - From Pure Romance To Full Fantasy

Lesbians have always had a connection to literature and culture, and although contemporary novels are more overt with romantic attraction than they did hundreds of years ago, ancient cultures were just as embracing.

I’ll start our must-read collection with historical landmarks in sapphic literature, and then dive into the more contemporary stories you can find in different genres. 

The Complete Poems Of Sappho – Historical Poetry

The Complete Poems of Sappho

Granted, our first suggestion isn’t a novel, but a collection of poems. It will be the only text that deviates in form. Sappho created her own poetic diction and meters shaping most of the poetry we know today.

The first was her usage of syllables. Around that time, Greek poetry would stick to a fixed number, but Sappho deviated from the norm and shortening lines by a few syllables and extending the next verse.

She was also the first known poet to use the word “I” – created a first-person narrative that greatly differed from other writers such as Homer or Hesiod.

Sappho used clear language on purpose, so every reader of her time would enjoy her work, rather than just the educated few. It also means modern readers can understand her work as the thoughts are simple and direct, drawing sharp images.

Sappho is a great poet to start your poetry collection with, she is also considered the first established lesbian writer.


  • Beautiful Writing
  • Timeless
  • Easy To Read


  • It’s poetry, not a novel.

Carmilla – Historical Vampires


Jumping forward to 1872, I present to you, the lesbian vampire novel which predates Dracula. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was written in 1987, 26 years later.

At the time, Stoker’s work was a clear reference to J. Sheridan LeFanu, but that knowledge is mostly lost in modern years. Carmilla was written at a time when fiction books weren’t socially accepted.

Novels were meant to be an accurate retelling of real events. Because the story is clearly fantastical LeFanu got around this issue by framing the story from the perspective of a therapist listening to a delusional patient.

This introduction does feel a little forced, but once you pass the short section, we hear the story of Laura. A carriage accident outside of her home, so she welcomed the startled fair maiden into her home, Carmilla.

Laura recognizes Carmilla from a dream and they soon become very close. Mystery erupts as young women start dying around town. When Laura starts to question the situation, Carmilla becomes jealous and enraged. 

The low fantasy mystery is intertwined with romantic confusion, desire, and family secrets.



  • Some gothic tropes may feel too obvious, but remember this vampire story predates concepts we now considered cliches.

Fingersmith – Historical Crime And Mystery


We are jumping to modern novels now, as we discuss Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. Written in 2002, but is based in Victorian England. Sue Trinder is a poor orphan, who makes a deal with a con man who goes by the name “Gentleman”.

Their job? Turn Sue into gentlewoman Maud Lilly’s maid, then convince Maud to marry Gentleman. Gentleman will then inherit and control Maud’s vast wealth and of course, he will pay Sue handsomely.

Sue grew up with petty thieves or fingersmiths, so saw no issue with the scam. However, the plot doesn’t go as planned when Sue starts to care for Maud. This Dickensian-style novel is fueled with romantic tension, moral questions, and a mysterious twist.


  • Fantastic Characters
  • Jaw-Dropping Twist
  • Delicate Romance


  • None

Tipping The Velvet – Historical Romance

Tipping the Velvet: A Novel

Tipping the Velvet is another novel by Sarah Waters. Again, set in Victorian London, this story follows Nan King, an oyster girl captivated by the male impersonator who performs in her local music hall.

Nan convinces her family to see the show and soon finds herself watching the performance as often as she can. Kitty, the drag performer, notices her new fan and invites Nan to become her dresser.

This is a story of gender expression and attraction both behind doors and on stage. However, as Nan grows confident in her new identity, it becomes clear that Kitty isn’t as open as her performance suggests.



  • The ending seems too neat

Our Wives Under The Sea – Contemporary Horror

Our Wives Under the Sea: A Novel

Julia Armfield has written a gripping horror story about Miri and her wife Leah. Leah has been lost at sea during a deep-ocean mission to explore the blue depths. When she finally returns, Leah isn’t herself.

It seems that whatever they were studying has come back to dry land. The story is slow paced as we learn about Miri and their love, making the juxtaposition between the Leah we know and the Leah we see even more ominous. Get ready to cry and grieve over these beautiful characters.


  • Gripping from the start
  • Well researched
  • Emotive


  • Miri and Leah feel too similar in places

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo – Historical Romance

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel

The majority of this story is set in the 1950s or Old Holywood. Evelyn Hugo is a legendary actress who has lived both a glamorous and scandalous life.

Evelyn decides now is the time to tell her story, so hired Monique, an unknown magazine reporter, to listen to her history and write the perfect article.

Monique is transfixed by the actress and does everything she can to learn more about her dramatic life. The tales and ruthless ambition are shared, as Monique begins to feel a real connection to the legendary star.

However, it soon becomes clear why Evelyn chose this nobody and how their lives intersect. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is due to become a Netflix movie.


  • Each character feels real and important
  • The drama is realistic and shocking
  • The novel will affect you for weeks after completing
  • Fantastic bisexual representation


  • Takes a while to get started

Dead End Girls – Contemporary Thriller

Dead End Girls

Maude has it all planned out. In a week, she will be dead, or at least that’s what they’ll think. From a family of abuse, in a hated life, Maude knows the only way to be happy is to leave.

Not just leave the house, or leave town, but leave in a way that no one can find her. She’s been planning it for years. But when Frankie, her cousin, figures out the plan, all is ruined. At least, that’s what she thought until AFAB Frankie asked to join in.

This story isn’t romantic, nor is it about sapphic relationships as such. It’s a thriller about identity, freedom, and finding love when all is lost.


  • Engaging Characters
  • Explosive Drama
  • Fast Paced


  • Some plot points were hard to believe

Patsy – Contemporary Drama

Patsy: A Novel

Patsy is a story about a mother and daughter. Patsy designs to leave Jamaica and move to America to search for her oldest friend and first love Cicely.

However Patsy doesn’t just leave her country behind, she also leaves her evangelical mother and 5-year-old daughter.

Our protagonist chooses to protect herself and rush to America leaving Tru behind, but when Patsy arrives, America is not what she expected.

As an undocumented immigrant, her relationship with Cicely becomes strained as she’s forced to work as a bathroom attendant. Tru, meanwhile, must stay with her father, trying her best to understand why her mother left.


  • Realistic storytelling of sadness and betrayal
  • Messy Relationships
  • Passionate Writing


  • The ending feels rushed

After Sappho – Fictional Retelling

After Sappho: A Novel

After Sappho is a historical and fictional retelling of the major sapphic artists around the early 20th century. Writer Selby Wynn Schwartz creates an inspiring story following artists, writers, actors, travelers, and philosophers through their real-life journeys.

These women didn’t conform to the expectations of their time, and although some of their work still remains for us to view, their personal lives were hidden due to the era of their life. Schwartz uses these trebelezers’ art to reimagine what went on in their life.


  • Ambitious fictional biographies
  • Intriguing cultural stories
  • Highlights important Sapphics in recent history


  • Admittedly slow in places

One Last Stop – Low Fantasy Contemporary Romance

One Last Stop

One Last Stop is a romantic comedy where a 23-year-old know-it-all refuses to believe in magic or love.

Living in New York City, she knows that waiting tables, living in a crowded apartment, and using the subway commute will not bring excitement to her life. Life is boring and you just get by.

At least, that’s what she knew until she met Jane. A gorgeous girl on the train, Jane is dressed like an old-school punk rocker. Swoopy hair, leather jacket, soft smile.

Her subway crush becomes the highlight of her day until August releases something is wrong. Jane doesn’t just dress like a 70s rocker, she is one. Jane is from the past.

August has to shake her melodramatic viewpoint and admit that love and magic are real if she wants to save the gorgeous girl lost in time.


  • Fun Romance
  • Enchanting Characters
  • Captures the worry of time in your 20s


  • Simple story

Cinderella Is Dead – Fairy Tale Retelling

Cinderella Is Dead

This novel takes place 200 years after Cinderella’s famed story. Now, teen girls are expected to go to the Annual Ball where eligible men pick their wives based on looks. If you aren’t chosen, the girls in question will never be seen again.

Sophia, our protagonist, would rather marry her best friend Erin than be part of the sick parade. Sophia decides to flee in a moment of desperation. In the confusion, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella.

They plot to take down the king together. This fantasy story opens up our minds to Cinderella’s life after marriage and the domino effect that happened after. It’s a fresh take on a classic, where love can still conquer all.


  • Excellent reimaging of the fairy godmother
  • Romantic Storyline
  • Easy To Read


  • Predictable
  • Not a lot of worldbuilding

Detransition, Baby – Queer Family Drama

Detransition, Baby: A Novel

Detransition, Baby is a fearless novel that tackles difficult subjects around gender and relationships. The story follows 3 people – one a transgender woman, the second a detransitioning man, and the third a cisgender woman.

Reese starts our story. She has everything she wants in life – a great girlfriend, a fantastic job, and an apartment in New York City. All she wants now is a baby. But when her partner Amy detransitions into Ames, Reese’s life falls apart. The two separate.

Ames thought he would be happier as a man, but now he has lost the love of his life. Although he thinks of Reese always, Ames develops a relationship with Katrina, his boss.

Now Katrina is pregnant, and Ames wonders if the baby can bring him and Reese back together. The story is complicated, and moving, and touches on the taboos of our society.


  • Well Written
  • Realistically Messy
  • Important


  • Misogynistic Undertones

Notes Of A Crocodile – Chinese Coming-Of-Age

Notes of a Crocodile (NYRB Classics)

Notes Of A Crocodile is a Chinese novel about a group of queer misfits in Taiwan. The teens go to the most prestigious university in their area but hardly study as their friendship and love life prove more important.

The main character is Lazi who has an intense attraction to Shui Ling. Shui Ling is an older woman who seems both hot and cold toward Lazi, leading her to ask friends what she should do.

The story balances romantic liberation with corroding innocence in a satirical masterpiece of social defiance.


  • Intriguing Writing Style
  • Relatable Characters
  • Emotional


  • Some aspects of the story might be missed due to cultural differences

Crier’s War – Fantasy Series

Crier's War

Alya is a human servant. Her family was killed by the Sovereign, the leader of this land. She’s been rising the ranks and plans to kill the Sovereign’s daughter as revenge. Lady Crier is the Sovereign’s daughter. She isn’t human, she was Made.

She has been preparing to inherit the throne, but something doesn’t make sense. Her betrothed has secrets, and her benevolent father doesn’t seem as good as she originally believed.

In this richly-imagined fantasy world, an impossible love blooms to birth a revolution. Romance, revenge, loss, and humanity are all brought into question for the Crier’s War.


  • Intense Plot
  • Fast Paced
  • Political Storyline


  • None

Trouble Girls – YA Thriller

Trouble Girls: A Novel

Trixie’s mom isn’t well. She lives in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing with her life, and all she wants is a weekend away. Lux, her best friend, takes them both on a mini-break when a night of violence details their trip forever.

The cops are called, and they’re on the run. High Schoolers with no place to go. They soon realize that they can only rely on each other.

The story is a rollercoaster, the characters are beautifully messy, and the anxiety you feel for the best friends-turned-sweethearts is palpable.


  • Beautifully Written
  • Intense Relationship
  • Cynical Tone


  • The pacing was slightly off, ending sooner than expected

Milk Fed – Family Drama

Milk Fed: A Novel

Rachel is 24 years old and still under the thumb of her mother. Her calorie-restricted diet is forced upon her under the guise of the Jewish religion. Rachel’s therapist tells her to stop talking to her mother for 90 days, calling the break a communication detox.

Just a couple of days into the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, an Orthodox Jewish woman who works at a frozen yogurt shop. Miriam is intent on feeding her new friend, while Rachel becomes entranced by this woman and her sundaes.

Her faith and her food are not at odds. As Rachel and Miriam grow closer, we see the tender and spiritual journey between love, food, and psyche.


  • Smart Dialogue
  • Gently discusses eating disorders
  • Intense Romance


  • The physical romance isn’t good

Boulder – Family Drama


Originally written in Spanish, this story follows a couple and their decision around children. Samsa and Boulder find love on a merchant ship, and they eventually move to Reykjavik and settle down.

Samsa knows she wants a baby, and at the age of 40, she doesn’t want to wait any longer. Boulder isn’t so sure but doesn’t know how to say no. Soon Samsa becomes pregnant, but motherhood changes her into a stranger.

Boulder must decide if freedom from parenthood is worth losing her love. Many people assume that all women want children, but this unwavering story tells of queer voices and their impossible navigation through a hostile world.


  • Romantically Dark
  • Comically Pessimistic
  • Radical Narrative


  • Heavy

Last Night At The Telegraph Club – YA Historical Romance

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

This novel is set in 1954 America – a time when women falling in love wasn’t a safe option. You had to live in secret or hide from the world around you. The same was true for Chinese Americans.

Lilly Hu knew the consequences of going to the Telegraph Club. It was the local lesbian bar, but she still went there. She still went there with Kathleen Miller.

Her father is close to deportation, despite his citizenship, so being out in public was a risky decision. And yet Lilly and Kath don’t want to hide anymore.


  • Realistic 1950s issues
  • Dark moments in the narrative
  • Well written sapphic awakening


  • Slow Beginning

Dead Dead Girls – Harlem Mystery Series

Dead Dead Girls (A Harlem Renaissance Mystery Book 1)

In the 1920s, young black women often died too young. Girls like Louise Lloyd. Louise already had a hard life before our story began.

She was kidnapped as a teen, and now she tries to ignore her past as she spends her nights at the hottest speakeasy with her adoring girlfriend. But when a girl ends up dead in front of the cafe, Louise cannot ignore her past anymore.

Two black women have been murdered, and due to an altercation, not a couple of days before, Louise is a suspect. Locked in a jail cell, Louise has to investigate the situation herself before she gets killed.


  • Defined Characters
  • Intriguing Mystery
  • Well Developed Twists


  • The pacing is off in places

Butter Honey Pig Bread – Drama

Butter Honey Pig Bread

Butter Honey Pig Bread follows three Nigerian women on 3 continents. Kambirinachi believes she is an Ohbanje, a spirit that brings misfortune. She decides to stay alive to help her family, despite the consequences that may come their way.

Kambirinachi has two daughters Talye and Kehinde. Kehinde runs away from the trauma of her childhood, cutting all contact. Talye feels guilt for what her sister went through, and it doesn’t take long for her to run away too.

Talye tries to quieten her guilt through casual flings with women in the area, but it does nothing to fill the void. After a decade of living apart, the three women must face their past and try to find closure.


  • Connections between food and sensuality
  • Characters you truly care about
  • Gripping Story


  • Difficult subject matter

Paradise Rot – Horror

Paradise Rot: A Novel

Joanna has moved to a new country for university. The house she moved into wasn’t what she expected. There are no walls, she has a roommate with seemingly no boundaries, and the house almost feels alive.

Day by day, Jo becomes more sensitive to everything around her. The plants, her dreams, her fears, her body. Carral is looking for a roommate to help her pay for the odd home she finds herself struggling to maintain.

The walls are thin, so thin they can hear each other’s movements. The two women find themselves oddly connected to the house, reaching for each other as they separate from the world. But the tender embrace soon turns to strangulation.


  • Strong Visual
  • Intense Romance
  • Bisexual Realism


  • Absurdist

Best Sapphic And Lesbian Novels Buyers Guide

Sapphic books are also called WLW, queer, lesbian, LGBT, and gay books. LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, while WLW stands for Women Loving Women.

If you see a book described as LGBT, queer, or gay, that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a sapphic novel.

These three terms are specifically ambiguous either because they cover all bases or because they help queer people find a novel without restricting the overall audience.

For example, if a lesbian wants to read a queer novel but doesn’t mind if the main characters are bisexual or men, they can pick up an LGBT book with confidence.

The term WLW was created to help lesbians and bisexual women find romance instead of pornographic content. Just 10 years ago, typing “lesbian” into a search engine would automatically flag the user for pornographic content aimed at the male gaze.

Lesbians created the term WLW so they could safely search for romance or cultural content and not get bombarded with images designed for men. The term sapphic does the same thing but isn’t as inclusive for bisexual women. If a book is labeled WLW, you can assume it’s PG or soft.


Sapphic writers are becoming more and more popular, which means we’re finding more content to fill our personal libraries. I recommend reading Sarah Waters’ first, as her novels are gripping, romantic, and filled with shocking twists.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Sapphic Novel?

A Sapphic Novel is a story about women who love women. They can be of any genre and aren’t necessarily romantic. As long as the main character is a woman who is romantically or sexually attracted to women, then it’s a sapphic novel.

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Noah Burton