If you’re craving some amazing representations of queerness in fantasy, than look no farther than the three titles below. Each in their own way contain queer characters with rich, inner lives without resorting to any of the known queer tragic tropes, while also racing through beautiful, complex worlds, both inner and outer, of fantasy and magic.
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson – I’ve written about Wilson’s work before, and I do not hesitate to say it some of the most original, wild, beautiful new epic fantasy being written. A sequel-of-a-sort novella to last year’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Wilson’s A Taste of Honey is a quieter story, about two men from different worlds who fall in love with each other: a distant member of the royal family of Great Olorum, Aqib bgm Sadiqi, who would prefer to spend time with the animals of the Royal Menagerie than others, until he meets Lucrio, a bawdy, rowdy, but poetic soldier of far off Daluca visiting for a few weeks. Their affair is told over the course of the weeks Lucrio is visiting, but as time ticks down, Aqib must make a decision in a society that abhors love between men, and insists upon loyalty to family, no matter what. If Wilson’s world of deep magic and intricate science doesn’t draw you in, his deft hand at painting the interior lives and loves of two wildly different men in a complex, shifting world will.
Verdict: Buy/Borrow it because love wins, damn the timeline.
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly – Oh, were you looking for a secondary fantasy spy-thriller novel set to the soundtrack from the Original Broadway production of Cabaret, featuring two men caught in the crossfires of an encroaching fascist regime, whose love for each other is the only thing keeping them from tearing the other’s world apart? Well, good, because I have the book for you. Cyril is an agent of the Foxhole in Amberlough, a decadent, opulent swath of city where the colors are loud, the music is bright, and there’s a good time around every corner, if you know who to pass a bill to. He’s got a good thing going after an unfortunate incident, even if he can’t seem to arrest the smuggler Aristide Makricosta, the rogue with the rouge and the pouty lips, whose songs at the Bumble Bee Cabaret can’t silence the quick-beating urge in Cyril’s chest. Except, Cyril gets made. On a mission to infiltrate the burgeoning radical-conservative One State Party, the Ospie leadership says Cyril either has to take down Amberlough, or find himself a nice patch of dirt to die on. Now, Cyril and Aristide, along with the help of Cordelia Lehane, singer, dancer, and drug runner, have to engage in a tango of triple crosses, dead drops, and bullet holes, or end up at the bottom of the sea along with the city itself. Donnelly’s novel is as timely as a Swiss watch, and I can guarantee it’s going to make waves. Out the first week of February, Amberlough deserves your attention.
Verdict: Buy it to watch how regimes rise. Read it and be inspired to fight.
The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller – Matt hasn’t eaten in days, and his older sister Maya has been gone for even longer. Convinced something has happened to her, Matt is determined to comb his awful, upstate NY high school to find the answers, and it all starts with Tariq, soccer superstar and the last person to see her before she disappeared. That is, if he can ignore the terrible pain in his empty stomach, the pain that may or may not be changing him, the pain, that if he focuses enough, wills it enough, can actually help him. You see, hunger makes you strong. And if you get hungry enough, you gain powers. A loner, constantly bullied for being gay, unable to trust anyone, Matt throws himself headlong into finding the secret to the art of starving, using his self-made guidelines to hone his abilities, find out who hurt his sister, and make them pay, that is, if he doesn’t die first. Shirley Jackson Award winner Sam J. Miller’s YA contemporary debut novel is unlike anything I have ever read before, and combines magical realism, dark humor, evocative imagery and prose, and a deep, huge heart to tell a story of loneliness, addiction, body image, first loves, coming out, and self-acceptance. Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless, and powerful, The Art of Starving is a classic in the making, and Matt’s journey will resonate with many, teens and adults alike, for years to come. It’s not out until early July, but I wanted to put this on your radars now; I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be big.
Verdict: Buy it because maybe you were lost and lonely once, and then maybe buy one for someone lost and lonely, too