This is a guest post from David R. Slayton. Slayton grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. His debut novel White Trash Warlock is out October 13, 2020 from Blackstone Publishing. Find him online at DavidRSlayton.com and on Twitter at @drslayton.
I believe in happy endings, even though they are often hard won.
When times get hard I go back to the stories that lift me up, the ones that show me an LGBT+ character can struggle but ultimately triumph. I’m especially partial to a happy ever after in the romance department.
Here are some fantasy and science fiction books where the boy usually gets the boy, the girl usually gets the girl, but most importantly, the ending proves that while it isn’t all rainbows along the way, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and hope wins the day.
Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
There’s plenty of darkness in Lynn Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows, including one scene that still haunts me. This book was the first epic fantasy where I saw myself on the page, where a gay man wasn’t a villain and doesn’t die tragically or suffer at the hand of his society.
Seregil knows who he is. There’s no coming out, there’s no AIDS analogy, and because of that it will always have a special place on my shelf. It starts with a rescue as Seregil, spy and thief, saves a hunter, Alec, from a brutal death and brings him back to the worldly city of Rhiminee. Alec learns Seregil’s trade and is quickly drawn into his life of magical intrigue and espionage. Against that backdrop the book plays a long game of will they or won’t they, building a complex relationship that unspools across the lengthy series.
Not Your Average Love Spell by Barbara Ann Wright
Less epic in length, with books and series across all genres of science fiction and fantasy, Rainbow Award Winner Barbara Ann Wright is the queen of lesbian speculative fiction. Her most hopeful book is Not Your Average Love Spell.
Wright weaves comedy, romance, and plot for a satisfying romp. Wright’s characters are what set her books apart. Rowena, a grumpy witch who’s spent too much time alone for good manners and Camille, a knight on a mission, are no exception. If you want less comedy and more epic, try The Pyramid Waltz, Wright’s book about a princess who pretends to be a rake by day while she protects the crown from threats at night. It kicks off a four-book series with a prequel coming soon.
The 5th Gender by G.L. Carriger
From the flashiest vampire you can imagine to a cross-dressing lesbian inventor, Gail Carriger has always included LGBT+ rep in her work. A queen at flipping tropes, she’s my go-to when I need a laugh, some steampunk, and a happy ending.
Lately she’s branched out as G.L. Carriger, writing more adult-themed male/male fiction including the The 5th Gender, a cozy murder mystery set on a space station with a heavy helping of sweet romance. Tristol, the purple alien with prehensile hair, leaps off the page as cute and relatable as he navigates life among humans. Drey, the cop assigned to solve the murder, has to learn Tris’s culture in order to solve a mystery that requires him to get well beyond the gender binary. I came for the mystery and stayed for a love story that still makes me smile.
The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff
Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone is another old friend, a classic fantasy I love to revisit. It’s a standalone and like all of her books has great LGBTQ+ representation. Like Huff’s excellent Valor series, you’ll quickly pick up on the Dungeons and Dragons influence, but it doesn’t detract. Much of it feels familiar.
The plot is a McGuffin hunt in a world richly flavored by medieval Europe. I love this book for the characters. Chandra only wants to master sorcery and doesn’t want to marry Darvish, the royal screwup who really needs to get it together and cut back on his drinking. Aaron wants to burgle the palace. Brought together to retrieve the eponymous stone, each of them has to grow and mend their flaws to save the kingdom from destruction.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation isn’t a light read. It melds historical fiction with zombies. It’s the only book on this list without a romance storyline, though the bisexual rep is clear on the page. This is a hard book, adding horror to the darkest time in America’s past, but it also ends in hope.
Ireland’s heroine, Jane, shines as she struggles to survive and reach her goal of a better lot in life. Like all good zombie stories, the shambling dead aren’t the ultimate threat, but Jane proves up to the task and brings the perfect mix of deadly combat skills and wit as she navigates a historical world with societal problems that continue to plague our time.
Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran
Helen Corcoran’s Queen of Coin and Whispers is a low-magic political fantasy full of plot twists and simmering schemes. Lia inherits a bankrupt kingdom and recruits a new Spymaster, Xania, who wants revenge for her murdered father. Flirting commences over pastries and via a book club as Lia fights a shadow war to keep her crown and Xania struggles to survive a court where coin is just as deadly a weapon as poison. Young adult, this book takes its darker turns while the romance slow burns in the background.
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
C.L. Polk’s Witchmark kicks off her Kingston Cycle. A murder mystery set in a world with the stylings of Victorian England, Polk interweaves romance, gadgetry, and magic in a tale about freedom and the costs of war and progress.
Magicians in Polk’s world often enslave each other, creating a caste system that’s hard to escape and subverting a bond that should be given not taken. The romance between Miles and Tristan crosses worlds and sweetens a book with some heavy themes.
The Lightning Struck Heart by TJ Klune
Conflict and struggle make for a good story, but sometimes I just want to laugh. TJ Klune’s The Lightning Struck Heart is almost all sparkles. I’ve never laughed so hard reading a book before this.
Sam the apprentice is on a quest to become the youngest wizard to ever pass the trials. He’s definitely not going to let himself get distracted by Ryan Foxheart, the dashing knight commander who’s engaged to the prince Sam is sworn to serve. Sam is of course, utterly distracted. With chapter titles like “I’d swallow anything for you,” this book is a life raft on a dark day. It’s crass, silly, and overflowing with heart. It’s my number one reread when I need a pick me up.
Hero by Perry Moore
Perry Moore’s Hero is one of my go-to audiobooks. This teen superhero story shows Moore’s deep love for comics and his understanding of what makes an outcast story work. Thom Creed doesn’t have super powers, but he’s trying to make the world a better place anyway. When he does get them, he has a steep learning curve that leads to some awkward teen moments that make me cringe every time I revisit them. This book deals a lot with loss and self-discovery, though both are tempered by a background romance that slowly moves into the foreground and softens the sacrifices that heroes often have to make.
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Another great entry in the young adult superhero space is the very fun Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. She knows how to work the superhero tropes. There’s government conspiracies and superpowers and lots of action wrapped up with a sweet lesbian romance. It’s written in the present tense, which adds to the fun energy as the plot unwinds. For a bonus there’s a nice bit of trans representation. This book plays with the idea of heroes and villains, and Jessica Tran spends a good portion of the story trying to figure out who is which.