Queer historical fantasy is a genre I’ve discovered I quite enjoy — maybe because there’s often such a strong overlap with cozy fantasy. Not always, mind you. Historical settings aren’t always ideal places for queer people. But when you add fantasy into the mix, fantastical things like queernorm worlds where LGBTQ relationships and identities aren’t even questioned often take shape. These are the sorts of queer historical fantasy books I love. They almost feel akin to a fairy tale, where the prince can marry his knight in shining armor, and the princess rescues herself.
These stories blend together all the best elements of fantasy and historical fiction into worlds that are described with monikers like gaslamp fantasy or steampunk. It’s hard to deny their appeal. Especially with queer historical fantasy, we can reimagine the past, making it friendlier than it sometimes was or taking the stories that were whispered in quiet and giving them permission to shine. Certainly, there were periods and places in history where queer identity wasn’t considered outside the norm, but queer historical fantasy allows for queer people to exist regardless of how society viewed them at the time. If that’s not a reason to want to read more queer historical fantasy, I don’t know what is.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
A clerical accident lands baronet Robin Blythe as the newest liaison to a magical community he didn’t even know existed up until now. Unfortunately, it also puts him in the crosshairs of a dangerous band of magicians looking to take control of the origins of all British magic. Now, Robin is cursed, and the only person who can help him also hates him. It’s true that Edwin Courcey doesn’t want to have anything to do with Robin, but he doesn’t really hate him. In fact, the more closely the two work together, the more Edwin finds himself falling for the ridiculous, kindhearted man.
The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang
This reimagining of a classic Chinese novel follows a band of outlaws defying laws and gender norms in a corrupt Empire. Lin Chong is an expert arms instructor — until a powerful man decides to destroy her career. Tattooed as a criminal and on the run, Lin Chong discovers a group living in the mountains on the edge of society who believe in justice but have been branded criminals. Many of them actually are. But Lin Chong is a criminal now, too, and together, they just might be able to take on an Empire.
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C. M. Waggoner
A thief takes on a job as a bodyguard, joining a team of women protecting a rich young lady from unknown assassins. Delly doesn’t really believe the threat is all that serious, but a series of attacks soon shows her just what they’re all up against. Soon, she’s teaming up with one of her fellow bodyguards, Winn, to fight against a mysterious magical assailant who may just be behind the assassin’s attempts.
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
In a world very much like Edwardian England, a man marked by magic goes to war to try to escape his fate. But even after surviving as a changed man and faking his own death, Miles Singer can’t escape the fate magic has in store for him. As a doctor, it’s his duty to serve his patients — even if that means exposing his magical powers. Now, Miles must rely on the magic he’s hidden, the family he escaped, and the endless kindness of a generous stranger to solve the mystery of what happened to his murdered patient.
Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall
When Miss Maelys Mitchelmore finds herself to be the unlucky recipient of a curse (her dress unmaking itself over the course of an evening is a rather obvious sign), she must seek out the aid of a witch. Lady Georgianna Landrake is rumored to have murdered her father and brothers to inherit their estate. Definitely not the sort of person Maelys would like to be associating with, but then again, when you’re cursed, needs must. Of course, the more time Maelys spends in Georgianna’s company, the less she cares what anyone else has to say about it — even when her own reputation might be at stake.
A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland
A prince with the ability to taste-detect metal with his touch, in an effort to prove his loyalty to his sister, the queen, after an embarrassing altercation with a court ambassador, takes responsibility for an investigation into a recent guild break-in. Along with his handsome new bodyguard, Evemer, Prince Kadou uncovers a counterfeiting conspiracy that could cripple the kingdom’s coffers and his sister’s reign.
The True Queen by Zen Cho
A woman determined to save her sister from a curse travels to Regency Britain to attend a newly established academy where women can train in magic. If Muna is to succeed, she must convince all the high society people around her that she is a magical prodigy — a real trick for someone who has lost all their memories after waking up on an island with their sister slowly fading away. But Muna is determined to succeed, whatever it takes.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
When a mysterious timepiece saves his life from a blast at Scotland Yard, Thaniel Steepleton is determined to track down its maker. Keita Mori is hiding more than just the secrets of how he made that watch, though, and when an Oxford physicist begins to interfere, Thaniel’s loyalties are torn between the two. Mori isn’t who he appears to be at first, but the more Thaniel learns about his work, the more obvious it becomes that the world as he knows it isn’t exactly as it appears either.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
If you’re going to be typecast, you might as well embrace being the monster. That’s what Luli decides when she finally makes a name for herself at a movie studio, anyway. But in this version of pre-code Hollywood, monsters aren’t just in the movies; the studios are full of them. Because in a world where deals with the devil keep studios afloat, the price of fame is incredibly high. Luli is willing to pay that price. But what sort of monster will it turn her into?
A Market of Dreams and Destiny by Trip Galey
In a magical market under London’s Covent Garden, anything can be purchased for a price. Deri knows this all too well, having been sold to a market merchant as a child. Now, a runaway princess could be his chance to finally buy back his freedom. She wants to sell her royal future, and he could be the one to barter her for it. But news of the princess soon spreads, and outmaneuvering the entire market is tricky business. Especially since Deri just met the love of his life, a man almost as entangled in the market as Deri himself.
When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb
An angel and a demon get on a boat to America. It might sound like the start of a bad joke, but it’s no laughing matter for Uriel and Ashmedai when a girl from their shtetl goes missing, caught up in a scheme targeting immigrants. The angel and the trickster don’t always see eye to eye, but their bond is somehow still unshakeable. Across eras and continents, changing identities and loyalties, Uriel and Ash realize that, ultimately, the one thing they can rely upon in this world is each other.
The Devourers by Indra Das
A college professor encounters a mysterious stranger on the road in Kolkata, India, one night. This stranger has an extraordinary story to tell. Alok is desperate to hear this story all the way through and agrees to transcribe a collection of notebooks recounting the stranger’s tale. It’s a story of creatures that are more than human yet not unlike beasts and of a woman torn apart by two different worlds. But it’s not only the story Alok is fascinated with; this stranger is awakening something in Alok, something that can no longer be ignored.
Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May
Magic exists on Crow Island, lurking just beneath the surface. That’s what everyone says. But Annie Mason has no interest in magic. She only wants to settle her father’s estate and reconnect with her best friend. But Annie’s determination to stay away from magic is tested when she meets Emmeline Delacroix. Emmeline is rumored to be a sorceress, and as she draws Annie deeper into the island’s underworld of parties and magic, Annie begins to realize that the price of magic is as alluring as it is deadly.
A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows
Velasin vin Aaro and Caethari Aeduria always knew a political marriage might be in their future; they just never expected it to be with each other because such relationships are forbidden in Ralia. But they’re not forbidden in Tithena, where Cae lives. Like it or not, the two are bound together now, and with unknown factions trying to kill them, they’ll have to learn to trust each other if they want to survive. But trust isn’t love, and learning to love each other will prove a far more arduous challenge.
A Rake of His Own by A.J. Lancaster
A dead body and a naked fae prince are the last things Marius needs as he struggles with his own burgeoning magical powers, but they’re exactly what he gets. The complicated past Marius shares with Prince Rakken doesn’t help matters, either. But now, the two must work together to solve a murder that could completely unravel human-fae relations, all while keeping their feelings at bay. Because Rakken represents everything Marius is attempting to avoid — doesn’t he?
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
A nonbinary monk storyteller tells a series of incredible stories in this cycle of novellas from author Nghi Vo. Chih is on the road in search of stories when they run into an elderly woman who was once a handmaiden in the court of an exiled Empress. Rabbit was there for the rise and fall of Empress In-yo, and she has a story to tell unlike any other Chih has heard.
That’s only the start of Chich’s adventures, too, which continue in the sequel, When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
In a fantasy world inspired by pre-colonial Vietnam, a princess returned from her time as a hostage in a foreign court must weigh her loyalty to her mother, her country, and her first love when the past catches up with her. Returned home and given a role as a diplomat in her mother’s imperial court, Thanh can only hope the magical fire that destroyed Ephteria’s palace in her time there never catches up with her. But when Eldris of Ephteria, her first love, comes to her home, echoes of the fire return. Can Thanh protect her people and her heart, or will choosing between the two reveal what she’s really wanted all along?
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
In a world inspired by Indian epics and history, a princess held captive by her despotic brother in an ancient temple sees a way out of her predicament when she witnesses a maidservant’s magical powers. Priya has been hiding her true nature for years, but when Malini witnesses what she can do, their dreams and destinies become entangled with each other. Malini wants to take back her throne. Priya wants to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an entire empire.
The Absinthe Underground by Jamie Pacton (February 6, 2024)
Best friends Sybil and Esme are invited to the Absinthe Underground by a woman who reveals herself to be the Green Faerie, trapped in the human world and in need of help. All they have to do is set out on a dangerous heist in the world of Fae. In exchange, Maeve promises them enough money to cover rent for the rest of their lives. Even if Maeve’s story and Sybil’s connection to the Fae should give them pause, it’s too generous an offer to pass up. Whatever happens, at least they’ll have each other.
The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang (March 26, 2024)
Switching in time between 4 BCE, 1740, and present-day, The Emperor and the Endless Palace tells the story of two men, reborn lifetime after lifetime, and drawn to each other in every one. Their love is undying, but life always tests them, and if they’re not careful, the love that draws them together through the centuries might just consume them both.