It’s never not a good time for queer pirate, but having watched the entirety of Taika Waititi’s new gay pirate dramedy Our Flag Means Death in the last few days, I’m especially ready for all the queer pirate shenanigans. They might not feature Blackbeard in leather, but these queer pirate books have their own impeccable love interests and pirate antics to recommend them.
Despite their penchant for violence, historically, pirates valued equality and democracy, including a system of checks and balances and a benefits package, as opposed to the extremely hierarchical life most had lived as sailors, enslaved people, or indentured servants. And those ideals of equality extended beyond governance, as well. There was even a pirate-specific term for same-sex civil unions, of a sort, referred to as “matelotage.” Maybe that’s not surprising, given the male-dominated world of piracy. But women were pirates too, with some — though not all — dressing as men, like Anne Bonny and Mary Read. It would be inappropriate to assign modern ideas about gender to them, but it’s safe to say that whether disguising themselves or taking up roles usually reserved for men, as with the female pirates who didn’t disguise their gender, a certain flexibility around sexuality and gender came with a life of piracy.
It’s only appropriate to see that depicted in pirate fiction. From genderqueer pirates to sapphic love on the high seas, these eight queer pirate books depict the best and truest stories about piracy — even if they sometimes add a bit of magic and mermaids along the way.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
On a pirate ship disguised as a transport vessel, Evelyn, a lady journeying across the sea to marry her betrothed, and a young pirate who goes by Florian, but is secretly Flora, finds themselves drawn to each other, despite their very different paths and upbringings. Florian was a war orphan, Evelyn a girl in a gilded cage. But now the two must devise an escape from the lives laid out for them with the help of a captured mermaid, an opportunistic witch, and the spirit of the Sea itself.
A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee
In 1826, the sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, scourge of the South China Sea, is no more than a story these days. But when Xiang learns that the pendant left behind by her father might prove his connection to the Dragon Fleet and contain a long lost treasure map, she jumps on the chance to find the treasure, even if it means joining ranks with the girl who tried to steal her pendant. But a pirate’s life is never easy, and Xiang and Ahn soon discover that the truth of what is out there is far more dangerous than the stories ever could’ve led them to believe.
Compass Rose by Anna Burke
A navigator with an inherent perception of cardinal directions finds herself working on a mercenary ship in this futuristic science fiction journey. Rose is part of a secret mission, commissioned by Admiral Comita herself to journey into the heart of pirate territory. But despite her perfect sense of direction, Rose soon learns that navigating the turbulent relationships aboard the ship may prove the undoing, even of her.
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
In this sci-fi pirate adventure, a girl raised to work with the genetically engineered sea monsters that fill the pirate-infested NeoPacific is kidnapped by the pirate queen Santa Elena, who wants her help in training an unhatched Reckoner pup. If Cassandra succeeds, she’ll be giving the pirates a powerful tool for their arsenal. But if she doesn’t, it’ll be her blood washing the decks.
The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson
A mythic pirate city floating beyond the farthest edges of safe seas, sea monsters, and a water war between two clashing cultures lie in wait in the pages of this environmental epic fantasy novel. The granddaughter of a famous captain and hearthfire keeper must follow in her grandmother’s footsteps after the woman disappears into the depths of the Forever Sea, an unending expanse of prairie grasses Kindred Greyreach is only just learning to navigate. What lies beneath the surface of the Forever Sea? And what, exactly, was her grandmother searching for in its dark depths?
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
A girl living on the streets of New Orleans and an airship captain with a penchant for smuggling team up in this alternate take on an independent New Orleans filled with a melting pot of American, French, and Haitian culture. Gaining Captain Ann-Marie’s trust could earn Creeper a spot on her airship, the Midnight Robber, and a one-way ticket out of New Orleans. But Creeper is holding one wild card close to the chest: her connection to Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks to Creeper and sometimes grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own plans for Creeper and Ann-Marie.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
Peter left behind his life as Peter Pan long ago, but after years in the real world, it’s becoming increasingly clear that he can’t be parted from his identity as a man. When Peter returns to Never Land, he discovers a very different world that the one he left behind. The Lost Boys have grown up, and he finds himself warring over conflicting feeling for his old rival, Captain Hook. After all these years, Peter isn’t sure which of them is really the villain: Hook or Peter himself.
A Song of Silver and Gold by Mel Karibian (June 15)
In this retelling of The Little Mermaid, a princess disguised as a pirate captain has vowed to get her revenge for her brother’s death by eradicating all sirens in Avalon. To fight back against her, a siren warrior makes a deal with a sea witch to bring back the heart of Captain Kae in exchange for bringing the siren princess, dead on Aqeara watch, back to life. But when the two meet and find themselves caught up in a whirlwind romance, they must each decide what matters more: revenge or the love of their life?
We’re got even more swashbuckling adventures for you to read, including the best YA pirate books, 50 pirate books to put some yarrrrr matey in your reading, and 13 swashbuckling fantasy reads.
And be sure to keep an eye out for The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa, a YA pirate novel coming in 2023 featuring a trans masculine Latinx teen pirate. I would like to read that, please and thank you.