For me, one of the best parts about picking up a queer fantasy book is the possibility of being immersed in a world that doesn’t have heteronormativity or cissexism, because you’re building a whole different world, so you don’t have to pack in all of the prejudices from ours! I know there are a lot of people looking for queer fantasy set in worlds without any prejudice towards queer people — also known as “queernormative” or “queernorm” books! So I wanted to provide a place to start.
I got a lot of these suggestions from the Queer SFF Database. They have a way to search their database for worlds without homophobia! I also got some recommendations from a Guardian article and crowd-sourced using Twitter, other Book Rioters, Goodreads, and a handful of blogs. I tried to double check each of these to make sure that they are, in fact, set in worlds without any homophobia or transphobia, but if I got any of them wrong, please let me know!
About half of these are adult picks, and the other half are YA. Let’s start with the adult titles!
Adult Fantasy Without Homophobia or Transphobia
Tale of the Five Series by Diane Duane
We are currently living in a golden age of queer books, but I always want to recognize the queer authors and books that came before this. So I wanted to start with a few of the classics of queernorm fantasy, like this one!
The Tale of the Five series was published in 1979, is set in a pansexual, polyamorous world, and starts with an M/M romance. This is pretty typical ’70s fantasy fare, with the exception of the queer relationships, so your miles may vary. Trigger warning for rape. (I don’t know the triggers for all of the titles on this list, though.)
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Published in 1987, this is a “melodrama of manners” with a bisexual main character and an M/M relationship. It is light on fantasy, reading like historical fiction: much more swords than sorcery. Recently, Serial Box has published Tremontaine, a prequel written by several authors, including Ellen Kushner and Malinda Lo, so if you want to spent more time in that world, the prequel has almost 700 more pages of it!
Elemental Logic Series by Laurie J. Marks
This is a lesbian fantasy series that came out in 2002. Not only does the world have no homophobia, there is also no gender discrimination! It’s about three people with elemental magic who have to find a way to work together, or have the country fall into war. I really appreciated the character-building in this one!
The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang*
Moving into the more recently published adult fantasy titles, this pair of novellas follows a set of twins from childhood into adulthood. In this society, by puberty most people pick the gender that suits them and switch from they/them to he/him or she/her pronouns. The series include an M/M relationship and a nonbinary (adult) character.
*Editor’s note: A correction: while this world is accepting of binary trans people, there is a villain who is not accepting of the adult nonbinary character.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
This is the epic queer fantasy that everyone’s been talking about! It’s more than 800 pages and is filled with dragons, magic, and a slow burn F/F romance — all in a world with no prejudice against same-sex relationships. What more do I need to say?
The Chronicles of Ghadid Series by K.A. Doore
This series has a gay asexual main character. It’s set in a desert city where water is money, magic, and power. There are assassins running and fighting on rooftops!
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
This novella is an F/F retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” in a Vietnam-inspired fantasy setting. It has a shapeshifting dragon doctor! One of the main characters is a lesbian and the other is bisexual. It’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy, including magic as well as aliens.
Queernorm worlds are kind of de Bodard’s jam, though! Check out her other fantasy books set in worlds without homophobia or transphobia: House of Shattered Wings (F/F relationship, gay side characters) and Fireheart Tiger (sapphic main character).
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Another novella, this one has nonbinary and sapphic main characters. It follows Rabbit, a handmaiden to an empress who went on to overthrow the empire. The framing device follows a nonbinary archivist who visits the former empress’s former home and interviews elderly Rabbit about the whole story.
Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran
This is a sapphic fantasy packed with political intrigue, partially inspired by Elizabethan spycraft. It’s told in two perspectives: Lia, a young queen newly ascended to the throne, and Xania, the unassuming woman Lia taps as her new spymaster — though Xania has her own motives, determined to avenge her father’s death. If you want a fantasy of manners with queer royals and an F/F subplot, this one’s for you!
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner
This is a madcap fantasy with a bisexual woman main character. When Dellaria sees an ad for a job acting in a team of bodyguards for a noblewoman, she thinks it’s easy money. Just as she’s starting to flirt with one of the other lady bodyguards, though, the job gets a lot more serious, and they begin fending off powerful magical assassination attempts. Think Victorian fantasy, but with trolls, witches — and a dead rat character.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
This has a nonbinary pacifist main character who accidentally acquires a dragon automaton buddy!
Jebi is an artist who finds themself recruited to work as a kind of mystical coder for the military. This is against their pacifist ideals, but they are desperate. While working for the Razanei government, though, they discover the military is even worse than they thought…and while Jebi is working, they accidentally give a dragon automaton free will. Now Jebi finds themself with a mechanical war dragon companion, up against a tyrannical government.
The Unbroken by CL Clark
Like many of the books on this list, The Unbroken may be set in a world without homophobia, but that doesn’t mean it’s rainbows and unicorns. Instead, this is a story that is about colonialism and racism. It also has an unhealthy (but captivating) F/F relationship between two women — a disabled white princess and a Black foot soldier — who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.
Want even more queernorm adult fantasy novels? Also check out:
- Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey: bisexual main character (Editor’s note: The main country this series is set in is queernorm, but other countries mentioned may not be.)
- Tales of Inthya series by Effie Calvin: F/F relationship
- The Deep by Rivers Solomon: nonbinary character, F/F relationship, and M/M relationship.
- The Kynship Chronicles by Daniel Heath Justice: Two-Spirit characters and queer main characters
- The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie: bisexual trans man main character
- The Library of the Unwritten by AJ Hackwith: pansexual woman main character
- The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart: significant sapphic side characters
Young Adult Fantasy Books Without Homophobia or Transphobia
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
This is a hugely popular sapphic fantasy series! It has a bisexual and a lesbian main character in an enemies to lovers slow burn romance. In this world, mechanical people, called Automaes, who now rule over the humans, and our main characters are on opposite sides of the war.
The Skybound Saga by Alex London
This is an epic quest set in a world where falconry is the most revered and powerful profession. We follow a set of twins, Kylee and Bryson. Bryson is training to be a falconer, while Kylee is trying to distance herself from it. Bryson is gay, and Kylee is implied to be asexual and aromantic.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
This is about Alex, a bisexual bruja whose magic is connected to her ancestors. She doesn’t want to be associated with magic that comes from death, so she attempts to get rid of it. Instead, she accidentally ends up stranding her family in Los Lagos, a nightmarish realm, and she has to travel there in order to try to get them back. This has a bisexual love triangle, and although I didn’t like the broody guy love interest, I loved the best friend character! This takes place partly in our world, but we don’t see any homophobia or biphobia there, either.
Sidekick Squad series by C.B. Lee
Are superheroes more fantasy or sci fi? I’m sneaking this in either way. Jessica Tran is surrounded by superheroes, but with no powers of her own, she decides to take a paid internship with a supervillain. There, she discovers some secrets about the realities of superheroes and supervillains…
The first volume has an F/F romance, but each book in the series has a different main character. This one has a bisexual girl point of view, while the second has a trans guy main character.
The Never Tilting World Duology by Rin Chupeco
This is billed as Frozen meets Mad Max, with some Avatar the Last Airbender thrown in! It’s a climate fiction fantasy set in a world where twin goddesses ruled, until one betrayed the other and they split the world in two.
The two main characters are both sapphic: one is bisexual and the other is a lesbian.
Of Fire and Stars Duology by Audrey Coulthurst
This is a fantasy with two princesses who fall in love! One is supposed to marry the other’s brother! Scandal! The romance is adorable, but there is depth here as well, dealing with war, betrayal, and suppressed magic. Personally, I thought the second one was even better than the first, so definitely keep going if you like the first one at all.
Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria
This is about a city ruled by prophecies, which lead to the high council preemptively striking against lower wards of the city in the belief that they were going to rebel.
The rebellion has been stamped out except for a ragtag crew of teens who discover their own prophecy to overthrow the council — but can it be trusted?
There are multiple main characters, including asexual, bisexual, and gay representation.
There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool
This is a Greco-Roman inspired fantasy with five point-of-view characters. Two of them are gay. Together, they are the subjects of the last prophecy from before the Seven Prophets disappeared, and despite their differences, they will be the key to the world’s salvation…or destruction.
The Abyss Surrounds Us Duology by Emily Skrutskie
Lesbian pirates and giant sea monsters. Need I say more?
Cas trains Reckoners — genetically-engineered sea monsters — to defend ships. When she is captured by pirates, though, she’s forced to raise a Reckoner pup for their own use. If you like F/F enemies-to-lovers, you’re going to love this one.
Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
Tamsin is a witch who has been punished for her magical transgressions with a curse: she can’t feel love. Without it, all of her senses are dulled. The only way she can really feel anything (other than cold and annoyed) is by taking love from others, usually in exchange for performing a spell. When a magical illness rolls over the land, Wren knocks on Tamsin’s door for help — her father has been affected. Wren is a source: witches can use her as a magical energy supply. She’s been illegally hiding this, though. Wren promises Tamsin her love for her father if Tamsin will help cure him. Together, they set off on their quest — and end up with an adorable slow burn grumpy one/sunshine one romance.
These Feathered Flames series by Alexandra Overy
This is a lesbian retelling of the Russian folktale “The Firebird.” It follows the points of view of twin sisters, one raised to become queen and the other raised to develop her magical abilities. This is another F/F enemies-to-lovers romance!
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Finally, I wanted to also include a middle grade book. Pet has a Black, trans girl lead who is selectively verbal and uses sign language frequently.
Jam has been told that all monsters have been eradicated: but she discovers that they were hiding in plain sight: “How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?”
Like many of the books on this list, it’s utopian in some senses (trans kids are respected for their identities), but has its own issues (people have chosen to turn away from the “monsters” rather than face them).
If you can’t get enough queernorm YA, though, might I also suggest:
- Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust: sapphic main character
- Legend of the Fire Princess (She-Ra Graphic Novel #1) by Gigi D.G. and Paulina Ganucheau, based on stories by Noelle Stevenson: sapphic main characters
- Huntress and Ash by Malinda Lo: these are set in the same world about a century apart, and there are F/F relationships in both
This is not a complete list! Check out the Queer SFF Database for more.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this post incorrectly included the Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin and Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland. While they have positive queer representation, they are not set in queernorm worlds.
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