Our Summer Reading List: 14 Queer Fantasy Reads for Pride

Originally published at: https://ackerlygreen.com/2020/06/25/our-summer-reading-list-14-queer-fantasy-reads-for-pride/

Our summer reading lists are back this week with a stacked list of queer fantasy books from queer authors to last you through the rest of Pride and into the summer! We’ve got a good mix of recent pubs and first books with sequels just out or coming soon, for your reading pleasure.

And if you’re as bummed as we are about not being able to celebrate Pride in person this year, consider showing your support by ordering from one of these queer-owned bookstores from around the world! Books are just as much fun as parades, we promise.

1. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

This is at the top of the list because it is, selfishly, at the top of my list! Feeling like he needs to prove himself, his gender, and his brujo skills to his very traditional Latinx family, Yadriel attempts a ritual to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin . . . and brings up the ghost of bad boy Julian Diaz instead. The two become unwilling teammates (and maybe more??) in their search for answers, and I simply could not be more excited to get my hands on this spooky debut.

2. King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

This is a beautiful work of middle-grade magical realism about twelve-year-old Kingston James, who believes the spirit of his dead brother lives in a dragonfly. When he learns that his best friend—who might also be gay—has disappeared from his abusive home, King goes out to find him, and the two create a new home for themselves among the dragonflies of the bayou. (Bonus rec: not a fantasy, but another must-read YA book by this author just came out in May, titled Felix Ever After, which features a black, queer, trans teen struggling with love and self-discovery. Definitely worth putting on your list too!)

3. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Rumors of witchcraft and a strange dancing fever transcend five centuries to align the stories of two families throughout history, and the mystery of history itself. Featuring both trans and queer characters from the non-binary author behind Wild Beauty (another gorgeous story you need to read about queer women of color who grow roses out of their own skin), this is a magical story with a fairy-tale feeling you won’t want to miss.

4. Crier’s War by Nina Varela

I may or may not be waiting until September when the sequel, Iron Heart, is out to start this one because I just know I’m not going to be able to wait. Set in an ultra-futuristic world where the Automae—non-human, or “Made” people—have rebelled against their creators and enslaved humans to be their servants, the story follows the complex relationship that evolves between the Made Lady Crier, daughter of the Sovereign, and one of her human servants Ayla, who dreams of killing Crier to avenge her own family. There’s revenge. There’s romance. There are existential crises about what it means to be human. What more could you really ask for??

5. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

In the Malaysian-inspired fantasy world of Ikhara, eight Paper Girls—members of the lowest social caste—are chosen to be concubines for the king. For Lei, the only solace in being chosen becomes her hope of finding her mother again, who was taken without explanation when she was young, and a newfound, forbidden romantic relationship with one of the other girls. (TW) This book deals heavily but respectfully with themes of trauma and sexual violence, with an emphasis on recovery, agency, and healing from love.

6. Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

I think we’ve got a few fans here who could probably speak to this book better than I could, but I wanted to throw it in here because its sequel, Ruthless Gods, just came out in April too! Magic, politics, and religion intertwine to bring together a girl who can speak to gods, a blood mage, and the bisexual prince of a warring kingdom. I’ve seen this one compared to Leigh Bardugo’s works as well, and I’m a huge fan of hers, so that’s enough to sell me.

7. Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

There was so much hype over this epic fantasy last summer when it came out, even if its sheer size (827 pages in hardcover) terrified me into not immediately jumping on the library hold list. It sounds like everything I loved about Game of Thrones in that it’s a rich fantasy world you can truly get lost in, complete with lore, languages, and dragons, but with more powerful women and LGBTQ representation. Just in writing this blurb, I’ve convinced myself I need to read this and am going back on the library waitlist.

8. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Coming out in July, this is a Persian-inspired fairytale retelling about a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch, who wants only to see things grow instead of using her powers for destruction. This book promises a bisexual heroine and a f/f romance within some impressive world-building and magical storytelling. Keep it on your radar for the coming weeks!

9. Wilder Girls Rory Power

This one may feel a little bit too close to home for some people considering it takes place at an all-girls school under quarantine for a deadly disease…but it’s SO good. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart (CW for blood and gore), as it follows Hetty’s desperate attempts to find out what happened to her best friend Byatt, while also trying to look out for the rest of the survivors at Raxter, Lord of the Flies-style, and navigate the conflicting feelings that arise between her and their third friend, Reese. The author has another new thriller, Burn Our Bodies Down, coming out in July, too, for those of you who (justifiably) don’t feel like getting into a literal quarantine read right now.

10.  In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

From the author of queer short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, this is the only book on this list that isn’t strictly fantasy, but rather a memoir about the author’s experience in an abusive same-sex relationship, as told through a series of subverted narrative and literary tropes, including classic horror and fairy-tale. This is definitely a heavier read, but worth including for its literary merit and for the powerful voice the author gives to survivors of specifically queer domestic abuse.

11. The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos

Described as “Love, Simon meets The Raven Boys,” there seems to be no end of problems for best friends Sam, Delia, and James in their senior year. You have the typical high school drama like awkward crushes and extra-curricular disagreements, but throw some dark magic in there, and everything gets that much harder. This book definitely seems to be on the lighter, sweeter side compared to some others on this list, with a thematic focus on friendship and queer identity, that also just happens to get tangled up in a dark magic cult. It’s the kind of contemporary “real-life plus magic” style that we know and love here at Ackerly Green, so you know we’re here for it.

12. These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Stirling

A modern-day coven set in Salem, Massachusetts, with a gay witch for a protagonist? Uh, yes, please. Hannah’s doing a pretty good job of flying under the magic-radar (since witches in Salem still have to keep their Elemental magic a secret) until some serious blood magic starts wreaking havoc in the town. When the rest of her coven doesn’t want to get involved, she has to team up with her ex-girlfriend to find the Blood Witch before it’s too late. If you love this one, the sequel, This Coven Won’t Break just came out in May, so you can binge them both!

13. The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska

Another not-quite-out-yet tease (to be published in August), but it sounds so good I had to include it. By trying to keep her brother from being chosen as the annual sacrifice to the Witch Queen, Lina accidentally puts the boy she loves in danger as well. To protect them both, she offers herself to the queen Katniss Everdeen-style, and when Lina and Queen Eva fall for each other, they have to choose between their love and the sacrifice that will keep the kingdom of Caldella safe. Forbidden love! A bi protag! Start the countdown to August NOW.

14. The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

This is a super fun gender-bendy story that follows Teodora diSangro on her quest to learn how to harness her secret strega powers to turn herself into a boy so she can avenge the wrongs done to her family. To do so, she enlists the reluctant help of a sarcastic, shape-shifting strega named Cielo, who fascinates Teo just as much in their girl form as when they are a boy. Inspired by the traditional strega tales and folklore of Italy, this is the first in a lush duology that explores what it means to embrace all the versions of your self and be loved for them in return. (Bonus rec: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy is a female-centered Merlin retelling, with a sequel, Sword in the Stars, just out in April too!)

(Note: If you’re looking at this list on Bookshop, you can specify which store you’d like to receive the full profits of your order by selecting them on their map. If you don’t choose a store, the proceeds contribute to an earnings pool that gets equally distributed among independent bookstores. Ackerly Green may receive an affiliate commission from any sales placed through our Bookshop store.)

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And just to pile a couple more on:

Local favorite Starless Sea has a sweet, slow-burn m/m romance for the main character, the mysterious Dorian for the adorkable Zachary Ezra Rawlins.

I’ve also been reading The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards, which features a generally pansexual society of Atlanteans. The main character is, much to his chagrin, “the most beautiful of his generation” and his Companion—a human bound to him at a young age—plays the role of bodyguard, roommate, and who knows what else. (I’m only partway through, so I can’t tell you more than that.) If you looked at the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck and thought “gee, someone should structure a novel around that,” you might want to check this out.

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Please pile them on!!!
I LOVED The Starless Sea, the only reason I didn’t include it was because I’d put it on an earlier reading list but I can’t recommend it enough!!

Totally intrigued by The Last Sun, too—thanks for sharing! I’ll have to add it to my goodreads!

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is also one of my personal favorites! The sequel is brilliant too, and I found it really satisfying for a number of reasons but in part because the characters actually feel and act like real people, and they don’t do that thing where they bounce back immediately from trauma just because they’re in a fantasy book.

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Is Wayward Son the sequel?? I remember seeing it when I was working in the bookstore but never read them! Thanks for recommending!!

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Yes! Wayward Son is the sequel and it’s so so good.

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I’d recommend The Binding.

Plot follows an apprentice binder in a world where books are memories people want to forget.

It’s a while since I read it, so can’t say much more without probably spoiling it.

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Weirdly enough, there were subway ads for that book when it came out! And I’m pretty sure the cover was done by the same artist who did The Book of Briars! I’ll definitely check it out.

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Can’t believe I’ve never read any of these, they all sound so good!

For anyone interested in f/f romances specifically, I’ve recently discovered Anna Burke’s work and absolutely love the character building, intrigue, and adventure in all of her books! Compass Rose is about lesbian pirates in a future where most of the world is flooded due to global warming; Thorn is a fairy tale inspired by Beauty and the Beast; and Nottingham is a queer take on the Robin Hood story but with all kinds of interesting twists and additions.

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OH lesbian pirates reminds me of Seafire by Natalie C. Parker!! That one was fun too. I haven’t heard of those other ones though, thanks for sharing!!

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