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Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane
Deane transforms The Iliad in this masterful retelling starring Achilles as a trans woman. The novel opens with Achilles on the island Skyros, which provides sanctuary to trans women like her. She has no intention of joining Odysseus and fighting in the Trojan War, but when Athena, her mother, appears to her in a dream bidding her to accompany Odysseus and join the Trojan War, and in exchange grants Achilles her most ardent hope — for her body to be a woman’s — Achilles changes her mind. In Troy, she reunites with Patroklos and his Egyptian wife, Meryapi, and the three become fast friends. A bloody war plays out while, behind the scenes, Achilles grapples with dismantling masculine-based hierarchies. Meanwhile, the vengeful, bloodthirsty gods watch, greedy for the kind of entertainment war brings. This is a bold, necessary retelling, brilliantly imagined.
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
This delightful mix of fantasy and science fiction set among the classical violin scene revolves around three main characters. Famed violin teacher Shizuka Satomi, known as the Queen of Hell in the violin world, made a pact with the devil to deliver seven souls. Once she has, she’ll be able to perform her music once more. She’s already delivered six souls and is struggling to find her seventh. Katrina Nguyen, whose most cherished possession is her violin, flees her home because her abusive family doesn’t accept her as a trans woman. She has no safe place to escape to. Lan Tran, an alien starship captain, fled an intergalactic war with her family across space and landed in a donut shop — which they bought and now run. When these three characters meet, they form their own found family, but with the devil knocking, their relationships and their lives are in peril.
My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi
Written in brief excerpts, My Volcano is an absurd and moving examination of people’s reactions when the unexpected happens. A volcano suddenly appearing in Central Park and growing over the next two weeks to a massive size sparks a series of surreal occurrences worldwide. A giant insect consumes a woman in Russia, but no one notices. An 8-year-old boy is transported from the present to Tenochtitlan before the arrival of Cortez. A white trans man in New Jersey attempts to write a utopia set on another planet while the giant volcano looms nearby. Buildings sprout animal legs, and dreams become haunted. These stories unfold and build to a bigger narrative of the present.
The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
This mind-blowing collection of six dystopian short stories grapples with a future of surveillance, racism, and police states from the lens of queer people of color. Despite the dystopian setting, the queer characters demonstrate ways of being and viewing the world that focuses on community building and freedom of expression, suggesting a possible utopian future, a utopia briefly glimpsed in the closing story. Unsurprisingly, music plays a big part in community building, with an underground music scene providing safe spaces for queer folk and people of color, much like in Monáe’s albums. It’s a stunning collection of short stories written with a group of collaborators that include award-winning authors and sociologists.
The Tensorate series by Neon Yang
The Tensorate series combines all four of Neon Yang’s expertly crafted silkpunk novellas. In this world, children decide their gender and, until they make a decision, use they/them pronouns. The first two novellas follow twins Mokoya and Akeha. As children, their mother, the Protector, sold them to the Grand Monastery, where they are raised. While there, Mokoya — who decides she’s female — discovers a talent for prophecy, while Akeha — who decides he’s male — learns to read people and their political maneuvering. Fed up with his mother, Akeha leaves the monastery and joins the rebels, but in doing so he leaves his sister behind. Meanwhile, Mokoya, disturbed by how her prophecies never seem to affect the future, abandons her husband and the monastery in search of the naga that killed her child. The last two novellas focus on political threats to the Protectorate. Also watch out for Yang’s forthcoming space opera The Genesis of Misery, which releases in September.
Dead Collections by Isaac Fellman
This trans vampire romance is super charming. Trans male vampire Sol has the perfect job as an archivist. He sifts through the artifacts of people’s lives in a windowless basement, secretly living there at night without his employer’s knowledge. When fan writer and organizer Elsie walks in wanting to donate her deceased wife’s papers, Sol immediately falls for her. However, their budding romance is anything but easy as Sol tries to navigate blood lust, anti-trans discrimination, finding a new home, and a mystery that’s destroying the archives. It’s a weird but delightful read, and I especially enjoyed the audiobook narrated by Dani Martineck.
A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers
This super-fun space opera features numerous LGBTQ+ characters in a queer normative future. Max Carmichael (who is asexual) has just joined the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, a ship in the Near-Earth Orbital Guard. With the annual boarding games coming up, the crew needs to be in tiptop shape and ready to work together as a team, but Max throws a wrench in their plans. At first nervous about joining the tight-knit crew, Max soon develops a rapport with everyone on board. When it becomes clear someone is targeting the crew of Zuma’s Ghost and wants them dead, the crew moves to investigate. They discover a far-reaching plot that puts Max and many more at risk. Also check out the second book in this series, Hold Fast Through the Fire.
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu
This lovely and surreal metanarrative novella is like nothing else I’ve ever read. The city Ora uses a living network called the Gleaming to maintain peace. Anima (who uses æ/ær pronouns) is an extrasensory, nonbinary human who can plug into the Gleaming to watch its inhabitants and its borders. When a mysterious visitor with a trunk arrives, Anima’s equilibrium is disrupted. Within the trunk are various seemingly mundane objects, and as Anima explores the stories behind each object, æ begins to question ær part of the Gleaming and to wonder if maybe æ wants something more.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Jebi is a nonbinary artist hired by the Ministry of Armour to paint magical sigils onto masks for the conquering government’s automata. Jebi doesn’t consider themself political, but after befriending a pacifist dragon automata, Jebi decides they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the dragon from becoming a weapon of war used to kill and subdue their people. Unfortunately, Jebi discovers that sometimes you have to choose a side. Rich in character development, this inventive stand-alone fantasy is a beautiful look at art and pacifism in a time of war.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy, thank you very much. She has her own place, albeit empty, and a 14-year career as a P.I. that barely sustains her drinking habit. She’s also a liar who lies as much to herself as to others. Sure, she’s not magical like her estranged twin sister Tabitha, a professor at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, but that doesn’t make her any less important. The two haven’t spoken to one another in years. All of that changes when a murder at the Academy brings Ivy to the school to investigate. Her investigation to uncover the murderer forces Ivy to confront her real feelings about magic and her sister. This is a super-fun fantasy mystery set in the contemporary world with many queer characters.
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
Callender sets their first adult novel in a dark and vivid fictional world based on the colonization and enslavement of the Caribbean islands and their peoples. Sigourney Rose is the child of one of her island’s noble-born conquerors — who practice magic — and one of the enslaved women. After her entire family is murdered, she devotes herself to planning her revenge. When the childless king invites all the nobles to attend to him so he can choose an heir, Sigourney leaps at the chance to attend and possibly avenge her family’s death. King of the Rising is the second and final book in the duology. Callender has won numerous awards for their fiction, including a Stonewall Book Award and a Lambda Literary Award.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson
In an alternative, contemporary Britain, war has left the magical community in shambles. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC), once the primary magical force protecting the monarchy and country, is now far weaker than it once was. Friends Helena, Leonie, Niamh, and Elle once happily joined HMRC and pledged to protect the Queen and Britain’s government, but now the friends have split and gone their separate ways. Helena still very much believes in rejuvenating the HMRC and seeing it reach its former glory. Meanwhile, Elle is a housewife, Niamh a magical veterinarian, and Leonie the leader of a new coven dedicated to welcoming witches from marginalized backgrounds. Conflict erupts between the friends and covens when a powerful teen warlock is discovered in an orphanage, and everyone has differing ideas on how to deal with him. This intriguing first book in a series grapples with some of the problems in modern feminism and its lack of intersectionality and rejection of trans women.
A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy
Dimos Horacki, a 23-year-old queer Borolian journalist, is sent to write a report on a Borolian general on the front after the Empire declares war on a new group of supposed “savages” called the Hron. None of the soldiers like him much, which is fair because he doesn’t like them either. When Hron rebels kill the general and capture Dimos, he at first fears for his life. However, the longer he stays with the Hron, the more problematic the Borolian Empire seems. The anti-capitalist Hron have built a realm based on utopian principles, but, as Dimos tells the villages as he travels through them, that doesn’t protect them from the Borolian. This utopian fantasy reminiscent of Ursula K. Le Guin is a thought-provoking read.
The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia (Tachyon; Aug. 9)
In this queernormative Persian-inspired world, nonbinary healer Firuz must keep their past as a blood magic practitioner secret from everyone in their new home in the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa. Despite needing to keep such an essential part of themself secret, they enjoy the safety their new home in Qilwa provides as well as their work with the healer Kofi. When a young and powerful blood-magic user Afsoneh arrives at the clinic, Firuz agrees to train her in blood magic secretly and adopts her into their home where they live with their son. Firuz’s secret is threatened when he and Kofi discover a new illness that appears to be caused by inept blood magic. This lovely character-driven novella gently explores weighty themes of identity, colonialism, refugee status, illness, and more.
A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland (Tordotcom; Aug. 30)
This slow-burn romantic fantasy with a heavy dose of political intrigue is rich in world-building and emotional angst. Prince Kadou of Arasht has always had anxiety and panic attacks, and this leaves him often feeling shy and awkward at court, where his sister is queen. After his sister gives birth, Kadou vows to help with the infant and to take more responsibility in court. However, when an altercation with his sister’s husband leaves several bodyguards dead, he loses his sister’s trust. His new bodyguard, Evemer Hoşkadem, clearly dislikes Kadou and considers him cowardly. When someone breaks into one of the kingdom’s guilds, Kadou decides to investigate in the hope of winning back his sister’s trust. He brings along his new bodyguard, and the two discover a plot that could destroy both queen and kingdom. Rowland sets A Taste of Gold and Iron in a queernormative fantasy world.
The Unbalancing by R.B. Lemberg (Tachyon; Sept. 20)
In all their fiction from the fascinating Birdverse world, Lemberg centers marginalized identities: queer, trans, neurodiverse, elderly, and more The Unbalancing is Lemberg’s first novel-length book to take place in the Birdverse. It’s a poetic and magical Atlantis-esque novel and a perfect introduction to the Birdverse. The Star of the Tides brings magic to the islands of Gelle-Geu, but the star is dying. New starkeeper Ranra Kekeri maps the increasing tremors on the islands with worry and knows she must be the one to unravel why the Star of the Tides is dying, and how much time is left. Nonbinary poet and recluse Erígra Lilún can spin a poem from a sliver of an idea. When their ancestor bids them to become a starkeeper, they’re forced to leave behind their preferred quiet and join Ranra in her quest to save the islands.
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Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
This YA postapocalyptic novel depicts queer perseverance and hope in the face of overwhelming odds. Years ago, a cult called the Angels cleansed the Earth by creating a virus that wiped out most of the Earth’s population. This became known as the Flood. The Angels raise trans boy Benji Woodside, now 16 years old, as the virus’s perfect host, turning him into a bioweapon. Benji manages to escape the cult’s experimentation and abuse and joins a group of queer teens at the Acheson LGBTQ+ Center in their rebellion against the Angels. Meanwhile, the cult’s virus begins to eat away at his body, transforming him into a monster. It’s a powerful read.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
This innovative YA science fiction integrates figures from Chinese history into a futuristic, feminist plot. Eighteen-year-old Zetian — based on Empress Regnant Wu, the only woman ever to rule China (during the Tang dynasty) — plans to avenge her sister’s death. She volunteers to become the concubine-pilot to the man who killed her sister in the hopes of assassinating him. Pilots defend Huaxia from aliens by using giant robots called Chrysalises. Psychic energy powers these robots. Male pilots channel the concubine woman pilot’s psychic energy to battle the aliens, and sometimes those women pilots die in the process. However, when Zetian goes into battle as the subservient woman pilot, she drains the male pilot’s psychic energy. She emerges from the Chrysalis as the Iron Widow, a woman who can suck the psychic powers of men and steer the Chrysalis herself. Officials try to force her into compliance by pairing her with the strongest male pilot, but Zetian refuses to be a tool for any man.
The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas (Feiwel & Friends; Sept. 6)
Every 10 years, the Sunbearer Trials are held in Reino del Sol. Ten semidióses compete in magical trials, with the winner bringing light to the temples of Reino del Sol and the looser sacrificing themselves to help power the sun and keep the cruel Obsidian gods at bay. Teo — a 17-year-old trans semidiós and son of Quetzal, the goddess of birds — has no expectations of being chosen for the trials. Instead, he worries about Sol choosing his talented friends to compete in the trials. Teo is a mere Jade semidiós, after all, and Sol always chooses from the Golds. However, this year, Sol chooses two non-Gold semidióses to compete: Teo and 13-year-old Xio. Now Teo finds himself competing for his life in a game he never expected to be a part of. This first book in a new Mexican-inspired YA fantasy series from the author of The Cemetary Boys is such a fun, super-queer read.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
This sapphic dark academia is full of twists, romance, unreliable characters, nods to classic literature, and all the gothic feels. After Felicity Morrow’s girlfriend died in a tragic accident, she took a year off from school for therapy. Now she’s back at the prestigious all-girls Dalloway School, living in her old room in Godwin House. Godwin House has a history of witches and murder, and before the accident, Felicity was obsessed with that history and dabbled in witchcraft. Now she’s sworn off all of that, but when the attractive teenage prodigy Ellis Haley moves into Godwin House to write a novel about the house’s history and the witches who died there, Felicity finds herself drawn back into the dark magic she swore she’d never do again. I listened to this on audio, and it was excellently narrated by Lindsey Dorcus. As a Southerner, I especially appreciated her Southern accent for Ellis Haley’s character, which wasn’t too over the top.
The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke
Sideways Pike is a classic high school goth. She’s a self-proclaimed witch and lesbian who’s always clad in black and on permanent outsider status at school. When the three most popular girls in school invite her to spell cast at their party for $40, she takes them up on their offer — and to Sideways’ surprise, the girls befriend her. Together, the four form a patriarchy-busting coven that gets into tons of trouble. This YA fantasy is a snarky, witchy, queer blast. The second book in the series, The Scratch Daughters, releases in October.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Jam is a Black trans girl who lives in the utopian city of Lucille, where the angels vanquished all the monsters long ago, or so Jam and her best friend Redemption are taught in school. Then one day, a creature climbs out of a painting and tells Jam there’s a monster in her midst. She names him Pet, and the two must find the monster before it’s too late. This engaging and heart-wrenching read shows how sometimes the monsters are the ones that appear to be the safest. The second book in the series, Bitter, was released earlier this year.
Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore
This lovely YA fantasy centers two neurodiverse trans nonbinary Mexican American teens. Bastián creates alebrijes (Mexican animal sculptures) to help calm their spinning thoughts and relieve their anxiety. Their alebrijes populate Lakelore, the town’s lake, and form a magical landscape there. While initially, the alebrijes and magical world was a place of solace for Bastián, as the novel progresses, the alebrijes act more and more erratic. Meanwhile, Lore has recently moved back to town. After an incident with a bully when they were a child, they experienced the lake’s magic. Another violent incident has forced Lore and their family to move once more, but the incident haunts them, and they struggle with PTSD. When the lake’s magic explodes and begins to haunt Bastián and Lore’s steps, the two must find a way to come to terms with their past traumas and embrace their unique ways of looking at the world.
The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon
In this YA romp, Wyatt, a teen trans man hiding from the fae in the human world, is a witch. After accidentally setting fire to much of a town in the fae kingdom, he escaped and has now been pseudo adopted by an Indigenous American family who embrace his trans identity. While living in the fae kingdom, the fae prince Emyr bonded with him, and the two were engaged to be married. Four years later, Wyatt thinks he’s safe in the human world, but then Emyr shows up and demands he return to the fae kingdom as his fiancé. Wyatt feels he has no choice but to accompany Emyr, but this time he brings an ally, his best friend and sister by adoption, Briar. The audiobook read by Dani Martineck is a blast to listen to. The second book in the series, The Fae Keeper, was released earlier this year, and it’s just as fun as the first.
At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp
The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center may claim to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents, but their treatment of the teens in their care is borderline abusive. When a plague sweeps the world, instead of informing the teenagers of the problem, the guards and every adult associated with the center abandon them, leaving them with very little food or medical supplies. When a group tries to leave the center, one of them is shot out of fear that they might be contagious. The defiant Grace is appointed as de facto leader of the center, while Leah, nonverbal and autistic, takes over food distribution after her twin sister is the first to come down with the plague. Emerson, a nonbinary violinist kicked out of their home by their strict Catholic parents, takes up the responsibility of burying the dead. This compulsive YA postapocalyptic novel shows how the “problem” teens, whom society would rather forget, can step up and make things better when given the respect they deserve.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
This YA space opera takes human teens into a galactic world where being queer is normal. Soon after she was born, aliens brought Tina to her adoptive human mother, telling her that one day Tina’s internal beacon would alight and the aliens would come back for her. Now Tina is a teenager, and she’s begun to have flashbacks from a previous life when an assassin was trying to kill her. She’s also started to glow. Part of her wants to fulfill her destiny and finally discover who she really is — but another part doesn’t want to leave her friends and family and face the dangers of an uncertain, alien future. This compulsive read perfectly captures teenage voices and feelings even as it travels from a normal teenage life on Earth to galactic battles. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hynden Walch, who made it feel like Tina was sitting beside me and telling me her story. I also loved the second book in the series, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, which was released earlier this year.