For the third year in a row, Sleeps With Monsters brings you a post dedicated to lesbian science fiction and fantasy romance. Mostly because this is what I’ve been reading lately—sometimes a person just wants a book that’s guaranteed to be filled with women having significant interactions with other women, with the promise of happy outcomes.
Unfortunately, more often than not, I find myself unhappy with the quality of those romance novels I do read. I could wish for smoother prose, or a narrative that integrates its romantic and action elements more cohesively. (When I do find one that works for me on all levels, like Courtney Milan’s The Duchess War or Heather Rose Jones’ Daughter of Mystery, I cling to it in delight.)
Let me talk about the ones featuring queer ladies I’ve enjoyed.
Barbara Ann Wright’s The Fiend Queen is the culminating volume in a fantasy series that begun with The Pyramid Waltz. The ruling family is divided by war, and there’s fighting in the streets of the capital. Also divided are the novel’s protagonists, Princess Katya and her consort Starbride. When Starbride believes Katya dead, she strikes a bargain with the Fiend—a kind of demon—that dwells imprisoned below the palace. Starbride might well become the kind of evil she’s been trying to fight, if Katya can’t find some way to restore her lover’s mind.
The pacing is uneven—it staggers from one incident to another, and the arcs of the two viewpoint characters, Katya and Starbride, fail to support each other well. But it is satisfyingly full of Things Happening, and the author has a pretty readable voice.
M.B. Panichi’s Saving Morgan is another novel with pacing issues. Set between a near-future colonised moon and Earth, it features Morgan, a mechanic who discovers she’s the secret daughter of one of the most powerful CEOs in the star system, and Shaine, a former security contractor who gets roped back in to work she thought she’d left behind in order to keep Morgan safe—and finds herself falling in love. The romantic relationship develops rather rapidly, while the action side of the narrative starts out slow, but it’s an entertaining read.
Sandra Barret’s Blood of a Traitor probably barely counts as a romance. A short novel, it’s mostly military space opera that concludes in a romantic relationship—a snappy, fast, very readable military space opera. (I’ve always had a soft spot for space opera.)
Prayer of the Handmaiden by Merry Shannon is a spot of epic fantasy romance. Kade has been chosen from her celibate religious order to become the first handmaiden of the goddess Ithyris in a thousand years, a role that will put her on the front lines of an eternal divine struggle between Ithyris and the forces of the evil god Ulrike. But she still loves Erinda, the woman she left behind when she first became a priestess. When circumstances throw Kade and Erinda together once more, in the path of an invading army, Kade finds her loyalties torn between her duty to her goddess and her feelings for the woman she loves. A fun and entertaining read that could have stood to flesh out its worldbuilding a little more, and to rely a little less on Evil Gods… but still. I liked it nonetheless.
Rae D. Magdon’s The Second Sister and loosely-connected sequel Wolf’s Eyes could also have stood to flesh out their worldbuilding and tighten up their narrative structures. I have to confess, though, I still found them fun: The Second Sister is a lesbian take on Cinderella, while Wolf’s Eyes takes some inspiration from the tale of Little Red Riding Hood before expanding to encompass werewolves and civil war. They’re diverting, although I confess I can’t find much to praise in the quality of the prose.
As of this writing, I’m also reading Heather Rose Jones’ second novel, The Mystic Marriage. It will feature in a later column, because I’m enjoying it a great deal—but it wouldn’t be fair to talk about it before I’ve finished it. And possibly read it a second time. What have you guys been reading? Anything interesting with queer women in?