You may have noticed that I’m very interested in books with queer female protagonists. Everything, as a friend of mine said once, is better with lesbians—though I’d just say women who love women, myself.
I suspect some of you reading here have a degree of overlap with this interest of mine. So let me share with you some of the new and forthcoming science fiction and fantasy novels where I’m reliably informed there are queer female protagonists, and where I’m reliably informed that their queerness doesn’t end in tragedy.
Tim Pratt, The Dreaming Stars (Angry Robot):
Ancient aliens the Axiom will kill us all—when they wake up. In deep space, a swarm of nanoparticles threatens the colonies, transforming everything it meets into computronium—including the colonists. The crew of the White Raven investigate, and discover an Axiom facility filled with aliens hibernating while their minds roam a vast virtual reality. The treacherous Sebastien wakes up, claiming his altered brain architecture can help the crew deactivate the swarm—from inside the Axiom simulation. To protect humanity, beleaguered Captain Callie Machedo must trust him, but if Sebastien still plans to dominate the universe using Axiom tech, they could be in a whole lot of trouble.
Juliet Kemp, The Deep and Shining Dark (Elsewhen Press):
You know something’s wrong when the cityangel turns up at your door
Magic within the city-state of Marek works without the need for bloodletting, unlike elsewhere in Teren, thanks to an agreement three hundred years ago between an angel and the founding fathers. It also ensures that political stability is protected from magical influence. Now, though, most sophisticates no longer even believe in magic or the cityangel.
But magic has suddenly stopped working, discovers Reb, one of the two sorcerers who survived a plague that wiped out virtually all of the rest. Soon she is forced to acknowledge that someone has deposed the cityangel without being able to replace it. Marcia, Heir to House Fereno, and one of the few in high society who is well-aware that magic still exists, stumbles across that same truth. But it is just one part of a much more ambitious plan to seize control of Marek.
Meanwhile, city Council members connive and conspire, unaware that they are being manipulated in a dangerous political game. A game that threatens the peace and security not just of the city, but all the states around the Oval Sea, including the shipboard traders of Salina upon whom Marek relies.
To stop the impending disaster, Reb and Marcia, despite their difference in status, must work together alongside the deposed cityangel and Jonas, a messenger from Salina. But first they must discover who is behind the plot, and each of them must try to decide who they can really trust.
Malka Older, State Tectonics (Tor.com Publishing):
The future of democracy must evolve or die.
The last time Information held an election, a global network outage, sabotage by major world governments, and an uncontrolled earthquake almost shook micro-democracy apart. Five years later, it’s time to vote again, and the system that has ensured global peace for 25 years is more vulnerable than ever.
Unknown enemies are attacking Information’s network infrastructure. Spies, former superpowers, and revolutionaries sharpen their knives in the shadows. And Information’s best agents question whether the data monopoly they’ve served all their lives is worth saving, or whether it’s time to burn the world down and start anew.
K. Arsenault Rivera, The Phoenix Empress (Tor Books):
Since she was a child, divine empress O Shizuka has believed she was an untouchable god. When her uncle, ruler of the Hokkaran Empire, sends her on a suicide mission as a leader of the Imperial Army, the horrors of war cause her to question everything she knows.
Thousands of miles away, the exiled and cursed warrior Barsalyya Shefali undergoes trials even the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to O Shizuka.
As the distance between disgraced empress and blighted warrior narrows, a familiar demonic force grows closer to the heart of the empire. Will the two fallen warriors be able to protect their home?
Amy Rose Capetta, The Brilliant Death (Viking Books for Teen Readers):
For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.
All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas–wielders of magic–are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real. Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son–not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one. Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country–and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.
R.E. Stearns, Mutiny at Vesta (Saga Press):
Adda and Iridian have survived the murderous AI that tried to kill them in Barbary Station… but now they’ll need all of their ingenuity to escape the evil megacorporation that wants to own them, in this second space adventure in the Shieldrunner Pirates trilogy. Adda Karpe and Iridian Nassir have escaped the murderous AI that was trapping them on Barbary Station, and earned themselves a place on Captain Sloane’s fabled pirate crew. And now that they’ve arrived at Vesta, Sloane’s home base, they can finally start making a living stealing from well-off megacorporations.
Unfortunately, the political situation has deteriorated in Captain Sloane’s absence. Adda and Iridian find themselves trapped in a contract with Oxia Corp., one of the very megacorporations they’d hoped to prey on, forced to rob and intimidate targets they’d never have chosen on their own. If they’re ever going to have the independent life together that they’ve always wanted, they’ll have to free themselves from Oxia Corp. first. Meanwhile, the inhuman allies who followed Adda and Iridian from Barbary Station have plans of their own, which may be more dangerous than the humans involved could imagine. It will take not one but five heists, and every bit of ingenuity Adda and Iridian have to escape from Oxia and find the life they’ve always dreamed of… if they can survive.
K.B Wagers, There Before the Chaos (Orbit Books):
The battle for the throne is over. The war for the galaxy is just beginning.
Hail Bristol, infamous galactic gunrunner and former runaway princess, never expected to inherit the throne of Indrana. But after avenging the murder of her entire family and cleansing the Empire of usurpers in a bloody civil war, the former outlaw must fulfill her duties to her people. Hail retires her gun and throws herself into the rebuilding of her Empire.
Her hard-won peace is short-lived. When Indrana’s closest ally asks Hail to intervene in an interstellar military crisis, she embarks on the highest stakes diplomatic mission the Empire has ever faced. Caught between two alien civilizations at each other’s throats, she must uncover each side’s true intentions before all of humanity becomes collateral damage in a full-blown galactic war.
(I have it from the author’s mouth that Hail is bi, and that the evidence is in this volume.)
Natasha Ngan, Girls of Paper and Fire (James Patterson Presents):
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after—the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable—she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.
Kate Heartfield, Alice Payne Arrives (Tor.com Publishing):
A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.
It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.
It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history–to save history–but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.
It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!
But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.
Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.
Django Wexler, Ship of Smoke and Steel (Tor Teen):
In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire–an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service–she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship–a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.
E.K. Johnston, The Afterward (Dutton YR):
In the year since Sir Erris Quicksword and her fellow lady knights used the mysterious Godsgem to free the king from the Old God’s spell, the people of Cadrium have enjoyed peace and prosperity and the brave lady knights who completed the quest have basked in the glow of their new fame as heroes of the realm–all except the youngest two.
Olsa Rhetsdaughter has discovered that the price of fame is her ability to ply her trade as a thief. She’s much too recognizable to make her living picking pockets now, and regular meals on the quest finally jumpstarted puberty so she can no longer pass for a boy when she needs to.
And for Apprentice Knight Kalanthe Ironheart, the end of the quest has meant the beginning of her search for a husband–a match that first and foremost must bring with it a bride-price sufficient to pay the debt she took on to train as a knight. To make matters worse, in the year they spent together on the quest, the pickpocket and the knight-in-training fell in love.
Meanwhile, the mages entrusted with keeping the Godsgem from falling into the wrong hands have found the task less simple than they imagined, and Cadrium’s golden age may be short-lived if her band of heroes doesn’t act quickly and save the realm once again.
Samantha Shannon, The Priory of the Orange Tree (Bloomsbury):
A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
The only thing I know about this one is “lesbians and dragons.” But that sounds promising.
Elizabeth Bear, Ancestral Night (Gollancz/Saga Press):
A space salvager and her partner make the discovery of a lifetime that just might change the universe in this wild, big-ideas space opera from multi award-winning author Elizabeth Bear. Halmey Dz and her partner Connla Kurucz are salvage operators, living just on the inside of the law…usually. Theirs is the perilous and marginal existence–with barely enough chance of striking it fantastically big–just once–to keep them coming back for more. They pilot their tiny ship into the scars left by unsuccessful White Transitions, searching for the relics of lost human and alien vessels. But when they make a shocking discovery about an alien species that has been long thought dead, it may be the thing that could tip the perilous peace mankind has found into full-out war.
Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire (Tor Books):
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.
Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, Once and Future (James Patterson Presents):
I’ve been chased my whole life. As an illegal immigrant in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.
Now I’m done hiding.
My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.
When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.
I strongly suspect—I hope—that there are more SFF books with queer ladies (and with nonbinary people! Where are my enby protagonists?) coming to bookshelves between now and the end of next March. I’ve left out romance from this list, because in romance it’s fairly simple to tell from the cover copy: elsewhere it can be rather more tricky (unless something’s being promoted, like Taz Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, as LESBIAN NECROMANCERS IN SPACE). I’d especially like to be able to find more novel-length work featuring these kinds of protagonists by people of colour…
If you know of more forthcoming work in this vein, drop a link in the comments!
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and is nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.