It’s hard to play favorites, you know? So when we decided to put together a QUILTBAG recommendation list for Pride Month, we knew we thought we’d narrow the field for ourselves a bit and only select books we’ve read in the past year. The books in question weren’t necessarily published within the last year, we just got our hands on them recently. See what we’ve been reading!
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
If I’m being honest, the last time I regularly read m/m romance was Firefly fanfiction back in eighth grade; the slash I encountered then was more a queering of canon as opposed to canon itself. But Miles and Tristan’s dynamic is so multilayered that it doesn’t require any kind of extra refraction like, say, Mal/Simon. Their initial flirtation, which is only strengthened into a camaraderie as they chase down clues together, takes on the thrill of the forbidden when Tristan’s true identity is revealed—making their romance taboo not because it’s two men, but because of issues of otherworldly power and consent. Partly because of this holding back, theirs is also one of the sweetest slow-burn courtships I’ve read (outside of fanfic) this year. —Natalie Zutter
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
The first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, Labyrinth Lost was actually the first time I saw myself represented in literature. That’s right—before this book, I had never heard of a book that featured a queer Latinx protagonist. Reading Alex’s story was so refreshing; she is never made out to be overly sexual or greedy because of her bisexuality, it never needs correcting, it is never the stepping stone to anything else. The lineage of brujería permeates the lives and culture of Alex and her family, and only when she comes into her full power is she able to be herself fully. Córdova’s careful and use of Latinx culture and mythology enriches the story and makes for an enchanting read. —Christina Orlando
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
My heart needed this story, like a warm balm on a damp and unforgiving day. While Prince Sebastian has to deal with parents who are only currently concerned with his future wedding plans, the prince himself would rather go out in the evenings as different persona, Lady Crystallia, and wow the town with daring couture—but he needs the right dressmaker to help him pull it off. Frances is an incredible designer and seamstress, looking for a way out of her luckless job, and the two become best friends and allies. But as things begin to explode for Frances, it’s unclear how long she will be able to protect her friend from the curious masses and a family who doesn’t know about his alter ego. This story is full of so many things I love: friendship, fashion, learning how to be yourself. But it’s Wang’s gorgeous art and execution that make it such a joy to soak in on a thoughtful afternoon. —Emily Asher-Perrin
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon was one of the year’s best reads for me in many a category, from the remarkable voiciness of every line to making necromancy somehow both hilarious and heartbreaking (again, sometimes in the same line). But Gideon Nav herself deserves separate praise as a badass lesbian swordswoman. From her shades and dirty magazines to her snark and surprising vulnerability, Gideon is an unforgettable character for the queer canon. —NZ
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
I’m not entirely sure how to explain this novel to you. It is part memoir, part sci-fi romp, part activist manifesto. Our protagonist, Paul begins the novel as a young queer theory student in Iowa in the 90s. Paul has a lesbian best friend and many lovers, gets involved in queer politics in the age of Act Up and Queer Nation, and journeys across the country in a rich and explosive exploration of the queer experience. Oh, and did I mention that Paul is a shapeshifter, who sometimes experiences life as Polly? Paul changes their body at will, giving readers a true deep-dive into queer bodies and politics. It’s wild, it’s ambitious, and it’s absolutely delicious. —CO
The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, Becky Chambers, and SL Huang
You’ve probably read something by one or all of these fantastic writers, so hearing that they’ve put out one “season” of story for Serial Box should be enough get your interested piqued. There’s a non-binary protagonist at the center of this one, which made it an even easier sell for me as a genderfluid reader, and a plot that had echoes of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels to me. It centers around a refugee crisis and really delves into some significant moral and ethical dilemmas, so if that’s the sort of story that appeals to you (along with sharp and fascinating characters), you should absolutely nab this riveting tale and prepare to gulp it down faster than ice water on the hottest day. —EAP
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
With the by-now well-worn trope of a girl disguising herself as a boy to gain access to some tier of medieval society, I’m excited to see a rising number of fantasy characters who are instead transmen—and, moreover, are not defined by their gender. I would expect no less from Leckie, who subverted gender wonderfully in the Imperial Radch series’ use of all female pronouns. In her first (standalone) fantasy, the key pronoun is “you”: half the book is narrated by a god embedded in prehistoric stone (a.k.a. the Hill), speaking to the human who will change the world. The god’s object of fascination is farmer’s son-turned-royal servant Eolo, who with the prince Mawat discovers that his liege’s father has abdicated his position as earthly priest to the Raven god, to be replaced on his throne by his brother in a spin on Hamlet. While Eolo’s gender comes up a few times in the book, his identity is just one aspect of him—along with being bisexual, along with being able to hear the rumbles from the Hill and consider a world that might not revolve around the Raven forevermore. —NZ
Fen by Daisy Johnson
I’m gonna be honest—after reading this story collection, I emailed Graywolf (the publisher) and asked them not to publish it, because I wanted to be the only one who had it. I wanted to own it. I wanted to rip out the pages, shove them in my mouth, and imbibe it. Daisy Johnson’s beautiful, lyrical weirdness just shines in this collection of fabulist stories. The queerness seeps in like rainwater into the grass, just as natural and subtle. The standout story here involves a sentient house, jealous when its occupant becomes involved with another woman. Johnson explores sexuality, bodies, homeland, and more in this absolute banger of a collection. —CO
The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion by Margaret Killjoy
I’m a big fan of Margaret Killjoy’s writing—both fictional and non-fictional—but it took me longer than I’d intended to finally pick up this novella and devour it. Found families are certainly my jam (and the jam of arguably most queer people, no matter how good we may be with our respective blood relatives), and this story is deeply concerned with that, as well as power dynamics and what it means to use power over others. On the periphery (well, not so peripheral) of this story is a murderous magical deer, and questions about what utopias look like to different people and how they might be achieved. This book confronts incredibly dark topics, but does so in a way that never reads as grim for grimnesses sake. These are real people struggling with real burdens, and by the time I left Danielle Cain’s world, I was just as glad that part two was in easy reach. —EAP
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Freshwater is a dream of a novel, a mythical and lyrical musing on the nonbinary experience and the terror and joy of existing in a body that contains multitudes. Emezi’s prose is infectious and surreal. The novel follows Ada, a young person from Nigeria, who holds within her multiple selves, each with a distinct voice, due to the ogbanje, which are spirits who exist inside her body. It is about coming to terms with many sides of oneself, embracing fractures as part of the whole, and how delicate the flesh that contains us can be. —CO
And not all of our favorite books were SFF! Here are a few non-genre picks, for those of your who might want to branch out…
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
I talked about Alexander Chee’s The Querent in an installment of my TBR Stack series, because it’s the most spec-fic piece in his essay collection, How To Write and Autobiographical Novel. But let me assure you, the entire collection is extraordinary. It contains some of the best writing advice I’ve ever read and it is also gloriously queer. From Chee talking about his AIDs activism, to a lost gay mentor, to his own adventures in drag, this book is a record of queerness at a particular time that I believe will prove timeless. —Leah Schnelbach
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg
This book. This is a meta-quasi-historical account of notorious 18th century transgender jailbreaker Jack Sheppard and his ladylove/rabblerouser, Bess, told by the modern-day scholar who’s attempting to research them. But what this book really is? It’s a praise song to sex that rivals the Song of Songs itself. It opens with Jack on his knees at the gallows, praying not for forgiveness, but to die with the taste of his lover in his mouth, and it does not stop for breath from there. —LS
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The Great Comic American Queer Novel? I’m including this because it was my favorite book of last year, plus I reviewed Greer’s earlier fantasy novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, so I’m declaring this genre-adjacent. Less is the much-more-straightforward story of Arthur Less, who goes on a disastrous global book tour in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. And it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, and it made me wish not only that Less was a real person (I mean, he’s real, but I wish he lived on our plane of existence with us) but that I was part of his group chat. And somehow, in between all the moments that are among the funniest things I’ve ever read, Greer gifts his readers with some genuinely heartfelt thoughts on love and the passage of time. —LS
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
Full disclosure: I’m friends with the author, and I have a raging crush on her writing.
Even if I’d never met her I’d recommend Madden’s memoir, because it’s a gorgeous story of girl-love, of many different flavors, in a ’90s Florida that is a glittery dark mirror of the one I grew up in. Book reviewers love using words like “searing,” “brave,” and “powerful” (and this book is all of those things!) but I think the best way to describe it is actually with an image: dig if you will a picture of a shy, desperately lonely girl, tearing crab legs apart and forgetting to be self conscious as flecks of crab meat fly around the room like ticker tape.
That’s this book, and you want it in your life. —LS
Your turn! What are your favorite recent queer reads?