Queer fiction—that is, stories with more than just a token side character and about more than just the trauma of coming out—has exploded in the last few years. We still have a long ways to go before the representation becomes acceptable—becomes more than just cis white guys and gals, that is—but I think it’s fair cause to celebrate.
That said, sometimes it can feel like not even five years ago we lived in a land of nothing but heteronormativity, which isn’t as true as it feels. The number of times I’ve seen someone lament how there are no queer protagonists in fantasy makes my nose itch. While it’s important to celebrate what is coming, it’s equally important to celebrate what we have. Queer authors have been paving the way for this explosion for decades now, with their words and wit and wisdom and, most importantly, their persistence.
The specific lamentation that there are no f/f or queer women in fantasy is one I hear often enough that I set my watch by it. That’s not to say we couldn’t use more (always more, please more), but saying there are none is dangerous in its broad-stroked erasure.
To be fair, I limited this list to anything more than five years ago (that is, 2014 and earlier) and still had a difficult time finding queer f/f books beyond that same three or four that are referenced again and again. But there are more than those—we just have to keep digging.
So in that spirit, here are five books that center an f/f relationship, whatever the flavor, from 2014 or before that haven’t been remembered as consistently as other queer books:
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (Amulet Books, 2014)
Amara is a mute servant from the Dunelands, forced to protect a cursed princess on the run. Nolan is a high schooler in Arizona who can’t focus on his hobbies and schoolwork because every time he closes his eyes, even to blink, he’s in Amara’s mind. Nolan’s been a powerless observer of Amara’s life for years, but Amara doesn’t know. Until Nolan accidentally stumbles on a way to control her.
Naturally, that doesn’t end well.
But what unfurls from there in this YA fantasy is both refreshing and queer af. Not to spoil anything (or spoil it anyway), but Nolan and Amara are not soul mates, do not end up making out at any point, and, in fact, never have romantic feelings for each other. Amara is bi. She has a relationship with one male character early on and then falls in love with a female character later. And that relationship between the two women is really the beating heart of the story, without ever once trivializing Amara’s bisexuality.
Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Masque Books, 2013)
Alana Quick is a sky surgeon—a starship mechanic—yearning to be among the stars and planets she’s helped send so many ships into. But repairing ships doesn’t pay what it used to and she’s got chronic pain to manage. So when a desperate crew comes to her shipyard looking for her sister Nova, a spirit guide, Alana seizes the opportunity and stows away, hoping her boldness will get the dust off her feet—or at least a gig on the ship. Of course, Alana gets a whole lot more than that.
This is a character-driven space opera romance, with just enough explosions to suffice. Alana is a queer woman who knows what she wants—mostly—and even has a history of past queer relationships. The heart of this story isn’t just an f/f relationship, it’s a polyamorous one, and Koyanagi explores the fluidity and ever-evolving nature of those relationships with care and ease.
The Warrior’s Path by Catherine M. Wilson (Shield Maiden Press, 2008)
It’s 16-year-old Tamras’ turn to become a warrior, like her mother and her grandmother before her. But when she finally begins her apprenticeship at Lady Merin’s house, her small stature gets her cast aside. Instead of being trained as a swordswoman, Merin assigns her as the personal servant to a stranger who wants nothing to do with Tamras.
What follows is a story not about battles, swords, bravery, or bloodshed, but one about all the ways someone can be strong. When Women Were Warriors is the name of the series, but in these books warriors fight with both swords and words, with heart and despair, and are both short and tall and caring and cruel and every shade inbetween. It’s an exploration and celebration of women, as well as the love between them.
Huntress by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011)
When nature falls out of balance and hostile creatures begin to appear, two girls are picked to go on a dangerous journey to the city of the Fairy Queen. Along the way, they fall in love—but only one of the girls will be allowed to save their kingdom.
Whenever Malinda Lo comes up, usually the discussion is about her groundbreaking, sapphic Cinderella retelling, Ash—and for good reason. But her second novel, Huntress, is often eclipsed by the first. I’m not here to argue which is better, but Huntress is a beautiful story about queer women in its own right that often gets missed. It might not have an HEA, but the relationship built within its pages has a weight and reality that should make this book stand out.
Hild by Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)
Perhaps not so much forgotten as overlooked for its queerer parts, Hild is a slow-burn of a historical novel about Saint Hilda of Whitby, a woman with remarkable political power in 7th century Britain. As a child, her uncanny ability to put together patterns, both human and nature, and seemingly predict the future put her at the king’s side as his personal seer during a particularly tumultuous time in Britain’s history, when the old pagan gods were being rooted out and replaced by Christianity.
Hild, it turns out, loves both men and women, and Griffith gives Hild’s relationships with each equal weight. In this society, it’s clear the class of your lover is far more important than their gender. This nonchalant and historically accurate approach to queer relationships is a breath of fresh air in a culture that often presupposes our own heteronormative biases on the past.
Now it’s your turn: What do you feel has been missed?
K.A. Doore was born in Florida but has since lived in Washington, Arizona, and Germany. She has a BA in Classics and Foreign Languages and an enduring fascination with linguistics. These days she writes fantasy in mid-Michigan and develops online trainings for child welfare professionals. The Perfect Assassin is her debut novel; its sequel, The Impossible Contract, publishes in November 2019 with Tor Books.