From Banner of the Damned to Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex to Tash Hearts Tolstoy to Let’s Talk About Love, asexuality is far less mysterious (and less dominated by robots and aliens) than it was five years ago in literature. Though it often feels like ace characters are limited to non-fiction or contemporary novels, there is a growing collection of characters in science fiction and fantasy that are acing it.
(It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an ace in possession of a good list of books, must be in want of a pun.)
It’s rare that ace characters get to exist within a science fiction or fantasy world without being an educational tool about asexuality or a lesson about humanity’s greatest weapon, love. The five books that follow all feature a-spec characters exploring fantasy worlds, saving the day in space, or romancing their alien love interest.
Ellie from The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Most of my patrons go for my books, but every so often, I get a request that has me looking beyond my stuff. And I’ll do it, every time, if it means a story can change someone’s outlook, if even just for a day.
In an alien-controlled part of New York City, Ellie runs a secret library. Artistic expression, seen as too emotional, is banned since the alien force view it as the reason for the devastating fight with humans years ago. Ellie is clever and kind, a book lover who isn’t the stereotypical cold ace, and she feels perfect for this serious yet somehow almost whimsical science fiction novel.
The book follows what happens after Morris, one of the aliens known as Illori, discovers her secret library and wants to hear more music. The pair connect over art and their experiences feeling outside of society. Their relationship is tender and a lovely addition to this largely character-focused story.
Karis from This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria
The true risk is in anyone discovering what I stole: the ledger currently clasped to my chest, its leather cover warm beneath my fingers. I can’t even say what the punishment for this would be, because as far as I know no one’s ever been stupid enough to try it.
At least not before me, and I prefer the term reckless.
This book is one I would lovingly call science fantasy because it takes place in a fantasy world but a large part of the worldbuilding and conflict has a decidedly science fiction feel.
Karis is indentured to the Scriptorium, a group of scholars attempting to reanimate and control ancient automatons that were deactivated centuries ago. Then, one day, she finds a still-functioning automaton who looks more human than she expected of the old machines. The dangerous quest that follows is bolstered by the friendship that grows between Karis and the automaton, Alix.
Karis is aroace, and it’s nice to see her opposite of an automaton instead of her being one. She’s bold, angry, and loving, and getting to witness the slow-burn friendship that develops as she learns to trust Alix is wonderful.
Ellie from Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (and illustrated by Rovina Cai)
In a moment of clarity, Ellie could see Trevor smiling, his young face uninjured. It was a sad smile but not a bitter one. Regretful, perhaps.
Before the dream ended, he was gone.
This is one of those stories that sticks with you long after you’re done reading it. It’s dark and beautiful, and Ellie’s journey feels remarkably real despite the story taking place in a slightly different America to the one we reside in. It’s difficult to describe this book because so much of its beauty is in its atmosphere and the details of Ellie’s life.
Ellie is the sort of ace character I love—resourceful and clever with a deep love of family and friends that drives her. Ellie is capable of raising the ghosts of dead animals, a skill that’s been in her family for generations. When her cousin is murdered, she is determined to uncover what happened. This book is as heartbreaking as it is joyful, and her quest for answers weaves an incredible ghost story.
Hazel(s) from The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis
The rift that opened on our farm the evening I was born was like a shard of glass: sharp and angled and not quite transparent, but tilt your head a little and it might as well be invisible.
The Art of Saving the World is the best of all worlds when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. Hazel is ace, the chosen one, and trapped near an interdimensional rift in her Pennsylvanian town that gets angry when she strays too far. When more Hazels from other dimensions come pouring out of the rift on their sixteenth birthdays, she has to discover her connection to the rift and save the world.
This book shines in its interactions between the different Hazels. They’re each their own unique person due to growing up in different universes, and being able to witness our Hazel’s reaction to them is fascinating. Additionally, each Hazel is at a different part of her journey to realizing she’s an ace lesbian. It’s heartwarming to see a queer character get to see a version of themself and go, “That’s who I look up to and want to be like” because so often there is only a singular queer character with no potential mentor in young adult books.
Also, one of the characters is a dragon. A whole dragon.
But I knew, deep down, that love had never fixed anyone. It had only given them the strength to try over and over and over again.
Is it cheating to list a series that isn’t complete yet? Forgive me, but Raybearer has been on my radar ever since I heard about the series for the first time three years ago. Now, I cannot wait for its sequel Redemptor.
Raybearer is a gripping, lush story about the joys and pains of family and the difficult path of love, and Redemptor promises to be just as entrancing. The book is about Tarisai, whose mother sends her to the capital to compete with other children to become part of Prince Dayo’s council, and she finds a home there with Dayo and the other children. However, Tarisai and Dayo’s growing friendship is complicated by the fact that Tarisai’s mother has ordered her to eventually kill Dayo.
Often in young adult novels, romantic relationships take centerstage. Raybearer, though, shines in its appreciation and depictions of platonic love. Tarisai’s friendship to Dayo is central to the plot, the characters’ growth, and the readers’ understandings of the world. It isn’t cast aside once a romantic subplot begins for Tarisai, and Dayo’s character and his relationship stay at the forefront of the narrative. Their friendship is one of the most tender and validating relationships I’ve seen in a novel in years.
Early reviews for Redemptor also hint that Dayo will be playing an even more important role in the story as it continues. It’s rare to see male ace characters, which is why I am so excited to see Dayo return in the sequel.
Linsey Miller is a wayward biologist from Arkansas who previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She currently lives in Austin, Texas and can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there’s coffee. She is also the author of Mask of Shadows, Ruin of Stars, and Belle Révolte. Her forthcoming ace-lead YA fantasy, What We Devour, releases on July 6, 2021. Visit her online at linseymiller.com.