Sometimes, when I say I long for more stories with queer characters, I mean stories where they’re embroiled in intergalactic wars, or committing high-risk heists, or traveling through time and worlds, or navigating a post-apocalyptic landscape. Stories where the characters are permitted to simply exist as queer, where they’re defined by more than just the ire and oppression they face. No compunctions, no hang-ups.
Of course that doesn’t mean stories that explore the cultural history and struggles of queer people aren’t essential, because they are. There’s just an unnameable and unmistakable catharsis in reading stories where each character’s gender and sexual identity is rendered in the same certain, unfaltering prose as the rest of the book. That nonchalant, fleeting mention—as though the fact was of no more consequence than a broken lamplight—that feels more validating than anything.
So, without further ado, here are my 20 book recommendations with casual queer representation:
➳ The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
A novel about a subterranean library where reality can be shuffled like a deck of cards—a drunken mangle of past and present. Stories that wander off the edge of the page, filled with teeth and armored with immortality. People who wander off the edge of the map, perilously and fathomlessly free, unbounded. And the secret society undoing it all, unwinding the Starless Sea thread by thread, until it falls away. And in the center of it all: Zachary Ezra Rawlins. A brown gay boy who one day stumbles across an authorless book in the library, and knows—in the deepest, most unshakable part of himself where reason is useless—that it is narrating a long-ago event of his childhood. An adventure that culminates in a fevered, frenzied love affair with a mysterious storyteller.
➳ The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
A ravishingly beautiful novel about a non-binary traveling cleric who walks through puddles of ink, following footprints that form stories in their wake to collect like cards in their heart, and their encounter with an elderly woman who tells them of the history of Lake Scarlet, a beautiful and harrowing landscape, decades dead—and her words rise from their ink-and-cotton cradles and swirl into the air again, reshaping the true face of history. A story about sapphic empresses in a world of strife, where wars are “won by silenced and nameless women”, through seasons when all hopes wilt and die and bloom anew. One of my favorites of all time: the longer you are here, the harder it is to remember anywhere else.
➳ Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant
The so-called lovely ladies of the sea exist, and they are out for slaughter. This is story about a bunch of scientists on an expedition to look for mermaids, supervised by Imagine Entertainment, a company built on mediocre science fiction movies and rumors of a massive maritime hoax. The characters (including: an autistic lesbian geek goddess and news personality, a bisexual graduate student and a grieving sister, the physically disabled representative of Imagine Entertainment and estranged husband of the marine biologist and siren expert on board, and deaf identical twins: one of whom is an organic chemist and the other the owner of a deep-water submersible) embark on their adventure with the fervor of untested warriors who had nothing to lose, nothing to gain, nothing they desired anymore, except to make their lives into a work of art. Never have I felt more glad to exist on dry land than I did after reading this book.
➳ The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Six huge nerds: A Spanish-Filipino historian who is more like a textbook that occasionally remembered how to be an active member of society. A Jewish Polish mathematician with a rare magical affinity. An Indian made-up girl with an ability to read people’s history while holding an object of their possession. A botanical specialist with a gigantic spider as a pet. And the young Black heir of a French aristocrat. One impossible heist slash treasure hunt. The outcome could either be a dream or a death sentence. Paris drags out its secrets for the characters, and they soon learn the things that could be taken away in a heartbeat, all in the pursuit of power. (*whispers* there’s also the faintest hint of a possible polyamorous relationship in the sequel.)
➳ The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library #1) by A.J. Hackwith
A novel about unfinished books that get sent to a library in Hell, and which centers around a pansexual Black head librarian who is burdened with the impossible task of tracking down those books when they manifest into restless characters who flee in search of their authors. Add in an ex-girlfriend you parted with, to put it charitably, not on the best of terms, and you have quite the gripping tale.
➳ The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
I absolutely loved the wonderful Twelfth-Night-inspired sapphic romance in this book. Liv and Violet both circled each other tentatively, as if the other person was a fire whose warmth they craved but knew might burn. The love between them was both simple and complicated—in the way of the best love stories—and I enjoyed reading about the burning, luminous thing blooming between them. The romance, however, isn’t the heart of the story. The story, both intensely specific and strangely universal, has hard questions strung all the way through it: about family and legacy, what sets us on paths that we oftentimes feel helpless to depart, and the distances between people who were both impossibly near and hopelessly far. A profoundly touching novel, and a must-read.
➳ The Seep by Chana Porter
Imagine that it were possible to take one step out of reality, into a place of pure pleasure, far from the familiar tin-can clatter of today’s misery. A place where hierarchies are picked apart, capitalism is collapsed, people can flow into different shapes, and time no longer feels like currency, each moment a coin that could be, if one wasn’t careful, wasted and lost—because immortality is attainable at last. All thanks to The Seep, a symbiotic alien entity that glows in the mind of the world. This novel takes place in that dimension. And Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka, the novel’s protagonist—a fifty-year-old Native American trans woman—cannot escape the feeling that, below the surface, something is breaking. This is a thoughtful novel that ruminates on the fraught tension existing between difference and conflict, and the ramifications of collapsing the formal to avoid the latter. At the core of it, too, is grief, and the fact that the author managed to make the protagonist’s sorrow so palpable, and in less than 200 page, is quite a remarkable feat.
➳ Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
The gist of the story concerns Elisabeth, an orphan raised in the library where she learned the delicate arts of tending to books and the blunter arts of guarding them against the world, and guarding the world against them. Because when damaged—even inadvertently—those books mutate into ravening monsters rising up in clamorous fury, the warp spreading from the pages as sinuously as ink clouding through a glass of clean water. And they’re called “Malefics.” Enter Nathaniel, a bisexual sorcerer whose family is dogged with rumors of necromancy, and he and Elisabeth are soon yanked into the machinations of blood, greed and power.
➳ Foundryside (Founders #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett
The first in a brand-new series, Foundryside introduces a world that is pure molten menace, one that feels real enough to have its own passport stamp and arresting enough that—even if you wouldn’t want to live there—you’ll doubtless want to visit. Our protagonist, who is Black and sapphic, is hired to pull off a heist in exchange for an incomprehensibly large amount of money that told her this was a very bad idea. But survival in Foundryside is measured by the thinnest of margins, and for her, this was just another hard edge of a hard life. Her new-forged plan embroils her into snarls both mortal and magical, and she will need every ally ingenuity can yield her. Enter: a righteous cop with a bee in his bonnet about justice, a notorious scientist with a foul reputation and even fouler moods, and his sharp and far-more-skilled assistant whom our protagonist is absolutely not having a crush on. (wink, wink)
➳ Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Acevedo’s poetry is transcendental. This is a story about two 16-year-old sisters, one in New York and the other in the Dominican Republic, who don’t know of each other’s existence until after their father dies in a plane crash. Yahaira has a long-term girlfriend and their relationship was just so [clutches fist] tender. I was yearning throughout this entire book, not gonna lie.
➳ This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Two time traveling spies from rival factions divided between attack and diplomacy who, finding their way—making their way—through world after time-war-ravaged world, made contact and found love—and something that frightened them, too—across a void too profound to bridge with anything other than words. The two women were more real to each other than reflections in a mirror and their scarred and hacked edges had borne witness to too many battles waged against time (and each other). They were like fish eyeing the hook, with too many forces ready to make siege weapons of their letters. In the sheer, shimmering improbability of the moment, however, they could almost pretend this love affair wasn’t a fool’s errand. Do not miss this book.
➳ The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwav
Oh, to be a bisexual french girl that has a 300-year-old love affair with the devil she prayed to after the dark, and was doomed to an eternity of being forgotten by everyone she meets, flitting from one place to another, never feeling quite at home anywhere, and from one person to another, leaving behind only the phantom feel of her touch, and the faint memory of seven freckles on her cheek, like a scattering of stars……
That is, until a boy says ‘I remember you‘, and it feels like a prayer.
➳ The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
In a life littered with questionable decisions, our protagonist (iconically described by one of her friends as “delightfully butch” and “super ripped”) wonders if, by trying to befriend the daughter of a long-lost young volunteer for a one-way trip into space, she is doing the most foolish thing she’d ever done. As far as questionable decisions go, however, this might just be her best one yet. I don’t know how else to say, “I fucking loved this book and you should read it as well,” but yeah, I did and you should.
P.S. The polyamorous trio from the author’s debut novel, The Wicker King, plays a cameo role in this book, and seeing that they no longer bear their past burdens and that they have a child of their own who grew up a stranger to the loneliness and sorrow they were oh-so-familiar with in their teenage years, was soul-mending.
➳Criminal Intentions series by Cole McCade
Criminal Minds but make it hella queer. The cast is mainly POC. The main romantic plotline is between two detectives: Seong-Jae Yoon who is Korean-American and demisexual/grey-ace, and Malcolm Khalaji who is Persian-American, bisexual, and Jewish. There’s also a non-binary MC, and a budding sapphic side-romance.
➳ The Affair of the Mysterious Letterby Alexis Hall
This is a retelling of Sherlock Holmes featuring a pansexual lady Holmes and a trans Watson.
➳ Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
What if we were goth necromancers… in space… who have to fight in a deathly war… and we’re insistent on disliking each other… and we were both girls 👉🏽👈🏽
➳ The City We Became N.K. Jemisin
Six New-Yorkers who are the living, breathing avatars of the different boroughs in the city, are trying to save their home from an ancient evil. I loved how the characters were explicitly, inherently, unquestionably queer. I also highley recommend you guys check out the author’s Broken Earth series.
➳ The Green Creek series by T.J Klune
FERAL GAY WEREWOLVES AND WITCHES. Enough said, I think.
➳ Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
A story about 17-year-old criminal mastermind and his band of rogues and misfits breaking into an impregnable prison complex to attempt the greatest heist of all recorded human history. They have nothing to lose and 24 million kruge to gain. Just good ole’ doing crime for money. And they are willing to take the next chance, and the next, and on and on until they’re rich or well…..the chances are spent. Includes two canonically bisexual characters, and a gay character.
Read this book my canonically asexual fashionista morally empty villain father, Victor Vale. You won’t regret it.
And voilà! I hope this post was helpful, and that it may introduce you to a new favorite book or series. Let me know if you’ve read or plan to read any of these books in the comments!