It’s Pride Month! Earlier this month I did a podcast listing my top ten books that feature LGBTQ+ characters. But with everything that’s happened since, I wanted to take another look at that list. Specifically, highlighting the LGBTQ+ characters of color, who tend to be erased even within the queer communities.
So for this Bitch Shelf article, I’m drawing attention to some fantastic sci-fi and fantasy books that specifically center around LGBTQ+ characters of color. It’s a mix of young adult, adult, and some grimdark, so you’ll hopefully find something that catches your attention here. The links lead to more in-depth books reviews, none of them containing spoilers. (Please keep it that way in the comments.)
This is a paranormal young adult romance featuring flesh-eating mermaids at war with the native island of Eriana Kwai. The first book—Ice Massacre—follows Meela, a human about to go on her first Massacre. The Massacres are a ceremonial hunt where twenty people go out into the ocean and murder as many mermaids as they can.
This is bad for Meela, because her best friend is a mermaid who eventually becomes her girlfriend.
Though Eriana Kwai is fictional, the culture is heavily inspired by Native Alaskans and northwestern Native Americans.
Dread Nation series by Justina Ireland
Dread Nation is a young adult alternative history novel that takes place in 1880, almost twenty years after the first zombies showed up at Gettysburg. In this America, black girls are trained in the art of killing zombies to protect their white employers. Jane McKeene is one such girl who uncovers a conspiracy theory and ends up in the wild west, where she gets to deal with both zombies and raging racists.
Both Jane and her frenemy Kate are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Jane is bisexual, spending most of book one with the company of men before getting herself a girlfriend in book two. Kate, a fellow zombie-killer from Jane’s class, is both asexual and aromantic, and a true artist with a pair of short swords.
Godshaper by Simon Spurrier
(We’ve officially entered the adult section of the bookshelf for these last three picks.)
Godshaper is a graphic novel set in a world where everyone has their own personal god. These gods appeared shortly after all electricity and machines mysteriously stopped. People can use their gods to do pretty much anything, but they don’t have much power over their gods. If they want to increase a god’s power or change its appearance, they go to a godshaper. Godshapers don’t have gods, but they have the ability to change them. This makes them pariahs, and they usually travel alone because they’re chased out of every town they come across with pitchforks.
The main character is a pansexual godshaper and part-time musician who finds a god without a human, which shouldn’t even exist, and thus gets dragged kicking and screaming into a conspiracy theory.
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
This book follows an Inuit man, Omat, who is…well, if he’d been born anywhere else, he’d have been assigned female at birth. But because of certain Inuit customs, he’s raised as a man and fully identifies as a man even though he’s biologically female. Because of those same customs, he’s trained as a shaman and gets magic powers as he learned to communicate with the gods.
Basically, he’s a magic trans baby. Also, Vikings are washing up on his shores—oh, and the Norse and Inuit gods are real and most of them want Omat dead for one reason or the other.
This one has a lot of dark moments—transphobia and sexism, animal death, rape—but there’s a really sweet, happy ending. Unlike the last book on our list…
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James
Black Leopard Red Wolf is an epic fantasy grimdark in a world heavily based on African history and mythology. The main character, Tracker, is tasked with finding a missing boy and has to fight through corrupt men and terrifying monsters in order to do it. Needless to say, 90% of all the characters wind up dead.
This is a story with no real heroes, no happy ending, and all the characters are a hot gay mess. Tracker, his first boyfriend, his villain boyfriend, his final boyfriend, his shapeshifting crush, everyone. It’s a good book, but it will make you very angry and sad, so don’t read it at work like I did. It makes the murder and rape scenes that much more awkward.
Which books have you read that feature LGBTQ+ characters of color? Tell us in the comments so we can check it out!