Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Stacks: LGBTA Sci-Fi/Fantasy


People talk about how important representation is in literature and film for kids as they’re growing up.  Finding representation as any minority is hard enough in mainstream fiction or film—when your favorite genre is fantasy or science fiction, it becomes nigh-on impossible. 

I don’t think I ever really expected to find Jewish characters to look up to.  When I was little, it quickly became apparent that outside books that dealt with the Holocaust, The All of a Kind Family, and the odd picture book about Hanukah, there wasn’t much out there.  When I turned to fantasy, I gave up.  But I’ve never stopped looking for myself in other ways, even though I’ve not yet met with any real success.  I’ve always identified the strongest with the outliers who always seem to stand alone, even when they have friends or family who love them, partially because that's the kind of person I am, but also because there aren’t a lot of asexuals in literature (incidentally, this is also one of the reasons I prefer epic, romantic friendships to the kind of romance that involves epic sexual tension).  Apart from Sherlock Holmes, I can’t really think of any, though Legolas’s utter lack of romantic entanglements in Lord of the Rings, might be one of the reasons I latched onto the character so strongly (well, that and the part where he ran on top of the snow, could talk to horses and trees, and shot a bloody flying monster out of the sky in the dark).  So I’ve settled for hunting down non-heteronormative sci-fi/fantasy, hoping for LGBT characters who are easier for a bi-romantic asexual to identify with than the omnipresent straight romance that dominates YA genre fiction.

It used to be that girls had to struggle much harder to find positive representation in fantasy, but thanks to authors like Tamora Pierce (and many more), great strides have been made in the number of adventure fantasy novels featuring kick-ass heroines every bit as strong as the more prevalent male heroes (that said, there’s definitely room for improvement).  But if you’re looking for PoC protagonists or fantasy worlds that aren’t Eurocentric, the numbers are not in your favor—and publishers make it all the more difficult to find what few books there are by refusing to put PoC protagonists on the covers of their own stories.  And if you’re LGBT, your outlook is very similar to that of PoC readers.  If you’re both, or the T in LGBT…  Well, you catch my drift.

I’m not saying there hasn’t been a move in recent years to rectify these problems, but the fact is that the problems remain and even with efforts to publish more diverse genre fiction the numbers are not in diversity’s favor, and it is still almost impossible to find what books there are without actively looking for them. And believe you me, I’ve spent untold hours looking.  It’s not easy, especially when you’re not looking for just any book with representation—you’re looking for the kind of story you want to read with nowhere near the selection offered to readers considered by the publishing industry to be the “mainstream” majority.

Expect lists to follow of non-Eurocentric fantasy, sci-fi/fantasy featuring PoC characters, and kick-ass fantasy heroines, but for now, here’s what I’ve managed to find in sci-fi/fantasy with LGBT characters (many also fall into the PoC and non-Eurocentric fantasy categories as well).  

Please, please, if you have any books to add to this list leave comments below the post.


The Mortal Instruments
By Cassandra Clare
[City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels; City of Lost Souls; City of Heavenly Fire (TBR March 2014)]
——
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three eenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons.  Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.  Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters, a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons.  Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.  But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother?  And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight?  The Shadowhunters would like to know…
——
The Rundown: These books are just plain enjoyable.  They get better as they go and Clare hits her stride as a writer, but the story and the characters are engrossing from the start (the best part is probably the snarky, highly quotable dialogue).  While the protagonists, Clary and Jace, are straight as they come, two main, narrating characters, Alec and Magnus who are gay and bi respectively, are in a relationship with each other that factors into the plot in an increasingly prominent way. There is only flirtation in Bones and a largely behind the scenes courtship in Ashes, but Glass sees their relationship creep out of the shadows in a show-stopping moment, and from Fallen Angles onwards their romance shares the spotlight with Clary and Jace’s.  Alec and Magnus are very different people, each fascinating and deep in his own right, and their relationship difficulties are handled with as much care and nuance as that of the straight protagonists.  

*Be warned that Bones, Ashes, Fallen Angels and Lost Souls all end in cliffhangers that will drive you round the proverbial bend until you get your hands on the next book, which was problematic for me as I had to wait at least a year between books what with the next volume not yet being written when I read its predecessor. If this bothers you, have all books at hand when you start. And maybe wait till Heavenly Fire comes out and puts us all out of our misery. (I live in terror that Clare will kill my favorite character.)

Specs
Type: YA Urban Fantasy, Series
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders.
Discovery: Shelf browsing.
Current Rank: Books I love.
Number of Reads: Bones x2, Ashes x3, Glass x5, Fallen Angels x1, Lost Souls x1



The Infernal Devices
By Cassandra Clare
[Clockwork Angel; Clockwork Prince; Clockwork Princess]
——
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets.  Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos. 

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform at will, into another person.  What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them.  She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length…everyone, that is, but Tessa.  As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world…and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.
——
The Rundown: These books will rip your heart out and stomp on it.  Repeatedly.  The series makes this list because it once again features the magical talents of one Magnus Bane who demonstrates that his bisexuality is practical and not at all theoretical, but it also contains one of the most poignant friendships I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, a friendship that is not at all sexual but every bit as romantic as Tessa’s relationships with Will and Jem—perhaps even more so.  Magnus’ narrative passages were my favorites throughout the books, alongside every single private conversation between Jem and Will, and Tessa’s all-consuming love of literature. Alec and Magnus’ troubles in Fallen Angels, Lost Souls and the upcoming Heavenly Fire resonate much more strongly if you’ve read The Infernal Devices which offer far more insight into Magnus’ past and character than he is willing to reveal by the time of The Mortal Instruments books, which take place over 100 years later. The Infernal Devices are arguably more emotionally complex than The Mortal Instruments.  They are also quieter, though there is certainly plenty of action, and I love them all the more for it.

Specs
Type: YA Historical Urban Fantasy, (borderline) Steam-Punk
Acquisition: Clockwork Angel was intended to be a personal purchase from Borders but was in fact bought at 8 am from Target so that I could catch my flight to Japan. Prince and Princess were pre-ordered from Barnes and Noble.
Discovery: Read Mortal Instruments, stalked author’s website hoping for new books, thus knew about the series a couple years before it was released.
Current Rank: Books I love even better than the Mortal Instruments
Number of Reads: Angel x4, Prince x2, Princess x2*
*Warning: Clockwork Princess will make you weep. Do not read in public.

**Clare has promised that more LGBT characters will feature in her next Shadowhunter trilogy, The Dark Artifices, and that one of her future Shadowhunter trilogies will feature a same-sex romance between the protagonists (it is speculated that this title will the last of her projected three trilogies, working title The Wicked Powers, as TLH, her project after Dark Artifices, revolves around the children of The Infernal Devices generation of Shadowhunters and is loosely based on Great Expectations).



The Will of the Empress
By Tamora Pierce
——
For years the Empress of Namorn has pressed her young cousin, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren, to visit her vast lands within the Empire’s borders.  Sandry has avoided the invitation for as long as it was possible.  Now Sandry has agreed to pay that overdue visit.  Sandry’s uncle promises guards to accompany her.  But they’re hardly a group of warriors! They’re her old friends from Winding Circle: Daja, Tris, and Briar.  Sandry hardly knows them now.  They’ve grown up and grown apart.  Sandry isn’t sure they’ll ever find their old connection again—or if she even wants them to.
——
The Rundown: For anyone who’s ever questioned what lay beneath the subtext of Rosethorn and Lark’s relationship in Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens, your questions will be answered quite casually in Will of the Empress.  But the real crux of the novel is the reforging of the bond between the four main characters, foster siblings Sandry, Tris, Daja and Briar, and their struggle to forge adult identities for themselves.  The jacket cover is misleading—Sandry very much wants to reconnect with her brother and sisters, but the experiences they’ve undergone over the few years they’ve been apart have changed them all and made them guarded, fearful of how their actions might look through the eyes of those they love and trust most.  It also doesn’t help that they are now of age to engage in romantic entanglements, and Briar in particular doesn’t wish his sisters to have unfettered access to his thoughts while he’s occupied with a lady.  The novel is also a lovely portrayal of Daja’s discovery of her sexuality, her first love and subsequent heartbreak.  

*You should read the first two series before Will of the Empress or it won’t make sense and you won’t be emotionally invested in the characters: Circle of Magic [Sandry’s Book; Tris’s Book; Daja’s Book; Briar’s Book] and The Circle Opens [Magic Steps; Street Magic; Cold Fire; Shatterglass]. They are all good and won’t take long to read.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders, though initially read an ARC borrowed from my friend Lauren, who in turn borrowed it from her sister, Alaya.
Discovery: I’ve loved Tamora Pierce’s work since I was twelve and make it a priority to read her books the day they’re released.
Current Rank: Book I loved (more than Circle Opens, though not as much as Circle of Magic)
Number of Reads: Umm…5-6? I’ve lost count.

**Bloodhound, the second book of Pierce’s Provost’s Dog trilogy (also known as The Legend of Beka Cooper), features major supporting characters who are gay and transgendered.  They do not appear in the first book, Terrier, and feature very, very briefly in the third, Mastiff. I have major issues with the third book, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read all three and decide for yourself.



Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue
By Kristin Cashore
——
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill.  As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.  When she first meets Price Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.  She never expects to become Po’s friend.  She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.  With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, debut author Kristin Cashore creates a mesmerizing world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that will consume you, hold you captive, and leave you wanting more.
——
——
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells.  In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him.  War is coming.  And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves.  This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.  Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised Graceling has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books.  You don’t need to have read Graceling to love Fire.  But if you haven’t, you’ll be dying to read it next.
——
——
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea.  But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on.  Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened.  But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.  Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever.  They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign.  And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
——
The Rundown:  Fire, written second but taking place some thirty years before Graceling, is the only book of the three to feature an LGBT protagonist (Fire is bisexual), but Bitterblue features at least five characters ranging from main to minor who are LGBT three of whom are major characters in Graceling including a committed, long-term, couple whose relationship is only subtext in Graceling.*  All three books should be read, immediately and often, for they are not only some of the most emotionally/psychologically nuanced novels I’ve ever read, they are some of the best.  Period. I will read anything this woman writes—even if she falls on hard times and is forced to compose oven manuals or software license agreements.  That is how much I love these books. (In case anyone is curious, Fire is my favorite of the three, but I love the other two deeply.)

*When this relationship was revealed in Bitterblue, I was so excited that I ran around my room shrieking, called Lauren (at the time the only one of my friends who’d read Graceling and Fire) who happened to be in a later time zone (it was the middle of the night for her) and left her a completely incoherent message that mostly consisted of me yelling “I WAS RIGHT! I WAS RIGHT!”

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy
Acquisition: Graceling and Fire were personal purchases from Borders, and Bitterblue was purchased from Barnes and Noble.
Discovery: Discovered Graceling while browsing at Borders. Loved it so much I began following Cashore’s blog and discovered she was working on Fire, and later Bitterblue. Bought both the day they were released.
Current Rank: Books I love so much there are no words.
Number of Reads: Graceling x6, Fire x8, Bitterblue x2 (hey, it’s newer, give it time)



The Summer Prince
By Alaya Dawn Johnson
——
The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians.  In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary.  But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King.  The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil).  But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba.  She sees a fellow artist.  Together, they will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget.  They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech.  And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki.  Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.
——
The Rundown:  For all my thoughts on The Summer Prince read my earlier review.  I will just add for the sake of clarification for any who haven’t yet read the review, that its relevance to this particular Stacks list lies in the romance between two of the three protagonists Enki and Gil, Palmares Tres’ acknowledgement and acceptance of bisexuality, and June’s step-mother who became so by marrying June’s mother, not her late father.

Specs
Type: YA Science Fiction, Stand-alone
Acquisition: Text file of the penultimate draft received from the author during editing, later personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: Friend of the author
Current Rank: Book I loved
Number of Reads: 2 (so far)



Nightrunners Books 1-3 
[Luck in the Shadows; Stalking Darkness; Traitor’s Moon]*
By Lynn Flewelling 
——
When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end.  But one thing he never expected was his cellmate.  Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things—none of them predictable.  And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them.  Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing.  Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail.  But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be…Luck in the Shadows.
——
The Rundown: The first two books remind me a bit of the Belgariad and the Mallorean, if Garion trained with Silk instead of Belgareth.  Then of course, there’s the lovely plot point where the two male leads fall in love with each other.  Love the witty banter, love the endearing heroes, love the great supporting cast.  Great epic fantasy in the tradition of the aforementioned Eddings series (among others) that proves romance does NOT have to be heteronormative for genre fiction to work.  I don’t really think this needed proving, but the publishing industry seems to disagree rather strongly, if the utter lack of available non-heteronormative sci-fic/fantasy novels is any indication. In any case, there are many enjoyable hours to be had reading these books, so go forth and read!

*Flewelling later continued the series, but I cannot recommend the books the follow Traitor’s Moon, and the first trilogy is complete as is and needs no further explanation.  The fourth book begins a new adventure/plot line.

Specs
Type: Fantasy (of the epic variety)
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: An LGBT sci-fi/fantasy rec list somewhere on the internet. Cannot for the life of me remember where.
Current Rank: Books I really enjoyed
Number of Reads: 2



Eon and Eona
By Allison Goodman
——
Sixteen-year-old Eon has a dream, and a mission.  For years, he’s been studying sword-work and magic, toward one end.  He and his master hope that he will be chosen as a Dragoneye—an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune.  But Eon has a dangerous secret.  He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been masquerading as a twelve-year-old boy.  Females are forbidden to use Dragon Magic; if anyone discovers she has been hiding in plain sight, her death is assured.  When Eon’s secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a deadly struggle for the Imperial throne.  Eon must find the strength and inner power to battle those who want to take her magic…and her life.
——
The Rundown:  This duology has such a wealth of gender bending and questioning what it means to be male or female I hardly know where to begin.  Eona is a girl who has been raised as a boy because women have been forbidden from becoming Dragoneyes and she has the unheard of ability to see all twelve spirit dragons.  Eona is chosen by the Mirror Dragon who hasn’t been seen since, coincidentally, girls were forbidden to become Dragoneyes (hint hint) and who also happens to be the dragon to whom all other dragons bow. But she can’t fully merge with her dragon until she accepts and reveals herself as a girl—which of course, would result in her execution.  Eona’s struggle with her two separate identities constitutes the main plot of Eon, while Eona sees her come into her power and try to prevent civil war, or at least aid her friend in winning it.  She is aided along the way by her one true friend and mentor, the transgendered Lady Dela who is no stranger to Eona’s troubles, and Lady Dela’s lover, Ryko. Also, who doesn’t like taking a break from the European-inspired fantasy novels to read one that takes place in an Asian-inspired world?

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders and Barnes and Noble
Discovery: Browsing at Borders 
Current Rank: Books I enjoyed
Number of Reads: 1



Singing the Dog Star Blues
By Allison Goodman
——
Seventeen-year-old Joss is a rebel, and a student of time travel at the prestigious Centre for Neo-Historical Studies.  This year, for the first time, the Centre has an alien student: Mavkel, from the planet Choria.  And Mavkel has chosen Joss, of all people, as his roommate and study partner.  Then Mavkel gets sick.  Joss quickly realizes that his will to live is draining away.  The only way she can help Mavkel is by breaking the Centre’s strictest rules—and that means going back in time to change history. 
——
The Rundown:  This book is fast-paced with a plot that hurtles through a world and story I would be happy to spend more time in. Since Goodman has yet to revisit Joss and Mav’s world, I’ll take what I can get.  Though Joss is a cisgendered, presumably straight female, Mav and his people can be seen as either neither male nor female or as both.  He chooses to be referred to by the male pronoun since choosing one gender seems to make humanity more comfortable. Their relationship is not a romantic one (and I love it all the more for that), but then there’s Joss’s mother and the only other parental figure she’s ever known, her mother’s ex-girlfriend who reconnects with Joss in a big way on her birthday and whose relationship with Joss plays an important, even pivotal role in Joss’s character development throughout the story.  The novel also explores varying forms of discrimination from classism and racism to tensions between those who were genetically engineered and those whose parents took their chances (not unlike the film Gattaca, though much less extreme). 

Specs
Type: YA Science Fiction
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders (I think, it could have been B&N)
Discovery: After I read Eon I was curious about Goodman’s other works. It took a long time to find Dogstar Blues, but when I did I realized I’d read the cover when it first came out and declined to purchase it. That was a mistake.
Current Rank: Book I really enjoyed
Number of Reads: 1



Ash
By Melinda Lo
——
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother.  Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her.  In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do.  When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.  The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heard begins to change.  Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa.  Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live.  But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.  Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.
——
The Rundown:  I’ve never been one for “fairy tales” as Disney would define them but I have always been enthralled with legends of the fae, dangerous, benign, or elemental, and despite its packaging as Cinderella retold, Ash is far more the latter.  Also Ash has far more sense than to fall in love with a prince, even if that prince is superior in temperament to many who’ve occupied his place in variations of the Cinderella story.  Her romance with Kaisa is as delicate and lovely as the jacket description implies, and her connection to the fae Sidhean far more nuanced than it initially appears.  It is a wonderful novel.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, folk and fairy tale reworking
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: Browsing
Current Rank: Book I enjoyed
Number of Reads: 1 (but I find myself wanting to reread it)



Huntress
By Melinda Lo
——
Nature is out of balance in the human world.  The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing.  Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear.  The people’s survival hangs in the balance.  To solve the crisis the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen.  Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly.  And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission.  As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love.  But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.  The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.
——
The Rundown:  While I loved Ash, a brilliant and creative re-imagining of the Cinderella story, I was excited to hear Lo was working on another novel set in Ash’s world, one whose plot was entirely Lo’s invention.  Huntress did not disappoint.  Kaede and Taisin are very different people with very different philosophies and outlooks on life, so experiencing the story through their alternating perspectives makes for an interesting read.  The supporting characters are great, and a number of the tribulations the cast endures are novel, or at least put a novel twist on old tropes.  I want to say more about the resolution, which I think is the most novel aspect of the book, but I fear I’d only spoil the ending.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes and Noble
Discovery: Read Ash, kept an eye out for upcoming titles from Malinda Lo
Current Rank: Book I enjoyed
Number of Reads: 1

**Malinda Lo has also released a YA science fiction novel called Adaptation which features a bisexual protagonist. I have not read it, but given the quality of Ash and Huntress, I’m sure it’s worth checking out.



The Left Hand of Darkness
By Ursula Leguin
——
A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender.  His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization.  But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.  Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
——
The Rundown: This one is complicated and problematic and can start a hundred arguments. I believe it was intended to explore the meaninglessness of gender binaries, but at times accidentally reinforces them.  It is included on many LGBTA fantasy/sci fi lists, and it certainly revolves around gender, so I’ve added it here, but I hesitate to call it “LGBTA”.  The people of the planet Gethen are androgynous and asexual for all but a few days a month during which they experience a strong urge to mate and develop either male or female genitalia depending on their partner. Therein lies the problem for me. I realize that the point of their “kemmer” is to reproduce and thus continue the species but it also sort of reasserts the gender binary and heteronormativity. The people of Gethen, despite having no gender/sex 98% of the time, still cannot have a “same-sex” relationship because their biology will cause them and their partners to develop opposite sexual organs once a month during the only time romantic feelings can be accompanied by sexual attraction and desire.  Still, as I said, this book begins a conversation about sex, gender and love that everyone interprets differently.  It is also classic science fiction that should be read and fiercely debated because, as with all great science fiction, it makes us think.

Specs
Type: Science Fiction
Acquisition: Da gave me his copy 
Discovery: This was part of my education in classic sci-fi and fantasy courtesy of my da’s recommendations.
Current Rank: Book I enjoyed because it makes me think
Number of Reads: 1



Witch Eyes
By Scott Tracey
[Followed by Demon Eyes and Phantom Eyes (TBR October 2013)]
——
Seventeen-year-old Braden was born with witch eyes.  He has the ability to see the world as it truly is: a blinding explosion of memories, anguish, darkness, and magic.  The power enables Braden to see through spells and lies, but it comes at the cost of horrible pain.  After a terrifying vision reveals imminent danger for the uncle who raised and instructed him, Braden is lured to Belle Dam, an old city divided by two feuding witch dynasties.  Rival family heads Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe are desperate to use Braden’s powers to unlock Belle Dam’s secrets, but Braden refuses to become their sacrificial pawn.  His resolve is tested when he learns that Jason is his father—and that Trey, the enigmatic guy he’s attracted to, is Catherine’s son.  To stop an insidious dark magic from consuming the town, Braden must master his gift—even if the effort destroys him.
——
The Rundown:  Romeo and Juliet if both Romeo and Juliet were guys with questionable social skills and magical powers who were being stalked by a murderous demon and were none too keen on the idea of tragically dying for love—or dying at all. It’s the first book in a trilogy and I’ve not yet read the other two, so I can’t pass judgement on the story as a whole, but it’s definitely promising and a fun read. Once Phantom Eyes releases this fall, I’ll finish the trilogy.

Specs
Type: YA Urban Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: Saw a rec on Cassandra Clare’s twitter feed and ran out to buy it when it was released.
Current Rank: Book I enjoyed
Number of Reads: 1



Moonset
By Scott Tracey
[Book 2, Darkbound, releases April 2014]
——
After the terrorist witch coven known as Moonset was destroyed fifteen years ago—during a secret war against the witch Congress—five children were left behind, saddled with a legacy of darkness.  Sixteen-year-old Justin Daggett, son of a powerful Moonset warlock, has been raised alongside the other orphans by the witch Congress, who fear the children will one day continue the destruction their parents started.  A deadly assault by a wraith, claiming to work for Moonset’s most dangerous disciple, Cullen Bridger, forces the five teens to be evacuated to Carrow Mill.  But when dark magic wreaks havoc in their new hometown, Justin and his siblings are immediately suspected.  Justin sets out to discover if someone is trying to frame the Moonset orphans…or if Bridger has finally come out of hiding to reclaim the legacy of Moonset.  He learns there are secrets in Carrow Mill connected to Moonset’s origins, and keeping the orphans safe isn’t the only reason the Congress relocated them…
——
The Rundown:  More witches (of a different hue), but this time around our main characters are brothers and sisters and arguably in far more trouble than Braden was in Witch Eyes. The relationship between the siblings is the best part of the book. It has always been them against the world.  They’re used to being unable to trust anyone, particularly the adults in their lives, and they’ve never been in one place long enough to form relationships with outsiders—they’ve only ever been able to rely on each other, which makes it all the more difficult when half the siblings try to branch out just as the plots against them thicken.  Moonset is the first of a series and I imagine things are going to get much, much worse for our heroes before they get better. It makes the list because Malcom, the eldest brother, and one of the main characters is gay. It’s unclear at this point how much Malcom’s sexuality will factor into the story, but as one of the two siblings in whom Justin, the narrating protagonist, confides the most and spends the most time with, Malcom himself is a key player in the series. 

Specs
Type: YA Urban Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: Randomly stumbled upon it while looking for something else. Had no idea Tracey was working on a second series between Witch Eyes novels.
Current Rank: Book I enjoyed
Number of Reads: 1


Books I’ve Read and DO NOT Recommend:


The Enchantment Emporium 
By Tanya Huff
——
The Gale family can change the world with the charms they cast, and they like to keep this in the family.  Alysha Gale is tired of having all her aunts try to run her life, both personally and magically.  So when the letter from her Gran arrives willing her a “junk” shop in Calgary, Alysha jumps at the chance.  It isn’t until she gets there that she realizes her customers are fey.  And no one told her there’s trouble brewing in Calgary—trouble so big that even calling in the family may not save the day…
——
The Rundown:  I found this one via someone else’s LGBT fantasy rec list. It is one of the few books I regret reading. For one thing, I’m not entirely certain it belongs on an LGBT list. Though the protagonist does have romantic and sexual relations with her female cousin, and at least one other of her cousins has settled permanently with a female partner (and simply borrowed one of her male cousins for a night so as to beget the requisite child), it often feels as if there’s a hierarchy that prioritizes opposite-sex relationships (see primary romantic relationship between main character and main love interest who is so stereotypically alpha male it is ridiculous). There’s also some gender hierarchy things going on which are ostensibly matriarchal but place a disturbing amount of power over the supposed matriarchs in the hands of the men—power of the overwhelming sexual attraction variety—that makes my skin crawl. Additionally, though the characters are interesting, the dialogue full of sardonic banter, this is far too much a romance novel and I cannot get behind a magic system that is based entirely on sex. 

Specs
Type: Urban Fantasy, (arguably) Romance
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: An LGBT sci-fi/fantasy rec list somewhere on the internet. Cannot for the life of me remember where.
Current Rank: Book I did not care for
Number of Reads: 1 (Not to be revisited)



Havemercy
By Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
——
This stunning epic fantasy debut introduces two exciting new authors and a world brimming with natural and man-made wonders, extraordinary events, and a crisis that will test the mettle of men, the boundaries of magic, and the heart and soul of a kingdom.  

Thanks to its elite Dragon Corps, the capital city of Volstov has all but won the hundred years war with its neighboring enemy, the Ke-Han.  The renegade airmen who fly the corps mechanical, magic-fueled dragons, are Volstov’s greatest weapon.  But now one of its more unruly members is at the center of the city’s rumor mill, causing a distraction that may turn the tide of victory.  With Volstov immersed in a scandal that may have international repercussions, the Ke-Han devise an ingenious plan of attack.  To counter the threat, four ill-assorted heroes must converge to save the kingdom they love: an exiled magician, a naive country boy, a young student, and the unpredictable ace airman who flies the city’s fiercest dragon, Havemercy.  But on the eve of battle these courageous men will face something that could make the most formidable of warriors hesitate, the powerful of magicians weak, and the most unlikely of men allies in their quest to rise against it.  Filled with adventure and discover, treachery and betrayal, Havemercy is a thrill ride to the unexpected and an unforgettable journey that will linger long after the fire of battle has cleared.
——
The Rundown:  This is another book I found on someone else’s LGBT rec list—in fact, I think it was on the same list as Enchantment Emporium—that I also regret reading. It’s a bit of a mess.  The romantic plot line ranges from inexplicable to soporific.  The other storyline is so full of swearing without point that it obscures narrative and character interaction alike. It is often nonsensical and full of deus ex machina. Simply put, it did not live up to the cover description and was not my kind of book.

Specs
Type: Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: An LGBT sci-fi/fantasy rec list somewhere on the internet. Cannot for the life of me remember where.
Current Rank: Book I did not care for
Number of Reads:  1 (Not to be revisited)

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