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I was hoping someone would have good suggestions for fantasy involving lesbian characters. I don't mind if they are the protagonist or not, but would like them to be integral to the story. So far, the only I've been able to come across are those written by Malinda Lo (Ash and Huntress). I also loved the Legacy Series by Jacqueline Carey - even though Phedre isn't technically a lesbian, there were enough elements to be satisfying.
I'd also take suggestions for fantasy with strong female protagonists. I tend to prefer books written by women, which is not to say there haven't been many books I've loved by men. Some of my favorite authors have been Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, and Robin McKinley.
It's difficult wading through all the suggestions on the other lists - I feel like I've picked up a ton of mediocre books recently and haven't found much that has drawn me in completely. What I'm not interested in - vampire books and urban fantasy.
I didn't like the Malinda Lo book (Huntress) I read particularly well, so we may not share the same taste in books. However I would recommend a few lesbian fantasies:
Marion Zimmer Bradley - Thendara House (technically it is science fiction, only not so much)
Jim Grimsley - The Ordinary starts out strong, but his endings tends to be weak (and this one certainly didn't deliver on its promises)
Tim Pratt - Strange adventures of rangergirl is urban fantasy, and the lesbianism is somewhat incidental to the plot, but I liked it.
Caitlin Kiernan's books, with a recent example being The Red Tree;
Peter Beagle's The Innkeeper's Song;
Green by Jay Lake (with some reservations; Green is bisexual and often seems like a male fantasy-fulfillment character--but she does have lesbian relations and it is fantasy, so...);
Tanya Huff's books frequently involve homosexual or bisexual relationships of all stripes, as do Elizabeth Bear's-- try The Enchantment Emporium by Huff (urban fantasy, technically, but not what you normally think of when you hear those words!) and Dust (sci-fi, technically, but very magical in its application of tech) or The Promethean Age series by Bear...
You may want to try Fire Logic and sequels by Laurie J. Marks. I haven't read the third one, but the first two both feature a prominent lesbian relationship.
Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I'll look into them!
#3 - I didn't particularly love Huntress...I enjoyed her first book, Ash, better. I think she's a writer who is still developing and I do appreciate that her same sex relationships just happen without having to be about coming out or dealing with homophobia. There are almost no books like that.
#6 - I have read Santa Olivia and have been hesitant to read Saints Astray because of mediocre reviews, but it is on my list. And, yes, Arrows of the Queen was my first favorite YA adult novel as a teenager. I have a well worn copy!
I thought this would be easier but am dismayed to realize how hard it is to think of others.
Certainly (not mentioned yet) Elizabeth A. Lynn's Tornor books, starting with Watchtower and going on to The Northern Girl; quite good.
Despite what you said about vampire books, you might be interested in Carmilla, the lesbian vampire classic, older than Dracula, which is very atmospheric & heavy with erotic lesbian overtones. Not at all like the modern vampire chic books.
I second the idea of Marion Zimmer Bradley; technically SF but it's really Science Fantasy. There are zillions of her Darkover books, not all with lesbian content -- a website about her would probably lead you to the right ones.
I haven't read them in a long time, but I remember enjoying The Fifth Millenium series, written by a mix of S.M. Stirling, Shirley Meier, and Karen Wehrstein. IIRC, the books shift around a bit, but the main characters of the lynchpin books are two women in a relationship. (I don't recall whether they were exclusively lesbian... I think their were relationships with men in their backstories.)
Gael Baudino has a dragon series and the Strands of Starlight books. If I remember correctly By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey featured lesbian characters.
Though my favorite queer character was Cirocco Jones in the Gaean Trilogy by a male Author, John Varley. Technically science fiction, but extremely fantasy featured.
Fires of the Faithful has a protagonist who realizes during the course of her adventure that she's far more attracted to women than to men. This gives new weight to her "girl-crush" on her enigmatic roommate at the novel's outset. She doesn't have a specific love-relationship in this novel, but I expect we see this in the sequel. It's well worth a read.
>12 You are right, there is a lesbian relationshop in By the sword, I'd forgotten about that.
This is a genre I try to seek out, glad to see this topic! Sorry for the long post, but I hope the recommendations help.
I definitely second Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm- these are definitely one book split into two parts, though, there is a lot left hanging at the end of the first half. The protagonist is a violinist at a conservatory, her enigmatic roommate (who as mentioned she develops a friendship with and has a crush on) teaches her and her friends songs from an older, forbidden religion that is not looked well upon by the current religious authorities, and there are consequences. The setting is an alternate medieval Italy, so a bit different from the norm.
I also second Jim Grimsley's The Ordinary, which I did enjoy despite the weak resolution. It is set in the same world as Kirith Kirin (comes before this book) and The Last Green Tree (comes after) which do not have lesbian characters, there are big time gaps but some characters are very long lived and show up in multiple books.
Since you said you are a fan of Tamora Pierce, you may know this already, but her Winding Circle series starting with Sandry's Book features two women in a relationship (one is polyamorous, one is bi) as the mentors for the four child protagonists (three girls and a boy who are the POV characters). Also, one of the three girl protagonists discovers she is attracted to women and has a relationship with a woman in The Will of the Empress, the ninth book in the series. (It may be something of a sacrilege, but I prefer these books to Pierce's Tortall series.)
Even though most of her books are science fiction rather than fantasy, I highly, highly recommend Melissa Scott's books, many of which feature lesbian protagonists. Trouble and Her Friends is cyberpunk and deals with a hacker gone clean (after restrictive laws pass) trying to clear her name when someone starts cracking into systems using her name- she teams up with her former lover (now working for one of the companies who was broken into). There are a lot of fantasy-like virtual reality scenes. Burning Bright follows a pilot/gamemaster who debuts a new scenario for the tabletop-rpg-like virtual reality Game that's the latest craze in society. Her reputation gets her involved in political matters, and she eventually becomes romantically involved with one of the women who plays her scenarios. Mighty Good Road is a corporate intrigue story, the protagonist and her lover run a debris salvage operation and are hired for a job that is of course more complicated than it seems. The Jazz follows a single lesbian protagonist who doesn't get paired up, a hacker who goes on the run with a teenage boy who's gotten in over his head by stealing a corporate software that creates hit movies, TVs, etc- "the formula". Night Sky Mine and The Kindly Ones, which I haven't read yet, also have lesbian major characters/protagonists.
Laurie J. Marks' Fire Logic mentioned before is on my TBR list, but I would also recommend Delan the Mislaid which is in a fantasy setting with no humans. The protagonist is a member of a hermaphroditic winged species (though id was raised as female), but there is a cross-species (human-like and sea-dwelling, both two-sexed species) lesbian minor character couple. The book is the first of a trilogy (I haven't read the other two yet) but it stands alone and explores gender and sexuality issues in a sensitive way. Marks' Dancing Jack is supposed to have lesbian characters, but I haven't yet been able to track down a copy.
Elizabeth A. Lynn's Tornor trilogy was mentioned above, but her lesbian short story The Woman Who Loved the Moon won the World Fantasy Award. It's available in her short story collection The Woman who Loved the Moon.
Speaking of short stories, there are a couple of LGBT speculative fiction short story collections- check out Swords of the Rainbow, Kindred Spirits (which also reprints Lynn's short story above), and Bending the Landscape (a series which also has books of science fiction and horror).
On the more literary side, Sarah Waters has a list of popular historical/ghost stories, such as Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet.
There are many smaller presses that publish lesbian fiction, often including fantasy and sci fi. Some of them are specifically lesbian, others LGBT or women's presses. Books published by these houses are generally available from online outlets like Amazon, with occasional limited distribution in chain and independent bookstores. Check out Bold Strokes Books, Bella Books, Blind Eye Books, and Mindancer Books. Often these books border on fantasy/romance, some of the older ones tend to have a big age difference between partners.
Jane Fletcher's stories published by Bold Strokes are fantastic.
Her Lyremouth fantasy series (starting with The Exile and the Sorcerer and The Traitor and the Chalice, originally published in one volume as Lorimal's Chalice) is set in a world where magic is a randomly distributed, not inherited, trait, and it involves manipulating extra dimensions that those without magical gifts can't even sense. It follows a warrior, Tevi, from an island where women are stronger than men due to a strength potion (resulting in a macho, militaristic, homophobic matriarchal culture) and her eventual partner, Jem, a young woman sorcerer from an egalitarian society ruled by sorcerers (where the random distribution of magic has resulted in equality between men and women). The books have mystery-type parts usually centering around magic; the first two books cover them trying to solve the mystery of the chalice, then the third is about figuring out who killed a wizard empress who foresaw her death, and the most recent is about a renegade sorcerer (a man who was Jem's former lover) who decides that magic is the root of all evil in society and creates a slowly-expanding magic-neutralizing field that Jem and Tevi must stop.
Fletcher's other series is science-fantasy set in a society of all women on the planet Celaeno, and it follows a group of Rangers who try to keep order in society (there are no male characters- the science-fictional and social explanation for this is slowly revealed as a group of heretics find historical records and others try to keep them hidden). The first in written order is The Temple at Landfall, but the first in chronological order is Shadow of the Knife. Fletcher has one more standalone, Wolfsbane Winter, that seems to be in a similar but unrelated setting- in my TBR pile.
Merry Shannon's Sword of the Guardian is a standalone epic fantasy about a princess, Shasta, and her bodyguard, Talon, an acrobat disguised as a boy who saved her from being assassinated. This one spans several years over which the characters change and mature. Another book set in the same land is forthcoming.
L-J Baker's Adijan and Her Genie follows a poor woman who tries to save her wife from being remarried to someone else with the help of a sorceress trapped in a necklace in an Arabian Nights type setting. Broken Wings in a fractured fairy tale setting follows a fairy carpenter and an artist- I didn't enjoy this one as much. Promises, Promises looks to be more humorous fantasy.
Chris Anne Wolfe wrote a few lesbian fantasy books. Roses and Thorns is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. She also has two novels following the Amazons of the planet Aggar, a science-fantasy setting similar to the Darkover books, Shadows of Aggar and Fires of Aggar.
Others in small press that I have less knowledge about: Shea Godfrey's Nightshade, Diana Rivers' Hadra books starting with Journey to Zelindar, Heartstone and Saber and Sabers of Mauldar by Jacqui Singleton are sword and sorcery, and Jean Stewart's Isis books starting with Return to Isis are science fiction.
I also have more science fiction and a couple of present-day/urban (but no vampires) fantasy recommendations if you are interested in that line.
>16: I too prefer the Winding Circle books to the Tortall series. And the Naomi Kritzer books look good, I like the combination of music and magic.
All I can add to this thread that is new are two SF authors, Nicola Griffith and Kelly Eskridge, both of whom have written novels with lesbian protagonists. I especially recommend Slow river and Solitaire for gripping plots and interesting settings that are disturbingly plausible given today's politics.
This is a very interesting thread, and raises the question in my mind: Where is the lesbian equivalent to The last herald-mage or the Nightrunner series? Gay fantasy is far, far more visible than lesbian, and I wonder why that is. Any ideas?
A couple more things that occurred to me, the two female protagonists in the Silverglass sword and sorcery quartet by J.F. Rivkin (a pseudonym for two anonymous authors, I believe both women) are both presented as bi (though one remains single and the other eventually settles down with a longtime male lover). Also, I believe that there is a lesbian subplot in Northlight by Deborah Wheeler, but I've misplaced my copy so I can't tell for sure.
>17 Nicola Griffith's Ammonite is also interesting, no male characters in the novel- I picked it up but her style was a bit dense for me to get into at the time, so it's back in the TBR for when I'm more in the mood. Kelley Eskridge has a book of short stories, Dangerous Space, that I'm hoping to pick up sometime- there are a couple of stories available for free on her website that I enjoyed quite a bit.
I would note as an additional observation to your question that lesbian characters seem much more common in science fiction than fantasy, and also that not only is there a disappointing lack of lesbian and bi female characters in fantasy, there's also a lack of asexual women and even single straight women- almost all woman characters are explicitly straight and paired off with men in romance plots, not even leaving space for reader imagination to pair them up with women outside the text in a "what if?" type of way.
I don't know if lesbian fantasy is not getting written, or if it's just not getting published by mainstream houses due to a perceived or actual lack of appeal- what I've found in small press might be a trend, but created-world fantasy novels are still few and far between even in small press listings, where they are vastly outnumbered by urban fantasy or bog-standard contemporary settings.
It's interesting that you mention The Last Herald-Mage as an example. I recently picked up Mercedes Lackey's Oathblood from the library, a collection of sword and sorcery short stories following the duo Tarma and Kethry, and was greeted by the forward discussing the creation of the two leads for Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress series and women in sword and sorcery at the time the stories were written. I'm pulling the following quote from Amazon preview of the book since I have since returned it:
(Paraphrasing: there are generally two types of sword and sorcery heroines, depressed/doomed hero type and female counterparts to Conan.) "Trouble was, the latter (Conan-types) seemed to share their male counterpart's taste in women. Mind you, I have no personal objection to this, but I thought it would be _nice_ to have at least one token heterosexual female hero."
I will give the book credit for having an asexual female lead (the only other I know of is the sorceress in Tanya Huff's The Fire's Stone), _even though_ her asexuality is due to her giving up her inborn sexuality to a deity and she wasn't born that way, and as mentioned before Lackey does have occasional lesbian characters, but really? I would _love_ to see this epidemic of lesbian sword and sorcery heroines she's referring to, as all of the Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress stories I've found so far are disappointingly straight.
Perhaps this is due to MZB's own attitudes on the matter. I have her collection of Thieves' World short stories that follow the character Lythande, a sorceress who has to hide the fact that she is a woman from all men, thus (in the author's opinion) forcing her to "settle" for intimacy with women. There are other problematic things about the book, like the way Lythande despises women in general and their "weakness", and MZB states outright in the afterword that she didn't write lesbian characters because she thought the only audience would be teenage boys who would take an "unhealthy interest" in such things. (Unfortunately I don't have my copy at hand for the exact phrasing, but I believe "eccentric" and other ugly terms were used.) This completely erases the whole audience of young women who don't find themselves represented in such works, and doesn't pay any compliments to teenage boys, GBT or otherwise, who are also perfectly capable of enjoying stories about lesbian women from standpoints other than sexual titillation.
I don't know how to reconcile that with her earlier occasional portrayals of lesbian women in the Free Amazons Darkover books (which I have not read much of, and which were published in the 70s, while Lythande with its afterword was published in 1986), but her Sword and Sorceress series that launched many a fantasy writer's career began in the late 80s right after when that afterword was published, not to overestimate her influence, but I have to wonder what the fantasy field may have looked like as far as lesbian representation had her views on the audience for lesbian characters been otherwise.
>18: Great thoughts and comments. Thank you! Yes, I've noticed that lesbian characters are more common in SF than fantasy. I need to read more of Melissa Scott's work.
MZB's attitude is rather disappointing in such an influential figure in the field of feminist SF&F. Not sure if my copy of Lythande has that afterword, I'll have to dig it out and check. She really thought that only teenage boys would read books with lesbian themes and not, say, lesbians themselves? Or women generally? Huh.
I didn't love Lackey's Tarma and Kethry books as much as I thought I would, but that may be due to the fact that they are short stories rather than novels so some of the character development happens off-screen. My favourite of the very few asexual characters in Fantasy would have to be Paksennarrion.
And yes, I do wish that more authors would resist the temptation to pair everyone off during a novel - it would be really nice to have more positive single female characters who don't see a relationship as the fulfillment of their life!
Just read Heart Readers by Kristine Katheryne Rusch which has a protagonist in a lesbian relationship. Brought to mind this topic.
>20 Now that you mention it, I believe I have a copy of that around here somewhere that I vaguely remember reading, should dig it out again...
>19 I was surprised on reading the afterword during a recent-ish reread, because I remembered rather liking the Lythande stories the first time around. http://www.glbtfantasy.com/?section=review&sub=67 is the review that prompted my reread (along with acquiring Alan Bard Newcomer's Spell Singers anthology, which had a couple of Lythande short stories that weren't in the other collection).
The anti-women bit comes out in one of the Lythande stories too, which if memory serves deals with a sword that can only be borne by women and Lythande's contempt for women's magic (because it's not as good as sekrit men's magic), though it was an odd story, and not _quite_ that black and white- it was more like she resented women's magic not being there when she developed an interest in magic. I felt as if it might be a bit of author commentary on the feminist movement as someone from the generation before it. I also, out of curiosity, looked up publication dates- it seems as if the later Free Amazons books, Thendara House and City of Sorcery, were from the early 80s, the same as Lythande. I wish I could find my copy of Lythande for more exact quotes from the afterword.
Also, that review's comment about Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark treating lesbian relationships as "practice relationships" for real ones with men has made me a little afraid of going back and reading that series too. (What was that term I saw from I believe Jo Walton once, the "suck fairy" visiting older books you used to like?) Speaking of that book, there have been an awful lot of separatist women societies (The Gate to Women's Country, Holdfast Chronicles, Shore of Women, and more recently Carnival come to mind), but I can't think of any I've heard of that actually feature gay women- many of them seem to be of the opinion of lesbianism as a political act rather than a sexual or romantic orientation- the same feeling of women "settling" for other women rather than wanting them.
Not to stray too far off-topic, I'll admit to shallowness, that the aforementioned foreword of Oathblood put me off reading it, but I flipped through and the mercenary company plots didn't really grab me- in general military fantasy isn't my thing, which is where I ran into the same issue when trying out The Deed of Paksenarrion, but I'll probably give that one another try at some point to see how Paks develops.
One more YA example, I believe there is a lesbian character in Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' The Shapeshifters, but I believe it's in about book four out of five of the series and I didn't get far enough in to find out.
It's so great to come back from vacation to this discussion! Thank you, everyone, for all the suggestions. It's much appreciated. I'm going to have to make a list and do some research. So many books, so little time.
Sandstone78 - I have also wondered about why there are not more lesbian fantasy books out there. I assumed it was because publishers figure there is not much market for it. Which leads me to wonder how big the fantasy genre is among lesbians as a group in general. As an aspiring writer (I know, like half the planet), this will someday be an issue for me if I ever try to publish.
As for the Vampire and Sci-Fi suggestions - I will definitely look them up and give them a try.
23 > I have heard the same thing about there "not being a market" for fiction with LGBT characters. Last September there was an online article you may have seen where Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown said that an agency asked them to change a male character's sexuality in their YA novel: http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/genreville/?p=1519 . The agency in question refuted the account, but many other commenters chimed in with similar experience. One of the things to come out of it was a post from Malinda Lo on her blog with statistics about Young Adult books with LGBT themes published in the USA: http://www.malindalo.com/2011/09/i-have-numbers-stats-on-lgbt-young-adult-books-... . That list was across all YA genres and only major/NY press, I am not aware of similar breakdowns for just fantasy/science fiction, non-USA publishing, or fiction outside the YA genre.
I do hope, however, that this discussion has convinced you there is a market for your work :) I wish you luck with your writing endeavors!
For urban fantasy and alternate history, there's Kim Harrison's The Hollows series, which starts with Dead Witch Walking. Be sure to read them in order or you'll be all messed up with back story and spoilers; and be careful about reading too much about them on the internet because sources like Wikipedia are full of spoilers.
I'm just really surprised no one has mentioned this one yet, because there's a very interesting relationship between the principal character, Rachel Morgan (a heterosexual witch), and her number one sidekick, Ivy Tamwood (a bisexual vampire).
I think one thing you need to watch is that the phrase "lesbian fantasy" has different connotations depending on the person hearing it. If I were to talk stereotypical male, lesbian fantasy means something totally different than to say a stereotypical female. Twist it again when mentioned to a member of the LGBT community.
I'm not saying that the concept or the writing doesn't have an audience. I'm saying that it might have another phrase or genre tag to prevent ... misunderstandings.
I did think of this series but I didn't bring it up because the series took a major swing a few books back that destroyed that particular story arc. Frankly it left me feeling completely disenchanted and uninterested in the rest of the books.
27>> fantcfan, was this in response to my posting of "The Hollows"? If so, I agree about a major swing (and don't want to say more to avoid SPOILER) but still, I love it.
I second Trouble and Her Friends. ;) It is good, but it is also cyberpunk so . . .
Melissa Scott usually has lgbt themes in her work. Elizabeth Bear usually has lgbt themes in her work, too.
Another fantasy with a lesbian main character is Gossamer Axe. It's 80's urban fantasy, kind of, which is to say it is very different from current urban fantasy. Main character escaped from sidhe and is looking for a way to free her lover, too.
I've heard of Nicola Griffith, too, especially Ammonite but I haven't read it.
It was a response to your post. I absolutely loved this series , but it was a certain relationship that drew me in. I just can't feel the same even though Kim Harrison is an amazing author.
> 12 Having just read Baudino's Strands of Starlight, I can tell you that there are no lesbian characters in the book. Perhaps there are in the other books in that series.
I have Sarah Diemer's The Dark Wife in my TBR pile. I've heard good things about it and have enjoyed some of the lesbian YA science fiction/fantasy short stories she and her wife have posted (for free) online at Project Unicorn. The first three months' worth of stories have been collected in a print volume too I believe.
Diemer also has a solo short fiction collection, Love Devours; other lesbian fantasy/sci fi collections on my radar are Steam-Powered/Steam-Powered 2 (Steampunk obviously) and Heiresses of Russ 2011 and Heiresses of Russ 2012. Elizabeth A. Lynn's short story collection The Woman Who Loved the Moon and Other Stories has the title story (which I believe also won the world fantasy award?) and The Gods of Reorth.
Speaking of free short stories online, I definitely also recommend Laurie J. Marks' How the Ocean Loved Margie (link), Eleanor Arnason's Hwarhath novella The Potter of Bones (link- archival version because the page for the live page is broken), and A.M. Dellamonica's The Cage (link). Benjanun Sriduangkaew's myth retelling Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon (link, no touchstone) is on my list to read soon.
Also, Liz Bourke had a post on tor.com about Lesbian SFF Romance recently- I believe most everything that was mentioned there is already in this thread, but there may be some new suggestions in the comments.
I recently finished Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' Kiesha'ra series (starting with Hawksong, the whole series is also available collected in The Shapeshifters). Each of the five books has a different narrator, and Oliza, the heroine of the fourth book (Wolfcry) and the daughter of the characters featured in the first two books, arguably the character whom the entire series revolves around, falls in love with a woman. Reviews (nb some pretty homophobic Amazon reviews- don't read if you don't want to spend the rest of the day wondering what is wrong with people) complain that her love story is "sudden" and "out of left field," but the character was introduced in the third book, Falcondance, as having male suitors from both societies of the recently ended war and showing little interest in them, being only comfortable around the protagonist of Falcondance who was politically "off-limits" as a love interest.
I saw a lot of myself reflected in Oliza's awkwardness around boys, not knowing what to do because she likes them as people but doesn't return any kind of romantic interest and not really thinking that girls were an option for me- because of the way a person's orientation is so often talked about as something that is inborn and instinctual I figured I would know without any doubt like the handful of out students I knew of seemed to. I wish this book had been published when I was in my high school period of going through Atwater-Rhodes' fiction, and I'm glad it's there for teens like I was today. :)
Though Oliza and her partner are the only non-straight major characters we see on-screen (though two of the mythical founders of the shapeshifter society are revealed to have been bisexual, the gender-neutral term "pair bond" is used to refer to couples, and it's implied that the relatively open serpent society doesn't have a problem with same-gender relationships), the straight romances are also handled with respect and equality between those involved than one usually sees in YA, there are interesting, powerful, and varied female characters aplenty in the setting, and there are also a number of characters who are single without comment, almost as if the author believes that a person can be complete and happy in and of themselves without romance (in YA? heresy!).
#35 Oooooh. Those sound fascinating!
I second the recommendation for Sarah Diemer. She also publishes more fairytale-inspired works as Elora Bishop.
I just finished Saber and Shadow, part of The Fifth Millenium series recommended by #11. I loved it. The women are strong, fully competent and individuals, even after the relationship starts. In the society in which the book takes place, gender has no bearing on peoples' roles in society. Shkai'ra is a warrior/berserker and Megan is a thief with some assassin skills. The other two books in the series which feature the women together are The Cage and Shadow's Son. Snow Brother and Shadow's Daughter feature the back stories of Shkai'ra and Megan, respectively.
One word of warning if you're squeamish - the fight scenes tend to be rather graphic.
>36,37 Apologize if this gets a bit long, but I tend to overthink books I enjoy :)
The first book, Hawksong, definitely seems like a bog-standard YA romance- you have Danica Shardae, who becomes queen of the avians when her mother steps down from the position, and Zane Cobriana, the king of the serpents, both around twenty years old. The book opens with Danica sitting with Zane's younger brother, only in his early teens, as he is dying on the battlefield; moved by her actions, Zane sends a delegation to the avians proposing peace, and the two go to a local neutral authority, where the tiger queen, widely regarded as the wisest person around, says that they might end the war by marrying each other. Both are fairly horrified at the idea, but later that night Zane sneaks into Danica's room to talk to her- the author plays the "dangerous love interest" card a little bit there, and that's where I stopped the series the first time I tried to read it. This time I pushed on, because I'd heard of the lesbian romance later in the series and was curious to get to that book, and found that it's still cliche, but not badly executed- there is no insta-lust, and they decide to go ahead with the marriage in secret from Danica's mother (though both Zane's mother and sister are supportive) because they both believe in peace, despite the fact that both of them have others they love who reciprocate that love. They do of course come to love each other by the end of the book and all, but I didn't find it badly done for such a short book- it didn't seem unhealthily obsessive the way a lot of YA romances get to me, where the romance overwhelms the identity of the characters.
The second book, Snakecharm, was the weakest of the series in my opinion. A visitor from the nearby falcon empire comes to the two kingdoms, claiming there is a traitor to the falcon empire living among them in disguise. The identity of the traitor was nicely twisty and shone a different light on some things mentioned in passing in Hawksong, and the book starts to bring in the mythology in a fairly smooth way, but I thought that Zane was a really poor POV choice for the book- I felt the author had to resort to contrivances to keep Danica sidelined so she wouldn't take over the political action, and the emotional center of the book is what happens to said traitor, which happens completely offscreen to Zane. The integration of the previously warring societies that would have been a good focus for a book starring him felt like an afterthought, and certain events from the previous book that I would have expected to have had a continuing emotional impact for Zane didn't really even show up. There is a nice romance between minor characters here though that I really liked, though.
The third book, Falcondance, was, together with Wolfcry, the high point of the series for me. This book skips time ahead about twenty years after the end of Snakecharm, and focuses on Nicias, a falcon living among the avians and serpents and a sworn guard to Zane and Danica's daughter. Falcons have strong magic that the other shapeshifters have lost knowledge over time due to the war, and the book is about Nicias' journey to the falcon empire to learn to control his magic. Part of the book is his figuring out what crimes the traitor from the last book was guilty of, but a lot of it is exploration of the magic system and the mythology of the shapeshifter cultures, what's true and what has been distorted over time or purely invented. The Empress of the falcons is one of the original shapeshifters, who has reigned for two thousand years, but her daughter and heir Araceli and the falcon who came after the traitor in the last book, Syfka, have also been alive for that long, and there is quite a tangle of political intrigue between the three women by this point. Add in a woman who's been a friend to Nicias for years, but maybe only to involve him in her mistress Araceli's plots, and another woman, another traitor to the Empress who is magically imprisoned keeps talking to Nicias in his dreams with promises to tell him the truth about the empire and teach him to use his magic, but may only be using him as a weapon against the Empress, and a girl who lives in an illusion world of her own making because her own magic causes her constant pain due to her being half serpent, and you have quite an interesting story- especially since the author does not have Nicias come in and be the Male Character Who Teaches Powerful Women They're Doing It Wrong And/Or Gives Them Their Just Desserts And/Or Redeems Them With Love- he just wants to get enough training to stop his magic from killing him and go home. MINOR SPOILER- All of the women mentioned above are still alive at the end of the book, too.
The fifth book, Wyvernhail... I liked it and thought the protagonist was an interesting choice with her gift for seeing alternate futures, but I almost feel like there wasn't enough there there in this book. The ending was a satisfying ending for the series, and necessary to resolve things brought up in Wolfcry, but the resolution of the central book-level conflict felt too easy, the simultaneous resolution of the character's difficulty I found a little iffy in its implications, and the romance seemed a little more co-dependence on her part than love- it didn't help that her relationship with the love interest seemed to have developed during Wolfcry, when both of them were off-screen since Oliza was elsewhere, and I felt that he wasn't on-screen long enough to make his feelings believable to me. If the romance had been left at an earlier stage in its development than declaring love, and the bow hadn't been tied on the main character at the resolution of the subplot to make her a more suitable partner for him according to the way magic works in the series, I would have liked it a lot better I think and I would have found it more in line with the rest of the series.
It's an interesting series. One thing that may not appeal to everyone is that a lot of things are underelaborated rather than overelaborated like in a lot of fantasy books. I feel like sometimes the book's a little scant on characters' motivations and emotional reactions to things, and I wondered a bit about the larger world of shapeshifters outside of avians, serpents, and falcons- we get their common origin in detail, but where did the wolves, lions, and tigers get their powers from? Also, I feel like the author was trying really hard to make sure that earlier books' protagonists didn't take over the later books, but sometimes I would have liked to have seen more of them- I would have liked to have seen more of Danica and Zane, for example, and more of the avian culture, which was kind of overshadowed by the serpents to some extent (there was a good amount of "telling" about the avian culture but little "showing.") Hawksong was the longest book in the series at 256 pages paperback, and Falcondance and Wolfcry were right around 200, but Snakecharm and Wyvernhail were shorter, at only about 170 pages, and I can see why- both really needed more character development, but both of them already dragged their central plot point as long as they could go, Snakecharm because Zane wasn't there for the important events (though I think more interaction between him and Danica discussing events would have helped a lot) and Wyvernhail because the situation was already contrived and to stretch the timescale longer would have strained credulity a little.
Anyways, if you do try them out, I hope you enjoy them! I would be curious to compare notes with other readers.
>38 Interesting. I had my eye on a copy of The Sharpest Edge at my local used bookstore, the book which was later rewritten into Saber and Shadow, but it's a slim book and I couldn't convince myself to pay the $6 price tag before it sold. I'm not one for graphic fight scenes in general, but I can deal- the thing that held me back was SPOILER I read a review saying that one of the women only became interested in women after she was raped, having been shown as heterosexual before but now unable to stand the touch of men, and that seemed really iffy- was that review accurate?
>39 That review is not very accurate. SPOILERS: Yes she was raped (before Saber and Shadow begins). However, she had same-sex dalliances when she was young but stuffed all those feelings away and didn't have many sexual encounters after that point. The other woman is the opposite: she'll sleep with whomever catches her fancy. But both evolve and the romance builds very slowly through the book. Though I haven't read the next book (The Cage) yet, from the reviews it appears they continue as a couple but by the end of the book, they're in a group marriage with another woman and a man.
I'm reading The Shapeshifters omnibus. Finished the first book last night and am about to start on the second.
>38: Hey! #11 was me! :)
I'm glad to know it held up despite my foggy memories of them, and glad to see more up-to-date info in this thread. All my books are boxed away right now, but I think I'm going to move it back over to the TBR shelf for a re-read once I can get them out again.
Yesterday, Nicola Griffith posted a list of her favorite lesbian spec fic novels (you can read it here). It does tend to be science fiction heavy and some of the books have already been recommended here. The comments are also a goldmine of further suggestions. A couple that I'll be checking out are Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack and Alcestis by Katharine Beutner.
I can't think of anything new that strictly fits the topic, but re: asexuality: Jo Walton's Sulien in The King's Peace and The King's Name is asexual (warning: she is raped, but that does not seem to be the cause of her asexuality). And more pertinent to the topic, Lifelode features all combinations, I think.
Oh, and JoSelle Vanderhooft has been mentioned a few times: most of the collections she's edited are lesbian-based, e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Indeed & Other Lesbian Fairytales, Bitten by Moonlight.
SF-wise, The Quantum Thief features a lesbian protagonist.
I recently read Ammonite because it was mentioned here and sounded intriguing. I really liked it, it has a fascinating society. I loved how the main character gets to know life on this all-female planet, figuring out how they manage to reproduce, becoming part of their culture. Although she was not completely open, she was somehow still very likable and human.
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Wow, thanks for all the recommendations. I had no idea there were so many Fantasy books with lesbian protagonists in them! Of course I have read Marion Z. Bradley's Darkover and Mercedes Lackey, but that was about it. So I just added a load of books to my wish list (-:
Also, I might suggest another, though I might be thrown off due to self-promotion...
Check out my debut novel 'The Queen's Curse by Natasja Hellenthal; it has two lesbian main characters in it and romance, not the main theme, but sub-theme. I classify it as Epic Lesbian Fantasy.
I'm always open for feedback on the book and reviews are appreciated. (-:
I don't know how I completely missed listing Catherine M. Wilson's When Women Were Warriors trilogy. I LOVED these books. My only complaint is that they seem more like one book broken into three parts rather than 3 independent books. When Women Were Warriors Book 1 is available as a free e-book through Amazon, as well as her website here. Though the description says they are set in the British Isles, it is much more accurate to say the setting is inspired by the British Isles.
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