Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
This riveting novel follows Vern, a 15-year-old queer, Black albino girl who’s escaped into the woods from an abusive husband and the leader of a Black pride cult called Cainland. Pregnant with twins, Vern gives birth and raises her sons in the forest by herself until they’re 4 years old. Members of Cainland received experimental drugs in their food or water, which caused nightly hallucinations. Away from Cainland, Vern’s hallucinations turn into vivid hauntings, and slowly her body begins to transform into something else, something not quite human. This novel vividly portrays how Black bodies have been used for unethical experiments while celebrating queer love, motherhood, and vengeance. It’s gorgeously written and sure to be one of my favorite books of the year.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo’s stunning and subversive retelling of The Great Gatsby subtly infuses the world with magic. Jordan Baker is a queer, adopted Vietnamese American raised in America’s wealthiest social circles. She can make cut paper come to life — though it's a skill she has little opportunity to hone as it comes from her Vietnamese ancestry, and she knows no other person of her heritage. She befriends Daisy as a child, and Daisy becomes the epitome of white wealth and privilege. Immersed in Jazz Age culture, Vo expertly draws out the white patriarchal racism and sexism of The Great Gatsby.
We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
A new technology threatens to tear a family apart in this prescient, character-driven sci-fi. Pilot is a brain implant that increases focus and cognitive abilities. Val, a teacher, first notices the Pilot’s effect in her upper-class students. Soon, her son is asking for a Pilot, as is her wife, Julie. But Val doesn’t like the idea of a brain implant, and Val and Julie’s daughter, Sophia, can’t have the implant due to her epilepsy. Pinsker explores each family member’s perspective as this new technology changes their lives. It’s a fascinating novel that explores how technologies can transform family dynamics.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
This lush and beautiful sapphic novella explores themes of colonization in a Vietnamese-inspired fantasy setting. Thanh is the youngest princess of Bìanh Hả. When she was a child, her mother, the queen, sent her as a hostage to Ephteria, a powerful country that seeks to colonize Bìanh Hả and all other countries. There, she survives a traumatic fire and falls in love with the Ephteria heir, Eldris. Many years later, when she's returned to Bìanh Hả, Eldris comes to Bìanh Hả to renegotiate the treaty’s terms, and Thanh finds herself sliding back into their old romance. At the same time, she’s wiser than she once was and is now repulsed by Eldris’s internalized colonizer attitudes of privilege. While Thanh struggles with her feelings for Eldris, her mother’s expectations, and her inadequacy at sparing Bìanh Hả from what seems inevitable, she also keeps secret a blazing magic born in that fire she survived as a child.
The Seep by Chana Porter
The Seep are alien entities that connect everything and everyone. Their primary purpose in visiting Earth is to help spread joy and happiness by letting everyone decide who and what they want to be. Trina Goldberg-Oneka is a trans Native American woman who deeply understands what it means to want to change. She at first lives happily under the Seep’s influence with her wife, Deeba. However, when Deeba decides she wants to be reborn as an infant again to start life over, Trina has a breakdown. She goes on a quest to better understand the Seep and its most vocal advocates, but nothing can fill the void that Deeba left. This surreal novel is perfect for readers looking for something unlike anything else they’ve ever read.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Jebi is a nonbinary artist hired by the Ministry of Armour to paint magical sigils onto masks for the conquering government's automata. Jebi doesn’t consider themself political, but after befriending a pacifist dragon automata, Jebi decides they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the dragon from becoming a weapon of war used to kill and subdue their people. Unfortunately, Jebi discovers that sometimes you have to choose a side. Rich in character development, this inventive standalone fantasy is a beautiful look at art and pacifism in a time of war.
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
In this grim and engrossing dystopian world, the climate wars have ravaged Earth, and very little habitable space remains. The sustainable city Qaanaaq floats in the Arctic Circle, but crime has become rampant, and as the wealthiest keep getting wealthier and the poorest poorer, unrest has begun to threaten the city. To make matters worse, a new plague is decimating Qaanaaq. The four alternating main characters are all trying to survive in vastly different ways. When a strange woman riding an orca arrives, the four characters' lives become forever entwined in their fight for survival. Of the four main characters, three are queer.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
In a steampunk version of 1912 Cairo, Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi investigates magical problems for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Fifty years earlier, wizard and scientist al-Jahiz rediscovered magic, and now Cairo is steeped in the supernatural. When members of a secret brotherhood are killed by a person calling himself al-Jahiz, the Ministry puts Fatma on the case, but she must solve the murders quickly to restore Cairo’s peace. Thankfully, she has the help of her girlfriend, Siti, and her Ministry colleagues. From the richly detailed world-building to the fun whodunit plot and engaging characters, this sprawling historical fantasy is one to get lost in.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
This entertaining urban fantasy is steeped in Malaysian mythology. Jess has recently graduated from Harvard but doesn't have many work prospects. Mired in medical debt, her parents decide to move back to Malaysia, and Jess goes with them, though she’s lived her entire life in the US. She leaves behind a secret girlfriend she hopes to one day join in Singapore. In Malaysia, Jess's dead Ah Ma (grandmother) possesses her, and Jess becomes a medium to both her grandmother and her grandmother's god, Black Water Sister. As a medium, she finds herself wrapped up in a gang war. Black Water Sister is a twisty, feminist, and enthralling page-turner.
The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
In the world of this enthralling novella and the first book in a quarter, children decide their gender and, until they make a decision, use they/them pronouns. Twins Mokoya and Akeha are often used as pawns in their mother’s political games. As children, she sold them to the Grand Monastery, where they are raised. While there, Mokoya — who decides she’s female — discovers a talent for prophecy, while Akeha — who decides he’s male — learns to read people and their political maneuvering. Fed up with his mother, Akeha leaves the monastery and joins the rebels, but in doing so, he leaves his sister behind.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Inspired by Indian epics, The Jasmine Throne begins a new sapphic fantasy trilogy by Tasha Suri, whose writing here is just as lush and stunning as in her first fantasy series, The Books of Ambha. Priya is a priest turned servant with a magical secret, driven to help save poor, dying children stricken by a persistent disease. Princess Malini’s tyrannical brother has imprisoned her in a derelict temple for much of her life, and she craves vengeance against him. When Malini witnesses Priya’s secret, their goals become entwined.
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
As the Wild Man of Greenhollow, Tobias is bound to the forest, unable to leave, and deeply connected to the trees and the forest’s magic. Feared by the villagers, he lives a quiet life in the wood with only a cat and a dryad as friends. Then the handsome and charming Henry Silver moves into Greenhollow Hall and begins making trips to the wood to visit Tobias, curious about Green Man mythology and lore — but he awakens a darker past by doing so. This quiet and enchanting novella will sweep readers off their feet. The second book, Drowned Country, continues the two men’s story.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
This heartfelt novel features an unassuming social worker content with the status quo who stumbles upon a cause that will transform his life and a love that will stand beside him. In a world similar to our own, magical children are forced into “orphanages,” which are really prisons. Linus investigates these orphanages to ensure they’re running well and the children are safe. Unlike the other caseworkers at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, he truly cares for the magical children he thinks he’s helping. Then Extremely Upper Management gives him a top-secret job to investigate an orphanage on an island in the Cerulean Sea. This is no ordinary orphanage. The children here are more magical than most, to say the least, and then there’s the handsome and charming caretaker Arthur Parnassus. What begins as a terrifying job for Linus turns into an opportunity to find the happiness he’s always craved.
The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick
This immersive first book in a new epic fantasy series cowritten by Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms has political intrigue, con artists, unsolved mysteries, intricate world-building, and a setting where being LGBTQ+ is normalized. Ren and her sister Tess are orphans whose past trauma has driven them to become con artists. They travel to the city of Nadezra, where Ren poses as the niece of the head of an aristocratic family. Little does she know that the family is not as well off as it seems. Meanwhile, Captain Grey Serrado is trying to investigate a series of kidnappings among Nadezra’s impoverished children when he’s ordered to keep a watch on Ren. And then there’s the Rook, a masked vigilante running loose in the city. With a large cast of characters and plots within plots within plots, The Mask of Mirrors is a feast to savor slowly.
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
This complex and emotional North African–inspired epic fantasy has both LGBTQ+ representation and a main character with disabilities. As a child, Touraine was one of many taken by the empire to be trained as an indentured soldier. Now an adult, she wants to rise in the empire’s ranks. She has the perfect opportunity to get noticed when the empire returns to her home country, Qazāl, and there’s an assassination attempt on the queen. She spots the attempt before the other soldiers and successfully saves the queen’s life. However, one of her countrymen arrested for the assassination attempt recognizes her and calls her by a name she’s long forgotten. This makes Touraine begin to question her identity and her role in the empire.
The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
In this lyrical and complex novella set in Lemberg’s Birdverse Universe, the two main characters — Uiziya and a nameless man called nen-sasair — are elderly and trans (referred to as "changers"). Uiziya has trained in three of the four magical weaves, but to learn the final weave and create a bone cloth, she needs to train with her aunt Benesret, a Master Weaver. Benesret lives as an outcast in the Great Burri Desert and makes bone cloths for the Ruler of Iyar’s assassins. The nen-sasair has only recently changed and has lived most of his life as a woman. In his gender-divided culture, his people struggle with his new identity. Both carry many regrets, which prompts them to quest together and, in the end, confront the evil Ruler of Iyar.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse sets Black Sun — the first book in a new fantasy trilogy — in a fantasy world inspired by the pre-Columbian Americas. Blinded as a child by his mother, Serapio’s destiny is to become the Crow God reborn and wreak vengeance on the Sun Priest and their followers, who have violently suppressed the holy city Tova’s indigenous religious traditions. Naranpa recently became Sun Priest, and she’s unprepared for the order’s political machinations and backstabbing. Xiala, a bisexual captain charged with carrying Serapio to Tova, can calm the waters with her voice, an inheritance from her magical, ocean-dwelling Teek heritage, but her sailors fear her. This violent and epic clash between colonizers and indigenous peoples pushes against Eurocentric fantasy. It’s also a thrilling and intriguing read.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
LGBTQ+ characters outnumber straight characters in this masterpiece of eldritch urban fantasy. Based on Jemisin's short story “The City Born Great,” Jemisin imagines a New York City that literally comes to life, its midwife a starved graffiti artist. It’s not the first city to do so, but it is unique in that it chooses human avatars for each of its boroughs that encapsulate the feeling of each area. These avatars must team up to destroy the woman in white, a primordial, multidimensional evil that seeks to destroy cities as they’re born. The woman in white utilizes the racist anger of alt-right groups to attack each borough.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
This complex and surreal fantasy is partly based on African history and mythology. Tracker, the protagonist, is a violent man with the nose of a wolf. When he’s hired to save a kidnapped child, he teams up with his on-again, off-again lover — the shapeshifter Leopard. Together, they track the missing child in this violent and dark epic fantasy, with stories upon stories woven into the narrative.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
This fascinating standalone space opera features a slow-burn f/f romance. In this distant future, multiverse travel has recently been discovered, but the catch is travelers have to visit worlds where their doppelgängers are dead. Cara — a Black, poor, bisexual woman — is plucked from obscurity because so many of her doppelgängers have died, 372 to be exact, which gives her the unique ability to travel among many different worlds and times. When one of her very few surviving doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara visits a new world for the first time. There, she becomes entangled in a conspiracy with far-reaching implications, both for multiverse travel and herself.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Baru Cormorant is 7 years old when the Empire of Masks conquers her home country and irrevocably tears her three-parent family apart. As she grows up, Baru hones her genius to become an accountant, and the empire sends her to a politically fraught country. While she pretends to serve the empire, Baru has one goal in mind — revenge. However, her growing attraction to the Duchess Tain Hu puts her plans for revenge against the empire at risk. This dark political fantasy is the first book in a complex and enthralling trilogy.
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
This delightful fantasy is set in a war-torn Edwardian England–inspired fantasy world. Secretly a magic user, war veteran Miles works as a doctor treating mentally ill veterans returning home from war. When a fae in hiding brings him a dying man who’s also a magic user, Miles vows to find the man's murderer, but what he uncovers threatens to put the entire country at risk. With his sister discovering his identity and his patients showing worrying signs of violence, Miles has a lot to think about, and the handsome fae Tristan — who’s helping him investigate the murder — is one more distraction among many. Witchmark is the first book in a completed trilogy.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This stunning reenvisioning of the Trojan War centers Patroclus, Achilles’s right-hand man and lover. As a child, when Patroclus accidentally kills another child, his father exiles him to be raised in King Peleus’s court. There he meets Achilles, King Peleus’s son, and as the two grown up together, they form a deeper bond. When Achilles is forced to join the Greeks to storm Troy, Patroclus follows, and their love is tested as the years pass and the war rages on.
A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers
This super fun space opera features numerous LGBTQ+ characters in a future where being queer is normalized. Max Carmichael (who is asexual) has just joined the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, a ship in the Near-Earth Orbital Guard. With the annual boarding games coming up, the crew needs to be in tiptop shape and ready to work together as a team, but Max throws a wrench in their plans. At first nervous about joining the tight-knit crew, Max soon develops a rapport with everyone on board. When it becomes clear someone is targeting the crew of Zuma’s Ghost and wants them dead, the crew moves to investigate. They discover a far-reaching plot that puts Max and many more at risk.