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.
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang
This lovely novella mixes several fairy tales as two middle-aged queer women must deal with their past wrongs and their forsaken families to complete their current quest. With flame-breathing Sunbirds ravaging the land, Rosa (Little Red Riding Hood) and Hou Yi the Archer (based on Chinese folklore) team up to rid the land of the beasts. As they travel to the Sunbirds’ island, the two women share stories from their past, and these memories become far more relevant to the present than they ever could imagine.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
In this unique and unnerving science fiction, Swedish author Karin Tidbeck presents a dystopian society where emotional connections are discouraged. Vanja travels to the remote wintry colony of Amatka after she’s assigned to write a report on sanitation habits there. It’s supposed to be a quick trip, but as she researches, she begins to notice some uncanny circumstances that lead her to further her investigations. She also begins to fall in love with her housemate, Nina.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
This lyrical novella rich in world-building centers an m/m romance while also exploring colonization, racism, and cultural dissonance. Demane is an amazing healer who’s been nicknamed “Sorcerer” for his healing knowledge. A merchant caravan hires him as a guard along with a group of other men, including the Captain, Isa, who Demane deeply respects. As the men travel into the dangerous Wildeeps, where shape-shifting animals and unknown dangers lay in wait, Demane and Isa grow closer.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
In this wildly inventive novel, the emperor invites the nine necromancers spread across space and their sword-fighting cavaliers to compete in a competition to become a Lyctor, an immortal necromancer. The competition takes place on a decaying mansion on another planet, with magical secrets hidden behind locked doors. Gideon is forced to become the ninth necromancer Harrowhark’s cavalier, but she and Harrowhawk have been enemies since childhood. When they arrive at the palace, Gideon finds herself attracted to the seventh house’s necromancer, Dulcinea. Gideon and Harrowhawk must learn to work together someone begins murdering the necromancers and their cavaliers.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This intriguing political space opera is set in a world that normalizes queerness. Mahit Dzmare has always admired the Teixcalaanli Empire and longed to visit it. Yet, when she finally journeys to the empire’s central hub, it’s as an ambassador to her home Lsel Station. She’s meant to advocate for her people, as the empire has been interested in controlling the Station. Her mixed loyalties become even more at odds when she discovers that someone most likely murdered the previous ambassador. Lsel Station has a unique technology that implants the memories of the dead into the living, and Mahit should have access to the previous ambassador’s memories to help her navigate the empire’s political quagmire. However, the Teixcalaanli Empire has the previous ambassador’s body with the implant, and now they’re even more interested in what Lsel Station has to offer.
The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner
In this funny and delightful historical fantasy, Dellaria Wells — petty thief, drunk, cursing queen with fiery magic — manages to get hired as a fancy lady’s bodyguard along with a group of other magical women. What seems like a pretty boring job turns out to be anything but when assassins frequently beset the lady on her way to be married. As the group of women investigate, Dell becomes increasingly attracted to Winn, another one of the bodyguards.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children houses teens who have stepped through magical doorways and created a new life in a magical world only to be thrust back into reality and to a family who had given them up for lost. Everyone in the home wishes to find their door again and return. Nancy is a new student whose portal world was where Death reigned. She's assigned to room with Sumi, a girl who’d lived in a nonsense world. Nancy hopes this can be a new home for her while she awaits a doorway back to the land of Death, but when a student dies, and then another, her new home is threatened, unless she and the students can figure out what's happening. The Wayward Children series is full of LGBTQ+ characters, and each novella can be read as a standalone, though this one is technically the first book in the series.
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu (forthcoming, Aug. 31)
In this lovely meta-narrative novella, characters use multiple queer pronouns: ae, se, e. The city Ora uses a living network called the Gleaming to maintain peace within the city. Anima is an extra-sensory, nonbinary human who can plug into the Gleaming to watch its inhabitants and its borders. When a mysterious visitor with a trunk arrives, Anima’s equilibrium is disrupted. Within the trunk are objects, and as Anima explores the stories behind each object, ae begins to question their part of the Gleaming.
You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo (forthcoming; Sept. 7)
This fun and action-packed space opera has lots of engaging queer characters. Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind and current chef and restaurant owner, wants the prestigious Nikkelin Orb (like a Michelin Star) to solidify her restaurant’s prosperity. When the station housing her restaurant is attacked, she and her former crew turned restaurant employees flee to the ship You Sexy Thing. You Sexy Thing is a one-of-a-kind bio-ship, and the longer the crew stays aboard, the more the ship learns and begins to enjoy their company. Then pirates take the ship and imprison Niko and her crew, but Niko has secretly yearned to return to the pirates and rescue the woman she once loved. This might be the chance she needs.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (forthcoming; July 13)
This beautiful and quietly philosophical novella presents a hopeful glimpse into a future where humanity actually does the right thing. When Dex, a nonbinary tea-mixing monk, decides to travel into the wilderness to search for a sound that haunts their dreams, they meet a wild-built robot named Mosscap, and the two form a friendship. Years earlier, when robots became sentient, humans agreed to let them live their separate lives in the forest. Now Mosscap will help Dex find the sound they long for, though what awaits them in the forest surprises them. In exchange, Mosscap asks that Dex help it learn more about humanity.
Once & Future by A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy
In this queer-affirming galactic future, the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur is a pansexual brown girl named Ari. After the capitalistic Mercer Company imprisons Ari’s adopted mothers, she vows to find a way to help them escape. When she unknowingly draws Excalibur from a tree on Old Earth, she reawakens Merlin, who is now a teenager, and ignites the cycle of Arthurian legend. She needs to gather her knights together to defeat the Mercer Company. This YA space opera is a blast to read, as is book 2, Sword in the Stars.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Jam is a Black trans girl who lives in the utopian city of Lucille, where the angels vanquished all the monsters long ago, or so Jam and her best friend Redemption are taught in school. Then one day, a creature climbs out of a painting and tells Jam there’s a monster in her midst. She names him Pet, and the two must find the monster before it’s too late. This engaging and heart-wrenching read shows how sometimes the monsters are the ones that appear to be the safest.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
In this Persian–inspired YA fantasy, a poisonous, bisexual girl manages to find love despite her killer touch. Cursed by Divs (a society of magical creatures) as an infant, Soraya has a deadly touch, and she lives in isolation, despite being the Shah’s twin. When her brother arrives home from a campaign with a captured Div — and the handsome stranger who helped defeat it — she jumps at the chance to find out how to cure her curse. As the handsome stranger takes an interest in her and Soraya interrogates the captured Div, she begins to question her lack of freedom and the reasons for her curse. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a lovely feminist fairy tale with a surprising romance.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
This YA space opera takes human teens into a galactic world where being queer is normal. Soon after she was born, aliens brought Tina to her adoptive human mother, telling her that one day Tina’s internal beacon would alight and the aliens would come back for her. Now Tina is a teenager, and she’s begun to have flashbacks from a previous life when an assassin was trying to kill her. She’s also started to glow. Part of her wants to fulfill her destiny and finally discover who she really is — but another part doesn’t want to leave her friends and family and face the dangers of an uncertain, alien future. This compulsive read perfectly captures teenage voices and feelings even as it travels from a normal teenage life on Earth to galactic battles. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hynden Walch, who made it feel like Tina was sitting beside me and telling me her story.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
In Yadriel’s traditional Latinx family, women become brujas and practice healing magic, and the men become brujos and help spirits to the land of the dead. Yadriel is a man, but his family refuses to let him complete the ritual to become a brujo because he's trans. With the help of his friend Maritza, Yadriel completes the ritual without his family’s knowledge. When his cousin is murdered afterward, he and Maritza try to find out why — but in doing so, they accidentally raise the ghost of Julian Diaz, another murdered teen. As the three try to help Julian discover what happened to his cousin, Yadriel and Julian begin to fall in love. This fun and delightful young adult contemporary fantasy is the first novel written by a trans author to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list.
The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
Prepare to be devastated by this gorgeously rendered YA sapphic fantasy. It takes place in a dystopian city where a portion of the population is imprisoned in a town behind walls, while the High Kith live a life of luxury and magic. Nirrim is one of the imprisoned — an orphan who can flawlessly forge any document and remembers everything with perfect clarity. Then Sid, a charming traveler from distant lands, comes into Nirrim’s life and threatens to destabilize all of Nirrim’s plans. I listened to the audiobook read by the fantastic Justine Eyre, whose ability to create a unique voice for each character made it feel like I was listening to a full-cast radio drama. The ending shook me, but thankfully this is the first in a two-book series. Book two, The Hollow Heart, releases Sept. 14.
The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
In this beautiful YA contemporary fantasy novel loosely inspired by the fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” two teens heal and learn how to find joy after a sexual assault. Ciela and Lock flirted at the beginning of a party, but by its end, they’ve both been sexually assaulted, and Ciela has dropped Lock off at a hospital, still unconscious from the drug that had been mixed into his Dr. Pepper. As a brown, queer teen, Ciela knows that no one will listen to her story, especially since the classmates who assaulted her and Lock are white and from wealthy families. Ciela is also a pastelería witch — she can sense exactly which dessert a customer wants, magic she's inherited from her grandmother — but after the assault, her magic leaves her. When school starts back, she and Lock find themselves attracted to one another once more, but while he knows he was sexually assaulted that night, he doesn't remember the details. While The Mirror Season focuses on a traumatic event and will undoubtedly make many readers (like myself) cry, it’s also a magical, hopeful, and empowering novel.
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
This tense and empowering YA sapphic retelling of “Cinderella” takes place 200 years after the famous fairy tale and features two queer girls overthrowing the patriarchy. Ever since Cinderella met and married her prince, all teen girls must attend a marriage ball at the palace. If a man doesn’t make a bid on them within three years, they’re forced to work as laborers, never to marry. This year is Sophia’s first year attending the ball, and she’s one of the few who openly object to the way women are treated. People who question the status quo have a way of disappearing. Sophia wants to escape the kingdom with her best friend Erin, but Erin has resigned herself to marrying. When everything goes awry at the ball, Sophia flees into the forest and meets Constance, a Robin Hood–like rebel and one of Cinderella’s descendants. The attraction between the two is immediate, and as Sophia learns more about the kingdom’s patriarchal history, she vows to help Constance tear it all down.
The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke
Sideways Pike is a classic high school goth. She’s a self-proclaimed witch and lesbian who’s always clad in black and on permanent outsider status at school. When the three most popular girls in school invite her to spell cast at their party for $40, she takes them up on their offer — and to Sideways’ surprise, the girls befriend her. Together, the four form a patriarchy-busting coven that gets into tons of trouble. This YA fantasy is a snarky, witchy, queer blast.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Alex, a powerful bisexual bruja, hates magic, so she casts a spell during her Deathday celebration to reject her magical abilities. When the spell backfires, her entire family is sent to Los Lagos — a world between worlds filled with dark creatures and magic. With her best friend Rishi and the mysterious brujo Nova at her side, Alex searches the labyrinth of Los Lagos to find and rescue her family. This first book in a complete YA fantasy trilogy is inventive and fast-paced.
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
This engaging and feminist YA fantasy has a lovely lesbian romance. Students at the Medio School for Girls study to either become in charge of their husband’s household (Primera) or the bearer of their children (Segunda). Dani hides her lower-class pedigree and becomes a student at the prestigious school. After she’s assigned a husband as a Primera, she joins an underground spy network for the rebels, who seek to destroy this heavily stratified society. The only person who knows Dani’s hidden low-class origins is Carmen, the Segunda wife. This compulsive read is the first book in a complete duology.
Ash by Malinda Lo
This lovely YA retelling of “Cinderella” combines fae folklore with a slow-burn lesbian romance. When Ash’s father dies, she turns to the fairy tales her mother once told her — her only source of comfort in a home where everyone hates her. When she makes a pact with a dangerous fairy, she thinks she’ll finally be able to live in the land of fairy tales. However, after a chance encounter with the King’s Huntress, Ash begins to be pulled in another direction, and she’s no longer so sure she wants to be part of the fae world.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters (forthcoming; July 20)
This YA contemporary fantasy entwines elements of horror and thriller to create a compulsive read. Someone is murdering girls in a nature preserve. When Natasha's sister disappears, she worries she was the latest victim and goes to the nature preserve to investigate. A witch family lives nearby, garnering their magic from the forest. They might be the key to solving the disappearances, especially the intriguing Della, or they might be the cause of the murders. As Natasha and Della slowly start falling for one another, magic neither of them knew existed begins to bloom.
Margaret Kingsbury is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in BuzzFeed Books, Book Riot, StarTrek.com, Parents, the Earth Island Institute, and more. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.