Ten Queer Books to Kickstart Your Reading

Last Updated on September 10, 2022

Welcome to the top ten queer books to kickstart your reading. There is a notion that books that appeal to a Grimdark reading audience are written by cis-het white men for cis-het white men. But within the wider Grimdark area, especially when taking into consideration darker genre titles that have appeal to our audience, there is so much more than that. In my time writing for Grimdark Magazine, I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing a range of queer and diverse books, and here are some of the books that have stood out most to me in the last few years.

Sistersong by Lucy Holland

In Sistersong, Lucy Holland takes a folk ballad of three sisters, and turns it into a story of three siblings, set in post-Roman Britain. Born three girls, the oldest, Keyne, grows up to realise that he is a man rather than a woman. Holland tells this story with nuance and care, in a period before being queer, before having the words to express this were a thing. Holland’s version of Merlin in this tale is gender fluid, appearing as both man and woman, depending on company and circumstance, which gave me so much queer joy as well – I loved her lyrical writing, the unique story and how it was rooted in a traditional ballad, and these queer elements just made me fall for it even more. Read our full review here (and if you buy a paperback in the UK you may even spot a quote from it!)

About the book:

King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.

Read Sistersong by Lucy Holland

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Cover of Light From Uncommon StarsRyka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars is both an extremely dark and a highly uplifting book. Its main character, Katrina, is a trans woman who has suffered through abuse and transphobia – and has now found a home with Shizuka Satomi, a famous violinist. Except, Shizuka has made a deal with the devil which includes Katrina’s soul. While Katrina finally starts to feel like she has escaped her cycle of abuse as she transforms into a brilliant violinist, Shizuka falls in love with a retired starship captain turned donut shop owner, Lan Tran. But the devil is still waiting to collect Katrina’s soul. This is the sort of book to rip your heart to shreds and make you cry in public (if you still have enough of a heart left after reading all of that Grimdark) – it’s not quite a Grimdark book, but it has lots to appeal to a Grimdark audience with complex characters and the constant feeling of dread hanging over the story.

About the book:

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: To escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

Read Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

Cover of A Dowry of BloodS.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood is one of the queerest books in our wheelhouse. A dark, polyamorous retelling of the Brides of Dracula featuring an assortment of queer vampires loving and rampaging over the span of centuries across Europe, this is a twisted tale perfect for lovers of Grimdark with a dash of romance. Originally self-published, it has been picked up by Orbit to be re-released in October 2022 with a new cover and including a sequel short story. Read our full review here.

About the book:

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

Read A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

Bluebird by Ciel Pierlot

Cover of Bluebird by Ciel PierlotLesbian Gunslingers in Space? That is a tagline that sells books. The book in question is Ciel Pierlot’s Bluebird, space opera full of dry humour and sparse wit. There are resistance fighters, big-scale politics and a badass librarian girlfriend, ingredients ideal to make this both a great read for the Grimdark Magazine audience and one of the best space operas I’ve read. See the full review here.

About the book:

Three factions vie for control of the galaxy. Rig, a gunslinging, thieving rebel-with-a-cause, doesn’t give a damn about them, and she hasn’t looked back since abandoning them three years ago. That is, until her former faction sends her a message: Return what she stole from them, or her twin sister will die.

Rig embarks on a journey across the galaxy to save her – but for once, she’s not alone. She has help from her network of resistance contacts, her taser-wielding librarian girlfriend, and a mysterious bounty hunter.

If Rig fails, trillions of lives will be lost – including her sister’s. But if she succeeds, she might just pull the whole damn system down around their ears. Either way, she’s going to do it with Panache and Pizzazz.

Read Bluebird by Ciel Pierlot

Spear by Nicola Griffith

Cover of SpearNicola Griffith’s Spear is one of my all-time favourite books. A short novella telling an epic story in miniature, Spear’s only major flaw is that there isn’t more of it. Not because it needs it, but because Griffith’s writing and characters will leave you wanting more. The story plays with gender in interesting ways – while Peretur, the main character, based on the archetype more commonly known as Percival, herself doesn’t question her femininity, other’s perception of her differs based on their own preconceived notions and cultural expectations. Griffith understands the nature of gender as a social construct, and goes on to use it as a plot device, rather than having her main character cross-dress on purpose. And that is one of the things that made Spear stand out to me in terms of queer representation. It helps that there is a brilliantly depicted, tender, sapphic relationship at its core, too. Read our full review here.

About the book:

The girl knows she has a destiny before she even knows her name. She grows up in the wild, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake come to her on the spring breeze, and when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she knows that her future lies at his court.

And so, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and, with a broken hunting spear and mended armour, rides on a bony gelding to Caer Leon. On her adventures, she will meet great knights and steal the hearts of beautiful women. She will fight warriors and sorcerers. And she will find her love, and the lake, and her fate.

Read Spear by Nicola Griffith

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Cover of Summer SonsOne book that can’t be missed out is Lee Mandelo’s Summer Sons. Written by a non-binary author, this features the most oblivious main character realising that, actually, he may not be straight after all, and the best trans housemate. Summer Sons is all Southern Gothic, vibes over plot, with stellar characters and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. See our full review here.

About the book:

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers to possess him.

Read Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Cover of A Master of DjinnP. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn was one of the finalists for the 2022 Hugos. The first full-length novel to feature his character of Fatma el-Sha’arawi, Muslim, gay, badass detective in Cairo in 1912. She had prior appearances in short fiction and novellas, but this is both Djèlí Clark’s novel debut and her first outing in a longer work – someone is murdering members of a secret brotherhood, and Fatma is on the case. But to me, the plot isn’t at the centre of this story. This is a great commercial novel, but one that will give you as much as you’re willing to put in. There is so much to be drawn out of A Master of Djinn in terms of worldbuilding, in terms of critical views on colonialism, perspectives that are still relevant in the present day. And Fatma and her girlfriend Siti are one of my favourite sapphic couples.

About the book:

Cairo, 1912: though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, Al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be Al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city—or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

Read A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

Cover of The Unbroken2021 was the year of the sapphic trifecta – The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan and The Unbroken by C.L. Clark. All three excellent books, but the one that I’d like to highlight for you here is The Unbroken. This is modern Grimdark at its finest. Epic in scale, set in a world fraught with discord at all fronts and centred around Touraine, a soldier compelled to fight for the conquering army of her home, and Luca, the conquering princess (though she ain’t very princessy). If old-school Grimdark – fucked up world, fucked up people, fucked up morals – is what brought you to this site, then The Unbroken is the sort of book you should strongly consider picking up from the up and coming generation of writers. And hey, Touraine’s arms are quite something to look at too.

About the book:

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

Read The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Before we had the sapphic trifecta, we had another big yellow queer fantasy: Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree. A giant tome of an epic fantasy, this tells the story of a period in the queendom of Inys – complete with dragons, lesbian romance and a narrative crafted like a tapestry. This is a standalone where every thread gets woven into the plot, with nothing being there just for show but furthering the narrative and being part of the conclusion. I loved it – and there’s going to be another standalone (a prequel of sorts) set in the same world! I for one am hyped. See our full review of The Priory of the Orange Tree here.

About the book:

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

Read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Cover of Gideon the NinthNo list of queer books would be complete without Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. Famously known for the tag line ‘lesbian necromancers in space’, this is one of dark SFF’s biggest hitters in recent years. It is wacky, hilarious and the sequels get increasingly more confusing. But Tamsyn Muir gets to confuse me any day with books this good. If you haven’t experienced the chaos yet, the premise of Gideon the Ninth is basically a locked room murder mystery in a Gothic mansion floating in space – revolving around Gideon Nav, a himbo lesbian. Check out our reviews of Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth and Nona the Ninth here.

About the book:

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap out of the audio, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Read Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.