I am very excited to welcome Aveline Reynard and Meredith Katz as guests for our Authors Unbound blog series! Please give them a warm welcome!
Browsing bookstores abruptly gets more challenging when you want all the cool fantasy, but it’s got to be queer. “Can you be trusted not to be aggressively heteronormative?” you mutter, clutching a shiny hardcover with a fancy wizard on the cover and an author’s name you don’t recognize. “This one looks like it’s got cool magic,” (the blurb will tell you that much, usually) “but is it gay?”
We’re simple people. We want books about cool magic, and we want them to be queer. We’ve collected quite a few favourites over the years, so if you’re also in the business of queer people doing sweet magic, you might be interested in adding a couple of these to your TBR.
In no particular order, here are seven books that we enjoy:
“Surprise, my tenebrous overlord!” said Gideon.
“Ghosts and you might die is my middle name.”
The premise: You may have heard of this one as “lesbian necromancers in space,” which isn’t wrong, but definitely isn’t everything. It’s enemies-to-… well, something not quite enemies, between the flexing, sword-swinging, loud-mouthed Gideon and the uptight, stiff, and sharp-tongued necromancer Harrowhark as they attempt to solve murders in a crumbling space mansion and try not to die (you know, permanently).
The magic: If you passed over Gideon because you’re not really into sci-fi, rest assured that there’s a lot of really interesting and complex intersections and conceptualizations of magic and swashbuckling. Gideon‘s magic system is based on necromancy: bones and dust and corpses and death energy and the various things you can do with this: creating entire skeletons out of teeth à la grand old mythology, reading the spiritual impact a death leaves on objects, siphoning someone else’s soul to reinforce your abilities, and… many, many worse things. Whew.
The best parts: The narrative voice in Gideon is slick as hell and extremely witty and extremely quotable. The entire worldbuilding is structured around nine houses that all use necromantic energy differently, and frankly if we don’t see “What House are You?” quizzes like we do with Hogwarts, we’ll be very disappointed (Meredith, at least, hopes she is Sixth House).
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal – K.J. Charles (KJC Books – Indie) M/M, nb side character
“A story without an ending is an unbearable itch to the reader.”
The premise: Written in the tradition of Victorian occultism and the pulp fiction it inspired, The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal follows in Sherlock Holmes’s footsteps with a collection of case stories about a powerful solver of occult mysteries, as told by his closest male companion. Except, of course, this is the secret casebook—the casebook full of intimate and erotic details, the times they broke the law to solve a case or to find illegal love together, a story that the writer refused to not tell once he was able to do so.
The magic: What makes magic interesting and different in this book is stories. Simon Feximal’s occult magic takes the form of words that write themselves over his body: ghosts are not just unresolved business but unfinished stories: people who are now unable to speak for themselves who need their circumstances revealed and told. No magic in here is what you expect, whether it’s harsh writing tearing through skin or a reflective mirror in polished, inked fingernails. Charles does a great job making magic an unseen world that longs to be reflected into reality.
The best parts: If the intersection of erotic M/M fiction and Holmesian casefic with a significant dash of magic sounds appealing to you, this book is sure to be your jam. It doesn’t shy away from some of the rougher elements of Victorian England, but it’s also sweet and full of found family.
The Affair of the Mysterious Letter – Alexis Hall (Ace Books) Gay trans man & pan protags; central mystery is to protect an upcoming F/F wedding.
“What is the point of doing battle against dark forces if you can’t look your best while you’re doing it?”
The premise: We didn’t really mean to pick two Sherlockian stories, but while they’re both —-ing fantastic reads, they’re both very different. (Readers, we have chosen to omit a word that might offend your sensibilities). Where Simon Feximal is serious and grounded in reality, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a brilliantly comedic read, making a satirical (but not mocking) take on Sherlock with a repressed gay trans Watson (John Wyndham) and an irrepressible pan female Sherlock (Shaharazad Haas). Shaharazad Haas is a consulting sorceress, is frequently high on opiates, and is frankly just an extremely enjoyable character.
The magic: The magic in this story is drawn from a variety of sources—high fantasy, gothic necromancy, steampunk, folklore, and fairy tales—but it manages to make them all cohesive by filtering them all through the lens of Lovecraftian horror and logically sussing out how they would all apply to a world which is very, very steeped in the Cthulhu Mythos.
The best parts: If you enjoy the Mythos, you’re in for a special treat, because Hall is very good at reclaiming it in the name of, you know, the people Lovecraft hated and was suspicious of, while still perfectly integrating so many of the features of the Mythos that continue to capture the imagination.
“Are you a witch?” asked Janna.
“No,” said the old woman, “I’m a Lutheran. But we’ll make do.”
The premise: This book is a magical landscape, a rich retelling of the Snow Queen with a fierce and compelling (and rather erotic, for all that it’s offscreen and treated delicately) f/f romance. Gerta’s friend Kay gets kidnapped by the Snow Queen, so Gerta goes to try to save him with the help of a mouthy raven, an old reindeer, and an irrepressible bandit girl.
The magic: Unlike many of the books on this list, this one isn’t about someone who is able to do magic. Rather, it’s about somebody so unmagical, but who is so willing to help others that magic can very easily enter her; it’s extremely rare in a world suffused with magic for someone to not even have a grandmother who crossed a fairy mound the wrong way once, even if they didn’t know it at the time. And magic does infuse this book—animals who can speak to those who can hear them, plants that can dream, witches who can freeze the hearts of beautiful boys. After her first run-in with a witch, Gerta’s lack of magic has made her become a vessel that can be filled, and although she cannot do magic, she uses magic regardless.
The best parts: The magic of this world is mixed so deeply with the natural world that you may look at nature itself differently when you’re done. On top of all this, it’s got a lovely fairytale tone, a down-to-earth sense of humor, and is full of compelling characters with extremely believable and relatable hopes and motivations.
A Matter of Disagreement – E.E. Ottoman (Indie) M/M, cis protag and trans love interest
“You already have two disciplines of academic research to participate in, you do not need another.”
The premise: In this M/M regency romance, tough-on-his-luck academic Lord Andrea blames the lack of available funding for his unpopular branch of magical study on the new, more darling field of mechanical animation and its rakish, charming, and frustrating creator, the Marquis de la Marche.
The magic: This book does something very different with magic by centering it as an item of academic debate. There are plenty of books where magic is studied in schools or as an academic subject, but in those, academia’s just a setting for the magic. Here, it reverses that—the entire book hinges on the academia of magic, of departmental debates and which specific field of magical study is the future of academic learning (and thus who gets the money and who doesn’t). It’s arguments in academic papers and letters sent to one another that get a public response in a journal rather than a private one by mail and it’s all about whose field of study is new and exciting versus old hat and boring—and who might lose their jobs as a result. It’s a unique work that focuses so thoroughly on how magic academia would be academic rather than simply how magic could be taught or studied, and that’d be worth a recommendation on its own.
The best parts: When you take a compelling and erotic romance between two men (one cis, one trans) in an academic rivals-to-lovers scenario mixed in with the complex entanglement of social politics between two aristocratic families (of different ranks), you’ve got everything you might want in a regency romance. It may lack the editorial polish of the other books on this list, but don’t overlook this hidden gem because of that!
“You’re so right, father. A weakling. A coward.”
Thornby sighed theatrically.
“I’d make a terrible husband. I’d better never marry.”
The premise: A young aristocrat is for some mysterious reason magically trapped in his home. Most fortunately, a magician has come to visit and has decided to make it his business to free him.
The magic: There are multiple types of magicians who can do several types of magic in this world—our hero, John Blake, is a “materials man”. Less impressive than those flashy magicians who command demons, Blake uses physical materials to cast spells—normally, he’s a tradesperson relegated to strengthening buildings and similar architectural work, not rescuing rakish aristocracy from their own families. Instead of disposing of his materials with each use, Blake pinches pennies by reusing them and this is where the truly new and interesting writing of magic comes in: his materials have started to develop their own personalities. Blake’s relationship with Lord Thornby might be the romantic relationship, but his developing relationship with his materials—not just what but who they are to him, how they react to him, their characterization in the story—is truly unique and fascinating.
The best parts: The world itself feels genuinely magical by virtue of the growing insight into the materials and how much of the world around him could be materials. This book is gorgeously written, with a beautiful narrative, strong and appealing characters, a very erotic romance, and a dash of fairy tales.
The Red Threads of Fortune – J.Y. Yang (Tor Books) M/F; F/NB, polyamorous
“You weren’t to blame. Violence is the fault of the one enacting it. Always”
The premise: Broken from the death of her young daughter, Sanao Mokoya fled society and lives in the wilderness hunting dangerous naga and… well, avoiding her husband and brother along with all her other interpersonal attachments. When she meets the alluring and mysterious Rider, she can’t help but fall for them—and in doing so, is forced to confront the truth of her trauma and her attachments to the world in this fantastic silkpunk fantasy.
The magic: Everything is bound by the natural laws that define things—ice floats on water; it freezes at a certain temperature. But imagine that these parts of nature are aspects of reality, related to the five elements, and that people can change the nature of things by manipulating these aspects. Imagine that these aspects are ways of relating to and understanding the Slack—a vast network of threads (yes, the eponymous threads of fortune) that make up the spiritual realm, that everything (down to the human soul) is made up of this web. Imagine that some people can take parts of these threads and add tension to them to alter reality—tensors, this world’s spellcasters. Imagine this, and you’ve managed to imagine just a fragment of the intense magical philosophy that makes up the Tensorate series. It’s an incredibly well-developed magic system that leaves the reader feeling as if both they and the protagonist have just scratched the surface of understanding something huge, and frankly, that’s cool as heck.
The best parts: This is a polyamorous love story about trauma at its core, and it doesn’t shy away from any part of this. Mokoya’s open relationship with her husband is a powerful love, but is tied to her memories of their child together. Her relationship with Rider is new and refreshing, but is tied to her interactions with the Slack and how she’s used it to cling to her daughter’s spirit. But as well as a powerful use of trauma and catharsis, there’s also a lot of cute, sweet romance.
The Red Threads of Fortune is one of the first books in JY Yang’s Tensorate series. We’re currently reading The Black Tides of Heaven and so looking forward to the rest…!
This list is by no means exhaustive—we’ve come a long way from the days of “The Last Herald-Mage” or bust (bless Vanyel, but thank goodness). Here’s a few more books we’ve had recommended to us as “magic” and “queer” but either didn’t have room to feature, or haven’t had a chance to check out for ourselves yet:
The Kingston Cycle – C. L. Polk
Magic in Manhattan series – Allie Therin
Brooklyn Brujas – Zoraida Córdova
In the Vanishers’ Palace – Aliette de Bodard
Tales of Inthya series – Effie Calvin
Hexworld series – Jordan L. Hawk
Port Lewis Witches series – Brooklyn Ray
Shades of Magic trilogy – V.E. Schwab
The Tarot Sequence – K.D. Edwards
Elemental Logic series – Laurie J. Marks
Craft Sequence – Mad Gladstone
And of course, we do subscribe to the philosophy of “write what you want to see in the world,” so please check out Meredith’s books (as well as reviews of more queer magical reads) at our site (www.softcryptid.com):
Empty Vessels (M/M, polyamorous) – A psychic, a ghost, and a deer-antlered fey try to protect the local monsters from something lurking in the night.
How Saeter Robbed The Underworld (M/M) – A shapeshifting demigod has to save his rival-slash-best-friend from the underworld after a series of bad decisions.
Beauty and Cruelty (F/F) – The Evil Fairy joins Sleeping Beauty in her (kind of meta) plan to save their people. Fairy tale endings? In THIS economy?
And more, including cyborgs, zombies, shapeshifting dragons, and demons…
Have any suggestions for books we’ve missed that you think we’d like? You’ve got our number, now. Hit us up and let us know!
Meredith Katz and Aveline Reynard are wives and connoisseurs of the finest pictures of cat toebeans. They live in the Vancouver area, Canada, and have a spare room (affectionately) nicknamed the “cult room” full of reference books, strange antiques, and off-season Halloween decorations. You can follow them online on Twitter (@softcryptidbook). They currently publish independently and have several upcoming new releases in the “queer and magical” web of genres slated for 2020 and beyond.
You’re interested in participating? Great! Just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org using Authors Unbound in the reference line and we’ll get things set up.
We can’t wait to hear from you!
You can find all previous guest posts in this series >here<.