It seems like Dungeons & Dragons is everywhere these days, especially in the queer community, which makes a whole lot of sense. LGBTQ people have always gravitated toward fantasy stories as allegories for gay struggles; have always been drawn to tales of found family; and leave their own Shires to find themselves as much as any hobbits. So I thought it’d be fun to assemble a list of books with D&D vibes for you. All of these stories feature: magic and/or melee, quests, chosen families, and queer characters. If you have any faves that fit this description, I sure would love to hear about them in the comments!
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes is a love letter to queer D&D players. It tells the story of an Orc named Viv who retires from adventuring to open a coffee shop in Thune, a city that’s never even heard of coffee! On her quest to start a new nonviolent life, she connects with a cast of some of the most lovable fantasy characters you’ve ever met, and even surprises herself by coming to realize her heart is even bigger that her biceps.
Ash by Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo’s Ash is a precursor to the Queer YA fantasy boom we’ve seen in recent years. It’s a modern retelling of Cinderella, with a lesbian protagonist named Ash, who has been seeking fairies her whole life, but unlocks the real magic inside her when she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Ash battles her stepmother, dark fey, and her own grief on her way to becoming the hero we’ve hardly ever imagined Cinderella could be.
Spear by Nicola Griffith
Nicola Griffith’s Spear flips Arthurian legend on its head and bends its gender in the process. It follows Peretur as she sets out on her quest to become a Knight of the Roundtable by pretending to be a man, and as she grapples with all the consequences of leaving the protection of her mother’s home. She loses her birth family, finds new love (more than once!), and unlocks ancient magic hidden inside her. It’s Mulan meets Merlin with a healthy helping of sapphic romance.
Graceling series by Kristin Cashore
Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series starts out pretty straight. Well, pretty tomboyish — and evolves into an enormous magical world full of LGBTQ characters. Each book is written about and narrated by a different woman (and a few different women + one guy, in Winterkeep) and takes readers on all kinds of quests. The books take place in a land where some people are Graced, which means they’re born with two different colored eyes and one very specific superpower. Some are pretty chill like being a master baker or being able to juggle anything without dropping it. But some Graces are a lot more complicated, like swordplay and mind-reading. A few of Cashore’s heroines are Graced, a few of them aren’t, and one of them has a whole different kind of magic. I’ve read this book series more than any other, and can’t wait for the newest book, Seasparrow, which comes out in November.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
A captive princess! A maidservant who keeps the secret of an ancient magic! Enemies to friends to lovers with a dash of misandry directed at the princess’ terrible brother! The Jasmine Throne is set in a world inspired by India and features a brilliant magic system and riveting storytelling that will have you on the edge of your seat — or twisted up in your chair like a pretzel, if you sit like a bisexual — from start to finish.
Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin’s multiple Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy is one of the most celebrated fantasy series of all time, and for good reason! All of Jemisin’s work is principally populated by people of color — she has talked often about how “brown becomes the default” in all of her worlds — which is a glorious change to the overwhelmingly white sci-fi/fantasy canon. The books are also stacked with fully realized queer and trans people. The Broken Earth series take place in a world of Orogenes, people who are born with an innate ability to control potentially catastrophic geological events with telekinetic-type powers. The state tries to control their magic by enslaving them. Broken Earth follows a rogue Orogene and her blossoming Orogene daughter as they each flee persecution in their own way, and try to use their powers to save the world. There’s also a love story here that you’ve never, ever heard before.
Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
Priory of the Orange Tree is my all-time favorite book. It’s got powerful, complicated women trying to unravel the mysteries of their upbringings, dragons, magic, sword fights, witches, a longstanding patriarchal religion coming completely unraveled, and an epic queer love story. It’s a long one, over 800 pages, but they’ll fly by and leave you pining for Shannon’s forthcoming prequel. Shannon’s world-building is second to none, and her love story will leave you physically swooning.
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Of Fire and Stars is the book that got me through the aftermath of the 2016 election. It’s the only thing that made me feel anything besides sick at my stomach in those early days of Trump’s presidency. It’s another epic love story (look, I am who I am) between a young princess hiding her magic powers and the sister of the prince her parents arranged for her to marry. I mean this in the most affectionate way: If you love fan fiction, you’ll love this book.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
If you want a complicated magic system that’s going to slowly reveal itself in the creepiest way possible and then leave you so aghast it will stick inside your brain forever, well! The Bone Shard Daughter is for you! Told from multiple points of view, it focuses mostly on Lin, the Emperor’s daughter, who spends her life trapped within the walls of her father’s castle trying to recover the memories she lost when she was stricken with a mystery illness years ago. Her father refuses to teach her bone shard magic until she can grab hold of her past, so she decides to just teach it to herself. Much like the Priory of the Orange Tree, the queerness in Bone Shard Daughter is as casual as the fact that magic exists. It’s just a given.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
I don’t say this lightly: The House in the Cerulean Sea is, hands down, the best found family story I have ever read or seen or heard or played in my entire life. I cried more happy tears reading T.J. Klune’s novel than I’ve ever cried. (In fact, I haven’t even reread it because I cried so hard the first time, I gave myself a three-day migraine.) The story takes place in an orphanage on a magical island where a beloved caretaker raises kids who are, well, literal monsters. When Linus, a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, is sent to the orphanage, he finds his whole entire view of the world challenged and changed, as he learns to love every little perfect rascal of a monster for exactly who they are. His feelings for their caretaker? They surprise him most of all!
the sequel to jasmine throne just came out too!
Thank you! Just reserved it – read Jasmine Throne and loved it. Great list
Came here to say the same thing, after obsessively checking my library hold (I’m #6 in line!)
Michelle Belanger’s Shadowdance (urban fantasy) series comes to mind!
Oops, I meant Shadowside, not Shadowdance. Moderators, if you’re willing to make the edit, I’d be grateful. My bad.
Correction: The correct title of the series is “Shadowside”, not “Shadowdance”. Moderators, if you’d be willing to make the edit, I’d be grateful!
The Unspoken Name and its sequel The Thousand Eyes by A. K. Larkwood. I wanted to like these more than I did. The first half of the sequel is my favorite part but then it ends kind of eh.. But I’m very hard to please lol
Rook & Rose trilogy by M. A. Carrick. Queernorm world, but the gay is a little out of the limelight. It’s kind of like Lies of Locke Lamora in a way.
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks. I haven’t read the sequels because the first book was so good it needed none.
The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst. Set after people save the world but what if not really? One character is gay, another is bi(?) but it’s not the main focus.
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar. Different women in their magicalish country’s civil war.
Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling. Mostly m/m but it really hits the gay D&D theme.
This is a great list. Thank you Heather. I’ve read at least half of them and added a few to my want to read list.
A few more to add.
A Marvelous Light by Freda Marske. Fantasy / suspense set in Edwardian England with magic. This book has an mm pairing and the next book is supposed to be ff.
The Calyx Charm by May Peterson – lush, dark fantasy with a trans woman protagonist and a very satisfying mf romance.
Zen Cho has a few that fit this category. She writes in a lot of genres but she’s always queering genres and flipping them around with a post-colonial lens. But in a fun way.
The True Queen is set in AU Regency England with magic and has a complicated quest and lovely low key ff romance. It’s the 2nd in a series but is pretty stand alone. The first has a straight couple.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is set in historical Malaysia, with magic. It’s a queering of wuxia/ martial arts movies and opens with an epic fight scene in a coffee shop.
Black Water Sister is UF set in contemporary Malaysia. Much darker than other books I’ve read by Zen Cho but really good. It’s an entertaining story of a young queer woman facing down a god and a ghost that also has a lot to say about immigration, generational trauma and parent-child dynamics and expectations
Coming here to co-sign Black Water Sister! Id somehow got the impression before borrowing that it was YA (which I also read, but doesn’t tend to go so dark, which i love) so when it got really into the weeds I was DELIGHTED
And a couple more.
The Gardener’s Hand series by Felicia Davin. Bi poly fantasy. The world building is unusual and excellent. The plot is a little more typical, with a hero’s journey quest but quite enjoyable. It’s a trilogy and the first two books end on cliff hangers. First book is f/f – and that relationship turns into a f/f/nb triad by the third book.
The Way of Thorn and Thunder series by Danial Heath Justice. Engrossing, epic fantasy set in a world inspired by 18th C North America, from a Native American point of view, with engaging (queer) characters and plenty of adventure, wonder and intrigue. Like the best fantasies, it references real world issues (specifically the Cherokee Trail of Tears) but it’s also an engaging story and world that stands on its own.
This is a little hard to find because it’s from a small press – it’s sold as a trilogy and as a single volume with all 3 book. The single volume is also available as an ebook.
Thorn by Anna Burke. The queer, Sapphic retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I didn’t know I needed until I read it.
The House on The Cerulean Sea is apologist for the 60s scoop/Indigenous Genocide, plenty of commenters have suggested other books you could maybe swap it out with instead of promoting this book 💛
I am from/in Canada, and I co-sign this request. For some additional context, the author (from/in the UK) has spoken in about how he was moved to write the book after reading about Indian Residential Schools in Canada. I learned that only after reading the book (and full disclosure, not enjoying it whatsoever), and I was horrified. As a response in any way to the century-long genocidal efforts of the government of Canada and various churches, inadequate and inappropriate don’t even come close to describing the failures of this volume
I also felt very icky about this aspect of the book after finding out. But also I don’t think people will be missing anything if they don’t read it!! Although my taste is usually very in line with anything Heather recommends, this book truly made it to my list of most-hated reads of the decade. It was just too contrived for me.
I hadn’t heard about this before so I did some googling. I’m sharing a few links for people for context / to save them googling.
TJ Klune’s post on John Scalzi’s blog about his inspirations for THitCS – https://whatever.scalzi.com/2020/03/17/the-big-idea-tj-klune/
Early Goodreads review outlining major objections – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4032060130
A few later, more nuanced, takes on the book
2 kind of supporting the book:
1 kind of not:
I know my list of links is lacking actual native voices so please add them if you have them.
Yes to all of these! Always in need of queer, fantastical love stories.
This is an excellent list! I can’t recommend Hunterus by Melinda Loe enough. It is a prequel, set at least a century or two before Ash.
one i have to hard agree with the graceling realm series i’ve read them so often that there are large chunks that get stuck in my head like songs
two: the october daye series by seanan mcguire! featuring changeling PI toby daye, the most reluctant hero Faerie has seen in centuries, and her ever-growing cast of found family, allies, enemies, and mythical personages. i’m in the middle of a reread in advance of book 16 which drops at the end of the month
Thank you for these! I’ve placed a library hold (or request where not yet on offer) on several.
I really need to read Priory of the Orange Tree. It is sitting on my shelves taunting me for owing it for so long and not reading it yet!! But it’s so big it’s daunting.
It’s a good traveling book. It’s long but it’s immersive. My main issues with it was that I liked some of the story lines more than others and there were A LOT of coincidences. Which is part of the epic fantasy genre but required some suspension of disbelief.
It does involve fear of plague and I read it before Covid so it may land differently for you reading it now.
I feel seen
I only know D&D from stranger things 😬 but I feel like Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao may meet all of your requirements. I loved it. Definitely hits some harder subject matter, but i thought it was incredibly well done.
I would also add many of the books by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). I absolutely loved The Raven and the Reindeer, which is the queer retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen that the world needed. (Remember the little robber girl who says “she shall give me her muff and her pretty dress, and sleep with me in my bed.”) With talking otters. A delight.
This is covering ALL my favourite niches. Thank you for this gem, Heather!
This is great besides playing the game. I would love to start reading this. Thank you.
Thanks for this list. Just got my copy of Jasmine Throne!