8 Queer High Fantasy Books For Your Epic Sword-Wielding Needs

This month’s installment of Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian tracks down some books for a reader of the first column, which was about books with lesbian May-December romances. Autostraddler Allison commented on that post and said that she was looking for

“QUEER. HIGH. FANTASY. Like, Guy Gavriel Kay, but queer. Tolkien, but queer. Melanie Rawn, but queer. That is all I want in life.”

I am so excited to give some suggestions for queer Lord of the Rings readalikes. For those of you not steeped in fantasy nerdom: when people talk about high or epic fantasy, we mean fantasy set in a lush, very detailed, imaginary world intricately created by the author, often with its own comprehensive history, mythology, species, languages, landscapes, and all sorts of stuff. Typically these worlds are pseudo-medieval Europe, although I think the best authors switch that up. Think of those fat books with glossaries and maps in the back, often with sword-wielding maidens on the cover. Another key feature is that usually the main character(s) are going on some kind of epic quest. Guy Gavirel Kay in particular also focuses a lot on characterization; you get to know the characters really well over the course of these lengthy novels. High/epic fantasy can usually be found in trilogy form.

I had no idea when I took on this question just how epic — ha ha — the search for queer high/epic fantasy would be. I put out a simple call on Twitter, and boy did queer book nerds respond with gusto. I got so many suggestions, in addition to the few I already had in mind, that I didn’t know what to do with them all. So this list that I’ve come up with is by no means complete, especially if you’re interested in high fantasy with queer male characters as well (I’ve focused on women).


The Way of Thorn and Thunder, by Daniel Heath Justice

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I am so pumped to suggest Cherokee author Daniel Heath Justice’s The Way of Thorn and Thunder trilogy, which I think is criminally underrated. People, this is the queer, feminist, Indigenous high fantasy you never knew you needed so bad. The whole story is an allegory to colonization in the Americas, but it’s also an action-packed story that totally works on its own. It features, among others, Tarsa, a bisexual former warrior whose destiny to be a Wielder—a kind of healer/priestess/witch — and Denarra, a feisty trans woman traveller full of hilarious tall tales, getting shit done “by any means necessary.” If you’ve wondered what LOTR would be like if it were queer, trans, feminist, poly, and decolonizing, look no further.


Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey

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Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey is well-loved among queer and feminist fantasy readers, so I hope you haven’t already read it! There are actually nine books (three trilogies) set in Carey’s vast universe. The first trilogy, of which Kushiel’s Dart is the first novel, centres on Phèdre, who is “trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber,” aka a sex worker. This massive tale is set in a noble world of political intrigue, ripe with a scheming villainess, courtly poets, traitors, you name it. There’s also lots of sex, of the lesbian and S&M variety, in as much detail as the world-building. Kushiel’s Dart comes in at about 900-1000 pages depending on the edition, meaning it’s for the seriously committed high fantasy fan.


Huntress and Ash, by Malinda Lo

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Two much more commitment-phobic friendly options are two YA books Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo. Ash and Huntress are set in the same lush fairy tale world steeped in Chinese mythology, although hundreds of years apart, so they can be enjoyed together or on their own. Huntress definitely fits the epic genre more tightly, following two 17-year-old human girls Kaede and Taisin as they go on an grand quest to the city of the Fairy Queen in an effort to save humankind, whose world is dying. As you can probably guess, they also fall in love along the way. I loved the balance of the girls’ strengths — one thrumming with magic, the other proficient in earthly skills — as they grow and learn on their journey.


Fire Logic, Water Logic, and Earth Logic, by Laurie J. Mark

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Laurie J. Mark’s Elemental Logic trilogy is more classic, European-influenced high fantasy, but with a matriarchal and working-class twist. It stars Zanja, a lesbian warrior of colour, but the spotlight is perhaps equally shared by a female half-giant “smoke” addict blacksmith named Karis, and Emil, a middle-aged soldier with a disability, plus others. The action, simply put, is a guerilla war against evil oppressors in a war-torn country using elemental magic. Sounds awesome, right? All of this comes about when their country’s leader dies, there’s no successor named, and everything goes to shit. This is a novel about wounded, complex characters navigating war, political chaos, and emotionally complex (lesbian) relationships.


Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova just came out this fall and it’s the first in a YA trilogy called Brooklyn Brujas. We meet the main character, bisexual teenage bruja Alex, on the eve of her 16th birthday and her Deathday, a bruja’s coming-of-age ceremony. Unfortunately for Alex, who doesn’t actually want to be a witch anyway, her spell to try to rid herself of her powers goes horribly wrong and she ends up sending her entire family to Los Lagos, an alternate realm full of vicious creatures and danger at every turn. Of course, she has to go save them. Although not typical high fantasy in some ways, I think what makes Labyrinth Lost fit here is the detailed, inventive, Latin American-inflected alternate world Córdova has built.


From Under the Mountain, by Cait Spivey

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Like Labyrinth Lost, From Under the Mountain by Cait Spivey is another 2016 first book in a series full of people of colour with meticulous world-building. It also features queer and asexual characters! Nineteen-year-old Guerline is the protagonist, a member of the royal house who has fallen in (forbidden) love with her lower class companion, Eva. This indiscretion is soon dwarfed, though, by Guerline unexpectedly becoming empress. She finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between the clans of witches charged with protecting her family and a council who believes these witches are actually waging a secret war against humans. Who can Guerline trust as her political control begins to slip from her grasp?


The Winged Histories, by Sofia Samatar

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Sofia Samatar released the second book in The Olondria series earlier this year and it sounds just as amazing as the first one, but with queer characters! It’s not essential to have read A Stranger in Olondria to pick up the latest book, The Winged Histories, but it will help you get a feel for the elaborate, diverse, beautiful, dark world Samatar has created. Olondria is a distant, book-loving land where war has broken out, and four women — a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite — are caught up in a violent rebellion. Each section explores the war from a different woman’s point of view, their haunting voices filling your mind. Samatar is fast becoming known for her exquisite writing as well as her sophisticated world-building.


The Quarter Series, by Tanya Huff

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Tanya Huff’s Quarter series is a classic now, having been first published in the 90s. You can either read it as four separate novels, as they originally came out, or in two omnibus editions, which contain two novels each. Either way, there’s lots to be enjoyed in this Canadian author’s elemental magic fantasy series where every character seems to be bisexual and polyamorous. There are both unforgettable characters and thrilling adventures to be had. This series was really revolutionary when it came out, with its non-tragic queer characters and matter-of-fact gender equality world and I think it still stands up today. If princesses becoming magical bards and assassin twins trying to track down lost bodies in a queer feminist world is up your alley, give it a try!

Okay, I know how hardcore fantasy fans (myself included) can be: tell me, what wonderful books did I dare leave off this list?


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Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and future librarian who holds an MA in English literature and is currently studying for an MLIS in Vancouver, BC. Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. Find her on Twitter.

Casey has written 13 articles for us.

130 Comments

  1. 0

    What a wonderful list! Thank you, Casey. This is the first I’ve heard of “The Way Of Thorn And Thunder” and it’s the book I didn’t know I was looking for right now. My library doesn’t have it, but I’m going to suggest they buy it – I’ve done that before and the collection development librarians are pretty open to input!

    I also enthusiastically second your recommendations of Malinda Lo’s books (“Huntress” and “Ash”). She excels at world building and rich characterization alike; her books are always moving and beautiful.

  2. 0

    I love Kushiel’s Dart! Phedra and Melisande are so hot together, even though Melisande is basically evil. But i loved that practically everyone is queer. I bought the Tanya Huff books, but found it hard to get into them. But they are still sitting on my shelf for another day.

    • 0

      Try some of her more recent stuff. If you are willing to read modern fantasy, that is really the genre where she excels most. Check out her Enchantment Emporium books (about a modern coven of witches who do magic by baking and having orgies, I mean come on!), or if you are willing to read sci-fi, the Valor series is perhaps my favorite sci-fi series ever created. It’s not super queer, but there is a hardcore female lead (like in ALL of Huff’s books) and an alien race who’s culture is “the most indiscriminately inthusiastic in the galaxy. Also they look like rainbow elves. Tanya Huff is one of my favorite authors, so I would highly reccomend checking out some of her less dated work.

  3. 0

    I have seriously considered getting a tattoo for the first Kushiel trilogy. And not just a copy of Phedre’s… like an actual new tattoo designed in accordance with the book’s lore to be personal to me because that’s just how much those books meant to me for a billion different reasons but mostly because of how powerful, intelligent, capable, and confident they make a very feminine, self-identified as submissive, kinky bisexual woman who chooses to be a sex worker. Not the kind of person who is usually allowed to exist in stories, let alone be the hero.

    “That which yields is not always weak.”

  4. 0

    Although they’re not strictly high fantasy, and they’re short on lesbian characters, having more gay male characters and trans characters, Storm Constanine’s books are worth a look. Hermetech deals with a character becoming very oddly trans and having multiple sets of genitalia implanted. The Wraethu (I think that’s right, it’s years since I’ve read them) series is about gay people becoming magical and taking over the world. There’s another series whose name I’ve forgotten about a fallen angel that resounds with bisexual characters.

    Some of them are short of female characters but I remember them fondly.

  5. 0

    Although they are urban fantasy instead of high fantasy, the Sarah Beauhall books (starting with Black Blade Blues) are pretty darn good!

    Norse mythology, blacksmithing, SCA people, dragons, and lesbian angst. Sometimes a little *too* much angst, and you can tell the author is still working on writing style in the 1st book (and, erm, writing a 20’s-aged character as an older author. It takes a few books before their references are less dated), but they do pick up, and are fully worth a read!

  6. 0

    Awesome list. I’m so happy to learn there are books I’ve never heard in this genre. It’s my favorite mix of things!

    One book that I actually found by accident, without knowing anything about the book, is Otherbound
    by Corinne Duyvis. It is half real world/half high-fantasy YA book that deals with disability in the real world side and has a bi girl protagonist on the high-fantasy side. It also talks about consent in a very interesting way (the real world protag gets visions through the eyes of the high fantasy protag whenever he closes his eyes, and she has no say in it.)

    If you are looking for speculative (sci-fi or fantasy) stories, Heiresses of Russ is a great anthology. The one from 2013 I believe has a great high fantasy story by Malinda Lo

  7. 0

    This is maybe a weird fit for both a high fantasy list and a queer fantasy list, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (and everything else she’s written). It’s a sort of post-apocalyptic high fantasy, and prominent side characters include a gay man and a trans woman (who’s in a relationship with another woman in the sequel), and also basically none of the characters are white. It’s also super depressing, so be warned, but it’s fantastic.

  8. 0

    Sooo many things I haven’t read on this list! So excited!

    They aren’t exactly queer (although there are queer auxiliary characters), but my favorite powerful girl YA high fantasy has always been the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore. I had to re-read all of them in quick succession after the election, they got me through it. The writing is so lovely and feminism, consent, the politics of physical power, main characters who know firmly and are at peace with the fact that they do not wish to become mothers, all sorts of amazing stuff is packed into those books. I just wish there were more of them!

  9. 0

    Oh my god I am so in love with all of those Jaqueline Carey books *heart eyes* Would recommend to everyone who loves world building (unless you don’t like to read about sex then these books are not for you)
    I would also like to recommend the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce. Its definitely fantasy with adventures. The first 4 books are definitely more children’s books but in the next quartet and rest of the books you come to find out that some of the main characters are queer/asexual and its definitely one of my all time favorites.

  10. 0

    Thank you so much for this! My partner and I have been having so much trouble finding audiobooks to listen to together!

    If one day you could come up with a list of suggestions of Urban Fantasy novels with queer ladies, that would be amazing! We just finished the 4-book Ayala Storme series (the main character is bisexual and another Mediator is a lesbian).

  11. 0

    I’d also recommend the Riverside series by Ellen Kushner and others. The books are Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword by EK, and The Fall of the Kings by Kushner and her wife Delia Sherman. There’s also a prequel series on Serialbox called Tremontaine, written by Kushner and a whole bunch of other people.

    Tremontaine definitely has the most queer ladies, but basically the entire cast of Swordspoint is bi. The entire world is more mannerpunk than high fantasy, but Fall of the Kings leans more in the fantasy direction. I’d describe the entire world as “Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde’s very queer baby, but with added swords”.

  12. 0

    So relevant to my interests! Although I’m technically more of a sci-fi nerd, I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy kick lately, and it’s always so nice to find books with queer characters!

    A few months ago I read “Thrall” by Barbara Ann Wright. The cover art was a little cheesy but I bought it on a lark and ended up really adoring it. It takes place in a magical Viking-esqe society, has witches and warriors, not to mention several lesbian and one trans woman character. I could wax on for a while, but spoilers! Also, I’m really hoping there’s going to be a sequel. I’ve ordered some of Wright’s other fantasy books, but haven’t gotten to them yet.

  13. 0

    All right, my queer fantasy recs are all a bit older, but I’ve loved many of these books (lesbian romantic fantasy). The LJ Baker ones are standalones, but the Lyremouth Chronicles was a great series of four books (I think) that built in a satisfying way with character development through the books (book one is entitled The Exile and the Sorcerer).

    Broken Wings by LJ Baker
    Lady Knight by LJ Baker
    Lyremouth Chronicles by Jane Fletcher

    There was also a book I read way back in middle school before my edge-of-rural, red state self knew was a lesbian was (seriously). I haven’t read it recently, so I can’t speak to any problematic parts of it, but I remember really loving it:
    Saber and Shadow by SM Stirling and Shirley Meier.

    I might also highly recommend the Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy by Elizabeth Moon. The main character is basically asexual. There is passing acknowledgement of queer relationships. Still, I loved this series to pieces. I love strong female protagonists!

    • 0

      +1 on Lyremouth Chronicles and also Jane Fletcher’s other series The Celaeno Series!

      The Celaeno Series is less high fantasy and more sci-fi adjacent – it’s set on a planet of all women, the descendants of a crashed spaceship, who have reverted to a medieval tech level society. They’ve also got some magical extra-sensory abilities thrown in there, so I feel like the tone and themes are still relevant to this list! I will say too for anyone looking for a high-brow literary experience that both of these series are primarily romance novels, for better or for worse.

      Also in the “sort of sci-fi in a medieval setting with a couple super powers” genre is Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite, which is a good read! It’s very similar to the Celaeno Series actually as far as world-building is concerned.

  14. 0

    Oh man, I’ve been meaning to read Daniel Heath Justice’s stuff for ages, and have never gotten around to it. With an Autostraddle endorsement, though, I can put it off no longer…
    I had him as a prof in undergrad, when he taught a Sci-Fi and Fantasy English Lit class. I expected it to be a just for fun class, but it ended up being one of the best classes I ever took. He’s the most ridiculously interesting, thoughtful guy 😀

    • 0

      Oh man, I’ve been meaning to read Daniel Heath Justice’s stuff for ages, and have never gotten around to it. With an Autostraddle endorsement, though, I can put it off no longer…
      I had him as a prof in undergrad, when he taught a Sci-Fi and Fantasy English Lit class. I expected it to be a just for fun class, but it ended up being one of the best classes I ever took. He’s the most ridiculously interesting, thoughtful guy 😀

      Also, him being a prof meant we could call him either Professor Justice or Doctor Justice… pretty fabulous.

  15. 0

    So glad to see Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories on this list alongside the usual suspects! I love that book, and all it does to dramatize women’s history in a fantasy world, so much.

    And now I have to track down Labyrinth Lost.

    Can anyone offer thoughts on Emmi Itaranta’s The Weaver (published outside the US as the City of Woven Streets) or her other books? I’ve been hearing fantastic things about it, but my library still has it on order!

      • 0

        That might be a bit of a spoiler!

        I happened upon The City of Woven Streets in my local library, and fell upon it because Finnish fantasy with bonus textiles is literary catnip for me. It then turned out to be even more relevant to my interests…

      • 0

        Like I said, I haven’t gotten my hands on the book yet, but reviews make clear that The Weaver revolves around a girl who falls in love with another girl, who is found mute and injured after an attack, and that the two of them team up to fight the powers that be in their fantasy nation.

        I also haven’t read Emmi Itaranta’s first book, The Memory of Water, but it got a lot of praise as a very feminist post-climate change dystopia. It might have queer content too for all I know.

  16. 0

    I HAD to pop in here and mention Elizabeth Bear – she is a little light on the lesbian characters side but her books are all amazing and have queer characters of many genders and colors, just literally read them all and thank me later. Especially Karen Memory, which is actually more steampunk fantasy set in an alt-history version of the Pacific Northwest but it’s just SO. GOOD.

    Also Indigo Springs and its sequel by AM Dellamonica have a lesbian and at least two queer main characters that I recall. Those aren’t necessarily high fantasy either but they’re still really good.

  17. 0

    Thank you for the list! I will buy one of these for my plane ride home, the only time i buy new books now. I was pretty bummed out reading the descriptions last time, just wanting a female protagonist. Queer would be amazing!

    Did not know Tanya Huff is Canadian!

    So is Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar tapestry starts off at the u of t, after all. (I should reread that)

  18. 0

    Django Wexlar’s “Shadow Campaigns” series has a really fantastic lesbian main character. These books aren’t high fantasy, but they do include magic (and, unfortunately, themes of colonialism which could be treated better). But each book adds more queer characters and more women, and seriously my favaorite lesbian character in recent memory.

      • 0

        U can no tell me how to manifest mah dysgraphia!

        But yes some of my mind is indeed captured by those books because they remind me of the built worlds in my head I can’t write down save for encyclopedic entries and the stories I feared no one would want to read because they weren’t Mid-Western Eurocentric and complicated heavy stuff.
        Like genocide, the impact of colonialism, nationalism, military occupation and slave revolts.

        But sayings like “By the Divine Ones” “Oh for the love of the Divinities” and “By the Teachers” I figured all the happy and sad queers would enjoy.
        Because “By the Gods” is so androcentric and it’s the 2nd decade of the 21st why should divine beings of worship or veneration have to be binary?
        And erotic side stories that add detail to fantasy world. 😛

        I understand fictional horrors help us prepare and deal the existence of real life terrible things, but I feel opening a story mid genocidal attack with genocide and colonialism as not just a theme but the story itself would widely unreadable.

        Still the presence of the above 8 books is inspiring and wonderful to me because they are diverse in a genre that can get too Eurocentric and simplistic even when attempting complexity.

  19. 0

    Thank you. Chris Anne Wolfe’s (completely underrated) Amazons of Aggar series and Roses and Thorns: Beauty and the Beast Retold book would fit this list perfectly.

    And “Of Fire and Stars” by Audrey Coulthurst. It’s a new book, I learned about it from Melinda Lo’s blog. It reminded me of her books and I liked it.

  20. 0

    YOOOOOO ya’ll need to get Diana River’s Hadra Series in your lives: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/487359.Diana_Rivers

    the Hadra, the central characters of the series, are anarchofeminist separatist brown warrior witch poly lesbian horsewomen. it’s got everything you need that is badass and fun but also healing and inspiring. elder love. privilege wrangling. world-building. soooooo much delicious outdoor sex scenes. adventure, intrigue, patriarchy smashin.’ trauma healing. horsecrazy indulgence for days. lesbian processing, scenes from every feminist org meeting you’ve ever been to, but in a fantasy world and actually always productive. Can’t recommend ’em enough.
    They’re mostly out of print unfortunately, but they’re the exact thing that I mourn not having when I was a kid. Please let’s all read them together

  21. 0

    Have you read the Shadow trilogy by Lila Bowen? An amazing bisexual, biracial transman native protagonist in a reimagined Old West. It doesn’t sugarcoat but it doesn’t skimp on some beautiful romance and magic either. Truly, truly one of my faves.

    Gotta add Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, which has a feminist world and bisexual heroes. Also Max Gladstone’s Craft sequence, especially Full Fathom Five with its trans character and lots of nuanced writing about appropriation and colonization.

  22. 0

    Some other good stories to consider!

    Ice Massacre and Ice Crypt! Lesbian pirate and mermaids plot. Very awesome, 3rd book cones out next year I think?

    The Abyss Surrounds Us! Also kind of lesbian pirates, but one is trained to fight pirates and the other is a pirate.

    • 0

      Autostraddle is a site made by and for queer WOMEN. I’m sure one of the hundreds of blogs and websites run by and for queer males has a list of gay male protagonists in fantasy literature.
      Despite reading being stereotyped as a feminine persuit, white makes continue to dominate the publishing industry. This list is about female representation and nonwhite representation as much as it is about queer representation.

    • 0

      Seriously? I’m like 90% sure you’re trolling me but I can’t resist a queer fantasy challenge:

      The Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling, Kai Ashante Wilson’s FABULOUS novellas Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and A Taste of Honey, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, Doctrine of Labyrinths and The Bone Key by Sarah Monette, the Charm of Magpies series by KJ Charles, the Whyborne & Griffin books by Jordan L. Hawk, A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear, Death by Silver by Melissa Scott, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

  23. 0

    The Second Mango by Shira Glassman is a cool ya fantasy book. It’s on the short side, but it’s a very refreshing take on fantasy. Lesbian queen goes on a quest to find a girlfriend. Also, she has allllllll the food allergies. It’s cute / easy reading with a happy ending.

  24. 0

    Thanks so much for this list! I’m slowly making my way through it, and it’s helped to reignite my passion for reading.

    I started with From Under the Mountain, and checking out the author on Goodreads, I found that he no longer uses the name, Cait, and instead writes under the name, C. M. Spivey and is known now as Cal since he came out as trans. Just thought you might want to make a note.

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