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Fiction round-up, LGBTQ+ YA fantasy
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2018-12-05

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As winter blows into Chicago—and freezing temperatures with it—the temptation to curl up in front of the fire with a good book is strong.

As the world burns with political dissent, the desire to escape to another world is equally strong. Since Harry Potter burst onto the literary scene in 1997, the world of young adult ( YA ) fiction has bewitched as many adults as teenagers. Here are five fantasy novels featuring LGBTQ+ characters and authors to spark your imagination and warm you from the inside out.

1. The Seafarer's Kiss—Julia Ember ( $15.99; Interlude Press; 224 pages )

Three words: queer Little Mermaid. Julia Ember is a bisexual, polyamorous Chicago native who now calls Edinburgh, Scotland home. The Seafarer's Kiss is her sophomore novel, the tale of Ersel, an independent 19-year-old mermaid who rescues, and subsequently falls in love with, a stranded shieldmaiden named Ragna. Trouble arises when Ersel's childhood paramour gives an ultimatum, and the mermaid makes a deal with mythic troublemaker Loki whose motives are never what they seem. Ember's poetic voice gives this fresh take on an old classic a distinctive lilt, and Ersel's epic quest for true love is one for the fantasy canon.

2. Mask of Shadows/Ruin of Stars—Linsey Miller ( Mask: $10.99; Sourcebooks Fire; 322 pages ) ( Ruin: $17.99; Sourcebooks Fire; 370 pages )

Mask of Shadows and its recently-released companion, Ruin of Stars, are a duology featuring a genderfluid protagonist ( a recent and welcome trend in YA literature ). Sal Leon is a skilled highway robber but longs for something more than the next heist. When Sal learns of a competition to join the Queen's personal assassin team, they see it as a golden opportunity—but the stakes are high and the competition deadly. Will Sal live to attain their real goal: revenge against the nobles who destroyed their family? Both books are an exciting rabbit hole with a compelling main character who will stop at nothing to achieve greatness.

3. Black Wings Beating—Alex London ( $17.99; Macmillan/Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; 432 pages )

Brysen will stop at nothing to protect the boy he loves, even trap the most dangerous game. In the world of Black Wings Beating, both birds of prey and the falconers who control them are treated with the utmost reverence. As Brysen and his asexual sister Kylee set out to catch the deadliest bird of all, the Ghost Eagle, they find themselves on a fantastic and often surprising journey. Gay author Alex London is a former journalist who reported from refugee camps and conflict zones overseas before setting up permanent camp in the States. Black Wings Beating is the first in the Skybound series and will leave readers hungry for the next installment.

4. The Spy With the Red Balloon—Katherine Locke ( $17.99; Albert Whitman; 368 pages )

Based just outside Chicago, Albert Whitman & Company's YA offerings have a universal appeal. Author Katherine Locke's The Girl With the Red Balloon, was a hit for Whitman, garnering prestigious acclaim. Its recent companion, The Spy With the Red Balloon, follows queer Jewish siblings Ilse and Wolf as they navigate the violent and complex landscape of World War II. Both are blackmailed into using their magical powers into building the atom bomb for America and going undercover to sabotage Germany's nuclear war efforts. Locke's plotting is magnificent and their prose thoughtful and empathetic, making for a wild ride through one of history's darkest times.

5. The Brilliant Death—Amy Rose Capetta ( $18.99; Penguin Young Readers; 352 pages )

Amy Rose Capetta's debut YA novel Echo After Echo was a captivating tale of intrigue, murder and same-sex romance set against the backdrop of Broadway. Her latest, The Brilliant Death, combines magical realism and fantasy with the same page-turning suspense.

Teodora and Cielo are both shape-shifting stregas ( witches ), mastering their powers in a nation harshly controlled by powerful Mafia families. But when an attack leaves Teo's father in a coma, she must make her way to the national palace to fight for what is rightfully hers. Both Teo and Cielo are genderfluid, their love story as integral to the action as their adventures in shape-shifting. The Brilliant Death has received glowing reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and Barnes and Noble Teen, and is a welcome new addition to any queer fantasy collection.


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