Sci Fi Friday: Phenomenal F-F-Fantasy

Nope, that’s not a typo. Today I’m going to highlight some f/f fantasy!

In a strange twist of wtf-how-did-they-find-that, a couple weeks ago Angry Robot tweeted my blog post Sapphics in Space (and Across Time), which was a wild day because my blog went a little haywire. I had over twice as many views/visitors in that day than I do in a regular week. Is this what it’s like to be popular?

Am I cool now?

That was rhetorical

Off and on I’ve been hearing (hell, I’ve even said) that there is a dearth of #ownvoices sapphic women in SFF. This is not true. There have always been queer women writing queer women in SFF, but they have been marginalized to a profound degree, to the point where it can be hard to find them, or the queer elements have had to be more subversive in nature.

Thankfully, this is less the case than say, five years ago, but it can still be a tough, and and most of the lists I’ve found are dominated by YA sapphic fantasy, which is having a moment and I love it but that’s not the point. The point is that it can be hard to find adult f/f fantasy not written by cis men.

Hence this list, which is more a starting point than the be-all-end-all of queer women in fantasy.

This list is limited to fantasy for adults (or adult fantasy if you get your mind out of the gutter), and I tried to ensure it was as ownvoices as possible, because, quite frankly, I grow weary of finding glowing recommendations on sapphic women written by male authors. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, because while I love many queer protagonists written by cis men (P. Djèlí Clark, you can write as many queer women as you like, you’re the best, and uh, Robert Jackson Bennett you really surprised me, and Django Wexler…you tried), the ones who are badly written are um, a lot (specifically, *rhymes with Byke Bowl*’s cringe-worthy description of an almost a woman grown lesbian’s first sexual encounter) and I am just not interested on reading queer women through the male gaze (again, P. Djèlí Clark is the exception). There are a couple recs in here written by nonbinary authors—their inclusion is because they write awesome queer women characters.

Also, I define fantasy here in terms of is there magic, as the genre itself is very, very vast and has a lot of competing definitions and subgenres that tangle themselves into a snarled ball of what-the-fuck-is-this (steampunk vs gaslamp fantasy, for example, where do you draw the line).

Some great resources: The Lesbrary’s amazing post The Sapphic Fantastic, Bookriot’s 20 Books That Put the F/F in SF/F. Also Goodreads’ Lesbian Fantasy List, F/F Paranormal and Urban Fantasy List, 2021 Queer SFF, WLW Fiction by Authors of Color and this Mega Page of Sapphic Lists. For queer/lesbian retellings, check these lists: LGBT Retellings of classic Fiction/Fairy Tale/Myth, Lesbian Retellings and Lesbian Fairy Tales.

Want to read YA sapphic and/or f/f fantasy? Check out these posts: Brown Geek’s 12 Must-Read Sapphic Fantasy Books of 2020, The Quiet Pond’s 23 Books with Sapphic & F/F Rep To Brighten Your Reading During Pride Month!, Reads Rainbows’ Sapphic YA Fantasy.

Any errors are my own. All blurbs are from Goodreads.

Anywho, here are some recent favorite f/f relationships in fantasy! Enjoy!

Epic/High Fantasy

*This is a very loose definition of epic/high fantasy*

The Unbroken by CL Clark (March 2021)

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.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (2020)

Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston (2020)

The world is changing. Poison desert eats good farmland. Once-sweet water turns foul. The wind blows sand and sadness across the Empire. To get caught in a storm is death. To live and do nothing is death. There is magic in the world, but good conjure is hard to find. Djola, righthand man and spymaster of the lord of the Arkhysian Empire, is desperately trying to save his adopted homeland, even in exile. Awa, a young woman training to be a powerful griot, tests the limits of her knowledge and comes into her own in a world of sorcery, floating cities, kindly beasts, and uncertain men.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (2014)

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself. In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

The Raven and the Reindeer by T Kingfisher (2016)

When Gerta’s friend Kay is stolen away by the mysterious Snow Queen, it’s up to Gerta to find him. Her journey will take her through a dangerous land of snow and witchcraft, accompanied only by a bandit and a talking raven. Can she win her friend’s release, or will following her heart take her to unexpected places? Also not exactly epic fantasy—this is a fairy tale retelling, and there are a bunch of great queer fairy tale retellings.

Among Thieves by MJ Kuhn (September 2021)

For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept Ryia in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated. Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.

Stormsong by CL Polk (2020)

Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There’s revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What’s worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace’s heart. This is Book 2 in The Kingston Cycle Trilogy. The first book, Witchmark has a mm pairing and the last book has a f/nb pairing. Also, this is more gaslamp than epic.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera (2017)

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests. Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (2020)

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (2020)

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands. Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (June 2021)

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin. Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides. But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. 

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by CM Waggoner (2021)

Hard-drinking petty thief Dellaria Wells is down on her luck in the city of Leiscourt—again. Then she sees a want ad for a female bodyguard, and she fast-talks her way into the high-paying job. Along with a team of other women, she’s meant to protect a rich young lady from mysterious assassins. At first Delly thinks the danger is exaggerated, but a series of attacks shows there’s much to fear. Then she begins to fall for Winn, one of the other bodyguards, and the women team up against a mysterious, magical foe who seems to have allies everywhere. Not epic fantasy but…semi-steampunk/gaslamp secondary world?

Alternate History

Grey Dawn by Nyri A Bakkalian (2020)

The year is 1862. Driven by a leading from the Spirit, Chloë Parker Stanton leaves the woman she loves to enlist in the Union Army and fight for abolition in war as she has in the streets of Philadelphia. At home, her lover, Leigh Hunter, eagerly awaits Chloë’s letters, anxious to hear of her survival without discovery, for women are not allowed to wear the Union blue. Three days after Gettysburg comes the news: the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry has survived, but Chloë Stanton is missing, presumed dead. The year is 2020. Sergeant First Class Leigh Hunter came of age during her seventeen-year stint in uniform. Since childhood, she’d been drawn to the Army in search of something, all the while fighting her inner truth as a trans woman. She was quickly recruited by the Joint Temporal Integrity Commission, a new, secretive government agency tasked with intercepting temporal refugees and integrating them into present-day society, and is entrusted with a special assignment: personal custody of a Pennsylvania cavalry soldier from three days after Gettysburg. Her name: Chloë Parker Stanton.

A Dowry of Blood by ST Gibson (2021)

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.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow (2020)

n 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner (April 2021)

Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars. When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village. Rabbi Isaac and his family are forced to flee, to abandon their magic and settle into a new way of life. But a dark fog is making its way across Europe and will, in the end, reach even those who thought they could run from it. Each of the sisters will have to make a choice – and change the future of their family forever.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl (2016)

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (June 2021)

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her. But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Contemporary and/or Urban Fantasy

Deadline by Stephanie Ahn (2018)

Disgraced witch Harrietta Lee has made a lot of mistakes in her life; there’s a reason she’s got a sizable burn scar slapped across the side of her neck and a formal letter of excommunication from the international underground magical community. But who has time to dwell on the past when you’re trying to make rent in New York? Things are mostly clean and simple, until her next odd job is brought to her by a representative of a powerful corporate family—a family she once had close personal ties to. As she unwillingly digs through six years’ worth of personal baggage, she’s also got to contend with an inhuman admirer shadowing her in the street. But hey, maybe it’ll be worth it for the beautiful women she gets to kiss…

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (May 2021)

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.

Indigo Springs by AM Dellamonica (2009)

Indigo Springs is a sleepy town where things seem pretty normal . . . until Astrid’s father dies and she moves into his house. She discovers that for many years her father had been accessing the magic that flowed, literally, in a blue stream beneath the earth, leaking into his house. When she starts to use the liquid “vitagua” to enchant everyday items, the results seem innocent enough: a “‘chanted” watch becomes a charm that means you’re always in the right place at the right time; a “‘chanted” pendant enables the wearer to convince anyone of anything… 

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper (October 2021)

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one–in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoor, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams. But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Violet; and get back to her real life in Chicago. On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov–an all-around badass adept in the arts of divination–who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoor. 

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (May 2021)

Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world. But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

Rise of the Gorgon by Tanai Walker (2015)

When a friend and troubled army veteran kills himself, independent Internet journalist Elle Pharell goes to Kuwait to investigate the mysterious private security firm he strangely does not remember working for until the day of his suicide. Elle hires brilliant interpreter Cass Hunt to help navigate the area. In a remote desert village, they find everything abandoned and no one to tell the story of what happened save one crazed local. Elle discovers a conspiracy involving the testing of biochemical weapons on civilians turning them into zombies.

Novellas, Anthologies, and Other Cool Shit

The Fireheart Tiger by Aliette De Bodard (2021)

Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace. Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda. The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology ed by Joamette Gil (2017)

POWER & MAGIC is a comics anthology about queer witches of color for teens and adults ages 14-and-up. The book is over 160 pages long, black and white, and contains 15 original stories blending fantasy, drama, humor, and romance. This is utterly fantastic, and I absolutely loved the wide array of stories and story-telling. Definitely a must-read. The artwork is all great, the stories are fantastic, everything about this is perfection.

Burning Roses by SL Huang (2020)

When Rosa (aka Red Riding Hood) and Hou Yi the Archer join forces to stop the deadly sunbirds from ravaging the countryside, their quest will take the two women, now blessed and burdened with the hindsight of middle age, into a reckoning of sacrifices made and mistakes mourned, of choices and family and the quest for immortality.

Hair to the Throne by Meredith Katz (2019)

The city of Flecton is ruled with an iron fist by Demon Prince Vehr, whose human citizens suffer under demonic enslavement and live in fear of her ever-watchful presence. The prince herself is never seen, living in her underground palace and sending demons to kidnap humans to serve her.

Ten years earlier, Merle’s best friend and closest confidante Abeille, a promising silversmith, was taken to Vehr’s palace. Now, Vehr seeks a hairdresser, and Merle’s a perfect fit. Surviving the hairy situation will take more than wits—it’ll take good people to rely on, old friends and new allies.

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages (2017)

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet. Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

Silk & Steel: A Queer Speculative Adventure Anthology ed by Janine Southard (2020)

There are many ways to be a heroine. Princess and swordswoman, lawyer and motorcyclist, scholar and barbarian: there are many ways to be a heroine. In this anthology, seventeen authors find new ways to pair one weapon-wielding woman and one whose strengths lie in softer skills. “Which is more powerful, the warrior or the gentlewoman?” these stories ask. And the answer is inevitably, “Both, working together!”

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (2020)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women. A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy. Yep, Nghi Vo is listed twice!

So what books did I miss? Let me know and I’ll add them in!

This list is brought to you by The Unbroken, because those arms were meant to be seen.

6 thoughts on “Sci Fi Friday: Phenomenal F-F-Fantasy

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