This year on r/Fantasy’s book bingo challenge, one of the squares is to read a book personally recommended from the r/Fantasy subreddit. I requested books with LBGTQIA protagonists and received so many excellent recommendations, that I couldn’t choose just one, so I read them all! Below are a few mini-reviews of the ones I enjoyed the most, so if you’re looking for new fantasy books to read, I hope one of these may catch your interest.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I’ll start with my favorite because I loved this one so unexpectedly much! I had seen this book recommended before, so it was on my radar, but once I found out it was urban fantasy, I had pushed it to the back-burner. This, however, was not the typical urban fantasy I was expecting. At least, not so far–there is a whole series which I will be reading quite soon. I suppose whenever I hear “urban fantasy” I start thinking about sexy vampires and brooding werewolves and furtive magic that needs to be hidden lest the “normal” people find out about it. Instead, this is more about a few eccentric teens who believe in psychic powers, ley lines and an ancient king who, when awoken, will grant a wish to the one who wakes him. That all should sound hokey, but it’s actually highly engaging. The characters felt real, with depth and growth and rough edges and realistic issues like having to attend school while solving a supernatural mystery. And the writing was just superb–beautiful prose, wonderful use of metaphor. I was hooked sooner than I thought I’d be and I couldn’t put it down. If I have one complaint, it would be that in my Reddit rec request, I had asked for LBGTQIA protagonists and at about 80% into the story, I realized I hadn’t actually seen any representation at all. Perhaps it comes in later books? Or actually, if Gansey turns out to be ace, that would be amazing. I suppose I don’t think that’s likely, though, based on some of the visions Blue was having. Thank you, Megan Dawn, for turning me onto this series!
American Hippo by Sarah Galley
This has such a bizarre premise that I was instantly intrigued by it. It’s an alternate American history based on a supposed real proposition to introduce hippopotami to the Mississippi river for both vegetation reduction and as an alternative to beef. Obviously, this never came to pass, but…what if? The best way for me to describe this book is to say that it’s like a wild west story, except with hippos instead of horses and swampy marshland instead of wide open prairies. That may sound strange, but it was riveting, fast-paced and brutal. I couldn’t put it down for a second.
One thing that concerned me at the outset was the fact that it was obviously an animal story and I tend to be very picky about those, but this one did it just right. Not everyone knows how deadly hippos are–they aren’t anything like docile livestock. They are fast, intelligent and deadly. Sarah Galley did an amazing job capturing both the grace and brutality of these creatures and told an amazing story of human-animal compassion alongside an action-packed gunslinging, riverboat caper (operation, sorry) main plot.
The other thing I really loved in this book was the representation. In my request, I asked for books with LBGTQIA protagonists and WOW did this book deliver! And even better, no one’s sexuality or identity was ever questioned, it was just accepted as unremarkably as the fact that everyone rode around on hippos. And while there was a romantic relationship or two, they never took over the plot and just occurred naturally in addition to the hippo riding, knife fighting and dam-blowing escapades. I can’t recommend this enough to people who love a good alt history story with animals and LBGTQIA rep.
Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
This was another book that had been on my radar for a while, so I was glad to finally have the perfect opportunity to read it. I love classic swords and sorcery, with rogues and bards and the whole classic adventure-fantasy feel, so this was a lot of fun for me. If I had one complaint, it was that it actually felt like two completely different stories mashed into one book. In the beginning, the protagonists steal something that didn’t seem too important, then get chased across the country for a while by bad guys who even get their own POV chapters, so the reader can see the lengths these guys are willing to go to to get their trinket back. Then the heroes get back to Seregil’s home, and that plot line almost vanishes. There are some hints towards it, but we don’t go back to the bad guys from that plotline. Instead, we’re introduced to a world of magic and politics and end up chasing down an entirely different goal (or maybe the plots ARE related to each other, but tie together in later books?).
But all that aside, I did enjoy both plots of this book and I’m intrigued enough to want to continue with this series. Really looking forward to some relationship development between Seregil and Alec!
Death by Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold
In my r/Fantasy request, I had said that I enjoyed The Magpie Lord trilogy and this book was recommended as being similar to those, and I have to say I absolutely agree. It’s historical fiction, but with the fantasy element that magic can be learned and credited in school–just like a law degree or an engineering certification, which was a fun twist I haven’t seen too often before. The story centers around a murder mystery that was carried out by an enchanted object, while the two main characters–one a licensed magician who occasionally helps the local police with magical crimes, the other a private investigator who sometimes works with petty criminals–come to terms with their feelings for each other in an era where “love who you love” is definitely not a thing. If I had one quibble with this, it was that I had guessed the “whodunit” fairly early in the story and was frustrated that the main characters didn’t even consider that person a suspect until it was nearly the end. I would have liked to have my suspicions challenged a bit more, I think. Otherwise, this is a great one for anyone who likes historical fantasy fiction.
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Having never read a fantasy of manners before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought it would feel a little slower paced, but actually this read fairly quickly. I really loved how the two main characters played off each other–Richard the patient yet badass swordsman who can take on any opponent and win; Alec with his wits and sharp tongue, who likes starting trouble. There was a lot going on, with complex background characters and political intrigue. While I enjoyed reading this one a lot, I feel like it could really benefit from a reread, just to nail down anything I missed on the first go-through. This book was enjoyable and a complete story in its own right, but what hit me the hardest was the final short story the author included at the end. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept. Definitely an exciting and fun read, especially if you’re looking for something with some lower stakes than usually found in high fantasy.
I hope there is something here that tickles your fancy and leads you to discover something new. I’m always on the look out for fantasy books with good representation, so if you have a favorite that I haven’t read yet, please tell me in the comments!