You used to love fantasy.
Every week, you withdrew stacks of books from the library, and return them the next, read from cover to cover.
But then you stopped reading. You couldn’t find any fantasy about gay characters.
The best you could scrounged up was hopefully a series that acknowledged the LGBT community existed.
I was in the same boat. For years, I thought gay fantasy didn’t exist. The best I could do was read fanfiction on the Internet, or scavenge the bookstore for the rare series that even mentioned LGBT characters.
And then, five years ago, I stumbled across my first gay fantasy series, and it changed my life.
But ‘existing’ and ‘easy to find’ are two different creatures. Finding my next read is like going on an easter egg hunt across a city: the treasures are too few and too dear.
That’s why I created this guide.
Whether you’ve already stumbled onto a few, or you’ve just found this genre exists, this guide will help you find the books you’ll love without the struggle.
What is gay fantasy?
For the sake of this list, gay fantasy is any fantasy story about a male gay character.
This isn’t to exclude protagonists in the rest of the LGBT community. There is a bigger world of LGBT fantasy — I’m just not very familiar with those books, so I’m focusing on gay men. (And if you have any recommendations, please comment below! I’d love to read them.)
Is gay fantasy about being gay?
Most gay fantasy has a theme about what it means to be a man attracted to other men in their particular world. Sometimes this is a small theme, and sometimes it blows up into massive consequences. But in other books, especially in worlds where being attracted to men isn’t particularly noteworthy, this theme doesn’t appear at all.
Also, keep in mind that the concept of gay as an identity is rather recent. Only in the late nineteenth century do some Western people start to develop this idea. Before then, an attraction to men was largely seen as something one did, not as who one was. (Read Strangers by Graham Robb for more information.)
Likewise, fantasy worlds don’t necessarily see ‘gay’ in the same way that we do, and never use the word ‘gay.’ (Except sometimes to mean ‘happy’.)
Fantasy worlds also allow a lot of room to experiment with different levels of acceptance and homophobia. The dreadful, homophobic world of The Steel Remains, for example, shows how homophobia has beaten down a hero that saved them from invasion. These kinds of worlds can show us how bad our own history was and provide a warning against returning there.
Or they might be like the world of Captive Prince, where the horror of children born out of wedlock means that people view unmarried sex with the opposite gender as a sin, and same-sex relations are the norm. These kinds of worlds examine the idea that homophobia was not inevitable in our history, but a product of our cultural beliefs. Things could have been different, and they could be different.
Or, like in our world today, some worlds show a variety of cultures who have different views on same-sex relations, like in Sacrati. The Torians see same-sex relations as normal, but their enemy views it as sinful and unnatural, setting up for cultural clashes between characters.
Is gay fantasy only for LGBT people?
Perhaps you noticed that my name (Olivia) isn’t particularly masculine. I’m not a gay man, or identify as LGBT.
I am a straight woman ally.
This would seem to make me unsuitable to write both this guide and gay fantasy.
But gay fantasy is my love, and dare I say, even my passion. I don’t think even if I wrote a book on it I could figure out why, and I’ve stopped trying. I just know that my life is infinitely better when I’m reading gay fantasy.
I sincerely believe gay fantasy is for everyone, gay or straight, male or female or questioning.
(Well, anyone who loves fantasy.)
Does ‘fantasy’ mean erotic?
By fantasy, I don’t mean those naughty situations that crop up when you search for ‘gay fantasy’.
These books take place in alternative world, whether a completely different world, an alternative historical period, or an alternative modern world.
We’re talking magic, dragons, assassins, swords, political intrigue. Everything that you can find in the fantasy section of your local bookstore or library, but with, you know, gay characters.
Isn’t this just romance disguised as fantasy?
Taking a look at Amazon’s Gay Fantasy bestsellers list, the genre can look frustratingly like a lot of paranormal romance and romance stories with fantasy trappings.
This is great news if you love romance, but not so much if you also want epic quests.
The proliferation of romance taking over LGBT fiction is hotly debated among writers and readers. I’m not going to get into that here (personally, I love a powerful romance sub-plot), but I will note when I recommend a book that’s more romance, or when you shouldn’t hope for that.
So now that we’re on the same page (yes, lame word play :), what should you start reading?
The 15 best books to start with
What it’s about: When John opens a letter addressed to his missing roommate, Kyle, he expects to find a house key, but instead he is swept into a strange realm of magic, mysticism, revolutionaries and assassins. Though he struggles to escape, John is drawn steadily closer to a fate he shares with Kyle—to wake the destroyer god, the Rifter, and shatter a world.
Why I love this: Even on the fifth re-read, I still tear through them. I have to find out what happens next! If that’s not a sign of a page-turning fantasy, I don’t know what is.
Ginn Hale paints an intriguing and nuanced picture of clergy and the role of homophobia and tyranny in religion.
The opening scene throws a LOT at you, but be patient. It will all become clear as you read.
I also highly recommend anything that Ginn Hale has written, like her Lord of the White Hell series.
Who it’s for: If you love epic the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again stories and evil religions, you will love the Rifter series.
What it’s about: The title says it all. Betrayed by his brother, Prince Damen is secretly gifted as a slave to the man with the most reason to hate him — the enemy crown prince, Prince Laurent.
Why I love this: The political intrigue. The two opposing characters plot three turns ahead, and what at first looks like a failure is actually a sly move — or the opposite. I’m usually quite good at predicting twists, but she throws me again and again.
Captive Prince started off as an original fiction serial, but fans loved it so much that she sold the trilogy to Penguin. (This was the first gay fantasy I read, so I owe a lot to her.)
Who it’s for: If you love epic fantasy and political intrigue, you will love the Captive Prince trilogy.
A stand-alone drama of manners, featuring an established couple.
What it’s about: On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless—until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.
Why I love this: There’s no sorcery in this, but plenty of swords. The world seems a lot like what you’d expect in Victorian or Regency times, crossing the divide between commoners and the political elite. The two main characters are swept up in the machinations of the court, as they plot against each other. Originally published in the ‘80s, it’s the earliest gay fantasy book I’ve read.
Who it’s for: If you love political intrigue and genius swordsmen, then you’ll love Swordspoint.
What it’s about: A reclusive scholar. A private detective. And a book of spells that could destroy the world.
When handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches Dr. Percival Endicott Whyborne to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of Griffin as quickly as possible. Instead, he’s drawn into the hunt for a merciless cult bent on resurrecting an evil necromancer from the dead…and finds himself falling in love with the impertinent detective. But will Griffin’s secrets cost Whyborne not only his heart but his life?
Why I love this: Whyborne, the protagonist, is a very shy and socially awkward person. Frankly, he’s adorable, and someone a lot of us readers can relate to. But he never lets his shyness get in the way of saving the world.
Lovecraft fans will especially love this series, as Jordan adopts a lot of his mythology. However, her characters’ prognosis is a lot more favourable: they tend to survive.
Who it’s for: If you love Lovecraft and shy protagonists, you will love Widdershins.
A Dark Fantasy trilogy that often strays into sci fi. The Steel Remains follow three different characters: a gay man, a lesbian woman and a straight man. Don’t expect any romance, though. Seriously, don’t.
What it’s about: Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don’t know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire’s slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives.
Archeth – pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race – is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire’s borders.
Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe’s petty gods.
Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.
Why I love this: Richard K Morgan dumps you into the deep end, and I’m half-convinced that the first two books exist solely to teach you about the world so you can fully appreciate it when he slams you over the head with the third and final book. And yes, reading two books so you can appreciate the third — totally worth the time investment. The third is just that good.
This world is highly homophobic. Like, really, truly, heart-wrenchingly homophobic. But the main characters are not, thank goodness, and show real strength of character in the face of it. The homophobia also contributes a lot to the theme of how the world breaks heroes it has no more need for.
Who it’s for: If you love intense, world-breaking epic fantasy, then you’ll love The Steel Remains.
What it’s about: In a nutshell, Lord Mouse is about a dark and dangerous professional thief whose next mission is to rescue a prince from the tower.
Why I love this: I like to compare Lord Mouse to The Steel Remains series, as Mouse starts off very similar to Ringil. But the novel lightens with a more fun adventure vibe and a happily ever after ending.
Who it’s for: If you love action adventure and romance, you will love Lord Mouse.
What it’s about: As an elite Sacrati fighter in the mighty Torian military, Theos is blessed with a city full of women who want to bear his children, and a barracks full of men proud to fight at his side and share his bed. He has everything he needs — until he captures Finnvid on a raid.
Finnvid is on a secret mission to prevent the Torian invasion of his homeland Elkat. Being enslaved by Torian soldiers wasn’t in his plans. Neither is his horrified fascination with the casual promiscuity of the Sacrati warriors. Men should not lie with other men — and he should not be so intrigued when they do. He definitely should not be most intrigued by the leader of the soldiers who captured him and plan to invade his home.
For Theos, everything would have been easier if the infuriating, lying, bewildering Elkati had never come into his life, but he can’t stay away. When betrayal and treachery threaten both their nations, they must work together to stop a war that could destroy their homes forever — even as they begin to question everything they’re fighting for.
Why I love this: The culture clashes. The Elkati are your traditional medieval homophobic and misogynistic culture. The Torian empire is run by women, with the men relegated to the distant barracks for military training (thus both genders eschew marriage and tend towards same-sex coupling unless they specifically want to make babies).
And thus, the scene is set for the most hilarious chapter I have ever read. I won’t spoil anything here, you really should read it. But for days after, I’d break into laughter just thinking about it.
Who it’s for: If you love romance and culture clashes, you will love Sacrati.
What it’s about: Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.
Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?
As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.
Why I love this: Liesmith starts off sedately, focusing on the developing romance between low-level IT support Sigmund and the new, strange guy starting in his department. But something just isn’t right about him. He tells false stories with such aplomb, that Sigmund can only tell he’s lying by a special gift.
And then it ramps up to a cataclysmic, earth-shattering, plot-twisty climax!
I particularly liked how Loki has essentially invented an Apple-like corporation.
Who it’s for: If you love urban fantasy and Norse mythology, Liesmith is for you.
What it’s about:
Why I love this: For a story that mostly takes place during the Trojan War, there’s not a lot of fighting actually depicted. So if you’re looking for epic battles, this one isn’t for you.
But the real beauty of this book is how Madeline Miller infuses these sweet and tender scenes between them with such sad presentiment. The further I got into the book, the more I had to slow down. I knew where this book ended. So did Achilles and Patroclus.
Who it’s for: If you’re ready for melancholy and a story of love in the shadow of doom, The Song of Achilles is for you.
What it’s about: Mélusine-a city of secrets and lies, pleasure and pain, magic and corruption, and destinies lost and found…
Felix Harrowgate is a dashing, highly respected wizard. But the horrors of his past as an abused slave have returned, and threaten to destroy all he has since become.
As a cat burglar, Mildmay the Fox is used to being hunted. But now he has been caught by a wizard. And yet the wizard was looking not for Mildmay, but for Felix Harrowgate…
Thrown together by fate, these unlikely allies will uncover a shocking secret that will link them inexorably together.
Why I love this: Like The Steel Remains, Sarah Monette throws you into the deep end in an incredibly rich and detailed world. Even how they measure years is different (in sevens). History and fables gets interwoven with what’s currently happening. And both the main characters, Felix and Mildmay, have such unique, differing and strong voices. First person was made for them.
But this isn’t your typical epic fantasy either. They don’t save the kingdom by the end of the book. They barely save themselves.
Who it’s for: If you love a different kind of epic fantasy and really delving deep into the mythology of the world and the mechanics of magic, then Melusine is for you.
What it’s about: Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Why I love this: Think Harry Potter, but starting in their final year and with modern technology like cellphones and cars.
This isn’t a coincidence. Carry On started off as the fanfiction the main character in Rainbow’s Fangirl struggles to finish.
But then Rainbow actually wanted to write it — and she wanted to write it as how she would write it, not the way her character would or the fictional author.
It takes a fair amount of time into the book to learn why it’s on this list, but then all becomes clear.
Who it’s for: If you love Harry Potter or the Magicians, then you’ll love Carry On.
Yes, that is my name right there after the ‘by’. Obviously I love my own work and like to recommend it, so I focus on what readers say in their reviews. On the plus side, you can try this book for free.
The first book in a romantic fantasy trilogy.
What it’s about: A future king. A slave’s last hope. Can a sacrifice become something more?
Ilyas wants someone he can trust. As the heir to a great kingdom, all he can count on is the treachery of his younger brothers as he protects his future throne. When he receives his latest spoils of war, he meets a slave who’s different. A slave with a hidden agenda…
Jem is the last chance for his people. Shunned by his brethren, he yearns to save them with an impossible task: kidnap Prince Ilyas and sacrifice him to Jem’s Dark God. Against all odds, he captures the prince and carts him across the frozen wasteland.
Now Jem must keep Ilyas safe for the sacrifice and push down his urges to do more than protect the heir to the throne. Ilyas knows he can’t trust the slave, but he feels like he’s finally found a man he can love. As their attraction builds, they grow closer to a god that could destroy them both.
Why readers love this: Readers love the mythology of the world. If the gods were compassionate, why would you need to worship them to keep them from hurting you and your people?
Ilyas takes a little to get used to. He starts off as a proud arsehole, but as Jem challenges him in a battle of wills, Jem strips away Ilyas’ arrogance, revealing his own vulnerability.
Overall, Snowmancer is a fantasy that reads like a thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Also, demonic rabbits.
Who it’s for: If you love a bleak world and romance, then you’ll love Snowmancer.
With these 15 novels to try, you’ll get a great taste of what gay fantasy has to offer.
Which one are you going to try? Comment below; I’d love to know!
And if you’re a current reader, what books would you add to this list?