June is Pride Month, and as we all gear up to celebrate ourselves and our loved ones, it’s also time to celebrate the strides we have taken in the literary world of retellings! From all corners of the world, we have seen a rise in the representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ protagonists! While the days of sassy “token” characters are not over, we still have a lot to celebrate.
The current rise of fairy tale retellings has taken us by storm, and I have endeavoured to read and review some of the best-rated LGBTQ+ fiction! Please keep in mind that some of these stories feature a variety of ways in which to showcase queer characters. In some, the characters are struggling with gender identity as a main theme! In others, their queerness is an accepted part of the society. So without further ado, please enjoy this list and everything that comes with it!
The girl knows she has a destiny before she even knows her name. She grows up in the wild, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake come to her on the spring breeze, and when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she knows that her future lies at his court.
Spear follows the tale of Peretur as she attempts to find her place in the world of King Arthur’s Round table, not as a damsel but as a knight. This gender-bent, Sapphic novella is a lush expression of adventuring, belonging, and mythology. The tale combines the Irish mythology cycle of the Tuatha Dé Dannan with Arthurian legends to weave a tale that only Nicola Griffith’s carefully researched writing style can pull off! This novella is not an easy read and demands your full attention! I highly recommend reading Griffith’s afterword and notes.
No Man of Woman Born
A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess labouring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.
No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll answers the question of how trans and non-binary folk fit into the stereotypically gendered fantasy scenarios. There are seven short stories that play with the genres of prophecy, sacrifice, true love, wish giving and more! While not every story will appeal to everyone, it has enough variety to keep you interested. Ana Mardoll’s writing is captivating, tear-jerking and emotional in a beautifully familiar way.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.
In When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, the cleric Chih has to travel through the Singing Hills, recording the lore and myths. While travelling with mammoth riders, they come across a trio of tigers and barter their lives in exchange for stories. Nghi Vo writes beautifully and highlights the importance of oral storytelling traditions. We hear the same story retold from two perspectives with two varying interpretations. I found Chih to be a likeable narrator, with their dry wit, passion and comedic timings!
Silver in the Wood
There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads. When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.
The British legend of the Wild Man comes to life in Emily Tesh’s Silver in the Woods. Tobias has a dark, haunting quality to him that is tempered with Silver’s gentle kindnesses. This is a truly charming, slow burning read that makes you want to disappear into the woods to find a gentle sort of love and rebirth. Silver and his mother’s folkloric background adds an interesting element as well and sets up the monster hunting sequel, Drowned Country.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero
In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle—and Cherry. But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.
Isabel Greenberg’s The One Hundred Nights of Hero is a graphic novel that combines storytelling and stories in a strange, uncanny, whimsical, and dark way. The two women find comfort in each other and the readers find comfort in old stories retold. This is a wonderland for folklore and fairy tale lovers.
This Poison Heart
Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch. When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her moms decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.
This Poison Heart was a fun read, and it was interesting to read a story centred on Greek mythology/the Secret Garden that mainly featured female characters of colour. As I was reading, there was frustration with the pacing and plot holes, which is similar criticism I had for Kalynn Bayron’s debut novel, Cinderella is Dead. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the older characters and the premise of the book!
So this is Ever After
Arek hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he completed the prophecy that said he was destined to save the Kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler. So now that he’s finally managed to (somewhat clumsily) behead the evil king (turns out magical swords yanked from bogs don’t come pre-sharpened), he and his rag-tag group of quest companions are at a bit of a loss for what to do next.
F.T Lukens So this is Ever After takes on the interesting angle of “what next?” when it comes to defeating the big bad and worrying about the next big thing. The story definitely felt young adult with miscommunication being a driving factor in the romance plot line. However, despite that, it had lots of chaotic, witty, and straight up hilarious moments. The elements of Arthurian legend make a great backdrop to this otherwise fantastical world!