Title: A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding #1)
Author: Freya Marske
Are there LGBTQ+ characters? I mean, duh. Just look at that fabulous, fabulous cover.
Brief summary / book review: So, the purpose of this “Are There LGBTQ+ Characters” series is to let people know if the book contains actual gay characters in whatever I’ve read, which isn’t always apparent in book blurbs, reviews, or synopsis. In this case, all you need to do is read the dust jacket and it’ll tell you outright, yes, there are gay characters. Specifically, there are two point of view characters, both of whom are gay and undergo the frenemies-to-lovers journey (again, this is not a spoiler! The dust jacket is pretty clear on this).
And judging by the 5/5 rating I gave it, you probably already know I really liked this book. What remains, then, is looking at why this book is so good, from my perspective. What makes this one in particular tick, when there are other LGBTQ+ stories that don’t quite measure up as well? What makes a good story, a good story?
“In & Out” and “The Birdcage” are two movies that are intertwined in my heart as the best gay comedies of the ’90s. While they have a few similarities — both feature protagonists on the run from the media; both dissect what it means to be a man; “Spartacus;” Jay Leno cameos as himself as host of the Tonight Show; and “In & Out” even directly references “The Birdcage” — they are really quite different. “The Birdcage” is more unabashedly gay, while “In & Out” is about a man coming to grips with his sexuality.
But of the two of them, “The Birdcage” has attained a sort of legendary cult status, while “In & Out” has faded into obscurity, and I’m here to make the case that the latter deserves as much love as the former. What sets “In & Out” apart from “The Birdcage” is that despite the latter being gayer in terms of tone and style, “In & Out” is much better in conveying queer acceptance and foreshadowing greater acceptance of gay life in America in the coming years.
Author: Brian Jacques
Are there LGBTQ+ characters? No. Not in this book, nor in any of the other books in the series (I have read a good chunk of these as a teen, but not all of them; still, I feel comfortable in saying that there are exactly zero queer characters in the entirety of the Redwall Saga).
Brief summary / book review: Let’s get one thing out of the way: These mice fuck.
I’m not saying that to be snarky or rude or anything, but it’s true. Matthias, the main character, is a boy mouse. He is smitten with Cornflower, a girl mouse. Multiple characters tease them about their blossoming relationship and quite openly egg them on into marrying each other.
Ergo, these characters are mice who are encouraged to engage in sexual intercourse. In the sequel, they have a child, so it is clear that they have carried out their mandate (or is it mousedate?) and have done, as the kids say, the nasty.
Now that we’ve gotten the procreating habit of fictional mice out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the book and series at large, shall we? (One mild spoiler ahead for this book, and for another book in the series, “Outcast of Redwall.”)
Review of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Can a bad ending ruin a great book?
For much of this book, I was swept up in the story, and was delighted by all the considerable tools and tricks K.J. Parker brought to bear — brisk plotting, a vivid narrator, an entertaining cast of characters, sharp dialogue and some truly inspired twists and turns (the one featuring the Emperor comes to mind).
I was ready to give this book 5 stars and was going to heartily endorse it to everyone I knew…and then I finished the book.
Title: The Space Between Worlds
Author: Micaiah Johnson
Are there LGBT characters? Yes, the main character exudes Big Bi Energy
Brief summary / book review: Turns out there isn’t just one Earth, but close to 400. And they’re progressively slightly more divergent than our own. The “main” Earth is where everything is normal, where you have the life you live and the habits you’ve developed. But on Earth 1, you’ve made one key change. Maybe you’re happier. Maybe you’re sadder. Maybe you’re richer, or poorer; lonelier or more in love. And the further out you go, the more different you are. You might be a celebrity on Earth 30; a beggar on Earth 80. The you on Earth 150 might not even be alive.
And in this setting, the fewer versions of you that are alive, the more valuable you are to the Eldridge Institute. Why? Because the Institute has figured out a way to travel to these alternate Earths, and if you’re still alive when you go visit, you’ll end up killing yourself.
Our main character, Cara, is dead on 372 of these alternate worlds.
Title: The City We Became
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Are there LGBT characters? Yes, several characters are queer. At least 3 out of the 6 main characters are on the rainbow spectrum.
Brief summary / book review: This book is freaking incredible. One of the things I loved the most about it was just that it *gets* New York. The avatar for Manhattan isn’t someone who was born there, but a transplant — someone who showed up in the city and 5 minutes later, became the city. Like, that’s just how it works. You don’t have to be born in New York to be a New Yorker. You are a New Yorker simply by *being* a New Yorker. Despite its real-life reputation, the city is welcoming. Possessive, even — once you become a New Yorker, that’s it, that’s all there is to it.
Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
(CW // Suicide — note: “The Goblin Emperor” does not contain references to suicide, but my notes in the review after the jump does)
Are there LGBT characters? Sure, there’s a gay character but he has almost no bearing on the plot. That’s not to say he isn’t an important, or in some ways critical, character, but his role is still relatively minor and besides, I would go so far as to say that rather than focusing on whether this character or that is gay, I am going to say that the spirit of the book is undeniably queer.
Brief summary / book review: CD Covington described Maia, our main character and Goblin Emperor, as a “pure cinnamon roll.” And you know what? She’s absolutely right. Because amid all the court politics and all the conniving and backstabbing that typically happens in stories like these, Maia isn’t a willing participant in the darker aspects of ruling. He doesn’t want to eliminate enemies (well, save one). He doesn’t want to hurt people. He doesn’t want punishment, or retribution, or anything like that.
No. His main goal? He just wants to make friends.
Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: T.J. Klune
Are there LGBT characters? It’d be a lot shorter to talk about what isn’t gay in this book. I mean, just look at the cover.
Brief summary / book review: Linus Baker is a middle-aged, overweight case worker who inspects orphanages filled with magical children, for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (known as DICOMY). He gets a special assignment from the hilariously named Extremely Upper Management to go visit a strange orphanage far from home. It’s a secluded place, filled with very dangerous magical children, including the son of Satan.
Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Are there LGBT characters? Yes, a principal point of view character
Brief summary / book review: Picture a noir gang story set in the 1940’s, in a city that’s Hong Kong-ish, and you get the general atmosphere of the book (note: I am way underselling it, but this is just meant to give you the gist). On Janloon, the Jade City in question, jade isn’t just a piece of jewelry, but a source of magic — magic that comes, of course, at a price. That price isn’t just the cost of doing business and running jade and doing what it takes to consolidate power in the city; it also exacts a price if you use it wrongly.
Even for those who are used to it, when they take off their jade, and put it back on later, they’ll have a brief moment of nausea, where it takes them a few minutes to get their bearings.
Reading this book was a bit like that. When I first started reading it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It took me a little while (about 50 pages or so) to land on the author’s wavelength, but once I did? Wow. Yeah, I loved it.
Title: A Brightness Long Ago
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Are there LGBT characters? Yes, one who is a major point of view character, and a secondary minor character.
Brief summary / book review: This is another one of Kay’s works set in the same universe as some of his previous works, such as the Sarantine Mosaic, Lions of Al Rassan, and Children of Earth and Sky. The setting is a riff off Renaissance Italy (named Batiara in this case) and takes place in various city-states that are clear analogues of cities like Venice, Florence, Milan, Rome, and Siena.
In my review for Children of Earth and Sky, I expressed a bit of frustration and disappointment with Kay’s portrayal of LGBT characters. Are things better in A Brightness Long Ago? Resoundingly, yes.