Title: The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1)
Author: Mike Brooks (no relation to me; though in addition to sharing the same last name, he identifies as queer and partially deaf, while I am gay and hard of hearing. I promise you we are not the same person.)
Are there LGBTQ+ characters? Several, but none are (at this point in the series) point of view characters. There is also a fair amount of playing with pronouns.
Brief summary / book review: One of the first things I like to do when I get a book, especially if it’s been out for a while, is to look at the year it was published. Context matters a whole lot. Let’s take two examples: “The Forever War” was written in the 1970s, while “The City We Became” came out in 2020. Why does that matter? “The Forever War” is about the sense of alienation the main character feels in experiencing how his home has changed while he was fighting a pointless, distant war; its potency lies in the fact that it is a clear analogy for the Vietnam war. When “The City We Became” hits a certain age, readers will have to place the context in which Jemisin was writing the book to better understand the crystalline rage that’s threaded throughout, and her sharp critiques of racism, capitalism, police brutality, and more. Her book was written in response to a very specific moment.
So what does this have to do with “The Black Coast”?
Mike Brooks tells us in the author’s note for “The Black Coast” and elsewhere that the book really came about because of Brexit. On his website, he wrote:
There might be some reasonable arguments for Brexit, although they seem harder and harder to find these days, but certainly the campaign for it felt dominated by xenophobia and intolerance: attitudes which I feel have only become more prominent in my country in the time since. The Black Coast became a way for me to deal with that, by writing about two cultures who have clashed in the past, and certainly have deep-seated differences, but which are capable of nonetheless learning to appreciate each other, and move beyond old hatreds to forge a new understanding and mutual benefit.
With that context in mind, it changed the way I approached the book. I had heard there was some LGBTQ+ representation, and I’m a sucker for good political fantasy involving complex palace intrigue, but knowing what had inspired the author gave me an indication that this wouldn’t be a “Game of Thrones”-esque story, but one about how people can actually live together, and what happens when cultures clash.
That’s not to say there aren’t fight scenes or dragons — there’s plenty of both in this book! (Even if the dragons are more like dinosaurs than the flying beasts we’re more used to.)
Part of the culture clash concerns gender and sexuality. One group of people accepts homosexual relationships while the other doesn’t; another culture has five genders and six forms of address, expressed through the use of diacritics (e.g. “yòu” or “mê”).
If the plot isn’t quite as propulsive or page-turning like, say, “Game of Thrones,” it’s because Mike Brooks wants to explore the ways in which people find friction with other cultural groups, and discover ways to move past those pain points. It’s a pointed reaction against the xenophobia he saw and experienced during the Brexit campaign. It’s a story that shows how people mostly just want to live their lives in peace and keep their families safe and provided for, and how ignorance, intolerance, and blind hatred only make things worse, and not better. That if we as a people simply worked just a little harder to understand the world around us, and applied even just the slightest amount of empathy, we would all be far better off.