As a reader surviving the pandemic, I have devoured escapist reads. For me, that has always entailed diving into fantasy novels, being transported to new worlds, and finding space to breathe, imagine and dream. Here are five queer young adult fantasies that helped me escape this past year, and I hope that other Sirens will enjoy them as much as I did!
Emanuela is in the midst of many plans when the omen summoning her to death in the city’s water tower appears on her skin—like marrying her childhood best friend so that both of them can live their best gay lives outside of their society’s scrutiny. But when the watercrea, the priestess in charge of creating water from blood, captures Emanuela at her wedding, she has to fight back, mostly for herself, but if she ends up saving the other residents of her city, Emanuela considers that a bonus.
Beyond the Ruby Veil was an utter delight from cover to cover. The premise of a fantasy world where water could only be made from blood intrigued me. It’s a fast-paced, short read, and it was refreshing to read a protagonist so singularly focused on her own desires. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel in 2022!
Princess Yzabel is cursed. With one touch, anything she tries to eat turns to roses. She’s slowly starving, a constant reminder of the pain her people face. She longs to reverse her curse and turn flowers into food. And when she meets a beautiful enchantress, it seems like she may have found the answer to her prayers and the secret dreams of her heart.
A Curse of Roses is a unique historical fantasy novel based on Portuguese hagiography, on a legend that has historic roots in the author’s hometown. I was fascinated by the blend of thirteenth-century Catholicism and magic, intricately researched history, and new possibilities as Yzabel struggles to come to terms with her sexuality.
Hidden from the world and confined due to her poisonous touch, Princess Soraya is desperate for freedom and to be seen as anything other than a monster. So much so that she is willing to free a demon to attain it. But her decisions lead to terrible outcomes, and Soraya starts to question if she was previously monstrous, or if her choices made her who she is.
Melissa Bashardoust has been one of my authors to watch since I read Girls Made of Snow and Glass a few years ago. Her prose is stunning, word-perfect and vivid, and there were twists in this novel I never saw coming. It was honestly everything I wanted in a queer monster fairy tale.
When Ari was a child, her best friend drowned in front of her. Years later, Ari still blames herself for being unable to save Alex. When Ari is bitten by a venomous snake, the shade who comes to escort her to the underworld is none other than her deceased friend. Will the girls be able to navigate the afterlife to save each other and return to the living?
This book is such a sweet sapphic portal fantasy! It’s set in two worlds: a rural town on the Australian coast, and an afterlife inspired by the Greek underworld. The meeting of the two worlds was so fascinating, and I adored both of the generous, witty, and self-sacrificing main characters. From Darkness is a fabulous debut novel that deserves more attention.
A historical fantasy retelling of the legend of Dracula, told from the perspective of two of his brides-to-be. Seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured by a sadistic boyar and stolen away from their home to serve in his castle. While working in the castle kitchens, Lil meets Mira, an ethereal girl she feels immediately drawn to. But when her sister catches the eye of the notorious Dragon prince, Lil will do whatever she must to save what remains of her family.
The best word I can think of to describe this book is ‘haunting!’ I went into it not knowing it was a Dracula retelling, or a prequel to the Bram Stoker novel. This is not a happy tale, but the writing is beautiful and compelling. It also features a strong sister bond and twisted ending that will leave you reeling!
Julia Ember is the author of The Seafarer duology and Ruinsong. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLit in medieval literature from the University of St. Andrews. She currently lives in Seattle with her wife, two cats and a very fluffy pony. When she isn’t working on her prose fiction, Julia writes for video and app games.