Recently the final book of a romantic fantasy trilogy was released. I had already read and enjoyed the first two books, which had come out a year apart; the third book took two more years. So when I bought the third book, I went back and re-read the first two, back to back, then plunged into the third.Recently the final book of a romantic fantasy trilogy was released. I had already read and enjoyed the first two books, which had come out a year apart; the third book took two more years. So when I bought the third book, I went back and re-read the first two, back to back, then plunged into the third.
The further I went into the story, the more difficult and the less enjoyable it became. While the first book introduced a pair of potential lover protagonists I liked and set up some delicious sexual tension between them, the second book separated them until the final chapters and ended on a cliffhanger. The third book took little if any time to resolve the sexual tension with a reunion and plunged into politics, intrigue, and battle. I vaguely remembered that when I bought the first book, I had thought of it as a romance, where the focus would be on the character development and emotional arc of the protagonists falling in love. Instead, the author became increasingly interested in the big picture, in world-building, and in magical and mundane fight scenes.
When I finished the trilogy, and contemplated having followed the hero and heroine through three books only to see them denied anything but a post-mortem happiness, literally, a reunion in a faery paradise, I was pretty disappointed. The author’s writing was good on the surface, but the story did not hold together well, and the romance had curdled by the end. There was something else nagging at me, however, which took a couple of days to surface. When I pinpointed it, it bothered me more than the deferral of the lovers’ happiness.
There was not a single queer character in any of the books. Not one.
Not a major character. Not a minor character. Not amongst the weird and decadent faery race. Not in the opera house where the heroine spent most of the second book. Not even a queer-coded backstage manager with flamboyant manners. Nobody. An entirely heterosexual world.
That, gentle readers, struck me as far more unrealistic, far more fantastic, than the premise of an arranged marriage between a human girl and a faery prince.
I thought back to two other novels I had read with a similar premise, Grace Draven’s Radiance and Eidolon. Again, an arranged marriage between a human woman, Ildiko, and a powerful prince, Brishen, member of a nocturnal, reptilian race called the Kai, leads to unexpected romance, as the protagonists transcend their races’ mutual repulsion at one another’s appearance. Ildiko and Brishen get lots of witty banter and steamy sex while the politics and magic of the plot roil around them. Moreover, many of the secondary characters, both human and Kai, are explicitly bisexual, with relationship histories involving members of both sexes. What is truly “queer” in this fictional universe is precisely the love which the protagonists have for each other, an attraction which crosses species boundaries and, on the physical side, might even be called kinky.
I’ve made a decision, then. I’m not reading any more fiction without queer people in it. Because I’m a queer person and I’ve no interest in living in a world without people like me. I’ve never lived in a world without queer people; such a thing doesn’t exist. As a child, my involvement in amateur theatre with my mother and the Episcopal Church on my own introduced me to gay men and to elderly women who were perfectly happy never having been married. Even when I was happily married to a man and identified as a heterosexual (well, sort of), we were surrounded by gay friends and lesbian co-workers. I certainly saw and interacted with trans people throughout my adult life, even though I didn’t make friends with any until recently. Tumblr is full of young nonbinary folks who happen to be interested in the same things I am, like pet birds or the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To bring back an old slogan, we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. I won’t accept stories where part of the world-building is erasing people like me. I’m not particularly interested in stories that erase Black, Latin, Native, Indian, or Asian people, either, because the world I live in has always contained those folks, too. Fiction should be richer than the real world, not poorer.