“She loved me as I loved her, fierce as a bloodied blade.” ★★★★★
Queen of Coin and Whispers is a sapphic YA fantasy novel by Helen Corcoran that focuses on political intrigue instead of magic. Corcoran has described Queen as “a low-fantasy novel with a historical basis,” because elements of the novel are inspired by Elizabethan spycraft, which is basically the coolest thing I’ve ever heard (check out this Twitter thread where she goes into more detail on her research).
Queen was one of my most anticipated Summer releases, and I was lucky enough to win a physical copy in a giveaway hosted by my friend Manon (aka @themaliciousreader). It took a few weeks to arrive via Book Depository, but once I started reading I devoured it in less than 48 hours and loved every minute of it!
Queen follows two leads alternating between their perspectives:
Lia is the newly ascended queen of a struggling kingdom. The throne she inherited has become mired in corruption, and she vows to right the wrongs of her predecessors and be the ruler her people deserve.
Xania is a member of the lower court who spends her days working in the royal treasury, biding her time until the opportunity arises to avenge her father’s death (which was, Xania suspects, actually a murder).
The paths of these two girls would normally not cross, but they find themselves working together (and eventually, developing feelings for one another) when their mutual friend, Matthias, recommends that Xania become Lia’s spymaster – a highly important, secretive, and dangerous position known as Master of Whispers.
I found myself totally immersed and invested in this world and the characters that inhabit it. Corcoran has developed an incredibly well thought out system of government, which I honestly found to be more interesting than many magic systems in high fantasy novels.
And we haven’t even truly discussed the romance yet! I absolutely loved Lia & Xania together, and I found myself squealing like a schoolgirl when Lia made the first move, flirting by loaning Xania a lesbian romance novel. Queen was a relatively slow burn, but not so slow that the characters don’t get together til the very end, which I appreciated.
My only real gripe is that Queen felt like it should have been a New Adult book. It didn’t click with me how young the two leads were until the scene on Xania’s eighteenth birthday, and it was honestly sort of jarring. I know the point is that Lia and Xania are young women whom people underestimate, but that sentiment would still have remained had they been in the early twenties instead. Especially because it seems like Xania had had her job in the treasury for several years at the start of the book, which would imply she’d started at 15-16?
Anyway, all in all Queen of Coin and Whispers was an absolute joy to read, and while the ending and epilogue were more than sufficient, I found myself not ready to part with Lia & Xania. Luckily, Helen Corcoran wasn’t ready to part with them either and has released a set of four, free prequel stories which you can find here! I’ve been saving them to use as a special treat, but I have no doubt they’ll be just as enjoyable as the novel!
Synopsis: When teenage queen Lia inherits her corrupt uncle’s bankrupt kingdom, she brings a new spymaster into the fold … Xania, who takes the job to avenge her murdered father.
Faced with dangerous plots and hidden enemies, can Lia and Xania learn to rely on each other, as they discover that all is not fair in love and treason?
In a world where the throne means both power and duty, they must decide what to sacrifice for their country – and for each other…
Queen of Coin and Whispers At A Glance Genre: YA, Fantasy of Manners (with prominent f/f romance subplot) Themes/Tropes: Queer Royals, Political Intrigue, Rich Girl/Poor Girl (sort of) LGBT Rep? Yes! Lesbian MC, with lesbian, bi, & gay side characters OwnVoices? Yep Content Warnings (CWs): Murder/Violence, instance of psychological abuse (might be forgetting some, I forgot to jot them down because I was so engrossed in the story, sorry!)
“I would rather die a thousand deaths than have never met you.”
I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself regarding this review. I’ve spent weeks hyping up The Fate of Stars almost daily on social media, hosted a giveaway for a special edition copy of it, and even conducted a Zoom interview with the author, SD Simper, to talk about it. After all that, I began to wonder if I could even come up with anything worthwhile to say that I haven’t already said. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.
The Fate of Stars by SD Simper is the first book in her sapphic mermaid trilogy, Sea & Stars. Let’s start with a refresher on the premise.
Synopsis: “A devout mermaid. A disgraced princess. A feud as ancient as the gods.
Worlds collide when Tallora is kidnapped from her ocean home and forced to be a pet to a tyrannical foreign empire. Her only hope for rescue lies with a sworn enemy—Princess Dauriel, infamous for her stone heart and conflicted past. But when Dauriel’s kingdom comes to the cusp of war, could their uneasy alliance be the key to defeating a common foe? Or will their growing feelings for each other lead them to ruin?
From the world of FALLEN GODS comes a tale of ancient magic and cutthroat politics—and finding redemption through love.”
So, what happens when a bisexual mermaid and stone butch princess whose paths were never supposed to cross meet and fall in love? Read this book and find out! The Fate of Stars is everything I could’ve ever wanted in a f/f fantasy novel. Magic, mermaids, and enemies to lovers? Sign me the fuck up, honestly. I could write an essay length review of the banter alone, but I’ll spare you (for now).
On a more serious note, I loved this book and story. One thing that really stood out to me was that the author handled the inherent power imbalance in the relationship with such nuance, and even had the characters explicitly discuss it between themselves! I’ve never seen that in a book like this, and it was much appreciated.
The Fate of Stars At a Glance: Genre: High Fantasy, Lesbian Romance Themes/Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Swords & Sorcery, Butch/Femme, Taming the Beast/Thawing the Ice Queen LGBT Rep? Yep! The main character, Tallora, is a bisexual mermaid. Her eventual love interest is a stone butch lesbian. Own Voices? Yes! Content Warnings (CW): References to suicide, infertility (and trauma surrounding it), emotionally abusive parents, a few instances of graphic violence, threats of sexual assault (but no actual assault)
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I was a beta reader for the entire Sea & Stars trilogy, but I’d honestly be raving about The Fate of Stars just as much if I hadn’t been.
Also, how gorgeous is this special edition alternate cover?
If you’ve followed me on social media for more than a day, you know how much I love SD Simper‘s books. Simper is a self-described ‘writer of dark fantasy lesbian romance’ but her upcoming sapphic mermaid series Sea & Stars is anything but dark! I spoke to Simper last week about the first book in the series, The Fate of Stars, which is out May 1st aka tomorrow!!!
Join us for the Fate of Stars Launch Party (May 1st, 8-10PM EST) to win fun prizes, including an autographed, special edition copy of The Fate of Stars!
Where to begin with Gideon the Ninth? Perhaps with its tagline: “Lesbian Necromancers in Space.” If that’s not enough to hook you, I don’t know what is.
Gideon the Ninth was one of the most unique, fun, and imaginative tales I’ve read in a long time. I started with the ebook, proceeded to become engrossed to the point I could accomplish absolutely nothing besides reading it, then decided to spend an Audible credit on the audiobook so that I didn’t completely wreck my GPA and could instead listen to the novel while working on graphic design homework.
I don’t buy many audiobooks, but Gideon the Ninth, narrated by Moira Quirk, was hands down the best one I’ve ever listened to! Quirk gives an amazing performance and really makes Muir’s words come to life. I’ve seen other reviewers say that they found Gideon to be dense and confusing for the first bit, but I honestly feel like listening to the book instead of reading it outright helped me circumvent that issue. It’s a lot easier to avoid getting bogged down by the spelling and pronunciations of complicated, fantastical names when someone else pronounces them for you.
That aside, I loved Gideon the Ninth to absolute (bone fragment) pieces. This imaginative tale fused two of my favorite genres (fantasy & sci-fi, aka “science fantasy”), and checked all of my boxes – lesbians, necromancy, political intrigue, witty repartee, enemies to lovers subtext, and sword play! There wasn’t a single thing about this novel that I didn’t like.
Gideon was so deliciously wild and complex that I won’t kid myself into thinking that any plot summary I could write myself could possibly do the book justice, so here’s the official blurb:
“Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.”
In closing: GO READ GIDEON THE NINTH!!! I don’t care who you are, or what sort of books you usually read – this is not one you want to miss. Though Gideon does include horror aspects, it isn’t particularly scary. Definitely creepy, but more fun than terrifying. This is important for me, as I’m generally not a fan of ‘scary’ books, because I’m kind of a giant weenie. So I would encourage my fellow weenies to give Gideon the Ninth a shot, because it’s seriously worth it.
If you’ve already read Gideon the Ninth and, like me, are chomping at the bit for Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) to come out later this year, Tor has your back! You can download the entire first act of Harrow the Ninth from their website, for free, here!
Genre: LGBT, Dark “Science Fantasy”, Action/Adventure
Themes/Tropes: Reluctant Hero, Enemies to Lovers (Subtext), Thawing the Ice Queen/Taming the Beast, Swords & Sorcery
LGBT Rep? Yes! The main character, Gideon, is a useless lesbian who essentially falls for every beautiful woman she comes into contact with.
Content Warnings (CW): Graphic violence & gore, Death (like lots of death, but that’s to be expected in a book about necromancers), multiple conversations about suicidality, in depth discussions of trauma & grief, a few instances of self-harm (as a means for necromancy rather than for its own sake, if that helps)
Hello friends! I had planned for my first ‘real’ blog post to be a regular review, but in light of recent events I’ve decided to change course. Since we’re all relegated to our homes for the foreseeable future, I’ve instead decided to do a round up of book recs for this period of social distancing. Because many people are also going to struggle financially through this crisis, I’ve also elected to focus primarily on low cost ebooks and those you read with a Kindle Unlimited subscription (or free trial), so you can read some awesome books over these next few weeks without breaking the bank!
Synopsis: “When faced with monstrosity, become the greater monster. The sting of victory will fade with time.”
Haunted by a history of horror and abuse, Flowridia, a witch with a tender heart, finds a second chance in the home of her kingdom’s royal family. With employment comes friendship, and perhaps she has finally found a place to belong—until she catches the eye of Lady Ayla Darkleaf, a woman with enticing grace and a predatory smile. The corrupt world of politics consumes her, and Flowridia falls into a toxic love affair surely doomed for heartbreak. Yet when Ayla’s legacy as a monster unfolds, Flowridia sees only the tender soul hiding beneath.
An ancient deity returns, hell-bent on restoring the world to its natural order, and Flowridia’s kingdom is tasked to stop him. Caught in the ensuing clash of gods, her loyalties will be tempted at every turn—by family, by fate, and by the woman whose claws grip her heart.
What I Like/Love About It: This is the rec that keeps on giving! There are currently three books from the Fallen Gods series available on KU, and the author has revealed that there are three more coming! Simper has created a complex, immersive world for the series and that’s not even touching on the well developed characters or the complicated, fucked up unhealthy relationship you can’t help but ship anyway. However, there’s a reason Simper added “A Dark Fantasy Lesbian Romance” subheading to the title – the novel and series do get pretty dark at times – but it’s absolutely worth reading if you can handle a little dysfunction.
Bonus: If you’d rather stick to happier books (or if you just love mermaids), you can pre-order Fate of Stars, the first book in Simper’s upcoming sapphic mermaid trilogy here! I was a beta reader for this one, so I can absolutely vouch for its quality. Can’t wait til May for sapphic mermaids? Check out Beneath the Dark Moon, a short story prequel to the series that I did the cover design for!
LGBT Rep? Yes, but not overtly. One of the main characters, Millie, is a closeted lesbian who is secretly in love with one of her fellow witches. It’s also worth noting that the author handles the topic of homophobia in the 20th century well.
Synopsis: Britain may have won the First World War, but the witches of ADAM lost.
Now an embarrassment, the Allied Directorate for Alternative Means is to be disbanded and its witches scattered, their lives overturned and shattered once again. Presented with a final chance to keep their budding coven together, it will take more than magic for them to succeed.
When Millie Brown’s best friend goes missing from the program, she must track her down and bring her home before she’s hunted down by a government that no longer wants anything to do with witchcraft. If that weren’t enough, if Millie fails, not only will ADAM be disbanded, but the beguiling witch Elise will be sent back to France. Fearing that as much as her own feelings for Elise, Millie will have to look within herself to find the truth of her magic and hold together that which is most important to her or lose it all.
And a young woman known only as November wakes up on Christmas morning in an empty grave with no memory of who she is or why she can do impossible things. With no memory of her past, she must struggle to find out just who she was and why it has come back to try to kill her. The sudden manifestation of a power she can’t understand and barely control makes it all the more urgent, for the sake of everyone around her as much as herself.
What I Like/Love About It:Remember, November is a unique, magical realism take on a bygone era (the late 1910’s, post-World War I) with great characters and a complex plotline laced with mysteries I really enjoyed unravelling. Darrow’s prose was a genuine pleasure to read, and I liked that the witches of ADAM aren’t overtly powerful from the get go – in fact, at the start of the book their sole talent is creating “witchlights” (tiny balls of light) out of thin air. I absolutely loved seeing the magic using protagonists learn and nurture their powers throughout the course of the book.
LGBT Rep? Yep! Kay (the main protagonist) is bisexual, and her love interest is a lesbian.
Content Warnings (CW): Some Biphobia
Synopsis:Go big or go home. For privateer Captain Magdalene Landon, it’s all about going big. For Kay Ellis, it’s about getting home. Together, they’re about to architect the most daring heist in the galaxy.
Kay knows too much. She knows it’s a matter of time before a Conglomerate hitman finds her. She’s desperate for safe passage back to Union space. Then Magdalene shows up, promising a way home in exchange for that information. It’s a risky bet, but Kay is out of options. So she strikes a deal: the heist of the century for her freedom.
Kay is playing a dangerous game, and she knows it. She’s made herself Enemy Number One of the Conglomerate. She’s relying on privateers for her safety. It’s a fool’s game. But the worst part is, her fool’s heart is starting to warm to the enigmatic captain. And that’s a risk for which she hadn’t planned.
What I Like/Love About It: Safe Passage is an entertaining science fiction lesfic novel with lots of action (including a heist!) and an enemies to lovers romance plotline. There is a little more angst than necessary in the latter half of the book, but the good really outweighs the bad here. Overall, Safe Passage is a fun story that works great for an afternoon of escapism!
LGBT Rep? Yep! Though Among the Hollow doesn’t really include any romance subplots, the main character, Sevila, is definitely not straight!
Content Warnings (CW): It’s honestly been so long since I’ve read this that I can’t recall any – sorry!
Synopsis: An empire steeped in cutthroat politics and black magic wavers upon the knife’s edge of civil war. The empress has been overthrown, and her only remaining heir taken into the custody of her killers, leaving the empire divided between the old imperial family and the zealous general who has seized the capital.
Meanwhile Aurel, a disemboded soul with no memory of their former self, must forge an uneasy pact with Sevila, a mysterious traveller from across the southern sands. In the hunt for Aurel’s body, strange alliances form and dark secrets emerge, threatening to plunge the empire into a crisis far greater than they could imagine.
What I Like/Love About It:Among the Hollow is unique in that it’s a high fantasy novel set in a world that couldn’t be further from your typical Euro-centric, Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy setting, which I love. Also, the primary magic system is necromancy! I am literally always here for necromancy. That aside, Ankenbrandt is an incredibly talented writer who will pull you in and not allow you to come up for air until you’ve consumed the entire story in one sitting, which makes this novel a very good choice for quarantine, especially if you’re looking for something to read that’s more plot than relationship centered!
As an added bonus, the author created this masterpost on Tumblr that links to all of the comics, illustrations, and other content they’ve created for the novel!
Themes/Tropes: Rich Girl/Poor Girl, May/December (technically, though age gap is small), Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Coming Out
LGBT Rep? Yes! Both of the romantic leads are WLW, with allusions to other sapphic characters/relationships.
Content Warnings (CW): None that I can think of!
Synopsis: As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.
Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.
While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?
What I Like/Love About It: I’m typically not a big fan of historical fiction or straight up romance novels. Celestial Mechanics is both, but I was really glad I decided to give it a chance anyway. This is a fairly quick and easy read if you’re in the mood for something light hearted and steamy.