“Ash” by Malinda Lo

I’ve been busy working on my list of good books, in the fantasy genre, that contain GLBTQ characters and one of those books just stood out from the rest so it’s getting its own entry. I’m going to keep the plot spoilers to the minimum although I’ll be happy to discuss the plot in the comments.

My local supermarket has a tiny area where it sells books. The young adult section is even smaller and filled with the same old bestsellers like Twilight and Twilight 2 and Book-That-Looks-Similar-To-Twilight. One day when I walked by the book section, there on the shelves was the unthinkable; this national chain, in its very select choice of teenage books had Ash.

Now that wouldn’t be significant if you looked at the cover. It’s a shiny book that blends in with all the other young adult titles. The back cover offers no hint to the startling twist that is in the book.

“With her parents gone, Ash finds herself a servant in the house of her ruthless stepmother and there seems no hope of finding happiness again. But Ash is unaware of her mother’s legacy, and that it will lead her to a magical place. A place where love, identity and belonging are all waiting.”

They were selling a ‘lesbian retelling of Cinderella’ written by a lesbian author, to children without as much as a warning label. The last time I was in a bricks and mortar bookstore, I found the same thing. Ash was there, on one of the book displays with nothing to separate it from the rest of the young adult literature.

I find that attitude so utterly refreshing.

Great, now Cinderella’s gay too!

The Problem With Gay Fantasy-Fiction

Pyrofennec does an excellent job highlighting the issues of Rape In My Anti-Tolkien.  I wanted to elaborate a little on a more specialised area of fantasy.

Why is there so much rape in my gay fantasy fiction?

WHY?

It doesn’t happen in books with straight male protagonists, unless it’s to his girlfriend, his wife, his mother, his sister. Rape is something that he never needs to contend with on a personal level. It’s just not on the radar. It’s this special crime saved for all the men who are not straight and women.

There’s a whole lot of awful tropes in fantasy fiction featuring gay and bisexual male protagonists. The heroes are almost always stunning beautiful and exceptionally talented, there’s usually a dark secret and a tragic past thrown in, they’re underappreciated, misunderstood, and their lives are filled with Angst with a capital A, but don’t worry about it, they’ll get over it with the love of a good man, at least until he dies in horribly tragic circumstances.

But  what annoys me most is the prevalence of rape. I can’t say I’m too fond of the incest either, I’m certainly not fond of lovers being murdered or characters being killed just because.  But I hate the rape.

Here is a list, of fantasy fiction, that I’ve read, which has cis-male protagonists who are either gay or bisexual (there’s a couple of exceptions but they’re listed below). I’ve mentioned accounts of both rape and deaths (except in the cases where I just can’t remember).

Just to be clear if magic is used to coerce someone into having sex that is rape.  If someone is not conscious (and has given no prior consent) then having sex with them is rape. Forced to have sex, be that magically or otherwise, is rape.

As for the deaths, not all of them are equal. Some are the heroes, some are the heroes’ lovers, some are secondary characters, some are minor characters, some are the villains and some are mentioned in passing. For some books I’ve listed them out and others I’ve just noted there are deaths. Some of the books have worlds in which everyone is bi and so any death is going to be that of a bisexual character, others we’re speaking of 50% of the book’s non-straight population being killed off. I’m not going to differentiate here.

I’m not commenting on the quality or the literary merit of the books below. There are books on the list I enjoyed and books I loathed.

On to the list!

Poison Study: Commander Ambrose

Poison Study by Maria V Snyder tells the story of Yelena Zaltana, who begins the tale awaiting execution for a murder that she did commit. The society in which she lives is one in which murder is murder and there is no leniency regardless of what her motivations might have been and so she refuses to explain herself or offer excuses. She is granted a last minute reprieve if she agrees to serve as the Commander’s poison taster. It is a position that is considered to be a death sentence but given the choice of certain death and a chance to live she takes the latter. Yelena’s story is interesting on many accounts, not least because she is a woman of colour in a land of fair-skinned northerners, but I am not going to discuss her here.

Instead I’d like to discuss one of the secondary characters, Commander Ambrose, who is the ruler of Ixia, the country in which the story takes place.

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