History was gay, we all know it, and I have the books to prove it. Historical fiction is a genre I have found myself absolutely LOVING the past year or so. I haven’t read huge amounts of historical fiction previously, so there are lots of new favourites here today and books I’m sure will be favourites as soon as I get a chance to read them. There’s quite a mix of genres here within the “historical fiction” purview, from fun YA fantasy, to literary fiction that will make you sob, to romance, to more traditional gothic suspense. Some of my favourite reads in the past year are on this list so I hope you find something you can enjoy. Because for me? Nothing can beat Revolution era French fashion than making it queer!
Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn
After mentioning French Revolution era fashion in my intro, what other book could I start with than Kat Dunn’s Dangerous Remedy? This book released in eBook during May and the hardback is coming this Summer. It’s an absolute chaotic adventure full of disaster queers who really bring new meaning to the name, a bi love triangle, and the Battalion de Mortes, a team of young outcasts who are saving people from the guillotine. It’s absolutely hilarious, so much fun and you should definitely read this one! Check out my full review here.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
This book has been on my TBR for so long and I should be seriously shamed for not having read it yet. Everyone I know who has read it a) loved it and b) sobbed uncontrollably. Under the Udala Trees is inspired by Nigerian folktales and war. In the wake of civil war, a young girl, Ijeoma, is sent away to safety, and meets another displaced child, with whom she falls in love. But they’re both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma discovers she will always need to hide away this part of her self. The book follows Ijeoma as she comes of age and moves into adulthood in the wake of a civil war and with a secret she must always hide.
Blood Countess by Lana Popović
There’s not much that attracts me more to a book than “dark and sapphic” and this book has that in absolute spades! Blood Countess is a wonderfully dark and beautiful retelling of the infamous Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who’s considered the most prolific female serial killer who ever lived. And then Popović made it gay. *sobs in sapphic* This book is a lush and dangerous tale about Anna, a scullery maid in Elizabeth’s household who catches her eye. The development of Anna and Elizabeth’s relationship is bewitchingly good, and Blood Countess is full of discussions and questions about who we are and where evil comes from. Check out my full review here.
All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
The covers in today’s list are just gorgeous, but this one is particularly stunning! All the Bad Apples is a story told part in the past, part in the present. It follows Deena as she follows her family’s history whilst hunting for her sister. Her sister leaves her mysterious letters which tell their family story, and of the curse which marks their family. Thus we get both the dark past of women in Ireland explaining the curse and how it was formed through their family tree, and the not very distant future with Deena, who is seen as a bad apple by the rest of her family due to her sexuality. It is a book full of very true and very awful horrors of Ireland’s past, with a fabulistic edge and atmospheric writing.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
This is probably up there as one of my favourite books of the year so far, it pretty much rejuvinated by adoration of gothic literature and filled me with the desire to reread all my favourite gothic classics and rewatch all my dark gothic films. It is 1939, and Hetty has been sent with the Natural History Museum’s mammal collection to Lockwood Manor, where she will stay for the duration of the war and look after the collection. At the manor, she meets the rude and irascible Lord Lockwood, along with his mysterious and haunted daughter, Lucy. And then the mammals start disappearing. Hetty isn’t sure if she’s going mad, if there’s a thief, or perhaps something even darker at work. This book is full of all your favourite gothic tropes: haunted manors, women lounging over everything, misty gardens, and of course a beautiful sapphic relationship which really should be the heart of all gothic novels in future. Check out my full review here.
The Gods of Tango by Carolina de Robertis
A book I am hugely looking forward to reading this month, The Gods of Tango is one I’ve been meaning to read for several years now, but I finally bought a copy! Set in 1913, this book follows the early beginnings of tango music. It’s a book full of exploration of gender and sexuality, and follows Leda, who moves from Italy to Argentina to be married in 1913. But when they arrive, their husband is dead. They long to learn the violin but know they won’t be able to perform as a woman. So Leda takes their husband’s name, Dante, and cuts off their hair to join a tango troupe. But the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur as they explore their gender and sexuality.
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Possibly the most talked about sapphic romance on my Twitter feed, I finally read this book last month and loved it! This follows female astronomer, Lucy, and her patron, Catherine, as they work to translate a well regarded astronomy text into English. Of course all the men scientists dislike a woman being involved and so try to scuper their plans and discredit Lucy along the way. It is such a sweet and tender romance, with a really interesting plot outside of the romance and brilliant discussions about the importance of both art and science for the advancement of society. (And I should also shout the next book in this series which releases in July called The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows and is all about midcentury beekeeping!!!)
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
This is one of my absolute favourite books, and also one of my absolute favourite covers in the world. It’s just stunning (and even more so in person!) This is a beautiful bittersweet and heartbreaking story about friendship, family, love and fear. Like a Love Story is set in the late 1980s during the AIDS crisis and follows Reza, an Iranian boy who has just moved to New York and is terrified someone will realise he’s gay; Judy, an aspiring fashion designer who worships her Uncle Stephen, a man living with AIDS; and Art, Judy’s best friend, openly gay boy who documents the AIDS crisis with photographs. It is a intensely powerful book full of activism and courage and finding the strength to be open about who you are.
Music From Another World by Robin Talley
Robin Talley is well known for her historical queer books, and Music From Another World is her most recent book, released earlier this year. It’s about a closeted lesbian surrounded by super religious, antigay family members whose only way of expressing herself is through writing letters to gay activist Harvey Milk. But then she gets matched with a penpal who changes everything. They bond over punk music and shared secrets and and rely on their friendship to get them through the antigay fervour sweeping through the US.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Patsy might not feel like a historical novel to millenials but the 1990s are officially historical! In Patsy, we meet the titular character in 1998 in Jamaica. Longing to be reuinted with the woman she loves, and best friend Cicely who lives in New York, Patsy leaves behind her young daughter Tru and emigrates to America. The book follows Patsy and Tru and the impact of Patsy’s decision to leave. This is another one that will have you sobbing.
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
Another new release, this one is on my TBR this month! Set in 1980s Poland, this debut literary fiction Swimming in the Dark follows two young men, Ludwik and Janusz who meet at an agricultural camp and have an affair. It follows them as one goes into politics in a country where communism is on the out, and the other follows a life of protest, their political differences slowly tearing them apart.
Ziggy, Stardust & Me by James Brandon
This is a hugely difficult and emotional read so do take note of the content warnings for this one. Set in 1973, it’s a time where being gay is still considered a mental illness. Jonathan is a sixteen year old anxious teen who’s undergoing therapy to change him, he wants nothing more than to be “normal”. But then Web stumbles into his life before his treatment is over. And he’s drawn to Web more than he’s been drawn to anyone. Web is the first person who has ever thought Jonathan is perfect, just the way he is, and who might help him accept himself for the first time.
The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis
The Good Luck Girls isn’t historical fiction in the traditional manner, instead this is a historical fantasy set in Western inspired world. It’s described as Westworld meets Handmaid’s Tale which should tell you how amazing this is. The Good Luck Girls follows a group of five girls who are sold into ‘welcome houses’ to act as maids or prostitutes. When one of the five accidentally kills a man, they escape and go on the run to find a woman who can remove their brandings so they can live freely.
I have really been loving all the historical novels I’ve read recently, but it hasn’t been a genre I’ve read much of in the past so I really want to expand my knowledge of this genre! What are some of your favourite queer historical fiction books? Let me know in the comments.
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