Best LGBTQ+ Books of 2018: Staff Picks

Amanda Jean shares the best of 2018’s LGBTQ+ litfic, specfic, romance, anthologies, poetry books, and more.


At the end of 2017, I posted a list of my favorite LGBTQIA reads. I’ve come back to breathe some literary life into the end of 2018, which I’m sure we’re all ready to put in our rearview. I’ve selected works from across the gamut, as usual: deep-dive anthologies into gender, specfic (lots and lots of specfic), fantasy romance, heart-stopping poetry, queered fairytales, and asexual representation that maybe makes the world feel less bleak.

In the Vanishers’ Palace
Aliette de Bodard
If you haven’t read anything in de Bodard’s Xuya universe, stop what you’re doing and go now. (I recommend The Tea Master and the Detective, but On a Red Station, Drifting is also a favorite.) Her prose is exquisite, and her world-building is just … beyond. When she said she wrote “a dark Beauty and the Beast retelling, where they are both women and the Beast is a dragon,” I made a sound inaudible to humans and one-click ordered. And reader? It did not disappoint.

Transcendent 3: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction
Bogi Takács, ed.
Lethe’s anthologies are usually killer, and Takács assembled a stellar collection of authors exploring everything from time travel to horror. My favorites include Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” Kerry Truong’s “Cooking with Closed Mouths,” and Rivers Solomon’s “Feed.” The whole anthology is gorgeous and important.

Black Girl Magic: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2
Mahogany L. Browne, Idrissa Simmonds, and Jamila Woods, eds.
Stunning. Trying to pick a single poem to excerpt has taken me an hour.

I mean
when I see something dull and uneven,
barnacled and ruined,
I know how to get to its iridescent everything.
I mean I eat them alive.
what I mean is I’ll eat you alive,
slipping the blade in sideways, cutting
nothing because the space was always there.
(from “what I mean when I say I’m sharpening my oyster knife” by Eve L. Ewing)

The Henchmen of Zenda
KJ Charles
I walked into this with my enduring love of KJ Charles and a very fuzzy recollection of The Prisoner of Zenda, which Charles has queered and subverted in the best of ways, and I walked out loving her EVEN MORE. If that’s possible. Hijinks scaffold the book, but really the intensity between the characters and the subversion of stodgy source material, where the Good Guys were too boring to live and the Bad Guys were crude caricatures, makes this one stand out. It’s also a romance, but deeply unconventional.

Let’s Talk About Love
Claire Kann
I waited Too Long to read this, because I’m always hesitant to dive into asexual and aromantic representation in case it falls short for me (I’m on the aroace spectrum). But Kann managed to create a wholly adorable NA piece with an ace, biromantic black woman as the MC. It’s a rare gem.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic
Lee Welch
This was just a breath of fresh air. Working in queer publishing, in queer romance in particular, it’s hard for books in the genre to penetrate my shell of editorial apathy — I’ve read it all, or so it feels like sometimes. But this was just so atmospheric and compelling, a queer Gothic fairytale wherein magic traps an heir on his father’s isolated estate. An industrial magician, snooping around the estate for his own reasons, finds himself an involuntary ally when he discovers the curse. I have no idea who Lee Welch is or where she came from, as she basically appeared on the scene and immediately dropped this gem of a book on our heads, but I’m insta-buying anything else she releases.

Mother of Invention
Rivqa Rafael, Tansy Rayner Roberts, eds.
This is so good!!!!! I’m always desperate for fiction about, like, robots and AI that tackles gender and genre norms in a cool, subversive way, and this anthology was all that and more.

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé
Michael Arceneaux
This languished on my Kindle app (eugh, I know, I need to divorce Bezos) for too long, mostly because I have a hard time with nonfiction and essays if I’m not already familiar with the author — and frankly, as someone who grew up as areligious as it’s possible for a person to be in America, faith is an alien element to me. But Arceneaux is just so effing good, and within five pages, I got it. Ruminations on queerness, blackness, Jesusness, and a puff quote from ROXANE GAY. What more do you need to know? Read it. Now.

Sodom Road Exit
Amber Dawn
This is a weird Generation X experience, and I love it. I also love that the main character —Starla, a lesbian who starts to notice things are SUPER NOT NORMAL in her half-abandoned hometown — does not have your typical reaction to spooky stuff going down. I spent most of the book going “Girl, same” whenever Starla met the spooky with fascination rather than terror.

Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle Book 1)
C. L. Polk
I was hyped for this the minute I saw the gorgeous cover, and following C. L. Polk on Twitter only made me more excited. Gaslamp fantasy in an Edwardian-esque world ravaged by a recent war, featuring a doctor with a huge secret, a terrifying illness affecting traumatized soldiers, and a mysterious stranger. This is a debut novel, but the world-building and characterization — and high-intensity bike chases! — are so stellar that I’m willing to overlook any minor gripes. Seriously, a lovely first effort, and I’m eagerly awaiting the second in the series.

The Descent of Monsters (The Tensorate Series Book 3)
JY Yang
I lauded this book in my list of LGBT+ summer reads, and it more than deserves another nod in my yearly roundup. This installment is a bit of a mystery, which is excellently executed, but the star of the show is Yang’s unique, outstanding, insert-your-superlative-here silkpunk setting.

The Music and the Mirror
Lola Keeley
This one’s a bit of a cheat, as I do freelance for the publisher and did some copy edits on this book, but I enjoyed every second thoroughly. I love unlikable, ambitious women, and this gave me complex Ice Queen Victoria Ford, former prima ballerina turned choreographer who begrudgingly takes a fresh-faced prodigy under her wing. A lot of sexy machinations in the ballet world wrapped in a romance package.

AMANDA JEAN is an editor of award-winning LGBT+ and speculative fiction. When not wrangling manuscripts or co-hosting and producing podcasts like The Red Pen, you can find her watching documentaries, pressuring friends into karaoke, and reading too many true crime books. Find her on Twitter.