Growing up and working through my disappointment with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has led me to a variety of non-binary and trans-inclusive fantasy books. If you, too, are looking to explore fantastic worlds outside of Hogwarts and the wizarding world of Britain — with even more excitement and far less real-world bigotry — then you’ve come to the right place.
Aside from witches and sorcerers, the books below also have aliens, superheroes, truth-bound gods, and deals with the devil. There are adventures of and with trans and non-binary characters, and many of these were written by queer, trans, or non-binary authors.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo’s ferociously feminist debut novella, 2020’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune, is just over a hundred pages long, but it’s truly impressive what she manages to do in that space in terms of world-building and characterization.
The novella follows Chih, a non-binary cleric of the Singing Hills Monastery, who visits an abandoned palace called Thriving Fortune with their talking bird, Almost Brilliant. They collect and record history and can’t resist the opportunity to learn more about the recently deceased Empress In-yo while they are at her former home. There, they meet Rabbit, an elderly peasant woman who was once the Empress’ handmaiden and is now an invaluable source of information about Empress In-yo’s early reign.
In this Hugo Award-winning book, Vo turns her attention — and ours — to the kinds of characters and stories that history often brushes aside. And she does it with such delicious prose that it’s hard to believe that The Empress of Salt and Fortune is only her first novella.
The good news is that it’s part of a group of books called The Singing Hills Cycle, which are all linked by the cleric Chih and can be read in any order. Two other books, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (2020) and Into the Riverlands (2022), are available to read once you finish this one.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
There have been several Hamlet retellings over the decades, but The Raven Tower, New York Times bestselling author Anne Leckie’s first fantasy novel published in 2019, manages to stand out.
In this world, gods exist in various forms and levels. There are rules they have to submit to, like always speaking the truth and, if they happen to say something false, having to change the world to make that thing true — or die trying. The god that protects Iraden is known as the Raven. He watches over the kingdom atop a tower in the port city of Vastai and rules through a human ruler, the Raven’s Lease, who is bound by blood.
Trouble is brewing, and Mawat, the son of the Lease and commander of Iraden’s army rushes home after he and his loyal retainer Eolo receive a message that his father is ill. He arrives to find that his father is gone, his uncle Hibal has taken his place, and, just beyond the kingdom’s borders and with the help of their own gods, other kingdoms are waiting to invade Iraden.
Unlike The Empress, this book takes its time to build its mythology and lay out all of its pieces across 400+ pages with the patience of a rock. And literally, the story is narrated by a rock who is a god known as The Strength and Patience of the Hill.
The book features a trans man as one of its main characters and is also chock-full of interesting insights on power, politics, worship, and spirituality.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
Many of us are familiar with Peter Pan and Wendy Darling, but in Austin Chant’s queer reimagining, he asks: What if Peter was once Wendy before he headed towards the second star on the right and flew straight on ’til morning?
There’s a lot to love in this 2017 novel. For starters, the magic of Neverland remains — from its lush and enchanting landscapes to its fascinating inhabitants. But things are different now, and Peter has a hard time adjusting to what he finds upon his return as a young adult. There is also lots of action and adventure, complete with sword fights, treasure, an actual Kraken, and an all-out war.
But the brightest gem the book has to offer is Peter himself. A trans man, written by a trans author, his story of identity, loss, growing up, and what it means to be a man is thought-provoking and genuinely lovely.
There is also his budding and unexpected romance with a former rival, and the end result is a book that will have you believing in not just fairies but also in love.
The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
Neon Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven, a 2017 Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominee, is a fast-paced novella that feels like an epic.
In it, twins Mokoya and Akeha are sold by their mother, the leader of the Protectorate, to the Grand Monastery as children. Though initially inseparable, the twins develop gifts that eventually tear them apart: one sees what would be, and the other sees what could be. Their bond is tested as they become entangled with the political machinations of the Protectorate and grow more into their magic and themselves.
The story presents a fascinating world where no one is assigned a gender at birth, and everyone gets to choose one (or neither) when they are ready. It’s an interesting take on gender and one that’s deeply personal for Yang, who identifies as non-binary.
Moreover, the novella is a good entry point into the world of silkpunk, or a blend of sci-fi and fantasy inspired by Asian-Pacific mythology, history, and culture with the punk spirit of rebellion, deconstruction, and reappropriation of tradition.
If you end up liking the book, it’s worth noting that it’s part of a larger, richly imagined series. Its twin, The Red Threads of Fortune, was published on the same day, while the other two books in the series are 2019’s The Descent of Monsters and 2020’s The Ascent to Godhood.
Dreadnought by April Daniels
Superheroes tend to be frequent targets of Hollywood straightwashing efforts, but in April, Daniels’s Dreadnought, a trans lesbian superhero, is front and center.
The first of the Nemesis trilogy, Dreadnought, tells the story of 15-year-old Danny Tozer, whose life turns upside down when Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero, falls from the sky and dies at her feet. Danny ends up inheriting his mantle, which gives her superpowers and the responsibilities they entail.
But the mantle also gives her the body she’s always wanted. Assigned male at birth, Danny had always known that she was a girl — even though her family and friends had no idea. The physical change is immediate and euphoric but also more than a little worrisome, as it outs her to everybody.
Now, she must navigate the all-too-realistic transphobia of the people around her, including a TERF, while also adjusting to her new life as a superhero and working to take down an actual supervillain.
There’s plenty of realism in how Danny struggles as a newly out trans woman (which is why trigger warnings are due for abusive parents and transphobia), but what makes this world even more real are the small details about the government, the superhero leagues, and politics that Daniels casually drops into the narrative.
It also helps that Daniels herself is a trans woman and crafts plenty of moments of triumph and joy without pulling any punches.
Dreadnought is a fun read that is followed by Sovereign, published in 2017. A third and final book in the Nemesis series is currently in development.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys made history in 2020 as the first book on the New York Times Bestseller List that was written by an openly transgender author featuring a transgender character. In that year, it also earned book of the year awards from NPR, Publishers Weekly, and Barnes and Noble.
This amount of recognition can work against some books, but Cemetery Boys, a YA novel centering on a young trans-Latinx brujo (or sorcerer), delivers.
In this world, Yadriel’s family’s magic has long been divided by gender. The women, brujas, heal; men, brujos, summon spirits and release them from the physical realm. When his family doesn’t accept him and continues to pressure him into developing healing abilities, Yadriel decides to summon the ghost of his recently murdered cousin to prove himself as a brujo and, more importantly, a boy.
The summoning ritual works, except that Yadriel got the wrong ghost. He ends up with Julian, a boy from school who has unfinished business in the realm of the living. Yadriel agrees to help him tie some loose ends, but the more time they spend together, the less he wants to set Julian’s spirit free.
The resulting YA novel is an enjoyable adventure exploring truth, healing, and hope.
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Ryka Aoki’s Light from Uncommon Stars, a nominee for the 2022 Hugo Award for Best Novel, has a little bit of everything.
There are aliens, a pact with the devil, fresh donuts, cursed violins, and the transcendent power of music. It’s part of this list because it also has a young trans woman, found family, and some WLW (or women loving women) romance. In the book, Aoki takes some speculative fiction tropes and turns them into something wholly original and beautiful while exploring what it means to be a woman.
The story centers on Shizuka Satomi, the world’s best violin teacher. Except no one knows that she had traded her soul to the devil, and to escape damnation and earn her freedom, she has to lead seven violin prodigies to hell. She’s already delivered six, and with a year left on the timer, she thinks she’s found the seventh in Katrina Nguyen, a transgender prodigy with no formal training and a troubled home life.
But then she meets Lan Tran, an interstellar refugee and retired starship captain disguised as a doughnut shop owner. Souls are on the line, and Lan has her own tumultuous galactic past and future to deal with. As the book weaves together the lives of these three women — alongside profound meditations on music and mouth-watering odes to food — Aoki gifts readers with a moving story of magic, identity, hope, and redemption.
A trans woman herself, Aoki is both honest and soothing in her depiction of transness in the modern day. She’s written before about the humanizing power of stories, explaining:
“If a trans musician can make the audience cry by playing Chopin, how else, but as a human, can she be regarded? And if a book written by a queer trans Asian American can make you think of your own beaches, your own sunsets, or the dear departed grandmother you loved so much and even now find yourself speaking to, then what more powerful statement of our common humanity can there be?”
Do you have more fantasy recommendations that are non-binary and trans-inclusive? Let us know in the comments!