Books

Christopher Rice Recommends 9 LGBTQ Historical Fiction Titles


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As Pride Month arrives, I’d like to thank Book Trib for asking me to present a list of my favorite works of historical fiction in which queer men are the central characters. While I’ve been openly gay since publishing my first novel 20 years ago, it wasn’t until recently that I launched a romance series, the Sapphire Cove novels, in which queer male characters — their lives, their loves, their desires — were the sole focus.

After years of being pressured to convert my gay men into either a heroine’s brother or best friend, Sapphire Cove became a place to tell the stories I’d always wanted to tell about the men I’ve loved. But if you sort through my Kindle or the books on my nightstand on any given night you’re likely to find titles about the often erased or overlooked contributions queer men have made throughout history. The pickings are more plentiful than they were a short while ago; these past few years have been a boon for fiction that explores these once lost and hidden lives. To be honest, I’ve had some trouble keeping up.

So I’ve decided to offer up a list that isn’t confined to my usual favorites. It includes a buzzy release from this year that I’m currently consuming along with some titles that are working their way to the top of my to be read pile after making a huge impact on many of my trusted friends.

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault

The first novel in a trilogy focused on the life and loves of Alexander The Great, penned by an author who fled her native England so she could live more openly with her female partner. When I first read it, I was astounded by the even-handedness and reverence she showed for the relationship between Alexander and his lover Hephaestion. Renault found unexpected commercial success writing about romantic relationships between queer men, possibly because she explored them largely in ancient times and not as urgent social issues to be reckoned with at the time of publication.

The Prince's Psalm by Eric Shaw Quinn

The Prince’s Psalm by Eric Shaw Quinn

Mary Renault was a major inspiration for New York Times bestselling novelist Eric Shaw Quinn when he set down to write a sweeping, swooning epic depicting the love story between Prince Jonathan and not-yet-king David as it appears in the Book of Samuel. The result has the scale of “Gone With The Wind” and the intricacy of “Game of Thrones” as it gives vivid, technicolor treatment to a passionate romance that is too often dismissed by the “Obviously, they were just roommates” school of faux-scholarship that has always stalked queer history.

(Full disclosure: Aside from being a brilliant writer, Eric is my co-host and producing partner at TDPS, and we put out new episodes of our podcast “TDPS Presents CHRISTOPHER & ERIC” every Sunday at www.TheDinnerPartyShow.com)

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory is practically a household name thanks to her series of novels (and their subsequent television adaptations) based upon the War of the Roses and rise of the Tudors. But here she casts her sharply critical eye towards the reign of one of England’s most maligned kings, Charles I. John Tradescant is a famed gardener and royal confidant, but when he falls under the spell of the beautiful and profoundly narcissistic Duke of Buckingham the result is far from a sweet romance.

When it isn’t chronicling one of the most tumultuous periods in English history, the novel unflinchingly portrays the ordeal of being trapped in a dangerous romantic relationship by a crushing power imbalance made even more harrowing by the seductive charms of a beautiful narcissist, all during a time when sexual labels were not as restrictive as they are today. 

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

This debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a plantation in the Deep South created literary shockwaves when it was published in 2021, heralding the arrival of a major talent determined to give literary life to men whose voices had been stolen from them by multiple mechanisms of dehumanization. After reading so many rave reviews, I’m happy to see it sitting close to the top of my to be read pile.

Landscape: Memory by Matthew Stadler

Landscape: Memory by Matthew Stadler

I spent the first years of my life in San Francisco and have remained wildly obsessed with all things related to the city ever since, specifically the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, seen by many as the event that marked the city’s recovery from the horrors of the 1906 earthquake. That’s how I came across this 1990 novel about the friendship and tragic love affair between two young men, the narrator Matthew and his half-Persian friend Duncan. I’m itching for the afternoon when I can put the world on hold and dive headlong into what promises to be a beautiful novel swimming in the history of one of my favorite cities on Earth.

The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Largely known for her Arthurian fantasy epic, The Mists of Avalon, Bradley’s titles also included this captivating love story, published in 1979, about a secret love affair between two male trapeze artists in the traveling circus world of the 1940’s and 50’s. In my early 20s, this impulse buy — the two male trapeze artists on the cover looked quite fetching — ended up holding me in its thrall for several days. At the time so much of the gay fiction I was reading was about the AIDS crisis and Bradley’s story expanded the boundaries of the canvas on which our lives and loves could be depicted. 

How Long Has This Been Going On? by Ethan Mordden

How Long Has This Been Going On? by Ethan Mordden

Simply put, I wish I could read this novel again for the first time. This emotional and uplifting panorama of gay life in the late 20th Century begins in a 1949 Hollywood night club before sweeping across country and through the decades to come, depicting the changing boundaries of the closet by way of Hollywood stars, repressed police officers, activists and sex workers. In Mordden’s capable hands, which produce some of the liveliest and most electric dialogue I’ve ever read, the gay world changes before our eyes in ways both thrilling and cathartic. 

Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran

Dancer From the Dance by Andrew Holleran

A literary masterpiece that deserves a place on any “best of” list for fiction, Holleran’s classic novel is told with searing beauty and serves up a perfect portrait of a pre-AIDS Manhattan in which old social codes of sexuality and morality were being interrogated and rewritten, setting the stage for both loss and revolution.

My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson

My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson

The older among us might find it a little bracing to consider 1986 as a setting for historical fiction. But this arresting debut novel from TV writer Rasheed Newsom depicts New York in the 1980s through the eyes of a young black man, expanding our perspective on a time of profound change for queer men that has been explained to us ever since largely by white voices. As young Trey seeks survival and connection, he is mentored by civil rights icon Bayard Rustin and faces down villainous appearances from the likes of Bill Buckley and even Fred Trump. I keep telling myself I’ll savor just one of its razor-sharp chapters only to look up stunned by how long I’ve been held captive by Newsom’s wise and uncompromising voice.

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Don’t forget to check out Christopher Rice’s latest romance novel, Sapphire Storm.

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