Back in February I talked about some books with aro and/or ace protagonists for Top Ten Tuesday, but I’ve yet to cross any of them off my TBR, so today I thought I’d share six novels with protagonists (or major secondary characters) who fall on the aro-ace spectrum!
2020 has been the year that I’ve really started to think about my sexuality in detail, particularly with the three months I spent furloughed and nothing to do but read and think, and it’s meant that this year has been the year I’ve become comfortable describing myself as somewhere on the aro-ace spectrum. I still don’t like definite labels for myself because I think sexuality is just too fluid and I’m never going to say I’ll never meet someone I want to pursue a romantic relationship with, but I often told myself I’d know how to define myself when I met the ‘right person’.
But if you’re on the aro-ace spectrum, your ‘right person’ is all your closest friends which means, for people like me who didn’t grow up with terms like aro and ace around, you can spend your life wondering if there’s something wrong with you because romantic relationships seem to happen so easily for everyone else.
You don’t need to know all of this, but I guess this is my way of saying why I need to read more aro-ace rep in books (especially in fantasy, please!) and why representation matters. We live in a world that prioritises romantic relationships above all others and a society that’s obsessed with sex, so when you don’t really feel either of those things for other people it leaves you feeling like you’re watching the world go by from the outskirts. I don’t want to spend my life as a wallflower because other people don’t believe what I feel, or don’t feel, is real.
My friendships and my family are my most important relationships, and I think we do those relationships a disservice if we act like romance is the be all and end all.
And I don’t hate romance at all! This might sound weird, but at heart I’m a hopelessly romantic aro-ace spec person. I love love stories, I love shipping fictional characters, those relationships just don’t work for me.
ANYWAY. On with the books! (Which I imagine are what you’re actually here for…)
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.
But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.
What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.
But she won’t be in it alone.
Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.
Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.
Our heroine Jane (whom I love) is bi, but her friend and companion in this series (which I think is a duology, but I’m not entirely sure), Katherine, is asexual. From what I remember the word ‘asexual’ isn’t used in the first book, which makes sense when it’s set in 19th century America, but her feelings about her sexuality are touched upon, and I’m hoping they’ll be more prevalent in this second book–especially as Katherine’s on the cover!
City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault
A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.
Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor’s most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.
Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.
In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.
I’m not sure what the sexuality of the protagonist of this series is, but I found this book on an aro-ace book list where a side character who is a cheese-loving aro-ace priest was mentioned and I immediately bought a copy. Arseneault herself is on the aro-ace spectrum, so I’m looking forward to getting to this novel soon.
Loveless by Alice Oseman
Georgia feels loveless – in the romantic sense, anyway. She’s eighteen, never been in a relationship, or even had a crush on a single person in her whole life. She thinks she’s an anomaly, people call her weird, and she feels a little broken. But she still adores romance – weddings, fan fiction, and happily ever afters. She knows she’ll find her person one day … right?
After a disastrous summer, Georgia is now at university, hundreds of miles from home. She is more determined than ever to find love – and her annoying roommate, Rooney, is a bit of a love expert, so perhaps she can help.
But maybe Georgia just doesn’t feel that way about guys. Or girls. Or anyone at all. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe she can find happiness without falling in love. And maybe Rooney is a little more loveless than she first appears.
Oseman identifies as aro-ace, so to see her latest novel feature an aro-ace protagonist makes me so happy. I’m really looking forward to getting to this one, and I’m hoping to get to it very soon!
Clariel by Garth Nix
Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.
With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her – and it is herself she must question most of all.
I love The Old Kingdom series and I’ve owned a copy of Clariel for a while, but I’ve been putting it off because I’d like to re-read the original series. As this is a prequel, though, I’m wondering if I should just pick this one up first because I am here for ace rep in my fantasy, and if I love Clariel as much as I love Sabriel and Lirael then I’ll love her a great deal.
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.
But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).
When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.
Another YA contemporary, this time with a heroine who identifies as biromantic and asexual. I’m so happy that we’re seeing more and more ace characters in YA fiction–particularly as your later teens can sometimes feel like a race to see who’s going to have a sexual experience first, and when you’re not interested in those things it’s easy to feel like you’re not ‘normal’.
The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff
It was a long fall from Clan Heir to common thief, but Aaron never wanted any part of his father’s brutal outlander reign. In fact, besides coin purses and jewels, there’s very little in all of Cisali that interests Aaron, until he stumbles—quite literally—into a prince’s bedchamber…
Prince Davish of Ischia is a skilled swordsman both on the field and beneath the sheets, at least when he isn’t outrageously drunk. But the wine helps him forget all the ways he’s disappointed his father, his family, and soon enough, his young bride-to-be…
A trained Wizard of the Nine with more raw talent than real-world experience, Princess Chandra has no interest in the politically arranged marriage. She flees to the royal city of Ischia seeking a way out of the union. But there, she discovers something far more shocking than Prince Davish’s rakish reputation…
The Stone of Ischia has been stolen. A powerful talisman, The Stone protects the city from the active volcano that looms over its terraces and streets. Without it, Ischia will be destroyed and the kingdom of Cisali will fall. Its only hope is an unlikely band of heroes—a failed thief, a drunken prince, and a runaway wizard—who must face pirates, powerful magic, and their own carefully guarded secrets in order to find and restore the Stone of Ischia.
In this novel we have an m/m romance and a heroine who has no interest in sex or romance, and definitely sounds like someone who’s on the aro-ace spectrum even though she was written before such terms were widely known. I picked up a copy on my kindle very recently, so I’d love to get to it soon!