This short essay is the first in what we hope will be a series of blog posts by the Inscription Magazine interns. We’re hoping to add even more original content to the blog soon!
Forgive me while I wax personal for a moment.
I am queer. I began questioning my sexuality at the age of thirteen, when I was in the eighth grade. The same year, an older girl I knew (who, incidentally, I had a crush on) introduced me to Kiesha’ra, a young adult fantasy series written by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. The fourth book in the series, Wolfcry, shocked me, because it was unlike any book I had read before: The protagonist, a powerful coming-of-age princess under pressure to choose a male consort, realizes that she has fallen in love with another woman. The two decide to spend their lives together.
I obsessed over that book. I kept it secret and special. I had always loved fantasy, and it wasn’t until Wolfcry that I felt that perhaps girls could be capable of wonderful, magical things, all while liking girls. By no means unpopular, Kiesha’ra nevertheless enjoyed mostly mild success: Heroes like Atwater-Rhodes’ Oliza were something of an anomaly in the young adult sci-fi/fantasy scene, glorious gems I rarely encountered in all my years of searching hungrily for them.
Fast forward six years to the release of Rick Riordan’s House of Hades, the newest book in his bestselling Percy Jackson: Heroes of Olympus series. In it, a character (a person of color, at that), one who has been prominent in the books since I read the original series at its release, is revealed to have feelings for another male character. Now, you’re probably aware of Percy Jackson’s incredibly huge audience: Its popularity has given birth to two movies and as many book series. I don’t believe I’m wrong in thinking that this is the first canonically queer young character – that is, the same age as the target audience – to feature in a young adult/children’s series this popular, at least in recent years. It is, in my opinion, a major breakthrough.
Predictably, the revelation, which was hinted at but not explicitly addressed throughout earlier books in the series, garnered strong reactions. Some were discouraging. Others were positive. Either way, this book is clearly getting read by a lot of people.
What do these two books, released over six years apart, have to do with one another? Suddenly what I found in Oliza, thousands of queer or questioning young people may find in Nico. They won’t have to dig through the entire fantasy section for a scrap of queerness – House of Hades has been heavily promoted, and I personally have seen several bookshops featuring a display for the book. They’ll get to see Nico, a widely-loved character prominently featured in six books, learn to accept his sexuality. They’ll see the son of a god, a powerful master of the dead, not held back but deepened in character by his queerness. And that’s amazing.
I hope this is the start of something wonderful. I hope after this book’s success, more science fiction and fantasy books for young adults will feature queer kids and teenagers. And I hope that the books that already feature these kinds of characters, such as Wolfcry, become more widely read and resoundingly applauded. I hope we’ll see transgender princesses, nonbinary dragon riders, and asexual warlocks.
This is why diversity is important. This is why diversity in sf/f specifically is important, and why it is a concept we try to embody in our work here at Inscription. It doesn’t just show marginalized young people that they’re okay.
It shows them that they’re extraordinary.
Olivia Morris is an editorial intern with Inscription Magazine. She is a college student studying English/creative writing, religion, and LGBT studies at Syracuse University. She loves young adult fantasy, particularly the work of Rick Riordan, Lois Lowry, and J.K. Rowling. She enjoys animated movies, animals, and discourse on the nature of religion. She hopes to be an author of novels for young people one day.