5 SFF Books that Introduce Asexuality Well

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5 SFF Books that Introduce Asexuality Well

In the past few years, I’ve seen a number of lists about books with asexual protagonists. On Twitter, I’ve seen several more lists promoting asexual and aromantic characters. So why, you might think, am I re-treading lists that have already been made?

For a start, asexuality and aromanticism are both still incredibly unknown in wider society and these individual lists are necessary because in a centralised location someone who needs a specific kind of queer book may not find it. Many lists increase visibility, which increases discoverability. In short, one of the reasons I’m making two lists of my own is because having multiple lists is desirable.

For another, plenty of the lists hosted on big sites like Tor.com or Vogue are a few years old and the people who wrote them, like many of us especially at that time, were less aware of what was out there at the time. Not to mention that in the years since new books have been published.

On top of that, I’m arospec acespec person passionate about sharing more books with asexual and aromantic characters with the world because there is so, so much more out there than people usually know about.

Lastly, my approach is slightly different to most of these lists. You see, my goal is to offer readers a list of books that, in my opinion as an aroace reader and critic, make good introductions to both asexuality and aromanticism for readers who would like to know more about either or both orientations and the issues we face. They are lists similar to the ones Claudie Arseneault hosts on her website to help readers narrow down what books contain representation that Claudie thought enjoyable and well-done. As this week covers asexual characters, you can find Claudie’s curated list here.

Though asexuality has gained in visibility, it is still little known and hard to walk into a book store hoping to stumble across representation. Barely a fraction of all the characters in fiction identify as asexual. I’ve collected a list of five books that examine different parts of the asexual spectrum as well as addressing (slightly) different issues asexuals may face while delivering a whopping SFF read. Some of them are written with asexual readers in mind; others are aimed at introducing asexuality to people who’ve never heard of it before. They are, after all, put together to create an introduction into the topic in fiction and as a whole they will, I hope, show you the richness of the asexual spectrum and invite you to investigate further. You might just find your new favourite read.

1. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

The first book on this list is, of course, Seanan McGuire’s acclaimed Every Heart a Doorway. Though it utilises a particular asexual trope[1], it is ultimately a story about loving yourself the way you are and creating your own destiny. It’s still one of the few (traditionally published) books out today that even tries to differentiate between asexuality and aromanticism, and does so with an MC for whom romantic and sexual orientation are at least partially intertwined. That means the intersection between asexuality and aromanticism is particularly messy and, for all that it is good 101 ace rep, comes with content warnings for the aro rep.

It’s also perfect for those looking for something a little darker because it’s part murder mystery, part boarding school fantasy. It has McGuire’s trademark blend of the creepy and the lyrical, featuring a strong core queer cast as Nancy tries to adjust to life at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children and to figure out who is murdering the other students before it’s too late.

2. Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari

Fourth World is the first book in Lyssa Chiavari’s YA scifi adventure where time travel meets space travel meets good, old-fashioned archaeological adventures. It’s a little less “Indiana Jones but on Mars and with time travel” than I make it sound, but if that sounds like your jam, check it out.

The trilogy features two narrators on the asexual spectrum and a multicultural cast. The differences between demisexual Isaac and asexual Nadin offer a valuable insight in how vast the asexual spectrum is. Nadin’s scenes especially may resonate powerfully with alloromantic asexual readers. Plus, if you’re looking for a good romp with several layers of conspiracy theories or standing up against dystopian regimes, but with a much stronger sense of hope than dystopias usually have, it’s definitely a series you should check out.

3. We Awaken by Calista Lynne

We Awaken by Calista Lynne takes stereotypes and insults hurled at asexuals and punches them in the face. Or would, if stereotypes and insults had faces. If you’re looking for a book that explores some of the misconceptions about asexuality and the many ways in which these are wrong, this is the book for you. We Awaken is also the second book to feature a clear description of asexuality, as Victoria is introduced to the term through Ashlinn.

Though there is some darkness in this book (such as sexual assault and the aforementioned acephobia), it is above all a story about first love and discovering your strength and your identity. It’s a contemporary paranormal f/f romance and Ashlinn and Victoria’s scenes are simply delightful. They’re the heart of the book and immensely fluffy and cute.

4. Helped Wanted by J. Emery

J Emery’s Help Wanted is a short novella set at college and one of the few narratives out there to feature an explicitly questioning asexual character. Help Wanted is a quiet and domestic story, centring friendship and romance equally, and set at a college. The romantic pairing between Em and Phineas is delightful, especially given their prickly introduction. Is there a term for a scene where the love interests meet that is absolutely antagonistic and yet still manages to be a meetcute?

Emery’s touches on asexuality and gender are subtle but strong and the worldbuilding is top-notch. It’s a delightful piece where the stakes may not be world-shattering, but certainly life-altering. Em and Phineas make wonderful foils for one another.

5. The King’s Peace by Jo Walton

Jo Walton’s The King’s Peace may be an older book, but Sulien is one of the most relatable aromantic asexual characters I’ve ever encountered. Drawing heavily on Arthuriana, Walton’s rich worldbuilding deftly and subtly includes a spectrum of sexual orientations still rarely seen in fiction today. One of its most memorable scenes, to me, is one where Urdo’s soldiers are joking about each other’s sex lives and the jokes aimed at Sulien are friendly camaraderie rather than jabs intended to hurt and invalidate her choices.

Mostly, though, it’s a prime example of how to write an aromantic asexual character sympathetically solely through the lush and beautiful descriptions. Do note that the first chapter contains rape and caution is advised to those who find this triggering.

And there you go. Five books that, especially combined, serve as a strong introduction to asexuality. While they don’t (and can’t) cover the entire spectrum, they’ll provide you with a rough overview and a grounding in both asexual terminology, identity and asexual literature as a whole.

That said, observant readers will have spotted me talking about alloromantic asexuals and, true, most of the books on this list are alloromantic, meaning they are not aromantic. This post then, does not serve as a good introduction to aromanticism. As of this writing, it is sadly the case that a lot of ‘asexual 101’ stories fail to include aromanticism meaningfully. In this list, only Help Wanted and Every Heart a Doorway try to distinguish between the two.

If you’d like to hear about even more books with asexual characters, I recommend checking out Tor.com’s original Five Books About list for more older books with asexual protagonists[2] and Claudie Arseneault’s Aromantic and Asexual Characters in Fiction Database. As there are a lot of entries in the database, there’s also a shorter list of recommended stories detailing the exact representation they contain and whether it’s explicit within the text itself or only confirmed outside of it. If you’d like to expand your search beyond books and webfiction, I also recommend FYeahAsexual’s list of Asexuals in Fiction.

End Notes

[1] Asexuals are often described as ‘dead’ and, in fantasy fiction, frequently associated with undeath. McGuire does, I should note, try hard to mitigate this association as much as possible within the confines of the plot.

[2] I whole-heartedly second the recommendations for Banner of the Damned and Quicksilver. They’re some of the best pre-2014 examples of asexuality in fiction that I’ve encountered.

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