10 Queer Western Books in 4 Genres

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

“Jessica has been a voracious reader since she was old enough to hold chapter books right side up. She has an MA in English from the University of Maine, and has been writing about books online since 2015. She started out writing about the Romance genre, but in recent years she has rekindled her love for Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy, with an emphasis on works of queer fiction. You can follow her on Twitter, Bluesky, and Instagram.

One of my favorite things about queer books is the way they’re able to tackle genres in which queerness was once declared unwelcome and carve out a spot for queer narratives that remind readers that we are, and always have been, a part of the story. This is particularly true of the Western genre, which has long been viewed by certain parties as a bastion of “American manhood”, full of rugged, super hetero cis white men who, depending on when the novel was written, either inspired or were inspired by the heroes of classic Western films. No gays allowed. (If you want to see how wrong-headed that sentiment is, Kaz Rowe has a fantastic video on the history of gay cowboy movies and how that history was shaped.)

But, obviously, we know that’s not the case historically. Not only does the common form of the Western genre conveniently forget that a significant portion of cowboys and settlers in the West were Black, but also that forms of queerness were common in the period of the 19th century we think of as the Old West. Chris Packard has a book on this topic, Queer Cowboys, that is well worth checking out if you have an interest in the history in question! The short of the long is that queer narratives have, and have always had, a place in the Western genre, and it is always a constant delight to see books being published that explore and push out the boundaries of the genre from a queer perspective.

Many authors take their queering of the Western even further by blending in other genres to create fantastic cross-genre stories, and you know I love a book that takes genre lines and stomps all over them! So today, we’re looking at 10 titles of queer fiction across four genres that are all, in one way or another, fundamentally Westerns.

Science Fiction & Fantasy Western Books

cover of the nightland express by j.m. lee western bookscover of the nightland express by j.m. lee western books

The Nightland Express by J.M. Lee

This one has been on my radar for a couple of months now because I love the idea of a queer, fantasy take on the Pony Express. It came out a few years ago in hardcover, and if you’re a paperback fiend like me, the paperback edition is actually going to be out this May. The Nightland Express is about a young trans man, Jesse Murphy, who takes a special assignment with the Pony Express in order to feed his family and find his absent father out in California, and Ben Foley, a young, mixed-race gay man passing for white in order to protect his freedom. The two meet by chance at the Pony Express Station, and take up the special assignment together: a dangerous route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to California that finds Jesse and Ben pitted against any number of strange, inexplicable sights and creatures. Apparently, there is another, magical world that exists just beneath our own, only now the two are tearing themselves apart after years of violent war and colonization. Jesse and Ben are caught in the middle of it, with only each other to rely on.

cover of the good luck girls by charlotte nicole daviscover of the good luck girls by charlotte nicole davis

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

The Good Luck Girls is a YA fantasy western novel set in the fictional country of Arketta, rather than the American West, but Western fans will quickly note the similarities between the two settings. It’s about a group of five girls who were sold as children to a “welcome house” where they were branded with cursed markings and destined for a life of sex work. They’re known in Arketta as “Good Luck Girls”, but there isn’t much luck about their fate. When one of the girls accidentally commits murder, the girls band together to make their escape. They set out into the world to find freedom, and justice for what was done to them, even as they’re pursued on all sides by those who would seek to put them back in their cage. Only together, and only with the help of a long history of Good Luck Girls before them, can they hope to survive.

book cover of Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey western booksbook cover of Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey western books

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

We never say no to Sarah Gailey in this apartment. Their books are always excellent, and Upright Women Wanted is no exception. Upright Women Wanted is a queer, near-future western about Esther Augustus, who stows away in a Librarian’s wagon after witnessing the public execution of her best friend and lover, Beatriz. She can’t escape her grief, but she can at least escape an arranged marriage to the very man who was engaged to Beatriz before her death. The Librarians, whom Esther has run away hoping to join, are a group of supposedly “upright” women who deliver materials deemed acceptable to various towns for the edification of the public. In reality, they’re a close-knit group of radical, queer spies, spreading propaganda to undermine the fascist government. We love to see it. 10/10, absolute perfection in novella form.

Horror Western Books

cover of cruel angels past sundown by hailey pipercover of cruel angels past sundown by hailey piper

Cruel Angels Past Sundown by Hailey Piper

Hailey Piper’s Cruel Angels Past Sundown is just one of Death’s Head Press’ Splatter Western books, whose gorgeous pulpy covers are almost as memorable as the stories they contain. Set in New Mexico Territory in 1882, Cruel Angels Past Sundown is about a woman, Annette, and her husband, whose life together is violently and irrevocably interrupted one day at sunset when a naked, pregnant woman stumbles onto their ranch. Escaping the bloodshed that follows, Annette flees to the nearby town. But the nightmare of that night has followed her to Low’s Bend. If she wants to survive the hell that’s coming, she’ll have to put her trust in new friends and face down an evil more frightening than anything she has yet encountered.

cover of salvation spring by t.c. parker queer western bookscover of salvation spring by t.c. parker queer western books

Salvation Spring by T.C. Parker

Salvation Spring may only be novella length, but it packs a lot of story into its 140 pages. Billed as a “weird, queer western”, it’s a delightful work of cosmic horror that definitely deserves a place on this list! The town of Salvation Spring, standing alone in the middle of the desert, isolated and remote, is the only thing that Sasha knows. Literally. She doesn’t know her own past. She doesn’t know what caused the scars on her body, or why. It’s all a blank except for Salvation Spring, calling for her from deep in the desert. This is why, no matter what it takes, no matter what she learns about herself along the way, Salvation Spring is where Sasha has to go.

cover of a book of tongues by gemma files western bookscover of a book of tongues by gemma files western books

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

This next book is a bit of a genre blend — which, of course, I love. Gemma Files A Book of Tongues, the first in the Hexslinger series, is a historical western that also blends in elements of horror and fantasy. And, obviously, it’s queer, which is always a plus! In an alternative post-Civil War America, the outlaws of the West work dangerous magics, and one — Rook, a “hexslinger” — has come up with a desperate plan to unleash a pantheon of sleeping, bloodthirsty gods through whatever bloody means necessary. Hidden among Rook’s men is Ed Morrow, a Pinkerton in disguise whose mission is to discover the degree of Rook’s power; he finds himself forced to team up with Rook’s lover and second-in-command, Chess, if he hopes to stand a chance of surviving the what Rook has planned for himself, for Chess, and for the world.

Historical Western Books

cover of lucky red by claudia cravenscover of lucky red by claudia cravens

Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens

Kicking off the historical fiction section is Lucky Red, a western set in Kansas in 1877 about 16-year-old Bridget, who finds herself finally free to determine her own fate when her troublesome father, for whom Bridget was the sole carer, is suddenly killed by a snakebite as they cross the Kansas prairie. Penniless but independent, Bridget finds work and shelter in Dodge City at the Buffalo Queen, a brothel run by women. Bridget settles quickly into her new life, where there’s plenty of food and money and friendship to go around. Then her life is soon upended yet again when legendary female gunslinger Spartan Lee arrives in Dodge City, stealing Bridget’s heart but bringing trouble in her wake. When a shocking betrayal destroys the safety that Bridget thought she’d found at the Buffalo Queen, she sets out instead to make her own way in the world and see if she can’t become a legend in her own right.

How Much of These Hills is Gold coverHow Much of These Hills is Gold cover

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

Set in the end days of the American Gold rush, How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang is about two orphans, Lucy and Sam, who find themselves suddenly alone in an unforgiving world. Following their parents’ deaths, they flee their mining town for safety and so they can bury their father in peace. But as the children of immigrants, peace isn’t easy to come by: their very presence in gold rush land puts them in danger from the hatred of others. There is a slight touch of magic in this story as the two children make their way across an unfamiliar landscape of mountains that seems full of strangeness and secrets. It’s a story about siblings, family histories, growing up, and finding a place to belong, and it’s just gorgeous.

Romance Western Books

cover of three to love by rebel carter western bookscover of three to love by rebel carter western books

Three to Love by Rebel Carter

Let me preface this by saying that Rebel Carter’s whole Gold Sky series is delightful, and while the book I’m including here is book 4, I definitely recommend you check out the other books as well! Three to Love is a queer, polyam romance about two newcomers to Gold Sky, Montana — Ansel Ortega and Brenden Black — and Florence Wickes-Barnes, who has lived in Gold Sky all her life and has been waiting for the right two men to walk into her life. Florence grew up with a mother and two fathers, and all she’s ever wanted was that kind of love and stability in her life. But even as she finds herself drawn to the love that already exists between Ansel and Brenden, and wonders whether there’s room for her in their lives, Florence is still plagued by doubts that make her reluctant to trust the two men not to break the heart she longs to share with them. Only time and patience will tell whether the three can find a way to be happy together, or whether it will all fall apart.

cover of they ain't proper by m.b. guel western bookscover of they ain't proper by m.b. guel western books

They Ain’t Proper by M.B. Guel

I’m really excited about this addition to the list, not only because it gives me a chance to shout out Bella Books, a long-time publisher of queer books, but also because They Ain’t Proper just seems like such a cute book. It’s the 1880s, and Lou Ramirez has sent away for house plans so they can build a life of their own on the outskirts of Ghosthollow, far enough away from town to be free from scrutiny. Unfortunately for Lou, they sent away for plans, but the mail coach dropped off a wife instead, and now she refuses to leave! Clementine, on the other hand, doesn’t care if she’s been misdelivered. She just wants to be free of her family, and she’ll marry whoever she has to in order to make that happen. That she ends up with shy, quiet, sweet Lou instead of the gruff, harsh rancher she was expecting is just a bonus.

If you’re looking for even more Western books to read, be sure to check out these lists of diverse Westerns, alternative history Westerns, and 28 of the best Westerns for your TBR, or hop on over and browse Book Riot’s entire Westerns archive!

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top