A Queer Little Book of Tales is a collection of six short stories by author H.R. Harrison fashioned after fairy tales. Each story is basically built around the love and partnership the main character and their love interest discover. Most include a fundamental kernel of fairy tale lore. For example, In the Shade of the Tree of Life has the quintessential ballroom drama from Cinderella and From Stars They Fell has a delightful scifi/fantasy take on Snow White in a glass coffin. At first blush, the first two stories feel like “regular old gay romance,” but one of the genious things about this collection is how these stories pair with each other. Rather than rebuilding whole worlds anew for each book, Harrison seems to have set most (if not all) in the same globe. Many seem to take place at different locations on the same continent or in neighboring kingdoms. I think this greatly builds the atmosphere of the book overall.
An extension of the world building is Harrion’s use of the characters themselves. That is to say, some characters from the stories will, to varying degrees, appear in the stories of others. Naomhan from A Step Apart and a World Away, for example, makes an appearance in In the Shade of the Tree of Life. It was exciting to see this character again, but in a limited way. More surprising is that his reappearance is a tender kind of bittersweetness given what happens to him in his own story. Another example is how Calder makes a tantalizingly brief appearance in From Stars They Fell while Oswin is more firmly placed in that story as a supporting character. The latter becomes the main character while the former the love interest in the next story. For me, this combination of consistent setting and interweaving characters really helped build a cohesive set of stories while still delivering six unique queer tales.
The queer representation was also delightfully varied. Overall, I would say it is decidedly gay-male skewed, but the final story puts a transgender woman in the starring role and From Stars They Fell features a main character whose whole species is basically intersex and whose world view lacks the extreme codification of “male” and “female” (though the concepts still seem to be known to them). There’s also representation of non-white heroes and persecuted relgion is a theme in one of the stories.
Along with all this attention to queer identities and highlighting what I think are generally marginalized groups, these stories are, at their core, sweet, cozy romances! There is a bit of spice in many of the stories and more than a few couples have some “hiccoughs” like being youthfully melodramatic. It was a pleasure to read such a balanced collection of stories. I found myself looking forward to every adventure and I think any fans of queer fiction will, too.
The White Cat
Prince Yufitri is the youngest of three sons. When his father tasks the three brothers with three tasks to determine who will make the best future leader for their kingdom, Yufitri journeys to the north. Hoping to find adventure and mystery, the young prince discovers an enchanted castle inhabited by cats and floating, disembodied hands. But Yufitri also finds genuine companionship with the host cat. Yufitri returns to the castle for help with each of his tasks and his affection for his feline host grows. His commitment to friendship is put to the test when the cat reveals how to break the magical spell that stole his human form.
A Step Apart and a World Away
To become a fairy, one must either be born to fairy parents or one must choose to live among the fairies. For Naomhan, that thought seems fantastical. When he grows older, Naomhan believes he will endure a life of serving in his cousin’s court. Naomhan was enamoured with his attractive cousin when they first met. Years later, the royal heir has revealed a cruel streak that the queen herself viciously grooms. Now, Naomhan wishes to escape…little did he expect to be gifted with that power and more simply by showing true kindness to a fairy named Tairis. Newly bestowed with the gift of travel and limitless funds, Naomhan ventures out to see the world. Soon, however, he realizes the gifts mean little if he has no one to share them with.
In the Shade of the Tree of Life
As apprentice to the royal tailor, Innes is assured employment. And when his master falls ill just when the crown prince needs to be fitted for a new outfit, it falls to Innes to complete the task. In the span of a single fitting, Innes and Kenneth know there is a fierce attraction budding between them. Even while Innes braced for being tossed aside as a dalliance, he and Kenneth meet as often as they are able. What’s more, they share far more than passion between the sheets. Kenneth is a dedicated scholar eager to learn about a topic that most of his kingdom deemed taboo: the religion Innes practices. But their affair is cut short when someone discovers their liaison. Innes does his best to disappear, but he is hard pressed to forget the prince. The memories bubble up again fiercely when a ball is announced…one where Kenneth will choose the person he will marry.
From Stars They Fell
Veniaki narrowly escaped his home planet with his life…such is the lot of someone being used as a scapegoat by others wishing to avoid punishment from those in power. Battered but not broken—and, crucially, all his internal computers and databases still functioning—Veniaki starts afresh with a race of bearded beings called dwarves. The dwarves introduce Veniaki to Wystan, a stunning example of human beauty (even if they are a curiously gendered species). Thank the stars the technology from Veniaki’s homeplanet allows hir to quickly pick up on Wystan’s hand-based language. But Wystan is young and wholly unfamiliar with Veniaki and hir ways—an issue that comes up with an old friend from Veniaki’s home planet miraculously finds hir…but for what purposes?
Echoes of the Dead
Helping others is a passion of Oswin’s. It’s why he enjoyed working as an interpreter for Wystan—so few people knew how to use their hands to talk. But when Wystan fell in love with a celestial-like being that knew the language, Oswin lost his job. He was happy for his friend, but sad at seeing years of friendship be…well, supplanted thanks to Wystan’s miserly father. He is loath to start over with a new charge, but he is saved from having to make any immediate decisions when he happens upon a strange elf named Calder. The elf is aloof, but not unkind. He is also very striking to look upon and especially so when he transforms into a swan every day as part of a curse placed upon him. It doesn’t take long for Oswin to develop an attachment, but as Calder’s history with his wife and their child slowly comes to fore, Oswin resigns himself to a love unrequited. Things take a turn for the dramatic when someone with the key to unlock Calder from the prison of his curse appears.
The Fairy’s Gift
The King and Queen longed for a son so that he may inherit their kingdom. And when their child, Wynn, was finally born, the kingdom rejoiced with a party. All were invited except for a cruel dark fairy. Feeling slighted, the fairy cursed Wynn in a way to maximize the King and Queen’s suffering: if Wynn touched certain feminine items, the child would change into a woman, effectively ending the royal line and the future of the kingdom. Try as they might, the King and Queen fail to save Wynn from touching a spinning wheel. True to the fairy’s word, Wynn changes from a strapping youth into a lovely maiden. But where her parents are devastated, Wynn breathes the first comfortable breath of her entire life. For Wynn has always known she was a princess. But no matter how right she finally feels in her own skin, her parents reject her…so Wynn strikes out on her own to find adventure and her own place in the world. Little does she expect to happen upon not one, not two, but three princes…and to find both true love and real companionship among people who accept her for who the princess that she truly is.