5 SFF Books that Introduce Aromanticism Well

Posted June 17, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

5 SFF Books that Introduce Aromanticism Well

Though I’ve seen (and written!) several lists featuring asexual characters in the past or lists that combine asexual and aromantic representation[1], I’ve rarely seen a list that focuses explicitly and deliberately on aromantic characters. Claudie Arseneault’s excellent curated list is a rare and welcome exception. Last week, I offered you a list of asexual characters in fiction, as well as my reasoning. For aromanticism, much of that reasoning remains the same. Rather than repeat myself, I’d like to focus on the differences behind my reasoning.

Aromanticism and asexuality are often conflated by… just about everyone other than aromantic people and aromantic activists. Academics focusing on asexual studies repeatedly ignore aromanticism and the wealth of new ideas and nuance it would bring to their arguments.

We are, however, starting to see more explicit aromantic representation getting published. In contemporary YA, Claire Kann has just released If It Makes You Happy, starring a queer Black girl in a queerplatonic relationship earlier this month and in YA SFF, C.B. Lee has just released Not Your Backup, which you will find more details on in the list below. Later this year, Rosiee Thor’s Tarnished Are the Stars will feature a prominent aroace secondary character. To my knowledge, Rosiee’s book will be the first ownvoices aromantic SFF published by a traditional publisher that contains explicit and deliberate aromantic representation.

Sadly, it is still much harder to find aromantic literature than asexual literature and books exploring what aromanticism is specifically are even rarer. This week’s list then is designed to introduce aromanticism to people. Some of these books are written with aromantic readers in mind. Others are aimed at explaining basic terminology such as “what does aromantic mean anyway?” to an audience who’s never really heard of the term before. Some of these books feature characters who are both aromantic and asexual and some feature aromantic and allosexual characters. In all cases, I’ve tried to offer books that will help readers new to aromanticism understand see what aromanticism is and why it is an orientation in its own right. I’ve tried to offer, then, books that serve as an accessible and enjoyable introduction into aromanticism in SFF.

  1. Old Fashioned by K.A. Cook

Technically, Old Fashioned is not a book. It’s a short story that’s been released as a stand-alone ebook. Old Fashioned is a humorous look at alloromanticism, featuring a possibly demiromantic MC and her definitely aromantic cousin discussing labels after.

It’s an incredibly queer fantasy setting, but this is the story that most actively discusses aromanticism and deliberately looks at and attempts to dismantle aromantic stereotypes. If you enjoy low fantasy settings where magic exists as a common everyday occurrence and centring on ordinary people just living their lives, Old Fashioned is a good story to look at.

  1. Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault

Claudie Arseneault’s Baker Thief stars an aromantic allosexual bigender baker/thief/superhero vigilante and a biromantic demisexual police officer. Baker Thief is a powerful look at how being aromantic is not the same thing as being asexual and offers a great look at how important communication is to all relationships. Though it’s not as clear as with Claire’s aromanticism, Baker Thief, like much of Arseneault’s work, actually features a multitude of aromantic and asexual characters.

It’s also a fantastic secondary world superhero narrative. Despite some seriously nasty events, it remains hopeful and filled with kindness. Arseneault deliberately takes romance tropes and recasts them in the light of not just an explicitly aromantic relationship but in light of several decidedly non-romantic relationships. Claude and Adèle’s relationships with their sisters are just as important to the plot as the enemies-to-queerplatonic-partners narrative that ties the whole novel together.

  1. Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee

Not Your Backup is the third book in C.B. Lee’s popular Sidekick Squad series and is, I would argue, best read after either book 1 or book 2. In book 2 we learn that Emma is questioning her sexuality and romantic orientation. Not Your Backup dives into that in exemplary depth. It is, to my knowledge and to date, the only traditionally published (albeit by an indie publisher) novel that actively makes a strong distinction between romantic and sexual orientations and explains to readers why they are not the same. Add in that the story allows two a-spec characters to discuss labels, given Emma an active ace/aro community, and it is easily one of the best examples of both asexual and aromantic representation in traditional publishing out there to date.

Not Your Backup is also a superhero YA novel featuring teens working together to overthrow a corrupt government, with a delightful post-apocalyptic vibe to it.

  1. Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp is, it must be said, not a novel featuring an explicitly aromantic character, but what it offers readers is a story in which friendship is every bit as important, if not more so, as romance. I could write an entire essay about how Kornher-Stace codes Wasp as aroace, but I don’t have room for that.

Archivist Wasp, however, busts some of the stereotypes that get levelled against aromantics in particular. Though Wasp is associated with death and the narrative takes her to the Underworld, it’s very much a narrative about community and belonging. By the end of it, Wasp has reclaimed her identity and radically reformed her community into something that can only be better because Wasp cares.

There is a trope that is applied to aromantic-coded characters especially and Kornher-Stace rejects it at every step. As such, the book offers a good and powerful look at the importance of friendship, something which many other stories ‘downgrade’ to something less than romance. Not Archivist Wasp, though. That celebrates these connections powerfully.

  1. Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski

Lauren Jankowski’s Sere from the Green is an urban fantasy book with several aromantic (and asexual) main cast members, offering readers a powerful look at the ways in which aromanticism is a spectrum. Isis is greyromantic (meaning she only experiences romantic attraction occasionally) whereas Alex is aromantic (meaning she doesn’t experience romantic attraction at all).

Sere from the Green includes the representation casually, coming up explicitly in discussions and the narrative only when relevant. Sere from the Green is one of a handful of novels[2] available that include characters on multiple points along the aromantic spectrum rather than a single, if important, aromantic character.

And there you have it. Five books to help you get started finding aromantic representation. Currently aromantic asexual representation is, by far, the most common explicit aromantic representation out there, so you may have to do some digging to find representation that you’re looking for specifically. A good place to start is with Claudie Arseneault’s Aromantic and Asexual Characters in Fiction Database. I would like to remind everyone that Claudie also has a curated list that should make finding aromantic representation even easier.

End Notes

[1] Understandable, given how often characters who are aromantic are also asexual.

[2] Others include most of Claudie Arseneault’s work, notably the Isandor books, and RoAnna Sylver’s Stake Sauce and Chameleon Moon series, Tylea Manning’s The Chronicles of Plagos City and Rachel Tonks Hill’s Novis.

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