The Tales of the High Court series by Megan Derr encompasses five full-length novels.
- The High King’s Golden Tongue
- The Pirate of Fathom’s Deep
- The Heart of the Lost Star
- The Mercenaries of the Stolen Moon
- The Fallen King’s Penitent Soldier
Each novel focuses on a different couple but continues an over-reaching story arc. The series is set in a fictional world that has no modern technology – no cars, computers, phones, etc. There are a number of countries/kingdoms in the world, with most ruled over by the High King of Harken.
The most interesting thing for me is the way the Harken empire views genders. Children are not assigned genders at birth, but choose their own gender when they’re ready.
In book one, the two main characters are High King Sarrica and Prince Allen. High King Sarrica was previously married to a man who died at war. However, over the course of the story, it becomes clear that Sarrica’s husband gave birth to his two children. It is only with tidbits like this that we become aware that Sarrica’s deceased husband was biologically female but recognised by the world as a man and treated as such. There is no word for ‘transgender’ in their world.
The only way the people of that world seem to differentiate between biological and chosen genders is by noting whether or not a person is biologically capable of becoming pregnant.
If a couple wanted to have children but neither partner was capable of becoming pregnant, they would use what is referred to as a ‘dame’, which is a surrogate.
Not all the countries/kingdoms in the world work the same way in relation to gender, which allows the author to showcase the topic.
There are no gender-specific roles in Harken, which makes for interesting reading as there are a number of military and battle scenes across the books. None of the military roles or ranks are gender-specific.
My own children are grown now, but I watch as others have children and wonder how long it will be before we stop assigning gender at birth and wait for children to tell us what gender (if any) they wish to be identified as. I imagine that time will come. This series gives us an insight into how that might look and work, albeit in a fictional world that does not share our technology. I found the series compelling and fascinating, and I highly recommend it. The characters were all well fleshed out and a number of them were quite witty (especially Lesto in his interactions with Sarrica).
Each novel is a romance, but they are gritty books. In terms of trigger warnings, I hope this suffices: A number of the characters are active soldiers and the empire is at war during much (if not all) of the series, so there are battle scenes and on-page death of secondary and minor characters. Several of the characters are tortured, both on-page and historical. The last book also features a victim of rape and his memories of such. There are also explicit sex scenes in which the author uses the traditional terms for genitals regardless of the gender of the person. I have read books in which a transgender character prefers to use the words that match their gender even if their genitals don’t match those terms, but in this book the author doesn’t do that. Also, book four contains mis-gendering and deadnaming by family members. For me, book four was a four-star read and the others were all five-star reads.