When I first picked up Orphan's Quest, it was out of sheer interest to find out whether a novel deemed a "gay fantasy" could possibly be a good read. Most novels I've come by that specify the main characters as gay often times end up being preachy and tedious to get through without snoring or yelling at the pages, though I figured I'd give Orphan's Quest a chance.
The story starts off with a young man, Rokey, going through his studies at a sort of boarding school called the Noble Contemplative. The hierarchy of faculty at the school is vaguely reminiscent of a Catholic institution, minus the religious rule. From the start, we see that Rokey is attracted to other young men.
We also come to find that the world in which Rokey lives is incredibly tolerant of gays (or Samers, as they're called in the story). Through an accident that Rokey is ultimately blamed for, he is sent away from the confines of the school and is told never to return. The night following, Rokey is attacked and is saved by a young elf named Flaskamper (or Flash). From there, Rokey is introduced to Flash's fellow misfits who make their way from town to town to get by.
Orphan's Quest is packed with action, mystery and a level of reality that most fantasy stories do not have. The sexuality of the characters is handled in a straightforward, mature way whereas other fantasy stories tend to make the characters almost completely asexual. The story is believable in this aspect and it blends flawlessly with the overlying plot of the story, which I will leave for you to read.
I found that it was all very readable, original and preached nothing but tolerance for the life of others. It is clear that Pat Nelson Childs (the author) is expressing acceptance and tolerance in his novel of everything from race, religion, sexuality, gender to physical appearance.
The one issue I had with the story as I was reading it was that I had a hard time relating to Rokey's situation. Growing up gay in America hasn't been an easy thing and I felt that Rokey's lack of issue with his sexuality to be unrealistic in a real-world setting. Yes, the land of Firma is pro-gay, but the world that I happen to live in is not.
In that sense, I could not relate with the main characters. It may sound morbid, but I wanted Rokey to face some sort of hardship because of his sexuality. At that point, the meaning of the acceptance of the world hit me. What's good in Firma is Child's view of an ideal world. Essentially, the "good" side is the acceptance we as people seek and the "evil" side is the opposing view of that, which could be racism, homophobia or a complete disregard for human life.
Though sexuality does come up, it is not the main focus of Orphan's Quest. That is one reason why I enjoyed this story. The gay theme of this novel is minor; unimportant. A few of the characters just so happen to be gay. For this reason, I loved Orphan's Quest and cannot wait until the second book in the series comes out.