Young Adult

Fantasy Literature for Young Adults (over the age of 12).

Wicked Like a Wildfire: Edgy YA heroine, unique setting, extravagant imagery

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Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović

In Wicked Like a Wildfire (2017), magic and secrecy swirl around Iris and Malina, a pair of seventeen year old fraternal twins who live in current-day Montenegro with their single mother, Jasmina. Jasmina confides to them that all of the women in their family have a distinct gleam, a magical way to create and enhance beauty. Jasmina bakes marvelous foods that call particular visual scenes to the minds of those who eat them. Malina can sense moods and reflect them back with an amazing voice that creates layers of harmony. And Iris can make flowers (and sometimes other objects) expand and fractal into spiral blazes and fireworks of color.

Their joyful, though private, practicing of their magic together comes to an abrupt end when the twins are seven and a neighbor nearly discovers their secret. Jasmina, pa... Read More

Shattered Warrior: Tale’s too familiar but artwork shines

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Shattered Warrior written by Sharon Shinn &  illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag

Shattered Warrior (2017) is a new graphic novel written by Sharon Shinn and illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag. The artwork is excellent, but as far as plot, it’s an overly familiar one and, as usual for me with graphic novels (fair warning), neither story nor characters are rich enough for my deep engagement.

The story is set on a human world conquered years ago by an alien race (the Derichet) and mostly wholly subjugated, though there a rebel group known as the Valenchi sabotages the occasional convoy or bridge. The planet’s main mineral is used to fuel the Derichet spacecraft. The main character, Colleen, was once the daughter of one of the Great Families (rich aristocrats in a highly strati... Read More

Strange Alchemy: Working out the kinks

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Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond

Strange Alchemy (2017) has the unusual distinction of being Gwenda Bond’s first and latest published novel — originally released in 2012 as Blackwood by Strange Chemistry, indie publisher Angry Robot’s YA imprint, this novel is one of many to find new life elsewhere after Strange Chemistry’s brief tenure. For readers who, like myself, are reading Strange Alchemy after already becoming familiar with Bond’s style, this novel is an interesting look at where her career started, with glimpses of the characterizations and themes she’s frequently implemented in subsequent books like Girl in the Shadows... Read More

The Suffering Tree: Witchcraft in the United States

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The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano

When Tori Burns’ family is contacted shortly after her father’s death about a house and some land that was left to them in Chaptico, Maryland, they are suddenly moving into a century home. So begins the uncovering of the mysterious circumstances that lead to Tori’s family owning a small parcel of land on the historic Slaughter farm. The move kicks off many unexplainable happenings that seem to all come back to a witch’s curse from 300 years ago. Elle Cosimano strives to connect the present of the Slaughter land with a darker past, with little success overall.

The Suffering Tree (2017) is one part historical fantasy, one part adolescent romance, and two parts mystery. Tori is a teen navigating a new community, the grief of losing her father, and her personal demons. Often when Tori gets overwhelmed with ... Read More

Black Light Express: A strong follow-up to its predecessor

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Black Light Express by Philip Reeve

Black Light Express (2017) is Philip Reeve’s just-as-good-as-the-first-book follow up to Railhead, continuing the exhilarating romp while expanding the universe and its inhabitants, as well as digging a bit more deeply into the hidden history of the created world and offering up some more page time to some of the first book’s secondary characters. Warning: there will be some inevitable spoilers for book one (you can just stop here with the take-away that I recommend the duology). First spoiler begins in the very next line!

So at the end of Railhead, Nova and Zen had opened a gate to a whole other set of worlds, these i... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen who l... Read More

Anna Dressed in Blood: A unique start to a YA horror series

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Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I usually struggle a bit with young adult books, however, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (2011) was a book I was really excited to see in my mailbox. First of all, the title is catchy and so is the cover. But it was the idea that really caught me — a teenage boy falling for a serial killer ghost. Interesting. How on earth could an author turn something like that into a book geared toward teens?

Blake does a great job at creating a world that is both familiar and different for readers to immerse themselves in. Cas, the protagonist, moves around the country (violently) sending the ghosts that linger into the beyond. The world itself is familiar, because it’s our world. However, Blake adds a nice layer of supernatural to things with Cas’ Wiccan mother and Cas himself, who can see and talk to ghos... Read More

Spellslinger: Lots of spells, lots of slinging

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Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger sounded right up my street — a young adult novel full of magic, cons, card tricks and a plucky underdog. If it didn’t live up to my high hopes I blame the misleading words emblazoned on the back cover that read “Magic Is A Con” — an enticing promise that isn’t delivered because, well, magic turns out not to be a con. Nevertheless, while it wasn’t the story I expected, Spellslinger is an enjoyable romp in its own way.

Kellen and his class-mates are all set to complete the trials that will secure their future as “Jan’tep” — a magical people who wield five pillars of magic — breath, iron, silk, blood, ember and sand. If they fail the trials they will be forced to live out their lives as “Sha’tep”, an under-class destined to serve through manual labour. The only ... Read More

Now I Rise: Demand the crown

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White

And I Darken bought us some of the best characters YA has seen in a long time: Lada Dracul, the fearsome terror of a little girl, and her gentle brother Radu. Defying stereotypes of gender, race and religion, as well as the predictable tropes of the genre itself, And I Darken was a FanLit fave of last year. Lada and Radu make their return in the follow-up, Now I Rise (2017), but can the sequel live up to its dazzling predecessor?

Lada ended And I Darken forging out towards Wallachia with her loyal Janissaries, having rejected the new sultan Mehmed's offer to stay with him, whilst Radu chose to remain. The messy love triangle — Radu's unrequited love for Mehmed, and Lada and Mehmed's impos... Read More

The Farseekers: A solid continuation of a promising series

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The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody

I enjoyed the first book in Isobelle Carmody's THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES but its follow-up, The Farseekers (1990), was even better. After a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization as we know it, leaving only isolated communities and small cities ruled by a totalitarian Council, those born with psychic abilities are known as Misfits. Their fate is to be either burned at the stake or sent to remote Councilfarms, the most famous of which is called Obernewtyn.

Those there were subject to terrible experimentation, but since the close of the last book the compound has been taken over by ... Read More

Obernewtyn: Post-apocalyptic YA fantasy from the 1980s

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Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Elspeth has dreams that come true. She can read thoughts, even the thoughts of animals, especially the strange cat Maruman. These gifts make her a Misfit, marked for death in her world.

Isobelle Carmody’s post-apocalyptic fantasy Obernewtyn, published in 1987, follows Elspeth from the “orphanage farm,” where she and her brother Jes were sent after the execution of their parents for sedition, to the strange mountain compound of Obernewtyn, a place of mystery, power and great danger.

In this world a strict government and a stricter religious order called The Herders control the population after a catastrophe, the Great White, nearly destroyed all life. It appears from the toxicity of the soil and the mention of whole sectors that are “badlands” that the event might have been thermonuclear. Any... Read More

Lost Stars: Lost interest

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Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars (2015) is not in want of a good premise. The story takes place over the course of events in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. It chronicles the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire and the struggles of two star-crossed individuals as they try to find their place within the changing political environment of the galaxy. The aristocratic Thane Kyrell and lowly labourer Ciena Ree both reside on the Outer Rim of planet Jelucan. Whilst their backgrounds couldn't be more different, the childhood friends both have one thing in common: they love to fly. As teenagers they are both accepted into the Imperial Academy and train as TIE fighter pilots and are both (unsurprisingly) star flyers. But thei... Read More

Our Dark Duet: Brings Schwab’s duology to a poignant and powerful close

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Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song (2016), Schwab’s first book in her MONSTERS OF VERITY duology, introduced this world and its sharply drawn main characters Kate and August via a well and smoothly told story that ended with a great closing scene that whetted the reader’s desire for more of this story. In Our Dark Duet (2017), Schwab happily delivers with an equally-good sequel that resolves the narrative fully, though I for one wouldn’t mind if the author were to show us a few more nooks and crannies of this fascinating world. Fair warning — there will be unavoidable spoilers for book one.

I’ll let you turn to my review of book one for the detailed world description, but suffice to say that in this version of the geogr... Read More

Flame in the Mist: In this forest, there is no place to hide…

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

We meet our protagonist, the rather precious Mariko, being carried roughly through the forest in her palanquin. Next thing she's the target of an attempted assassination. So begins our tale of magic, samurai and deception in Flame in the Mist's ancient, feudal Japan.

Mariko is on the way to the Imperial Palace to meet her betrothed when her convoy is attacked. At just seventeen years old, she has little say in such minor matters as her future husband. What's more, this is a political move set to cement her family's social standing. So when her convoy goes up in flames (along with everyone in it except Mariko), her first thought is for her family's honour. She reasons that if she can find out who exactly tried to murder her and why, she can save her family face and return home without having to marry the emperor's son. She murders... Read More

Firebrand: Evil has many faces

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Firebrand by A.J. Hartley

Firebrand (2017) is the second of A.J. Hartley’s STEEPLEJACK series, following shortly after 2016’s Steeplejack and continuing the story of Anglet Sutonga, a young woman with a very strong sense of justice and a knack for finding herself in trouble. Firebrand builds on the events of Steeplejack, and as a result, this review will contain very mild spoilers for Steeplejack.

Firebrand takes places three months after Steeplejack’s ending, providi... Read More

Steeplejack: A good detective story blended with biting social commentary

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Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

I knew Steeplejack (2016) was a YA thriller/mystery before picking up my review copy, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as solidly-written and entertaining as I ultimately found it to be. A.J. Hartley has not only created a compelling heroine and a richly imaginative world, but also multiple schemes driving the plot which depend on (and drive) social unrest that strikes extremely close to home in places.

Our story begins in the glorious city of Bar-Selehm, a metropolis which is geographically and culturally reminiscent of Johannesburg, South Africa; white Feldesland colonialists inhabit the upper echelons of power, brown-skinned Lani perform menial labor and live on the outskirts of town, and dark-skinned Mahweni generally live in the surrounding ... Read More

Thick as Thieves: The theft of a slave

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Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the second book in the QUEEN'S THIEF series, The Queen of Attolia.

In Thick as Thieves (2017), the long-awaited fifth book in Megan Whalen Turner’s QUEEN’S THIEF series, the setting shifts away from the peninsula where Eddis, Attolia and Sounis are, to another country in this world, the Mede Empire, which has long been nursing not-so-secret plans to conquer and annex the peninsula. Kamet is a valuable secretary and slave to Nahuseresh, former Mede ambassador to Attolia and neph... Read More

Seeker: Seek and you shall find

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Seeker by Veronica Rossi

Warning: Will contain some spoilers for the previous book, Riders.

Readers of the explosive finale to Veronica Rossi's Riders will remember the fate the four horsemen of the apocalypse came to: Daryn sealed War (our hero Gideon) in a dark dimension with Samrael, the last surviving demon of the Kindred. Now, plagued with guilt, it's up to her to rescue him in Seeker (2017).

Whilst Daryn's role in Riders was shady at best — she was unable to adequately explain why she was forcing Gideon to round up the other horsemen of the apocalypse — we find out that she is a Seeker: she gained Sight and the ability to see the future. But she has made a fatal mistake: Gid... Read More

Riders: Can you outrun destiny?

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Riders by Veronica Rossi

Eighteen year old Gideon Blake has waited his whole life to become a US Army ranger, but when his whole life comes to an abrupt end, those dreams can no longer become a reality. Instead, he finds himself wearing a mysterious metal bracelet he can't remove and most certainly not as dead as he should be. Gideon discovers that he is, in fact, living out (ahem) his true destiny: he has been reincarnated as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, War.

Gideon should have died. Waking up instead with a metal bracelet he can't remove, and the ability to affect the behaviour with his own rage (using said metal bracelet) he realises something is amiss. He does what would come naturally to all twenty-first century teens: he Googles it. When the results come up with nothing short of super hero websites, he laughs it off.

Enter Daryn. Daryn explains to our unwit... Read More

Black Dog: YA werewolf fantasy with a Latino spin

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Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog (2014) is a YA urban fantasy that takes the werewolf shapeshifter subgenre and puts some unusual spins on it. The teenage Toland siblings, 15½ year old twins Natividad and Miguel and their 18 year old brother Alejandro, have been orphaned in their Mexico home by a mass attack of enemy black dog shapeshifters led by their father’s long-time enemy. Alejandro is a black dog, Miguel is a normal human, and Natividad is what is known as a "Pure," one of the rare girls born with magical powers, including the ability to cast protective spells and to quiet the wild shadow that is an inseverable part of those who are black dogs.

When their Mexican mother and American father both die in the attack, the three siblings follow their father’s last instructions: leave Mexico and travel all the way to Vermont, where there is a strong p... Read More

Royal Bastards: Being a bastard blows (apparently)

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Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards
(2017) marks the newest addition to YA epic fantasy — a genre that seems to be having a bit of a moment. We meet Tilla, our plucky young heroine and bastard to the Lord Kent, and her half-brother Jax, swigging wine on the palace roof and watching the arrival of the visiting Princess Lyriana. Despite their royal blood, the bastards are worlds apart from the legitimate royals, though all that may be about to change…

A great feast marks the welcome for Princess Lyriana, but she shocks Tilla and her fellow bastards by sitting at their table, instead of with the highborns. That night, Tilla leads Lyriana and her fellow bastards on an evening escapade, but they find themselves witnessing a crime and a plan to start another Great War. Now Tilla and the ... Read More

Planet of Blood and Ice: A teen sci-fi horror thriller that wants to be a movie

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Planet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley

Planet of Blood and Ice (2017) is the first book in A.J. Hartley’s CATHEDRALS OF GLASS series for teens. Hartley is billing this story as Alien meets Lord of the Flies, and I’d say that description is fairly accurate since Planet of Blood and Ice is about a group of teens who must overcome the dangers of a hostile alien environment while struggling to live with each other in a safe and civilized fashion.

The story starts as a spaceship containing ten teenagers crash-lands on an icy planet (here is some concept art.) The kids are juvenile delinquents who had be... Read More

The White Road of the Moon: An enchanting tale of black-eyed witches, pale ghosts, and the white road

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The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier

In The White Road of the Moon (2017), a YA high fantasy filled with magic and ghosts, 15 year old orphaned Meridy lives in an isolated mountain village with her aunt and cousins, all of whom despise her (and the feeling is mutual). It’s partly because Meridy’s mother Kamay raised her with a love for books and old languages and stories, partly because Meridy is the daughter of a man her mother never named, who bequeathed Meridy her duskier skin and black eyes, and partly because Kamay had the audacity to die when Meridy was 11, leaving Aunt Tarana with the inconvenient obligation of raising Meridy. To make matters worse, Meridy’s black eyes are a sign of a witch, someone who can see ghosts and bind them to our world ― a magical ability that the practical-minded and suspicious Tarana detests.

So when Meridy's au... Read More

Lois Lane: Triple Threat: An excellent continuation of this series

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Lois Lane: Triple Threat
by Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond’s inimitable LOIS LANE series continues with Lois Lane: Triple Threat (2017), as old threats rear their myriad ugly heads and new experiences bring opportunities for stress, “sports ball,” and flowers. (Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense soon enough.) Each book in this series builds on the previous installments, so even though there’s enough exposition to keep previous events fresh in the reader’s mind, I heavily recommend reading them in chronological order.

Six months have passed since the events of Double Down, and Lois Lane is itching for a story; life in Metropolis has been boringly une... Read More

The Black Witch: A thoughtful exploration of prejudice in a fantasy world

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The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

In an ironic twist, The Black Witch (2017), a book expressly dedicated to exploring the problem of prejudice and promoting diversity and tolerance, has been accused by many voices of being the very thing it is most devoted to showing as wrong. Words like “offensive,” “racist,” “ableist,” and “homophobic” have been hurled at the author and this book. It’s understandable, because the society and most of the characters depicted in The Black Witch ― including the main character, Elloren, a beautiful and otherwise kindhearted girl ― are prejudiced and dismissive, even cruel, toward other races. It’s also deeply unfortunate and unfair, because obviously the author's primary purpose is to show how even a nice person can be steeped in prejudice because of their culture and upbringing, and how that can c... Read More