Young Adult

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

Cytonic: A detour into an unknown dimension

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Humanity has been on the losing end of a centuries-long war with the Superiority, the main organization of galactic races, for decades, trapped on a desolate planet called Detritus and fighting an ongoing war using outdated, small spacecraft to keep from being exterminated. In the second book in this series, Starsight, Spensa Nightshade, a young spaceship pilot who first distinguished herself in Skyward, found a way to leave Detritus and travel to Starsight, a massive alien space station where the galactic government is located. Spensa joined the alien space pilot training program at Starsight while spying on the Superiority to try to find a way for humanity to better fight their captors. She also discovered the hyperjumping capabilities ... Read More

Scarlet: A totally fresh take on Red Riding Hood

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (2013) is the second novel in Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES. You’ll want to read Cinder first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.

In Cinder we met the titular cyborg, an orphan who lives with her hateful stepmother and two stepsisters in New Beijing. Cinder is the best mechanic in town, which is how she meets the young and handsome Prince Kai. He needs his personal robot fixed because, unbeknownst to Cinder, it may contain information about the whereabouts of Princess Selene, the rightful ruler of Luna, the human colony on the moon. Nobody knows if Princess Selene is alive but, if she is, Kai may be able to avoid a marria... Read More

Aurora’s End: Squad 312’s galactic conflicts in the past, present and future

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Aurora’s End, the final book in the AURORA CYCLE YA science fiction trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, begins and finishes with a bang — literally, lots of them — and sandwiches all kinds of wild events in between. (Note: this review includes some spoilers for the prior books in this series.)

When we left Squad 312, a group of young adult space academy grads trying to save the galaxy, at the end of book #2, Aurora Burning, they were split into three groups, ALL of them on the verge of being murdered in one way or another. As I commented in my review of Aurora Burning Read More

Book of a Thousand Days: Two girls trapped in a tower

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

With Book of a Thousand Days (2007), Shannon Hale offers a delightful retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Maid Maleen.

Dashti is a mucker, a low-born girl who was born on the steppes. When her mother dies, she goes to the city to take a job as a maid to Lady Saren. Right away she is locked into a tower with her lady because, in defiance of her father’s wishes, Saren has refused to marry Lord Khasar. She says she plans to marry Lord Tegan instead. Dashti and Saren must stay in the tower until either Saren repents and agrees to marry Lord Khasar, or seven years have passed.

For Dashti, who narrates the story via diary entries, things aren’t so bad at first. There’s plenty of food, she gets to sleep by the fire, and she h... Read More

Medusa: A powerful retelling

Medusa by Jessie Burton 

If I told you that I'd killed a man with a glance, would you wait to hear the rest?

This question opens Jessie Burton's latest novel, Medusa (2021), a feminist retelling of the famous Greek myth. Told through the eyes of the snake-headed Medusa herself, the story reframes her tale as Burton uses myth to examine our own culture of victim-blaming, slut-shaming and toxic masculinity, provoking the question: Is Medusa truly a monster?

We meet Medusa as she stands on the edge of a cliff on the island she's been banished to, just as Perseus – the boy down below, on his boat – arrives on her shores. Medusa knows it is safest to remain hidden, but when her dog Argentus greets Perseus' dog Orado, she is forced down to the shore. She remains hidden as she talks ... Read More

Dark Piper: Intense and memorable for young readers

Dark Piper by Andre Norton

A decade-long war is finally over and the people who live on the planet of Beltane are relieved. During the war, Beltane, where many scientists lived, was recruited for the war effort and served, unwillingly, as an experimental lab. After the war, most of the scientists left the planet, creating a brain drain, and the people who remained were pacifists who looked forward to starting a new way of life without interference from the Confederation.

When a disfigured veteran named Griss Lugard is brought back home to Beltane, he warns the citizens that because the Confederacy has fallen, there is no law, and they shouldn’t trust people who want to come to Beltane because they might have bad intentions. While the citizens of Beltane are eager to accept and shelter refugees fleeing war-ravaged worlds, Lugard vehemently objects, arguing that some of the refugees could be pirates looking for government and mili... Read More

Ace of Spades: Dark academia meets Gossip Girl, and no place is safe

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades (2021) is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s first novel. It’s a YA thriller and doesn’t have any speculative elements, but if you like good prose, good characterization and high-suspense thrillers this book might be for you. I was not the target audience for this book, but after the first couple of chapters, I could not put it down.

Chiamaka and Devon are students at an upscale private high school called Niveus Academy. It’s senior year, and the two are each selected to be Senior Prefects (the school, while located in the USA, follows certain British school traditions.) For Chiamaka, this simply ticks another box on her personal to-do list, which include being crowned queen of the school ball and accepted into Yale premed. Devon, a scholarship student, is stunned that he’s been made prefect, because he has no friends and k... Read More

Star Gate: An innovative concept

Star Gate by Andre Norton

Kincar’s grandfather, the warlord of their Gorthian clan, is on his deathbed. Kincar assumes that he and his half-brother will soon be forced to contend for leadership of the clan but, before he dies, his grandfather informs Kincar that Kincar’s father was a Star Lord, one of the mighty (human) race who can travel to other worlds. Encouraged by his grandfather, accompanied by his trusty animal companion (a bird of prey), and armed with a handy magical amulet, Kincar leaves his Gorthian family to join his father’s people.

When he meets the Star Lords, they explain that they have had too much influence on Gorth, causing it to develop faster than it naturally would have. They will now use a gate to travel to a parallel Gorth which they hope will be uninhabited by humanoid species.

But things go awry and they end up in an alternate Gorth where, Kincar is surprised to discover, people are ... Read More

Sea Siege: An unusual story for Norton

Sea Siege by Andre Norton

In the mid-20th century, Griffith lives in the West Indies with his father, a famous scientist who studies marine biology. Griffith, who helps his father with his research, thinks the work is pretty boring. He hopes to go back to America soon to attend the Air Force Academy.

Griff suddenly becomes more interested in his father’s work when something in the sea starts attacking ships near the island he lives on. Some people think it’s a dupee, others think it’s a Russian submarine. When a large radioactive sea creature washes up on shore, the octopi begin acting weird, and the American Navy arrives to build a facility they aren’t allowed to talk about, the islanders become worried. Not only are they concerned about the environmental effects on the reef, but they are also nervous about their island being caught in the middle of a Cold War that seems t... Read More

Star Born: One of Norton’s more exciting adventures

Star Born by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s Star Born was originally published in 1957. In 2013 it was combined with the related prequel The Stars are Ours and released as Baen’s Star Flight omnibus. Now Tantor Media has published Star Flight in audio format with excellent narration by Ryan Burke. You don’t need to read The Stars are Ours before reading Star Born, but it adds some nice context and, if you purchase the cost-effective omnibus edition (I recommend the audio version!), it kind of makes sense to do so.

In the prequel Read More

Star Rangers: One of Norton’s best

Star Rangers by Andre Norton

Star Rangers (1953) (aka The Last Planet) is the second of Andre Norton’s stand-alone novels included in Star Soldiers, an omnibus released in print by Baen Books in 2001 and in audiobook format by Tantor Media in March 2021. Star Soldiers also includes the novel Star Guard (1955). These two novels are collectively known as the CENTRAL CONTROL stories and, as I mentioned in my review of Star Guard, “I’ve read more than 20 Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most ... Read More

Star Guard: Exciting and emotional

Star Guard by Andre Norton

Star Soldiers (2001 Baen Books, 2021 Tantor Media) contains the two related stand-alone stories Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953) which together are known as the CENTRAL CONTROL novels. I’m reviewing them separately since that’s how they were originally published. I’ve read more than 20 Andre Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most by teenagers, especially those new to science fiction.

In Star Guard we discover that the galaxy is policed by an organization called Central Control. Earth is part of the galactic league, but humans, who are uncivilized barbarians, are thought to be fit only for military service. Thus, they’re... Read More

The Stars are Ours: A fine SF adventure

The Stars are Ours by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has been publishing the omnibus editions of Andre Norton’s science-fiction adventures in audiobook format. The omnibus (originally published by Baen) called Star Flight contains the novels The Stars are Ours and Star Born (the PAX/ASTRA duology). Both novels are set in the same universe (ours, actually) but they stand alone.

The prologue of The Stars are Ours, originally published in 1954, is a big infodump which details a frightening future history of the world in which we basically destroy ourselves with extreme nationalism, a nuclear war, a Cold War, terrorism, a propaganda-spewing anti-science demagogue, and racism. This leads to the destruction of... Read More

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: The genesis of the Hunger Games

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I loved Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, thought Catching Fire was quite good if not as great as the first one, and was only so-so on Mockingjay. Also, it's an uphill battle to write a good, enjoyable prequel if the reader already knows what's going to happen to the main character in the later books and (spoiler) it's highly unpleasant. So I hesitated for over a year to read Collin’s latest HUNGER GAMES book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2020), but when I saw it... Read More

Victory on Janus: A weak ending

Victory on Janus by Andre Norton

Victory on Janus (1966) is the sequel to Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janus (1963). The two novels make up the JANUS duology (Baen, 2002) which has recently been published by Tantor Media as an audiobook (2021). Gabriel Vaughan, the narrator, gives an excellent performance.

In Judgment on Janus, we met Naill Renfro, who was an indentured servant on the frontier planet of Janus. After touching a forbidden “treasure,” he turned into one of the green-skinned people who used to live and thrive on Janus. This ancient race no longer exists, it seems, but humans who find the treasures become changelings who, like Naill, are equipped with some he... Read More

Rule of Wolves: A time of love and war in the Grishaverse

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves, the second half of Leigh Bardugo’s NIKOLAI DUOLOGY, picks up right where King of Scars left off and flings the reader headlong into the story. In other words, if it’s been a while since you read King of Scars, you’d be well advised to refamiliarize yourself at least a little with its plot; if you haven’t yet read that book, don’t start with this one.

The Russia-inspired country of Ravka and its king, Nikolai Lantsov, are beset by threats from both without and within. To the north, the wintry country of Fjerda, which rejects the magical Grisha as evil, is making preparations to invade, and Fjerda has a substantial edge i... Read More

Judgment on Janus: A good introduction to classic SF for an MG or YA audience

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton

Naill Renfro lives in The Dipple, a ghetto on the pleasure planet of Korwar (same setting as in Catseye). He and his mother arrived there years ago as refugees when their home was destroyed by a space war. Now his mother is dying and she’s in a lot of pain and anguish. To purchase a final gift and a peaceful death for his mother, Naill sells himself into indentured servitude on a frontier planet called Janus.

When Naill arrives on Janus, he is put to work in the fields where the citizens seem to be battling the forest. They are chopping down trees as fast as they can.

Naill and the other servants are warned not to touch any artifacts they find as they work. These items are called “treasures” and they’re destroyed as soon as they’re found because they’re cursed. According to the ove... Read More

Unconquerable Sun: Needs more context

Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Unconquerable Sun (2020) is the latest YA novel from Kate Elliott, the first novel in THE SUN CHRONICLES, and is nominated for a 2021 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction novel. The conceit is that Elliott has gender-flipped the historical narrative of Alexander the Great, adding a space opera setting full of galaxy-spanning politics and military battles, along with the complications created by unimaginably wealthy and privileged people.

Unfortunately, this one was not a success for me. Unconquerable Sun is told from three points-of-view: Princess Sun, daughter of queen-marshal Eirene of the Republic of Chaonia; Persephone Lee, a military cadet with a complicated family history; and Apama At Sabao, an enemy combatant whose importance to th... Read More

Deathless Divide: Just as tense and engaging as its predecessor

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide (2020) is the sequel to Justina Ireland’s 2018 novel Dread Nation, the fresh take on zombies I reviewed previously. Much like its predecessor, Deathless Divide maintains a break-neck pace and an engaging cast of characters from beginning to end.

I enjoyed Deathless Divide just as much as I did Dread Nation. Sometimes you come across a second book that fails to live up to the promises of the first — this book is not one of them. It hits the ground running with the same intensity and ratcheting up of stakes as the first ... Read More

Legendborn: YMMV

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn (2020), the first book in her LEGENDBORN CYCLE, wasn’t on my radar until I saw it on this year’s Locus Awards finalists list for Best Young Adult novel. I grabbed the audiobook and one of the YAs that lives in my house (Tali, my 18-year-old daughter) and we listened to Legendborn together as we worked a jigsaw puzzle. We agreed to give Legendborn a rating of 3.5 which is quite a bit lower than the book currently rates at both Amazon and GoodReads, so keep that in mind (YMMV). The bottom line is that we found the story entertaining and wanted to know what happened, but there were too many issues for us to fully endorse Legendborn.

Bree Matthews is a young black high school student who is smart and successful enough that she gets admitted, along with her bes... Read More

Cemetery Boys: A heart-warming coming-of-age tale

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yadriel’s Latinx community in East Los Angeles practices brujería. The men are brujos who escort ghosts to their final resting place and the women are brujas who have healing powers. But Yadriel’s large close family has not supported his desire to be a brujo because he is transgender. Their community has strict gender roles, they don’t see him as a boy, and they don’t think the brujo magic will work for him (though the women’s bruja magic definitely doesn’t work for Yadriel).

Yadriel is determined to prove not only that he is a boy, but that he can be a brujo, too. Only his cousin Maritza believes in him and is willing to help Yadriel become a brujo so, together, without the rest of their family, they perform the ceremony. When they accidentally summon the ghost of a handsome boy named Julian, and when another cousin, Miguel, dies unexpectedly, the teens, though grieved, finally ... Read More

Star Daughter: A fairly strong debut

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

16-year-old Sheetal seems like any other normal Indian-American teenager. She’s close to her large family, has a best friend and a boyfriend, and she’s looking forward to going to college. What most people don’t know, though, is that her father, a famous astrophysicist, married a star.

Sheetal’s mother left years ago to ascend to her celestial court, and she told Sheetal never to let anybody suspect that she’s half star. To hide this fact, Sheetal dyes her silver hair black, but lately the hair dye has not been taking. Also, recently, as Sheetal approaches her 17th birthday, she has started to hear her mother’s starsong and doesn’t know what that means.

When Sheetal begins to realize she has some special powers and then accidentally causes her father to have a heart attack, she realizes she must visit her mother’s court to find a cure for him. When she arrives in the c... Read More

Raybearer: Deserves its accolades

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Tarisai, who has the magical gift of being able to perceive the memories of objects and people, has always lived a sheltered life in her mother’s large house. She rarely sees her mysterious mother and is taken care of by unfriendly servants and tutors who are rigorously educating her for some unknown task. Lonely, Tarisai longs for companionship, travel, freedom, and a sense of purpose.

When she is 11 years old, without any explanation, Tarisai’s mother sends her to the capital to compete to be one of the crown prince’s 11 counselors. If she is chosen, she will live with the other young counselors and the Prince for the rest of her life, as they rule their country together through a magical bond called the Ray. However, Tarisai’s mother, who wants revenge for something the royal family did to her years ago, has placed a geas on Tarisai -- as soon as Tarisai is sworn in as one of the counselors, s... Read More

Victories Greater Than Death: Share it with your teen, then enjoy it yourself

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

2021’s Victories Greater That Death is the first book in Charlie Jane Anders’s new Young Adult space opera series, UNSTOPPABLE. The book is filled with smart, heroic young people, extraterrestrials, space adventures, horrifying villains, bad food and plenty of relationships, as six Terran humans get pulled up onto The Royal Fleet warship Indomitable. The Royal Fleet is smack-dab in the middle of a war with a faction that calls itself Compassion. If you’ve read Anders before, you know that name means nothing good. Within the book, a clue is in the name of one of their ships, Sweet Euthanasia.

Tina Mains is a California girl and a true Chosen One with an extraterrestrial homing beacon in her chest. When it activates, a ... Read More

Winterkeep: Return to a favorite series not fully successful

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep
(2021) is the fourth book set in Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING REALM fantasy world, the prior novels being Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. The first was a five-star, best-of-the-year choice for me, and Fire was nearly as good. The third book was a bit of a drop-off, though not far. Unfortunately though, Winterkeep continues that downward trend, leaving me, I confess, more than a little disappointed, though the book does end well.

In the past, Cashore has eschewed the traditional sequel mode of following the ... Read More