Young Adult

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

Shadowshaper Legacy: Satisfying end to an excellent series

Shadowshaper Legacy by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper Legacy (2020) is the third and final novel in Daniel José Older’s excellent SHADOWSHAPER CYPHER series. While it was not my favorite book in the trilogy, it ends on a high note and concludes the main plot arcs in a satisfying way. This review will contain some spoilers for the first two books.

Shadowhouse Fall saw Sierra merge two magical Houses into the new House of Shadow and Light, and ended with a cliffhanger as the white supremacist Bloodhaüs emerged as a threat. The immediate Bloodhaüs situation is actually wrapped up pretty quickly — so quickly, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I missed an intervening novella, which I will have to... Read More

Siege and Storm: Despite a choppy beginning, this sequel delivers

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (2013) is the second book in Leigh Bardugo's GRISHA trilogy, and does what any good sequel should do: expands the world, deepens the characters and raises the stakes. On the other hand, it can't quite avoid the pitfalls of a typical middle book — being unable to truly start or properly finish anything; it ends on a note that gives the impression the whole thing has been setup for the third and final instalment. But apart from this inevitability, Siege and Storm is a satisfying read.

Its predecessor Shadow and Bone introduced us to Alina Starkov and the concept of the Grisha. Born with the power to transmute certain elements (... Read More

Shadow and Bone: Old tropes, new story

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

YA can be more fickle than its literary cousins. It’s notorious for trends. There were wizards, vampires, and what feels like a decade’s worth of dystopias. The result is a glut of books with sassy female protagonists who discover they have a unique power, are fighting to save the world, and struggling to decide which hunky love interest to pick from in their love triangle. Shadow and Bone doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in terms of avoiding these tropes, but what it does do is tell them in a fresh and innovative way.

Alina Starkov was raised in an orphanage alongside her best friend (and future love, obviously), called Mal. They live in Ravka, a fantasy Russia of samovars and Grisha — powerful magical soldiers that work directly for the king. If you don’t have magic, you’re bumped down to the common army, where Alina and Mal find themselves. As with most YA... Read More

Cinderella Is Dead: Heroines to cheer for

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s been two hundred years since Cinderella met her Prince Charming. Her dream come true has become a nightmare for the girls of Lille. Every year, all eligible young girls must attend the royal ball, where they vie to be selected as brides for Lille’s men. For the girls who are not chosen, there are dire but mysterious consequences.

It’s time for Sophia to debut at the ball, and it’s the last thing she wants to do. For one thing, she’s gay and doesn’t want to marry a man at all. She’s also noticed that many of the marriages that result from the ball are anything but happy. But refusing to attend would ruin her family, so Sophia goes. Disaster strikes, and soon Sophia is on the run with another girl. Constance, and they become a fierce two-woman resistance against the king. Along the way, Sophia discovers that the official version of the Cinderella story is a lie.

I... Read More

Shadow Captain: Worse than its predecessor

Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain (2019) is the second novel in Alastair ReynoldsREVENGER series for young adults. You’ll need to read Revenger first, and this review will have some spoilers for that first book.

It’s been three months since Revenger ended, and Adrana and Fura Ness are back together after Adrana was kidnapped by the evil pirate Bosa Sennen and rescued by Fura. Now the Ness sisters have Bosa’s infamous ship and Fura, markedly changed since the beginning of Revenger, has declared herself captain. She wants to find the place where Bosa kept her wealth but, to do so, first she’ll have to land to get refueled and ... Read More

War Girls: War is hell

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Onyii is a battle-hardened soldier, weary of war.

She’s 15.

Her adopted sister, Ify, is even younger and a budding tech genius. The two live in a rebel compound of Biafran girls, hidden by a signal dampener from the Nigerian government. Tochi Onyebuchi gives the reader a little quiet time in the camp, to meet the characters and learn about the technologies they use — and then the camp is discovered, and a riveting battle scene begins. Onyii and Ify are separated, swept apart into two very different lives on opposite sides of the war, each believing the other dead. They will meet again four years later, as enemies.

War Girls (2019) is based on the real-life Nigerian Civil War, but moved forward into the 22nd century. There are cybernetic body enhancements, maglev ca... Read More

Destroy All Monsters: Aims high but doesn’t quite hit

Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

It’s interesting reading Sam J. Miller’s Destroy All Monsters (2019) with Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet still fresh in my mind. Both novels deal with child abuse and the question of what a “monster” is. Clearly, these themes are out there in the zeitgeist, and they’re resonating with readers; both books have been named Locus finalists in the Young Adult category.

Destroy All Monsters alternates between two points of view: high school best friends Ash and Solomon. Ash is an aspiring photographer on the trail of a group that’s been committing hateful acts of vandalism around town. Solomon is struggling with a mental illness and sees the world through ... Read More

Revenger: An entertaining YA space opera

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

“If the Ness sisters had a brain cell between them, they’d be back in Mazarile, taking needlecraft lessons from a robot.”

Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness have run away from home, joining the crew of a spaceship captained by a man named Rackamore. Their job on the ship is to use a skull to listen in on chatter that gives them clues about things going on in the universe, such as the location of other ships, gossip, and information about “baubles” that are about to open. They relay these messages to the captain who takes the ship to a bauble so that others on the crew can enter it and collect ancient treasures before it closes again. Everyone on the ship apparently has some genetic affinity for their job.

What the sisters don’t know, before it’s too late, is that Captain Rackamore is being pursued by a pirate named Bosa who is the most feared person in space. She’s le... Read More

The Iron Flower: Battling bigotry and oppression

The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

When Laurie Forest’s debut YA fantasy novel The Black Witch was published in 2017, there was a massive explosion of outrage in the Twitterverse and elsewhere online. Accusations of various types of prejudice — racism (albeit based on fantasy races), homophobia, white saviorism, ableism, lookism and more — were hurled against it. In my opinion those charges were unfair and based on a superficial reading of the text, missing the fact that the main character’s prejudices were clearly being shown as unthinking bias and bigotry, and in fact she does very gradually change her thinking over the course of the book. Still, I’m sure it was stressful for the author, so my assumption going into this sequel was that Forest likel... Read More

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All: Overcomes a slow start

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

I loved Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap so much that I was almost afraid to read Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (2019). How could it possibly live up to my expectations of it? After having read it, I can report that I do still think I liked Bone Gap better, but that Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is also a good read. I’m not alone in thinking that, either; it was a finalist for the National Book Award and was chosen for the 2019 Locus Recommended Reading list.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is set in Chicago in the years leading up to, and then during, World War II. Its... Read More

Solstice: Didn’t work for me

Solstice by Lorence Alison

Solstice (2020), by Lorence Alison, is subtitled “A Tropical Horror Comedy” and is a thinly fictionalized take on the disastrous Fyre Festival, with the addition of an eldritch sea monster lurking beneath the waves. I wasn’t expecting high literature from it, just the proverbial “beach read” to distract myself from the fact that there is no beach anywhere near me (and if there were, it would probably be closed anyway). But the more I think about it, the more it just doesn’t work for me.

Adri Sanchez is a smart, inquisitive teen who’s working as a waitress in her parents’ diner. They have lofty aspirations for her and have lined up a summer internship for her at a law office, but what Adri really wants to be is a journalist. Her wealthy best friend, Elena, is given two tickets to the much-hyped Solstice Festival on Myla Island, and invites Adri to... Read More

Pet: The human meets the divine, and both are changed

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

“There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” The city of Lucille is a utopia. A generation ago, a resistance toppled all the monsters — monsters in this case meaning people: unjust politicians, bigots, predators. The leaders of the revolution are now called “angels” and are revered as elders. Jam is a teenage girl growing up in Lucille, and she appreciates the better world the angels built; as a black trans girl, she knows the world that came before would not have been as welcoming to her. But she still has questions that her teachers are hesitant to answer.

Jam’s life changes when she accidentally brings to life a strange, feathered creature from one of her mother’s paintings. The creature tells Jam to call it Pet, and that it is here to hunt a monster. The monster, Pet says, lives in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Jam’s parents insist that Pet must be mistaken, because t... Read More

Deeplight: A new take on the Cthulhu mythos

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

They say that the Undersea was the dwelling place of the gods. They say many things of the Myriad, and all of them are true. The gods were as real as the coastlines and currents and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools.

No one knows who or what the gods were, the giant creatures who lived in the sea and then, mysteriously, all died. But everyone knows that a piece of a dead god can make your fortune. Hark is still a child himself, all of 14 years old, but he knows it, too. That’s why he’s in the crowd when a submarine brings back parts of the Hidden Lady, the god that used to live in the waters around the archipelago on which he lives. His friend, Jelt, knows it too, and he has plans that call for Hark to do some hazardous things to make them both rich. Hark pays the price for Jelt’s foolishness, sold into indentured servitude.

Hark is lucky that he has a golden tongu... Read More

A Skinful of Shadows: A captivating read

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Here in the UK, Frances Hardinge is everywhere. Her new book, A Skinful of Shadows (2017), was plastered all over the London underground in the run-up to its publication, thrusting Hardinge into the mainstream.

I heard Hardinge talk about A Skinful of Shadows at a local bookshop and she admitted that she’d felt some pressure when writing. I can’t help wonder if this pressure somehow seeped into the novel as she wrote.

Like all of her books, A Skinful of Shadows is an adventure. There’s a plucky heroine, plenty of ghastly enemies and best of all, murderous ghosts. But the story lacked the originality of her previous work and felt alto... Read More

A Song Below Water: A timely, engaging tale

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Tavia is a siren. This fact is enough trouble to her that she’s trying to contact the spirit of her grandmother (who was also a siren) to learn whether there’s any way to rid herself of the power.

Her best friend/adopted sister Effie isn’t really a mermaid; she just plays one at the Renaissance Faire. She’s a totally normal human — or so she thinks.

A Song Below Water (2020), by Bethany C. Morrow, is set in what is essentially our world in the present day, except that several types of magical beings are known to exist. Elokos are prestigious, admired. Sprites are annoying, invisible tricksters who play pranks on children. Sirens are feared and despised. Every known siren in recent years has been a black woman, which has led to a stigma being attach... Read More

The Court of Miracles: A quick-paced series-opener with a few issues

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

There’s a scene in Kester Grant’s The Court of Miracles (2020) where an entire room of nobles is hypnotized by the head of the assassin’s guild into doing something horrific, but which they are wholly oblivious to. It’s an apt scene to note, because while this first book in the COURT OF MIRACLES trilogy is far from horrific (really, far from it), Grant is such a fluid writer that she lulls you into a sort of readerly trance, a smoothly flowing journey that carries you effortlessly along, leaving you if not oblivious at least uncaring with regard to the story’s several flaws. As such, it’s one of those occasional odd novels where I’m going to say there are lots of places it isn’t very good, but you still may find yourself enjoying it anyway.

The blurbs label it a retelling (of sorts) of Les Misérables,... Read More

Aurora Burning: The galactic perils of Squad 312

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Aurora Burning (2020), the second book in Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s young adult SF AURORA CYCLE series, follows the tension-filled, nonstop space adventures of the teenage crew of Squad 312, recent graduates of the Aurora Academy. In the first book, Aurora Rising, the crew visited the forbidden planet of Octavia III and discovered, to their horror, that an alien hivemind, called the Ra’haam, has taken over the planet and is bent, Borg-like, on assimilating all intelligent life in the galaxy (or, perhaps, more like the group consciousness alien in Read More

Leia: A fascinating look at a teenaged Princess Leia

Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

The thing about STAR WARS tie-in books is that they can never contradict what happens in the films, which means they also can't have stakes that are particularly high. The big galaxy-shaping events have to be saved for the big screen.

So it makes sense that a lot of them come across as "filler" or "prequel" stories, which add details and background to things we already know have happened. In the case of Leia: Princess of Alderaan, we learn a bit more about Princess Leia in the year she turned sixteen: the trials she must pass to become future queen, her induction into the Rebellion, and her first love. None of it is hugely crucial, but it's always nice to spend a little more time with your favourite characters.

To be formally named heir to the throne of Alderaan, Leia must prove herself in the areas of body, mind and heart, which m... Read More

Crave: Does the world need another Twilight knock-off?

Crave by Tracy Wolff

Apparently the market for breathless YA romances with sexy vampires isn’t fully saturated yet, because Crave (2020), a new paranormal romance thriller by Tracy Wolff that cheerfully admits to being inspired by Twilight — check out the blatant knock-off cover — offers readers a slightly updated take on the genre.

When her parents are killed in an automobile accident, high-school-aged Grace reluctantly leaves San Diego and travels to the remote, icy interior of Alaska, where her uncle Finn is headmaster of an exclusive boarding school, Katmere Academy. Grace’s cousin Macy, who picks her up in Healy for a ninety-minute snowmobile ride to the luxurious, castle-like prep school, is anxious to help Grace fit in. The problem is, almost all of the other students at Katmere seem to be hostile to ... Read More

Skeleton Key: A darker take on the teen spy’s adventures

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz

The ALEX RIDER books have always veered on the side of realism (as opposed to other teen-targeted spy stories such as Spy Kids and Kim Possible) but even I was surprised by just how dark the third book in Anthony Horowitz's series actually got.

Having been recruited and trained by MI6 in order to infiltrate locations and undergo missions in which teenagers go unnoticed, fourteen year old Alex is happy to be free of espionage and just hanging out with the lovely Sabina Pleasure (a Bond girl if ever there was one).

Naturally, his fun is over when he's once again approached by the Special Divisions Unit — first to go undercover as a ballboy at Wimbledom to investigate a strange break-in, and then (which takes up the bulk of Skeleton Key Read More

Superman: Dawnbreaker: An inconsequential look at pre-caped Superman

Superman: Dawnbreaker by Matt de la Peña

In comparison with the other three books in the DC ICONS COLLECTION, I'm afraid I have to say that Superman's entry is not the best. As with the others, it explores the adolescence of a famous superhero before he or she donned a mask and cloak, and in this case, focuses on farm-boy Clark Kent realizing that strange things are happening in his rural hometown of Smallville.

Along with his best friend Lana Lang (reimagined for the first time as a would-be reporter) Clark gradually becomes aware of a sudden corporate interest in the farms of Smallville, and a spate of missing Mexican workers. The arrival of Lex Luthor and the two squabbling sons of philanthropist Montgomery Mankins doesn't feel like a coincidence, and for the first time Clark begins to utilize his abilities in the attempt to ... Read More

Catwoman: Soulstealer: A fun story for a fun character

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

The DC ICONS COLLECTION has a very simple premise: take a famous DC superhero, give them to a popular YA author, and have them craft a story about each character's adolescence, well before they put on their capes and tights and started crime-fighting. It allows the authors to delve into a part of each character's life that's not often explored (well, except for Clark Kent on Smallville) and give us stories about superheroes that aren't comic books or filmic adaptations.

Among the featured characters (Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman) Catwoman stands out as the one protagonist whose "hero" credentials are somewhat suspect. Better known as an amoral cat-burglar, Selina Kyle is reimagined in Catwoman: Soulstealer (2018) as a dirt-poor teenager struggling to car... Read More

Batman: Nightwalker: A fun adventure with a young Bruce Wayne

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Superheroes permeate nearly every facet of pop-culture these days, and someone at Penguin Books found a way to capitalize on that popularity: round up some successful YA authors and have them write original stories about the most famous DC superheroes while still in their adolescence (the heroes, not the authors).

Therefore the DC ICONS COLLECTION gives us new stories about Wonder Woman, Batman, Catwoman and Superman before they adopt their later personas, most of them no more than seventeen or eighteen years old at the time these tales are set.

Batman: Nightwalker (2018) tackles Bruce Wayne, fast-approaching his eighteenth birthday but still grappling with the loss of his parents. It's not an easy life despite his wealth, and he prefers to avoid th... Read More

Wonder Woman: Warbringer: A fresh look at an old favourite

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

The DC ICONS COLLECTION is a series of four YA novels that take a famous DC superhero and explores their background before they became the stuff of legends. This means having a look at their adolescence, whether it's Clark tending the farm in Smallvillle, Bruce doing voluntary work in Arkham Asylum, or Selena Kyle struggling to survive the streets of Gotham City.

In the case of Princess Diana, she's a young Amazonian warrior on the island of Themyscira, just beginning to understand her incredible power, but mostly eager to use it to impress her mother. That changes when a young woman is washed ashore, and Diana decides to break the law of the island by rescuing her.

Her new friend is called Alia, who is naturally baffled by her own environment — but has a secret of her ow... Read More

The Broken Ones: A fitting prequel to the MALEDICTION TRILOGY

The Broken Ones by Danielle L. Jensen

This is a prequel novel to Danielle Jensen's MALEDICTION TRILOGY, which is comprised of Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress and Warrior Witch. A lot of people like to read books series in chronological order, but I would highly recommend not doing that here, as The Broken Ones (2017) well and truly assumes you've already read the original trilogy.

Beneath the Forsaken Mountain is the city of Trollus, ruled over by a tyrannical king and his son Tristan. But unbeknownst to on... Read More