YA

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

Illusive: This brisk YA thriller follows all the rules

Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Emily Lloyd-Jone’s debut novel, Illusive, is a briskly-paced futuristic adventure for middle school readers. Jones created an interesting adventure, but stayed safely within the conventions and tropes of YA, drawing heavily from familiar works, resulting in a book that is fun, but predictable and in places a bit derivative.

Ciere (pronounced See-ARE) is a seventeen-year-old thief, part of a high-end theft ring. Ciere and her compatriots have special, almost magical abilities, awakened as a result of a vaccine they were given to combat a pandemic that broke out in 2017. In a small number of the population, the vaccine created super-abilities: eidetic memory, extreme strength, an “ability” to escape, the ability to create illusions (Ciere’s gift), telepathy, and rarest of all, mind control. People with these gifts are called “immunes” and are hunted by the governmen... Read More

Marina: A gorgeous story for teens and adults

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

"Marina once told me that we only remember what never really happened. It would take me a lifetime to understand what those words meant. But I suppose I'd better start at the beginning, which in this case is the end."

Oscar Drai is an apathetic student at a boarding school in Barcelona in 1980. While he isn’t too excited about his studies, he is enamored with the old quarter of Barcelona where his school resides, and he escapes to explore the city every chance that he gets. When we first meet Oscar, he has just been picked up by the police because he’s been missing from school for a week. They find him confused and walking dazedly around the city. He is quickly processed at the police station and sent back to school. Then he tells us the story of the strange and tragic events that have just happened to him.

It all started when Oscar heard beautiful music coming from what he ... Read More

Dreams of Gods and Monsters: Taylor weaves shimmering strands into a colorful fantasy tapestry

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

To be honest, I wasn’t sure Laini Taylor would be able to pull it off. Her DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series had such scope and such a fundamental conflict between her two main characters that I wasn’t convinced she could pull it all together by Book Three, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Fortunately, my doubts were unfounded. Taylor weaves together the strands, both dark and shining, of her fantasy narrative into a vivid and complete story.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters opens with a completely new character; Eliza Jones, a graduate student who is tormented by terrible dreams. These dreams are worse than nightmares. In them, Eliza knows that the Beasts are coming, terrible, destructive creatures, and that she is in some way responsible for bringing them. Eliza gets some help from her supportive roommate,... Read More

Neverwas: An addictive Gothic tale

Neverwas by Kelly Moore, Tucker & Larkin Reed

OK, first things first. What a beautiful cover!

The book graced by this lovely cover is Neverwas, the sequel to Amber House by mother-and-daughters team Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed. In the previous book, teenaged Sarah Parsons altered the past to save the lives of her younger brother and her aunt.

As Neverwas begins, it becomes clear that Sarah changed more than just that. The entire United States is different from the one we live in — in fact, there is no United States per se, but several loosely connected countries, and Amber House is situated in one where racial segregation still exists. Meanwhile, in Europe, Nazis reign. “WTF?” you might ask. What did Sarah do in the past that messed up the entire world this badly?

That’s the question Sarah ... Read More

The Hero and the Crown: In which Rebecca finally warms up to a Robin McKinley book!

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

As I've mentioned in some of my other reviews, I have an odd relationship with Robin McKinley's novels. It's not exactly a "love/hate" kind of thing, more like... well, have you ever been in writing class and one of your peers reads out a passage from their novel and the rest of the class gasps and applauds and you're just sitting there thinking..."really?"

It's not that I don't recognize that McKinley is talented writer: her characterization is solid, her plots are carefully constructed (though a bit too predictable in some cases) and she knows how to spin a nice turn-of-phrase. Everyone else raves about her, she's won a number of awards and she's well-respected within the writing community. But for whatever reason, her novels just don't resonate with me on an emotional level. I ... Read More

Edge: September Girls: This book does not stay safely in the shallows; it takes risks.

September Girls by Bennett Madison

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]


September Girls, by Bennett Madison was nominated for a 2014 Andre Norton Award for best YA fiction (it didn’t win; Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine did). I see why September Girls was nominated. It’s beautifully written, a sad and sweet story about love, dysfunctional families, and growing up. Oh, and mermaids.

According to Goodreads, the book is also controversial, with some readers embracing it as a surgically precise criti... Read More

Conquest: A welcome addition to the YA bookshelves

Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

Earth has been conquered by the Illyri, a beautiful and superior alien race. While the Illyri have solved many of Earth’s problems by sharing their advanced medicine and technology, many humans still chafe at being dominated by even such benevolent rulers. The Resistance movement is becoming more active and bombings are frequent. It’s no longer safe for Syl, daughter of the Illyri governor, to be out without a guard in the capital city. Yet out she sneaks on her birthday, accompanied by her best friend, Ani. When the girls befriend a couple of boys from the Resistance army, each of their lives is changed, and so is the relationship between the humans and their occupiers.

Conquest is a welcome addition to the YA bookshelves. While there are certainly some too-familiar elements here (e.g., a powerful group of women that are awfully similar to the Read More

Dreamwalker: Friedman’s first Young Adult offering

Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman

I’m a big fan of C.S. Friedman, so I was eager to get my hands on her latest novel, Dreamwalker. This is Friedman’s first Young Adult offering and while it doesn’t match the level of elegance, intelligence, inventiveness, and beauty of her adult novels, it’s better than most of what’s available on the YA shelves.

Jesse Drake is a high school student who stands out only because of the fractal-like art she produces. Her art is inspired by her dreams in which she visits other worlds. Nobody knows this except her little brother Tommy who sometimes uses Jesse’s dreams as inspiration for his gaming. Neither Jesse nor Tommy are aware that her dreams may have some earth-shattering significance until her estranged father asks for a paternity test and Jesse notices that someone is stalking her. She’s alarmed, of course, and when she begins to investigate she discovers that there are other strange... Read More

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents: YA Discworld

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

Given the light-hearted yet poignant nature of Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD, it is surprising that so few of the dozens of books in the series are Young Adult oriented. One of these is The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and it can readily be enjoyed by adults, as well.

Playing with the legend of the Pied Piper, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the story of Maurice the cat, his band of talking rats, and the teenager Keith with whom they travel city to city. Running a scam, the preening, egotistical Maurice works as a middle man for Keith and the rats, the former earning money by playing the pipe to eliminate the rats who have made themselves a nuisance under Maurice’s guidance, the group sharing in the spoils.

Coming to the city of Bad Blintz in Uberwald, however, their plan runs afoul when they encount... Read More

A Creature of Moonlight: Lyrical voice, original fairy-tale-like atmosphere

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

Rebecca Hahn caught my interest one paragraph into her debut YA novel A Creature of Moonlight:
All summer long the villagers have been talking of the woods. Even those living many hills away can see it: their crops are disappearing; their land is shrinking by the day. We hear story after story. One evening a well will be standing untouched, a good twenty feet from the shade, and when the farmer’s daughter goes to draw water in the morning, there will be nothing left but a pile of stones and a new tree or three growing out of the rubble. And all along beside it, the woods stretch on and on, where no woods were the night before.
There’s a creepiness to that idea — the woods moving in such a predatory fashion — but also a nice fabulist tone and a not-so-creepy storytelling voice that won me over immediately. And for the most part, Hahn made good on that early promise, crafting a quiet... Read More

Expiration Day: Give it a pass

Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell, was a book I almost didn’t bother finishing and only ended up doing so because of that added sense of obligation of having received it for free to review. Had I picked it up on my own, I almost certainly would have dropped it somewhere about halfway in. As usual, in these cases, this will be a relatively short review so as not to belabor the issue.

In 2049, humanity has all but died out and is racing to find a cure to this plague of infertility that has been around for some while now. Meanwhile, to give the race hope and meet the parenting instinct, “teknoids” (sophisticated androids) can be rented by couples to be brought up as their own child, with regularly scheduled “revisions” to mirror the physical development due to aging. Everyone knows this happens, but it’s considered ill manners to speak of it too bluntly, so nobody is ev... Read More

Malvolio’s Revenge: A quick but fun read

Malvolio’s Revenge by Sophie Masson

I've read plenty of Sophie Masson's novels and enjoyed them all, but I'm fairly certain that Malvolio's Revenge may end up being my favourite. Though Masson usually writes straight-out fantasy stories, this is a more of a mystery with a few supernatural trappings thrown in.

The book's title is a bit misleading, for this book isn't a sequel to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Instead it refers to the title of a play that the travelling troupe of actors who comprise our main characters are performing all around Louisiana. Set primarily in New Orleans in 1910, the story begins on a terribly stormy night when the Trentham Troupe of Players stumble upon an old estate that promises food and shelter.
... Read More

Dreams of Gods and Monsters: A spectacular close to an epic trilogy

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

What do you get if you cross Paradise Lost with Romeo and Juliet? Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, a story that centres on an epic war between angels and demons with a pair of star-crossed lovers caught in the middle. Only the angels and demons aren’t exactly what you’d expect. In the world of Eretz, “angels” are winged humanoids known as seraphim and the “demons” are half-human, half-animal hybrids known as chimaera. Their conflict has been going on for centuries — and has finally spilled over into our world.

Whe... Read More

Horrible (YA) Monday: Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

Zoe’s parents were punks in San Francisco when they met and fell in love. Zoe’s father managed punk bands, while her mother was a graphic artist, designing album covers. When they realized they were going to have a child, they went into the straight life, although Zoe’s dad never left punk music behind. Now Zoe is sixteen, her father is dead, and her mother is battling a heartless insurance company that is refusing to pay. They have moved from their pleasant house in the San Francisco East Bay area to a small apartment in the city. Zoe’s dreams are filled with menacing black dogs and a strange woman.

Richard Kadrey is probably best known for his SANDMAN SLIM series. Dead Set is something different; a young adult horror novel. Kadrey masterfully blends the supernatural horror elements of the tale with the real-world devastation Zoe faces. Zoe cuts most of her classes at the new high scho... Read More

The Winner’s Curse: Rutkoski won me over

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Marie Rutkoski is a good writer. I’ve known that from when I read The Cabinet of Wonders, the first book of her KRONOS CHRONICLES, a Middle Grade trilogy. While the subsequent books weren’t quite as good, I still enthusiastically recommended the series. And I can tell Rutkoski is still a good writer after reading her newest YA entry, The Winner’s Curse, because even though I had some large issues with the novel, issues that normally would have made me not recommend it, somehow, Rutkoski still had me whipping through the book in a single sitting. And has me ending up happily recommending it. Despite my list of things I didn’t like. A curse indeed.

Kestrel is t... Read More

Lockstep: Great premise, disappointing execution

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

I’m starting to feel like a broken record (Google it kids) here the past month or so, having had the same general reaction to a long run of books now — “good premise, flawed execution.” The latest perpetrator is Lockstep, a new YA space opera by Karl Schroeder, who has come up with a wonderfully engaging premise and setting, but has failed to create that same sense of engagement with regard to the characters and plot.

Way back in time in the Lockstep universe, Earth was controlled by the super-rich. In order to escape that highly stratified world, Toby McGonigal’s family buys Sedna (a real recently discovered trans-Neptunian planetoid smaller than Pluto’s moon) and sets up an independent colony. While there, Toby, the eldest child, is sent to claim one of Sedna’s moon’s and accidentally goes into suspended animation, only to wake 14,000 years later. Soon after he... Read More

Contagion: A bang-up resolution to the TOXIC CITY Trilogy

Contagion by Tim Lebbon

Contagion provides a sad but satisfying resolution to Tim Lebbon’s TOXIC CITY series. Jack, the hero of the books, comes to grips with his new powers, while outside quarantined London, Jack’s mother and sister spread the truth of the mutation agent Evolve.

In the TOXIC CITY series, two years ago on a date now called Doomsday, a scientist named Angelina Walker released a virus-like compound in London. It changes people. Some people it gives extraordinary powers; other change into beasts or monsters. London was evacuated and quarantined, patrolled by a group called Choppers. Jack, his former girlfriend Lucy-Anne, and a group of friends entered the city to find his mother and sister who were being held captive. In the second book, Reaper (reviewed here) Jack confronted the altered man who was his father b... Read More

The Well’s End: Inspired by Baby Jessica

The Well’s End by Seth Fishman

Mia Kish held the attention of the country when she got stuck in a well when she was four years old. Everybody knows about Baby Mia. Now, at age sixteen, Mia is a scholarship student at the elite Westbrook Academy. She’s one of the world’s best teenage swimmers, which is why she’s hated by some of her peers. When there’s a deadly virus outbreak at Westbrook and the teachers and students start rapidly aging, it’s Mia who may be able to protect her classmates. First they have to get past the quarantine guards to escape the school. Then they have to trek through a harsh winter landscape to get to the cave where Mia’s father works. Mia doesn’t know exactly what her father does at the cave, but she thinks he’s the only person who can save their town from the virus.

Although Seth Fishman’s The Well’s End contains many of the YA tropes that I’ve come to despise, I have to admit tha... Read More

Sargasso of Space: Old-fashioned sci-fi fun

Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

Sargasso of Space is the opening novel in Andre Norton's so-called DANE THORSON (SOLAR QUEEN) series, and is a fine introduction to the books that follow. In this first volume we meet Dane Thorson, a young cargo-apprentice who is assigned (by mechanical Psycho selection) to the trader ship Solar Queen. The crew of the Queen pools its earnings and wins an entire planet, sight unseen, at auction. (Perhaps Ebay will be conducting auctions such as this in 50 or so years!) The crew then explores this strange planet, called Limbo, and discovers the remnants of a lost civilization, as well as globular natives, space pirates, mysterious artifacts and so on.

Ostensibly written for juveniles and "young adults," this novel has a strong appeal for "grown-ups" as well. Not for nothing has Ms. Norton become one of the most popular of all SFF writers, selling kajillions of books and endear... Read More

Futurdaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction

Futurdaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction edited by Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood

In their introduction to Futurdaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, editors Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood offer up their motivation for the collection:
We hope to inject the short-fiction market . . . with an extra serving of undisguised wonder at the possibilities the future may hold [and] give the next generation of speculative readers and writers a taste . . . of the infinite possibilities inherent in both the science fiction genre and the short story form [and to] represent a wider range of viewpoints than is typically seen in American popular culture.
That’s a lot to aim at and more power to them for putting this collection of twenty-one stories and a dozen poems together with that goal in mind. I’d like to say they fully succeed, but as with most anthologies (... Read More

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