Young Adult

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

Cross Fire: A good read for the young adults who will someday be our leaders

Cross Fire by Fonda Lee

Cross Fire (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel this year, is the second book in Fonda Lee’s EXO series. You need to read the first book, Exo, before picking up Cross Fire. Please note that this review of Cross Fire may spoil some of the plot for Exo.

When we left Donovan Reyes in Exo, he had been devastated by some severe losses but his loyalty to SecPac was recovering, thanks to personal pain inflicted by the terrorists/freedom fighters and thanks to the kind attention of his SecPac friends, especially his best friend, Jet.

The terrori... Read More

Exo: An exciting YA SF thriller

Exo by Fonda Lee

A hundred years ago aliens defeated and colonized Earth. For the most part, humans now live in peace with the aliens. A minority of humans have been chosen to go through the aliens’ hardening process when they are young. This gives them a type of exoskeleton that makes them very hard to kill. These Exos constitute a military upper class and they look down on “squishies” — those humans who can’t be, or refuse to be, hardened.

Donovan Reyes, the son of the Prime Liaison to the aliens, is an Exo. One of his jobs is to patrol his city, flushing out and arresting any dissidents who remain. When a raid goes wrong and Donovan is captured by a rebel group, his father refuses to negotiate with the terrorists. Donovan’s whole life is turned upside down and his loyalties are challenged.

Exo (2017), the first book in Read More

Nyxia Uprising: A somewhat predictable end to an exciting series

Nyxia Uprising by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Uprising (2019) is the fast-paced conclusion to Scott Reintgen’s NYXIA TRIAD YA sci-fi trilogy, an adventure with several teenage protagonists. It’s set both in space and on a distant planet called Eden that has two moons, an alien race called the Imago, and an abundant supply of nyxia, a malleable mineral with near-magical powers. These three books tell a single, unified story, and it’s impossible to appreciate this series without reading all of the books in order … and here is your obligatory spoiler warning for the earlier volumes, as I’ll briefly recap the tale thus far.

The first volume, Nyxia, had a Read More

The Belles: Exciting despite characterization problems

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The history books say that the God of the Sky married the Goddess of Beauty and their children populated Orléans. But when Beauty started spending all her time with their children instead of her husband, Sky cursed the people of Orléans, giving them “skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” So, Beauty created the Belles, special girls who have magic that can bring beauty and joy back to the people of Orléans.

Camellia and her five sisters are Belles. They’ve been training and practicing all their lives and now, on their sixteenth birthday, they are on their way to Orléans to be honored and assigned their Belle duties. Camellia knows that she is the most creative and gifted of her sisters and she expects to be named as the queen’s Favorite, which means that she’ll get to live in the pa... Read More

Dread Nation: Not just another zombie story

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

In Dread Nation (2018), the American civil war was interrupted when the fallen soldiers on both sides rose again to eat their friends and foes alike. In short: things were a bit of a mess. Our protagonist, Jane, was born two days after the first shambler (the term for zombies in this story) rose on the battlefields. Dread Nation is about her life in this new world.

When I picked up Dread Nation it did cross my mind that zombie stories were a bit of a trend a couple of years ago. I picked this one up because it is in the running for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (awarded with the Nebula Awards) — so if any zombie story is going to be good, it ought to be this one. I was not disappointed.

With few reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed Dread Nation. ... Read More

Sky Without Stars: Do you hear the people sing?

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell

Street-smart Chatine Renard spends her days scrounging for trinkets, or sometimes liberating them from their owners directly, and committing other crimes while dressed as a boy so that she can’t be forced to sell her blood, a nominally-legal vocation which might bring good money in the short-term but is sure to kill her within a few years. Alouette Taureau is a sweet, dangerously naïve girl brought up in near-seclusion under the watchful eyes of her kind father and the Sisters who hide belowground, protecting valuable books and other information smuggled from Earth during the Last Days, when nations fled their home planet and made their way to the twelve planets within the System Divine.

Then there’s Marcellus Bonnefaçon, who has a promising career as an officer ahead of him, regardless of his father’s banishment to the prison-moon of Bastille and his childhood govern... Read More

Imposters: A semi-successful return to the world of UGLIES

Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld has long been one of the best YA authors going, with multiple stories well worth a read, including the UGLIES, LEVIATHAN, and MIDNIGHTERS series, all of which are top-notch. And his SUCCESSION sci-fi series, more adult in nature, is absolutely great. So a new title from him is big news, made even bigger when we learn it’s a return to his beloved UGLIES trilogy. Honestly, it’s hard to live up to that sort of expectation, and unfortunately, I have to say title one in the new series, Impostors (2018), doesn’t do so. That’s not to say it’s a bad book; it just doesn’t reach the same level as Westerfeld’s other work. And even with that said, I’m pretty sure younger readers, its target a... Read More

Station Zero: A superb conclusion to an excellent YA trilogy

Station Zero by Philip Reeve

With Station Zero (2019), Philip Reeve brings to an end the RAILHEAD trilogy begun with Railhead and Black Light Express, and if it’s not a perfect conclusion, it’s pretty darn close, leaving you at the end with a sense of satisfying, even gratifying, resolution tinged with a lingering bittersweetness that makes the final result all the more richly rewarding. With this Cosmic Railroad trilogy (not an official title) and his earlier PREDATOR CITIES/MORTAL ENGINES work, Reeve has served up three of the most inventive and compulsively readable YA series of the p... Read More

Slayer: It slays, more or less (I’m sorry)

Slayer by Kiersten White

According to whom you ask, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is either a campy, inexplicably popular teen drama from the 90s, or it's some of the best television ever made. Not to say that the show can't be both, because in fact it is. The karate kicks and monster makeup one step up from Halloween masks were corny even for the time, and I for one would never have expected a show with such a — let's face it — silly premise to acquire a fan following so strong that it has persisted for over twenty years.

But Buffy was also great television, and that made all the difference. Some of it looks dated today, certainly, when we're spoiled for well-written prestige shows, but even so there remains something unique and special in the story of a peppy girl and her friends saving the world after school hours. The writing is sharp and the schlocky horror is fun, but where Buffy really shines is in... Read More

Smoke & Summons: The city outshines the characters

Smoke & Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg

Charlie N. Holmberg’s latest novel is Smoke & Summons (2019) volume one of the NUMINA TRILOGY, in which a mysterious girl flees from magical slavery, girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a skilled thief with a troubled past and a heart of gold, boy helps girl avoid capture, feelings grow between them, and so on.

The girl in question is Sandis, and the boy (well, mid-twenties adult man) is Rone. Sandis has been in slavery for the last four years of her life, after being kidnapped and then sold to Kazen, a sadistic old man whose hobbies include keeping a bunch of teenagers in a deep-underground dungeon where he commits illegal acts of occultism. Sandis and the others like her are ritualistically-bound vessels into which magical spirits known as num... Read More

King of Scars: Battling mortal enemies and demons in the Grisha universe

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars (2019), the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s NIKOLAI DUOLOGY and part of the ongoing saga in her GRISHA universe, begins not long after the events in Crooked Kingdom. Readers should ideally have read both the original SHADOW AND BONE trilogy and the SIX OF CROWS duology before picking up this book; there are a lot of references to prior events and previously introduced characters. We return to the country of Ravka, setting of Shadow and Bone, where Nikolai Lantsov is now king. His efforts to mend the major rifts and problems t... Read More

Charmcaster: Politics and family get more complicated in this one

Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell 

"But when an Argosi encounters something new — something that should not exist and yet could alter the course of history — we are compelled to paint a new card: a discordance." 

Charmcaster (2018) is the third book in Sebastien de Castell’s SPELLSLINGER series. In it, we see another nation in Kellen’s world, a different form of magic adopts Kellen, and the political situation convolutes in even more dangerous ways. Ferius, Kellen and Reichis team up with some new allies and manage to make still more enemies. Kellen, an exiled Jan’Tep scion who has rebelled against his ruthless, manipulative and politically astute father Ke’heops, still manages to unintentionally aid his father’s interests.
... Read More

Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures

Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures by Aaron Ehasz (Author), Josh Hamilton (Author), Tim Hedrick (Author), Dave Roman (Author), J. Torres (Author), Joaquim Dos Santos (Illustrator)

As far as ideas for comic book tie-ins go, a series of "lost adventures" that take place over the course of any given series isn't a bad one.

Collected here are the somewhat inconsequential escapades that happened to the protagonists of Avatar: The Last Airbender across all three seasons, from Aang attracting a swam of scorpion-bees, to Sokka impersonating the Avatar to impress a girl, to Azula and Zuko challenging each other to an arcade game — even a two-page spread on Momo stealing some fruit.

Although plenty of the stories in Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures (2011) are lightweight offerings that cover things like training or travelling or other bits of minutia (like... Read More

The Fever King: A queer future world

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

It's the 22nd century, and North America is divided into several different countries in the aftermath of a worldwide disaster. A plague that first hit back in the early part of the 21st century killed ― and continues to kill ― almost every person who get infected with the virus. Those few who survive become “witchings,” developing a variety of magical powers as a result of the virus’s presence in their body.

Noam Álvaro is a bisexual teenage refugee from Atlantia, now living in the West Durham slums of the more well-developed country of Carolinia. He’s the son of a Jewish mother and a Hispanic father (thus ticking as many boxes as I’ve ever seen for diversity representation in a single character). When Noam survives a plague outbreak that kills his father and most of the people he knows, he emerges with unusually potent magical powers over technology that make him highly valuable to th... Read More

Spellslinger: A YA novel full of magic, cons, and card tricks

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 classmates 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 problem is, Kellen has lost his magic. Howev... Read More

Crown of Feathers: Too familiar for me

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

If you like Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN series and are looking for more of the same — elite society of beast-riders with a telepathic/empathic link between human and animal — then Nicki Pau Preto’s YA debut novel Crown of Feathers (2019), the first in a series of the same name, might be worth your time. If you’ve read enough of this type of book to pick out key plot points and character developments from seven leagues away, though, there won’t be much here to surprise you.

Veronyka and her older sister Val were orphaned as children by the war racking their country and raised by their grandmother until her recent death, at which point Val took responsibility for the pair. The two teenagers are desperate to join the ranks of the fabled Phoe... Read More

The Iliad: An excellent graphic version of the classic tale

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

Gareth Hinds makes a lot of good decisions in his graphic version of Homer’s The Iliad (2019), both in terms of art and narration, resulting in a book that’s easy to recommend both to young adults and also educators/parents who want to slip a little classical knowledge into their kid’s comic book.

Two of those good decisions involve cleverly incorporating each major hero’s initial into their helm or breastplate and ignoring the historical reality, and portraying the two sides in uniform garb so as to more easily distinguish one from the other. Given the number of characters, and an avalanche of names, anything that helps to separate Greeks from Trojans and tell Achilles from Agamemnon is a boon to the reader. The art is clear and vivid throughout, working hand in hand with the text to clarify, expand, emphasize, and enhance. It’s all well done, but my ... Read More

Mahimata: Concludes the ASIANA duology with more questions than answers

Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra

Rati Mehrotra follows up her YA debut, Markswoman, with Mahimata (2019), the other half of her ASIANA duology, a bubbling cauldron of fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic Earth, and telekinetic metal forged into guns and swords. Brief, but unavoidable spoilers for Markswoman will follow; I’ll keep them to a minimum.

Kyra, still gravely wounded from her battle with Tamsyn, carries much doubt and anger both as a result of what she learned about Tamsyn during their duel and how Kyra ended that duel. The Order of Kali’s elders have spent the past few months since then in conference, and have arrived at a decision: Kyra will be named Mahimata, the le... Read More

Skyward: Fighting for the stars

Reposting to include Nathan's new review:

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson’s new young adult science fiction novel, Skyward (2018), replaces his intricately detailed fantasy magical systems with equally detailed dogfights between one-person starship fighters of the humans living on the planet Detritus (it’s as bleak as it sounds) and the starships of the alien Krell. The Krell chased a fleet of human spaceships to Detritus decades ago and have pinned them down on the planet since, frequently bombarding the humans with attacks that threaten to wipe out the colony, where people primarily live underground for safety.

Spensa Nightshade’s father died years ago during a major battle against the Krell. Though other families of spaceship pilots are lauded by the colony, “C... Read More

The Initiation: Classic YA paranormal romance

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

The Initiation by L.J. Smith

Cassie Blake is distraught when her mother decides to uproot to the small town of New Salem in order to take care of a grandmother who Cassie had never even met before. But that is only the start of her problems. Starting a new school, trying to make new friends — and discovering that some of the people she would most like to befriend are all part of some secret Club that Cassie is not permitted to join. Then a girl dies and Cassie is finally initiated into the Secret Circle, learning that magic is more than just a folktale.

These days the YA market is flooded with paranormal activity — witches amongst them. But in 1992 when LJ Smith first wrote The Secret Circle trilogy it was something fresh and new — and should be reviewed with that in mind. LJ Smith was producing w... Read More

Damsel: A disturbing feminist allegory in fairy tale form

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel
(2018) has an absolutely gorgeous cover, one of the loveliest I’ve seen, with a glowing title wound about with vines, bleeding hearts and other flowers. But on closer examination there’s something just a little bit off about the cover image. An anatomically correct heart. A golden spur with a myriad of sharp points. A dragon’s pointed tail. It’s a bit disturbing. And it’s an apt metaphor for the contents of Elana K. Arnold’s book, where the fairy-tale details initially mask an allegorical story that is far, far darker.

Prince Emory is on a quest, a traditional rite of passage in his kingdom: He is traveling to the gray lands to conquer a dragon, rescue a beautiful young damsel, and bring her back to his kingdom to be his wife, as his father and forefathers have done before him. The hazards of his journey to the dragon’s lair and his tension-f... Read More

Archenemies: Convenient tensions that irritate but don’t penetrate

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies (2018) is the second installment in the popular YA trilogy RENEGADES, by Marissa Meyer. The story revolves around a team of superheroes who police Gatlon City against crime. In Gatlon, superhuman powers abound and their possessors have polarized int two antagonistic groups — The Renegades and The Anarchists. With names like that, you may have a difficult time knowing which are the good guys and which are the bad — and that’s kind of the point. Marissa Meyer has drawn up a plot where she means to ask questions about who can be trusted with extraordinary power. And can we trust any of them to be good? On its face, the story has possibilities, but it’s too ambitious for Meyer. Her execution comes off clunky and heavy-handed.

Diving in, you need to know... Read More

BINTI: The Complete Trilogy: Diverse opinions for a story of diversity

Editor's note: BINTI was originally published in three separate novellas but has recently been released in a complete trilogy. We've combined all of our new and previous BINTI reviews in this post.

BINTI: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

As Binti, a mathematically brilliant, 16 year old member of the African Himba tribe, sneaks away from her home in the dead of night, I felt almost as much anticipation as Binti herself. Binti has decided, against massive family pressure, to accept a full-ride scholarship to the renowned Oomza University on a planet named ― wait for it ― Oomza Uni. (Perhaps the university sprawls across the entire planet? Certainly it covers several cities many miles apart.) Himba tribe members are technically advanced but socially isolated from other people, and Binti’s breaking away from her tribe evidences her courage, but leaves her isolated, an outsider.
Read More

Year of the Griffin: A sweet boarding school fantasy

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

Year of the Griffin (2000) is a sequel (of sorts) to Diana Wynne JonesDark Lord of Derkholm, a satirical fantasy aimed at children and young adults, but just as enjoyable for grown-ups. Year of the Griffin is different — it’s not a satire and, for that reason, probably isn’t as appealing to adults, but I still enjoyed it. It’s what I like to call a boarding school fantasy, in the vein of HARRY POTTER. You don’t need to read Dark Lord of Derkholm first.

Year of the Griffin begins eight years after the events of Dark Lord of Derkholm and stars one of Derk... Read More

Realm of Ruins: Definitely not for me

Realm of Ruins by Hannah West

Though billed simultaneously as a stand-alone companion novel and a sequel to Hannah West’s Kingdom of Ash and Briars, I would strongly recommend reading Realm of Ruins (2018) after that novel, as many of the events and characters from the first novel are mentioned in the second, and not having any references for those details tended to distract me whenever they cropped up in the text.

European fairy-tale references abound throughout THE NISSERA CHRONICLES, particularly the ones adapted into Disney movies: Kingdom of Ash and Briars appears to have contained elements of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, while Realm of Ruins has sub-plots taken straight from Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, along with some clear nods to ... Read More