Young Adult

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

The Crystal Heart: An interesting retelling of a familiar tale

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The Crystal Heart by Sophie Masson

I've always enjoyed Sophie Masson's books, and it would seem she's written something of an unofficial trilogy based on the stories of Rapunzel (The Crystal Heart), Cinderella (Moonlight & Ashes) and Beauty and the Beast (Scarlet in the Snow). All of them are based on old familiar fairy tales, but take the opportunity to flesh out the characters and expand the tales into fully-fledged adventures, till they bear very little resemblance to their original sources.

In this case, it's easy to forget that The Crystal Heart is based on Rapunzel, as after establishing the existence of a youn... Read More

The Devil in a Forest: “Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

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The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is different from most of us — at least, he’s certainly not like me. When I hear the song “Good King Wenceslas” I may wonder idly when the Feast of Stephen is (it’s December 26th, as I finally learned two years ago), if he was a real person (he was, although he was actually a duke) and, perhaps, if he was as good as all that (I have no idea). Gene Wolfe heard “Good King Wenceslas” and decided to write this book.

The Devil in a Forest is not a Christmas story, though it is a Christian story; the action takes place near and on the Mountain, within the “forest fence” and near a shrine to Saint Agnes, and that is, as far as I can tell, the end of the direct influence of the song on the story. As the story opens, a... Read More

Scarlet in the Snow: A unique and interesting take on Beauty and the Beast

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Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson's unofficial fairy tale trilogy is linked only by the presence of feya (powerful fairies) and certain geographical locations, which hint that Scarlet in the Snow, Moonlight & Ashes, and The Crystal Heart all exist in the same world, though none of the stories or characters ever interact.

Each one is based on a traditional fairy tale, with Scarlet in the Snow providing some interesting twists on the story of Beauty and the Beast. What if Beauty's father was dead and it was instead her mother who was struggling to make ends meet? What if Beauty actually investigated the Beast's identity, in an attempt to find out who he was before the spell wa... Read More

Rosemarked: Deadly plague plus potion equals one complicated character

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Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

In this 2017 YA political fantasy, Zivah and Dineas infiltrate a common enemy kingdom on a spy mission to preserve their respective tribe/agrarian village from an imperial oppressor. Rosemarked follows a dual POV narrative between Zivah, a mystical healer afflicted with the deadly Rosemark Plague, and Dineas, a tribal warrior who has achieved a rare recovery from the disease.

This story is billed as fantasy, but speculative elements are limited to the mystical nature of the healing arts practiced by Zivah and a pair of crow message carriers who always mysteriously find their master and addressee anywhere. Spooks, I know, might consider the messenger crow commo plan high fantasy indeed, but to those who read the genre, this is quite low fantasy. Within the healing speculative element, however, Livia Blackburne crafts... Read More

A Skinful of Shadows: Weird but not weird enough

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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 orig... Read More

An Ember in the Ashes: A soldier and a slave. Neither is free.

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

The hype surrounding An Ember in the Ashes (2015) around its release was impressive, to say the least. Classed as Epic Fantasy, the book quickly became a bestseller on multiple lists and rights have been sold across thirty countries. Film rights were sold in a seven-figure deal (seven!) well before the book's publication. A sequel was bought almost immediately thereafter. With these kinds of stats, is a book ever going to be able to live up to itself?

Laia is a slave under the Martial Empire. She comes from a group known as the scholars — a class of oppressed people who are enslaved by the Martials. Elias is a Martial, the group that makes up the brutal ruling class of the Empire. He is about to graduate as one of its elite soldiers, referred to as 'Masks' due to the metallic mask that will eventually infuse to his skin. The... Read More

A Monster Calls: The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, Conor O'Malley is visited by a monster. But it's not the monster he's expecting. This monster is wild and ancient. This monster comes in the form of a yew tree that usually stands atop the hill Conor can see from his bedroom window, in the middle of the graveyard. Except that now it is here, outside his bedroom window, and it wants something from Conor.

Conor O'Malley started getting nightmares after his mother got sick. In them he has terrible visions, visions which not even the monstrous yew can compare too, and it is perhaps for this reason that Conor is able to have a relatively nonplussed conversation with the tree outside his window. The mass of leaves and branches takes the shape of a man, and it seems to think Conor summoned him. The tree tells Conor he will tell him three true stories, after which Conor will have to ... Read More

White Cat: A YA series with an interesting magic system

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat (2010), the first book in Holly Black's The Curse Workers series, focuses on Cassel, a teenage boy born into a family of workers. Working magic is illegal, which means anyone born with the gift — his entire family — either works for the mob or as a con artist. Except Cassel, that is, because Cassel doesn’t have a gift. What he does have is strange dreams that make him sleepwalk, and end up in the strangest places, like on top of the dorms at his boarding school. If only he could figure out what was causing these dreams, he knows he would be okay. But what’s causing the dreams is even scarier than what is in them.

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Magonia: What YA should be like

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Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Come for the wonderful voice (and attitude) of Aza Ray, the teenage narrator. Stay for a suspenseful plot, vivid characters, and fantastical worldbuilding.

Magonia (2015) is one of those books that, while still partway through the sample, I knew I wanted to buy. It's difficult to create a truly original character voice, but Maria Dahvana Headley pulls it off with Aza Ray. She even pulls it off again with Jason, Aza's best friend, though his voice is less distinctive (this shouldn't be taken as a criticism; most voices are less distinctive than Aza's).

Sequel



There are all too few books that reflect the experience of chronic illness, what it's like not only for those who have it but for th... Read More

Nyxia: More than just another game competition

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Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

A group of teenagers, engaged in a deadly serious game-like competition. Life-changing fortunes are at stake, if not life itself. An ominously secretive corporation pulling the strings.

Many of the elements in Nyxia (2017) are familiar, but Scott Reintgen combines them with some more unusual plot features ― a worldwide cast that is primarily of minority races and nationalities, an appealing urban black young man as a protagonist, and a trip through space to a distant planet, rather misleadingly called Eden, that is clothed in secrecy. The result is an adventurous page-turner of a YA book.

The mysterious Babel Communications has gathered ten teenagers for a trip to the planet of Eden. As they begin their trip to Eden on the spaceship Genesis, Marcus Defoe, an executive of Babel, explains to the teens tha... Read More

Horizon: A disappointing conclusion to a frustrating series

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Horizon by Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde has had me on the fence throughout her Bone Cities trilogy — book one (Updraft) had some issues but I thought it just tipped the needle over into the positive. Book two (Cloudbound) had more issues, which sent the needle just over the line in the other direction, leaving me wondering at the end if the third time (Horizon) would be the charm that saves the series. Having just finished it, I reluctantly have to say it is not. In fact, I’m even more sad to report, Horizon (2017) may have been the weakest of t... Read More

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld: A supremely entertaining book

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

As one of Patricia McKillip's earlier works, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld provides an interesting comparison to her first publication Riddle-Master, a dense trilogy that made the most of her trademark poetic-prose. On the other hand, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a relatively slim volume with a clear concise style and a straightforward story. Since then, McKillip has managed to successfully merge the aspects of both works in her later works, but The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is by no means an example of a new writer still trying to find her voice. Far from it: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld has a fascinating premise, intriguing character interactions and a rewarding con... Read More

Light Years: Deadly pandemic and New Age spiritualism make strange bedfellows

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Light Years by Emily Ziff Griffin

Light Years (2017), Emily Ziff Griffin’s debut YA novel, explores a New York teenager’s coming of age and spiritual and emotional awakening in a world rapidly descending into chaos because of a deadly pandemic. Luisa Ochoa-Jones is an unusually bright 17 year old software coder, on the short list of finalists competing for a coveted fellowship offered by a brilliant tech entrepreneur, Thomas Bell. In her face-to-face meeting with Bell, Luisa demonstrates her prized software program LightYears, which scans the Internet for people’s emotional reactions to a video, news story or other content. But she’s concerned that she and her program haven’t sufficiently impressed Bell. Before the fellowship decision is announced, however, society begins to unravel as a ... Read More

Cloudbound: A disappointingly muddled follow-up

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Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

Cloudbound is Fran Wilde’s 2016 sequel to her debut novel Updraft, and if its predecessor was a mixed bag whose balance tipped toward the positive, albeit not as much as one would wish, Cloudbound doesn’t fare quite so successfully, with the needle pointing slightly more toward the negative. Thanks to a continuingly inventive world-building and a somewhat predictable but still intriguing ending, I’ll forge forward to book three, Horizon, but it’s a more grudging decision than I’d prefer.

Warning: there will be inevitable spoilers for book one, beginning with the next paragraph! I’m also going to ass... Read More

Updraft: A debut novel that succeeds more than not

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Updraft by Fran Wilde

I’m of mixed feelings on Fran Wilde’s 2015 debut novel Updraft, which left me at various times enthralled, captivated, curious, and eager to continue. All of which would be great if it hadn’t at other times had me thinking it was too predictable, too familiar, too plodding, and too vague. Thus the mixed feelings, though the balance tipped me over far enough to move on to book two in the series, Cloudbound (I’ll amend this review once I’ve decided whether the sequel and/or the third book, Horizon, justify that perseverance).

Wilde sets her series in a world of bone towers grown ever upward by their inhabitants after a time of tu... Read More

The Crowfield Demon: A dark and creepy supernatural read

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The Crowfield Demon by Pat Walsh

In The Crowfield Curse (2012), young William and his friends and allies righted a long-ago wrong at Crowfield Abbey and faced down the terrifying Unseelie King. But now another evil is rising at the abbey — one that has even the Unseelie King running scared.

The Crowfield Demon is even better and spookier than The Crowfield Curse. I didn’t realize how familiar the abbey had begun to feel after one relatively short book; when the structure begins to fail, it’s like a shattering of the world, albeit a small, circumscribed world. Pat Walsh builds the suspense well. Creepy, inexplicable art in the church; mysterious artifacts found beneath the stones; foul odors; unsettling dreams; hidden documents from the past — all of these add up to a great mystery. Will... Read More

Tinder: A twisted, terrifying fairy tale

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Tinder by Sally Gardner

Death first comes to Otto Hundebiss on the battlefield. Surrounded by Otto's friends and comrades, he offers to take Otto with him as well. Otto declines, and Death and his ghostly army vanish. So begins Sally Gardner's twisted take on the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the tinderbox. And it doesn't get any more light-hearted after that...

Otto staggers through the woods in which the battle took place, a bullet in his side and a sword wound in his shoulder, and eventually passes out. When he comes round, he isn't sure whether or not he's dreaming: all around him hang boots and shoes. A beast is stoking a fire next to him, and Otto realises it is not a beast at all, but a horned animal mask on the head of a man. Otto asks about the shoes, and the half-man (as Otto calls him) explains... Read More

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