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

Throne of Glass: Didn’t much care for it

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

There are two main storylines in Throne of Glass. In one, a deadly assassin is unleashed from prison to travel to the capital and take part in a royal tournament for hired killers where the competitors often meet mysterious and gruesome ends (because, you know, assassin tournament). In the other, an extremely flaky girl tries on lots of expensive dresses, goes to parties, gushes over how pretty she looks today, and flirts with attractive men who like to pamper her with expensive presents. In a brighter universe, the novel would end with the assassin murdering the Popular Girl before she had the chance to complete her dude-harem. Alas, the assassin and the girl are of course the same person, and consequently neither plotline feels fully realized. It’s as if author Sarah J. Maas really wanted to write a courtly romance/mystery book before someone put a gun to he... Read More

A Thousand Nights: An unusual take on the Scheherazade tale

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

When the dust rises over the desert, the villagers know that Lo-Melkhiin is coming with his guards to choose another wife. He always takes one wife from each village, or each district within a city. And she always dies.

E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights is a young adult fantasy retelling of the Scheherazade framing story for One Thousand and One Nights, the famous collection of Persian, Arabic and Middle Eastern folk tales. Lo-Melkhiin is the ruler over a large area in the ancient Middle Eastern world. Those who know him know that he has changed from the caring person he used to be, though he is still a capable ruler. What they do not know is that when he rode out alone too far into the desert one day, his body was possessed by a ruthless creature — let’s call him a demon — who then proceeds to suck the power and life f... Read More

Becoming Darkness: Plenty of thrills with nary a sparkle in sight

Becoming Darkness by Lindsay Francis Brambles

Becoming Darkness is the first of the HAVEN trilogy by debut author Lindsay Francis Brambles, a YA horror series which asks “What if the Nazis won WWII?” with the added twist of a global vampirism plague. It’s mostly quite good, with allusions to literary predecessors like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and layers of complicity in nearly a century’s-worth of conspiracies. The overall concept is interesting and the narrative flows well, and many of the characters are engaging.

In this universe, Hitler and his Nazi scientists experimented with biological warfare, eventually unleashing a plague — the Gomorrah virus — which destroyed an already flu-ravaged global population. Most of those who didn’t die outright became vampires, requiring blood for sustenance and gaining immortality. The humans w... Read More

The Scorpion Rules: The price of peace

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Sit down, kiddies. Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, humans were killing each other so fast that total extinction was looking possible, and it was my job to stop them.

Well, I say “my job.” I sort of took it upon myself. Expanded my portfolio a bit. I guess that surprised people. I don’t know how it surprised people — I mean, if they’d been paying the slightest bit of attention they’d have known that AIs have this built-in tendency to take over the world. Did we learn nothing from The Terminator, people?

So begins Erin Bow’s new young adult dystopian novel, The Scorpion Rules, with Talis, the snarky but cold-hearted artificial intelligence overlord of the earth, explaining how humanity got itself into its current bind. Ear... Read More

The Rest of Us Just Live Here: The invasion of Earth and other teenage problems

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The problem with writing about unremarkable and average people is that they are unremarkable and average. In what is basically one long novel-sized homage to Xander from Buffy, Patrick Ness tackles what it is to be the underdog in his latest novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

Mikey lives in a nondescript American town, trying to navigate the pitfalls of high school. There have been various catastrophes in the town’s history: a vampire invasion, a plague of soul-eating ghosts. When Ness mentions a time where the kids were bravely fighting cancer, it becomes obvious that he’s giving a sly nod to all the other YA franchises out there. Yet he chooses not to focus on the Bella Swans or the Katnisses or the Harry Potters or the Buffys. The focus of our story i... Read More

Illyria: A short story, a tiny bit of magic, a big impact

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

It hardly feels right to class Elizabeth Hand’s Illyria as fantasy, and yet it won the World Fantasy Award for best novella in 2008, and who am I to argue? There are only a few very short scenes of a magical character spaced throughout this story and they are subtle, unexplained and un-commented upon. These moments linger in the reader’s mind, who is free to draw their own conclusions and find their own meaning. And yet despite the essentially non-magical nature of this story, Hand has managed to elevate the simple love of two young people to an enchanted status.

Maddy Tierney is the youngest daughter of a sprawling New York family. Her neighbours are her aunts and uncles and their many children, her life the rough and tumble that comes of having boisterous and numerous relations. Bu... Read More

Grasshopper Jungle: Gross and awesome

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle is a weird book in many ways. Not only is it literally weird (it is a book about a giant 6-foot praying mantis invasion, genetically modified testicle-dissolving corn, a secret underground bunker for humanity to reproduce itself in and a dog that’s lost its bark), but it is also literaryily weird. That is, it’s hard to define. The marketing team must’ve realised that too, because it has been toted as appealing to fans of John Green, Stephen King and Michael Grant. It doesn’t really narrow down what readers ought to expect from the novel, but what transpired was one of the most moving, gross and groundbreaking books in YA today.

Austin, our protagonist, is as sexually confused as the novel is ge... Read More

The Weight of Feathers: Star-crossed love takes wing

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Romeo and Juliet story is updated with a few twists in Anna-Marie McLemore’s debut young adult fantasy novel, The Weight of Feathers, published September 15, 2015. Two rival families travel between small towns in California in a nostalgic setting that seems to be approximately the 1960s, performing their Cirque du Soleil-type acts for the townspeople. The French Romani Corbeaus (“Ravens”) attach wings made of wire and feathers to their bodies and perform acrobatics in the treetops; the young women in the Latino Paloma family (“Doves”) dress up as mermaids and do mystic underwater dance routines. What outsiders do not know is that the Corbeaus actually grow feathers in their hair, and the Palomas have escalas, small scattered birthmarks that look like fish scales.

For the last twenty years, the Corbeau/Paloma feud has tak... Read More

The Scorch Trials: A weak follow-up to a not-so-strong first book

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Maze Runner by James Dashner, thinking its frenetic pace was as much weakness as strength and that its characterization was pretty thin (plus there was the whole “let’s not have anyone talk to each other or explain things” pet peeve of mine). I admit, however, that it probably would meet the needs of a particular reader — one who likes fast paced action that blows by any annoying plot holes and who isn’t particularly looking for a lot of in-depth characterization. That same sort of reader will probably find the sequel, The Scorch Trials, just as satisfying, though again, for my own tastes, it falls mostly short of being a good book. It’s going to be impossible to discuss The Scorch Trials without some s... Read More

End of Days: A satisfying(ish) conclusion to an edge-of-your-seat thriller

End of Days by Susan Ee

End of Days is the third and final book in Susan Ee's post-apocalyptic PENRYN AND THE END OF DAYS trilogy, one which pits seventeen year old Penryn Young against hordes of angels who seem intent on bringing about the end of the world. More like an alien invasion than the Rapture, these Old Testament angels have decimated entire cities, leaving the remnants of humanity's population to scrounge in the streets.

Penryn has it worse than most, being the sole carer of her paraplegic sister Paige and her schizophrenic mother; struggling to keep all of them alive in the wastelands of San Francisco — at least until she manages to secure a truce with an injured archangel called Raffe, and gradually come to an understanding of what exactly the invasion is really about. Told in first-person narration by P... Read More

Snow Like Ashes: Some captivating ideas coupled with familiar details

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Snow Like Ashes is Sara Raasch’s debut fantasy novel and for that I commend its fast pace and the strong, if simple, premise. A lack of depth ultimately lets it down but Raasch may well be one to watch.

Our heroine, Meira, lives in a country divided into seasonal kingdoms (in Summer kingdom it is always summer; in Spring kingdom it is always spring — you get the idea). When Meira was a baby, her kingdom (Winter) was taken over by the dominant Spring. Along with a few others, including the infant heir to the throne of Winter, and a battle hardened warrior simply called “Sir”, she escaped. We meet the small group of survivors living in exile in the lands outside of the Seasons where they are training to overthrow the Spring kingdom and reclaim their homeland. To do so they need to reclaim both parts of a magical conduit that exists in the form of a loc... Read More

The Eye of the Heron: A short but complex novel suitable for all ages

The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. Le Guin

Starscape (Tom Doherty’s YA imprint) presents The Eye of the Heron as a book for ages 10 and above. While the story is straightforward enough, the philosophical ideas that underpin the story are quite complex, so The Eye of the Heron is quite an interesting read for the more mature reader as well. Le Guin does not waste any words in telling the story, she delivers a to-the-point but surprisingly complex novel. If you read it at age 10, you’ll probably see it in a different light now.

The Eye of the Heron is set on a planet that was fairly recently colonized. Le Guin doesn’t mention a year but sometime in the 22nd century seems reasonable. Two waves of colonists have settled a small area of the planet. One group consists of criminals from a nation that covers South America, sent on a one way trip to dispose ... Read More

State of Grace: Drugs, sex, and sunshine — what could go wrong?

State of Grace by Hilary Badger

State of Grace is Hilary Badger’s first Young Adult novel, and it is a doozy. If you put the Biblical concept of the Garden of Eden, Lord of the Flies, and 1984 in a blender, added teenagers with really heavy emotional baggage and a liberal sprinkling of futuristic pharmaceuticals, and turned it on, the result would be a fascinating examination of personal choice and free will (and a terrible smoothie).

State of Grace begins in media res: Wren lives with ninety-nine other teenagers in an apparent paradise, seven days away from the highly anticipated and mysterious Completion Night. They wear loose-fitting sungarb and play naked in a lagoon, sleeping with whomever they want (though never the same person two nights in a row, as per the Books of Dot, and the sex is hinted at rather... Read More

Hunter: Magical monster-hunting

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

In Mercedes Lackey’s new young adult novel Hunter, post-apocalyptic science fiction mixes with magical fantasy to produce an adventure in the tradition of The Hunger Games and Divergent. A series of catastrophes called the “Diseray” — a corruption of Dies Irae — has hit our world: a nuclear bomb (blamed on Christians) was set off in the near east, the North and South Poles switched, plagues killed countless people, and storms have permanently grounded most aircraft. These disasters culminated in the Breakthrough, a permanent rift in reality that allows deadly magical creatures to invade our world from the Otherside. Luckily, along with all of the hostile magical monsters have come some friendly ones, called Hounds by humans, even t... Read More

To Hold the Bridge: An inventive and engaging collection of short-stories

To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

This is not the first time Garth Nix (or at least his publisher) has released an anthology like this one: a short story collection that heavily emphasizes the inclusion of a brand new tale set within the Old Kingdom (the setting of his most famous works: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and the recent Clariel) but which also contains an eclectic assortment of unrelated stories.

The last anthology was called Across the Wall, and as with that book there may be a few readers disappointed in the fact that only the first story is set within the Old Kingdom – and unlike Across the Wall, it does not contain any familiar characters from the rest of the series, only the city of Belisaere and the Guilds that make up such a large part o... Read More

Court of Fives: The dangers of imperialism, racism, and ambition

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent science-fiction and fantasy for adults. Her characters, world-building, and societies are not only entertaining but well-crafted. It seems only natural that, at some point in her career, she would try her hand at Young Adult fiction. The result is Court of Fives, the first in a planned fantasy trilogy which is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as Elliott’s established fan base. While I’ve seen the novel described as “YA meets Game of Thrones,” Elliott herself has said, “I prefer Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior,” which is far more relevant to my personal interests (and a more unique combination).

A quick note for readers who may not be aware: A... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

What’s more frightening: a monster lurking in the shadows, kidnapping children for its dark and nefarious purposes — or a human being who does the same, terrible thing? Are there really supernatural creatures lurking at the edge of human existence, or do we just tell ourselves stories to gloss over how awful our species can be? Even worse, what if both scenarios are true? Alexandra Sirowy explores these questions in her Young Adult debut novel, The Creeping, and I would guess that what readers think about her answers will tell you a lot about themselves and the things they fear.

When Jeanie Talcott and Stella Cambren were six years old, they went into the forest surrounding their sleepy Minnesota town to pick strawberries. Only Stella came out, wild-eyed and rambling about monsters in the woods, covered in Jeanie’s blood. Jeanie’s body was never fo... Read More

The Queen of Attolia: Third time’s the charm

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia, the second book in her THE QUEEN’S THIEF fantasy series, begins much the same as The Thief, the first book in this series: Eugenides (Gen) the thief is in prison. This time it is the Attolians who have captured him, but he’s made them, especially their queen, even more angry than he had the kingdom of Sounis in the first volume. From this similar beginning, however, the plot veers in some completely unexpected directions. Whalen Turner explained this in a Publisher’s Weekly interview:
I could have written a whole series about fun, co... Read More

Cold Burn of Magic: Power struggles in the magical Mafia

Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep

In Jennifer Estep’s Cold Burn of Magic, a 2015 young adult fantasy novel and the first book in her BLACK BLADE urban fantasy series, the world is divided into mortals and magicks, humans who have some type of magical power. The southern U.S. town of Cloudburst Falls, a hotbed of magical power, caters to tourists who want to see magical people and creatures. It’s reminiscent of Harry Potter World, except that it contains real magic, including pixies who are household servants and monsters like the aptly named lochnesses, who lurk under bridges and require a toll of jewelry or money from all who pass over their bridges. Cloudburst Falls is controlled by mafia-like families with powerful magical abilities, particularly the Draconi and Sinclair Families.

Lila,... Read More

Horrible Monday: Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan is the first book in Melissa de la Cruz’s latest urban paranormal fantasy series, THE NEW BLUE BLOODS COVEN. This new series is a continuation of her BLUE BLOODS septalogy, and Vampires of Manhattan picks up ten years after the events of Gates of Paradise, the seventh and last BLUE BLOODS book. Though there are many moments of exposition for the previous series, I would not recommend starting with Vampires of Manhattan, as readers may have a hard time keeping track of the complicated history and mythology de la Cruz presents. For my own part, I found Wikipedia to be tremendously helpful.

As is suggested by the series ... Read More

Only Ever Yours: Disturbing dystopia with a feminist twist

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Imagine a world where women are not born but created. ‘eves’ exist purely to become the perfect companions of men. They are raised in The School by a group of women called chastities, where they can take one of three routes: become a companion (the perfect Stepford wife), a concubine (existing solely for the extra-marital pleasures of men) or a chastity.

Only Ever Yours follows the story of sixteen-year-old freida (and note the lower case; only men are referred to with capital letters). She has spent twelve long years being ranked against her classmates — fellow eves — not for her grades (eves can’t read) but for her beauty. freida has gone to bed hungry every night, eaten kcal blockers after every meal, even taken pills to make her throw up after she’s over-indulged. All of it has been in preparation for ‘The Ceremony,’ where the eves will either be cho... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners is a 2012 YA fantasy in the supernatural horror genre, and the first book in THE DIVINERS series by Libba Bray.  At a birthday party in Manhattan in the 1920's, a group of partying teenagers decides to play with a Ouija board. They promptly do several things they're really not supposed to do, like failing to make the spirit controlling the board say good-bye (is this really a thing?), thereby unleashing the spirit of a dead serial killer on the world.

The second chapter of The Diviners introduces our main character, Evie O’Neill, from Ohio. She's an insolent and self-centered seventeen-year-old who likes to party hard and drink too much gin. Evie spouts 1920’s slang almost every time she opens her mouth, and thinks she's smarter than everyone else around her, including her parents. Evie also has the ab... Read More

The Winner’s Crime: A richly layered middle book in a strong trilogy

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Crime is the second book by Marie Rutkoski in her young adult WINNERS TRILOGY, and like the first, though I had some issues with some aspects, Rutkoski’s writing fully won me over even before we got to yet another great ending. It’s pretty much impossible to not have some spoilers for book one, The Winner’s Curse, in this review, so fair warning. Any spoilers for The Winner’s Crime will be minor. Spoilers for book one start in the next paragraph.

At the end of The Winner’s Curse (told you spoilers were starting), Kestrel had managed to avert major bloodshed and battle by negotiating with the Emperor to have Herran declared an independent part of the Empire... Read More

White Cat: An interesting magic system I can’t wait to see more of

White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat,
by Holly Black, is the story of Cassell, a boy with a peculiar name and an even stranger family. Everyone in Cassell’s family is a curse worker. That is, they can perform magic on another person via skin-to-skin contact. Cursework comes in a variety of forms such as: Cassell’s mother is an emotion worker who can make people feel anything she wants them to, his grandfather is a death worker who can kill with a touch, some can manipulate luck, and others can change another person’s memory. Cursework, given its nature, is strictly prohibited — so curse workers most often work for the organized criminal underground. Cassell is the exception in his family as he is the only one who isn’t a curse worker, but a normal kid.

Cassell’s family is a complicated and dynamic entity t... Read More

Lois Lane: Fallout: Nancy Drew, eat your heart out!

Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond

Lois Lane: Fallout is the latest YA novel from Gwenda Bond and follows the adventures of Lois Lane, a sixteen-year-old army brat with a chip on her shoulder and a nose for trouble. She’s convinced that East Metropolis High will be a fresh start, unlike all those other schools she’s been to, where her efforts to help people in need always seem to end up adding black marks to her permanent record. Straighten up and fly right is her brand-new mantra, but this goes awry instantly when she overhears a young woman complaining about bullying to the principal, who brushes her concerns aside, and Lois takes it upon herself to intervene.

By speaking up for Anavi, Lois accidentally makes herself the target of the young woman’s bullies, a gang of students known as the Warheads. Luckily, she’s not alone — help is provided by Perry White, an editor at the Daily P... Read More