YA

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

The Well’s End: Solid action with familiar YA tropes

The Well’s End by Seth Fishman

Thanks to a good sense of pace and a driving sense of urgency, Seth Fishman manages in The Well’s End to, for the most part,  overcome some overly-familiar YA tropes and weak characterization. The positives in the end outweigh the negatives, making for a solidly exciting story, if not a particularly deep or moving one.

Mia Kish is a sixteen-year-old top class swimmer at one of the country’s more prestigious prep schools, though her real claim to fame was as “Baby Mia,” a reference to when as a small child she fell down a well, prompting a multi-day, well-covered rescue effort. Her fifteen minutes of fame that continues, superior swimming skills (beating both the girls and then the boys), and the fact that she is a townie all work against her such that she is disliked by mos... Read More

The Lost City of Faar: An underwater adventure for Bobby Pendragon

The Lost City of Faar by D.J. MacHale

Note: The first paragraph of this review contains minor spoilers for The Merchant of Death.

The Lost City of Faar is the second novel in D.J. MacHale’s popular 10-book PENDRAGON series for teens. In the first book, The Merchant of Death, 14-year old Bobby Pendragon discovered that he is a Traveler — a person who represents a planet and is able to travel through space and time to visit other worlds. The Travelers are trying to stop an evil shapeshifter named Saint Dane from creating chaos in Halla, which consists of everything that exists in all times and places. In that first book, Bobby saved a world called Denduron. When he arrived back on Earth, he found that his family had ceased to exist. His Uncle Press, who is also a ... Read More

The Dark Water: The story switches from SF thriller to lost world fantasy

The Dark Water by Seth Fishman

The Dark Water is the sequel to last year’s The Well’s End, a fast-paced and suspenseful YA SF thriller that I enjoyed despite its reliance on several well-worn teen themes. To discuss The Dark Water, I’ll have to spoil a little of the plot of The Well’s End, so if you’re planning to read that novel, you may want to stop after the next paragraph.

The Well’s End was written in first person from the perspective of Mia Kish, a nationally-ranked swimmer who attends an elite boarding school. When Mia was a toddler, she fell down a well and was eventually rescued as the world watched on CNN. (This story was inspired by Baby Jess... Read More

World After: A strong follow up to the riveting first instalment

World After by Susan Ee

It's been a while since I read Angelfall the first book in Susan Ee's fantasy/dystopian trilogy called PENRYN & THE END OF DAYS, but a few details remain clear in my mind: the strong narrative voice, the desperate post-apocalyptic situation, and the spunky teenage protagonist whose only goal was the protection of her schizophrenic mother and paraplegic sister.

Picking up where Angelfall left off, World After finds seventeen year old Penryn being transported to one of the few human communities that remain intact after the recent angel invasion left the world ravaged by war and destruction. Believed dead after the climactic conclusion of the previous book, she's really just paralysed due to the terrible experiments that angels are performing on human subjects.

That's nothing compa... Read More

Un Lun Dun: Not just your conventional Urban Fantasy

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

You know how the story goes: Chosen One discovers an alternate world in dire need of rescue. Said Chosen One is prophesised to save the day, finds it hard to come to terms with newfound responsibility, but eventually rises to the task and rescues the world. Yada yada yada. The end. You’ve seen the formula before. Some fantasy novels tend to let personal initiative and ability take a backseat to fate. But what, China Miéville asks, would happen if the prophesies were UnReliable? What if the Chosen One gave up and went home? What if it is actually the UnChosen one we need? The magical world of UnLondon is indeed in need of saving, but not by whom you’d expect…

Strange things are happening to Zanna. Animals stop to look at her in the street and strangers approach her calling her ‘Schwazzy.’ She and her best friend Deeba can’t make head or tail of it. One day, in a French les... Read More

Horrible Monday: Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Honestly, I’ve never read anything like Bones & All. Camille DeAngelis makes clear from the very beginning that this is not your typical fluffy YA novel — there are real stakes, real consequences to everything that happens. It’s fascinating to watch Maren’s evolution from shy, awkward teenager to self-assured predator, like reading about the humble beginnings of a fairy-tale villain rather than the plucky prince who must vanquish her in order to fulfill his destiny.

So who is Maren Yearly? An introverted sixteen-year-old girl who loves to read books and wants to find her place in the world. Maren’s not concerned with make-up or boys or fitting in with the cool kids; she’s more concerned with survival and how to hide the compulsion in her belly. Maren is an eater: she consumes human flesh, bones and all, except for certain inedible or in... Read More

Shadow Scale: Disappointing sequel

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina was a subtle, exquisitely quiet novel, nuanced and filled with sharply realized characters. I absolutely fell in love with it, placing it on my list of top reads that year, so it kills me to report that the eagerly-awaited sequel, Shadow Scale, not only failed to meet my (admittedly high) expectations, but really disappointed across the board.

Shadow Scale picks up shortly after the events of Seraphina, with dragons involved in an all-out civil war and their ousted leader Comonot allied with the human land of Goredd. While Princess Glisselda and Prince Kiggs prepare for war, Seraphina travels to find other ityasaari (half-dragons) such as herself, prompted by a discovery by Orma (her full dragon uncle) that the half-dragons might be able to provide a magical defense aga... Read More

Empire: A tense, can’t-put-it-down adventure

Empire by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

(Warning, may contain spoilers for Conquest.)

Empire, by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, is filled with action, suspense, and characters we care about. It is YA but adults will enjoy it.

In Conquest, the first book of THE CHRONICLES OF THE INVADERS, Earth had been conquered by a technologically superior race, the Illyri. Syl, a young woman, was the first Illyrian born on Earth. Paul Kerr was a member of Earth’s Resistance movement. Fate threw these two unlikely lovers together, but their commitment goes beyond their feelings for each other. Paul and Syl uncovered a conspiracy by a parasitic alien race that is controlling many of the Illyrians. Now, in Empire, Read More

Hollow City: I wanted to love it, but ended up only liking it

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City picks up almost immediately after the events of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the first book in the MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN series. From the very beginning Hollow City is an action-packed adventure in all the places that the first book was a thoughtful, eerie mystery. I enjoyed the change of pace Ransom Riggs set in this sequel, though this new territory brought with it its own problems. (Please note: this review will contain spoilers throughout due to the mysterious nature of the first book. Some points I will be discussing were not known until most of the way through Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children but I have found them integral to talking about Hollow City... Read More

Dove Arising: Did Not Finish

Dove Arising by Karen Bao

Dove Arising is a new YA science fiction novel from Karen Bao, and one which I persevered through despite a host of issues, until I reached the last fifth or so when things really began to go off the rails. I pushed on, admittedly skimming a bit, thinking “I’m this far in, I can finish,” but the cumulative effect was just too much and I ended up giving up about forty pages from the end.

The setting is one of a series of bases on the moon, in a future where Earth is under the domination of two floating city-states and their respective alliances, and in a cold-war (that occasionally heats up) relationship with the moon bases. Phaet is a 15-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is taken away for quarantine and then later arrested for “disruptive print,” as the bases system is a bit dictatorial (ruled by a committee, constant surveillance, proh... Read More

The Glass Arrow: Shallow world-building, sloppy characterization

The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

I was about as close to a Did Not Finish with Kristen Simmons’ The Glass Arrow as I can get without putting a book down, so you can tell already where this review is going to end up.  As usual in these situations, preferring not to belabor the point with regard to what I consider a bad book, I’ll keep this review relatively brief.

Simmons sets her story in a world where women are treated as breeding cattle, basically. They’re bought and sold at auction, painted and sculpted and costumed. Their numbers are carefully managed by census and “reduction when needed,” and those who live in the wild are hunted by Trackers and brought back to the city because these “wild” women have more boy-producing wombs.  The... Read More

I Shall Wear Midnight: Tiffany faces another Hiver

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

When Tiffany thinks about her age, she thinks that she’s “nearly sixteen.” On the Chalk, “nearly sixteen” means, for many girls, thinking about marriage. Tiffany might lack her peers’ enthusiasm for boys, but she has delivered babies and tended to the terminally ill. Tiffany has dealt with domestic abuse. As a witch, Tiffany’s job is to take care of everyone, the young and the old alike, and to face the things, every day, that people just do not like to face. Tiffany is wise beyond her years, and she’s certainly not thinking about boys and marriage.

But Tiffany does know that Roland is getting married to a bimbo. But children do ask her whether witches even have “passionate parts.” But she did kiss the Wintersmith.

(More of a peck, really. “No tongue!” Tiffany reminds one witch.)

Kissing the Wintersmith is a problem, or it’s a... Read More

The Darkest Part of the Forest: An excellent premise that loses its magic

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Once upon a time, in a town called Fairfold, Holly Black set her story for her stand-alone novel The Darkest Part of the Forest. The dark faerie-tale fuses the fantastical with the mundane, as humans and Fae folk exist alongside one another, the faeries even being a huge source of tourism for the little town. That is an original and intriguing premise if there ever was one, with promises of dark twists and turns. But somewhere along the lines the plot failed in its execution, and a book that began as compelling, seemed to lose its magic.

The story opens in the forest, where a high school party is in full swing. Drunken teenagers lounge against the glass casket of a sleeping Prince with horns and pointed ears. One such teenager is Hazel. Angsty and brooding, Hazel doesn’t like the part of her that keeps kissing all the boys and leading them n... Read More

Covenant’s End: Widdershins discovers that you can’t go home again

Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell

Thieves seem to be “in” this decade, and Ari Marmell’s Widdershins, from the COVENANT series, is one of the most popular in YA. In Covenant’s End, Widdershins returns to her home city, only to discover that there have been drastic changes while she has been away. Some are huge and affect the entire city. Some are personal, shifting the fault lines in Shins’ heart.

Shins carries a tiny god, Olgun, in her head. Olgun provides insight, but he can also boost Shins’s strength and power a bit, and provide small miracles. When the duo return to their home city of Davillon, they discover that she might not be the only one who has this kind of arrangement. Shins is up against her old rival Lisette, and Lisette has grown frighteningly powerful. To survive, and defeat Lisette, Widder... Read More

Random: Far beyond the ordinary YA fantasy

Random by Alma Alexander

There's a group of Young Adult authors — I'm thinking of Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Justine Larbalestier, and a few others — who write the kind of books that snooty adults who look down on YA in Internet articles have clearly never read. These are books that don't get made into popular movies, because most of what happens is internal to the characters.

This kind of YA has depth and resonance and significance. It shines a light on the path for young people (young women, in particular) who are looking for courage and a place in the world. It's been some time since I was young, and I've never been a woman, but I'm glad that young women have writers like these in ... Read More

Firefight: A fun, exciting superpower romp

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight, second book in the superhero-dystopian RECKONERS series, is a good young adult novel. It's fun, it's lively, and the pacing never drags. I do have a handful of quibbles, but none of them are vastly troubling. If all you really want to know is whether Firefight is worth reading or a worthy successor to Steelheart, then you have your answer: a solid affirmative on both counts.

Anyway, our story starts off a few months after the previous novel left off (and shortly after the intervening novella) with the Reckoners struggling to hold Newcago in the aftermath of Steelheart's demise. Numerous Epics (Sanderson's word for superhumans) have turned up to make our heroes’ lives miserable, but a majority of them seem to be coming from Babilar (Graffiti Art New York). Prof, the Reckoners' leader, believes t... Read More

Firefight: A by-the-book fast-paced explosive novel

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

This review contains spoilers for Steelheart, the previous novel in the series.

With great power comes great responsibility, or so the saying goes. When an inexplicable event grants superpowers to common men and women, instead of the heroic deeds of superheroes, the world witnesses its destruction when those same superpowers corrupt those who wield them. Such is the setting Brandon Sanderson introduced us to in Steelheart, the first book in his new young adult series, THE RECKONERS.

Firefight follows just a few months after the ending of Steelheart, with David, now called by his fellow Reckoners as Steelslayer, having killed Steelheart and liberated the city of Newcago from the tyranny of the High Epic, avenging his father’s death in the process. Having ac... Read More

London Eye: Too short to meet its potential

London Eye by Tim Lebbon

The young adult genre seems to be moving beyond vampires. They’ve toyed with werewolves for a while, but I think those creatures are being left in the past like their fanged cousins. Now it seems like anyone who really wants to write young adult is going dystopian (thank you, Hunger Games). To be honest with you, I don’t get the thrill with dystopian or after-the-big-catastrophe plots, but whatever. It’s what the public wants, and the authors are delivering. Now, I’m not saying that to gripe, I’m saying it because I think people should know my general disposition toward this stuff before they read my review of Tim Lebbon’s London Eye.

London Eye will appeal to many readers because of the after-the-catastrophe aspect of the plot that so many are ... Read More

Inked: An OK beginning went downhill fast

Inked by Eric Smith

Inked, by Eric Smith, was a solid if uninspiring YA book for much of the first half, albeit with some grating issues, but a downturn in the latter part of the book greatly lowered its entertainment value, leading to a "not recommended" judgment. As usual in these cases, this will be a relatively short review, as I prefer not to pile on an author whom I’m sure put a lot of hard work and love into their work.

The story centers on 18-year-old Caenum and his best friend Dreya, who is slightly older. Their ages are important because in this world, people are “inked” at age eighteen — given magical tattoos that determine their role in society for the rest of their lives, whether it be farmer (one such has an apple tree tattoo on their back), a florist (ivies vining up one’s arm), goldsmith, or assassin. When Caenum’s turn arises though, the arrival of an apprentice scribe named Kenzi thro... Read More

More Than This: Original and refreshing YA

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness casts his line with five words, and we are hooked: “Here is the boy, drowning.” Seth is sixteen years old when we meet him, and about to die. He is out at sea with the icy tide dragging him out further and further in a terrifying opening for Ness’s Young Adult novel, More Than This. And then his shoulder blade “snaps in two so loudly he can hear the crack.” Seth drowns.

But impossibly, he wakes up. He finds himself in his childhood home in England, in a kind of twisted post-apocalyptic version of his past. It is completely abandoned, devoid of other humans, choked by overgrown weeds and everything covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt. The reader is as intrigued and lost as Seth is, and it is through his eyes that we must discover how and why Seth came to be here.

Ness paints Seth with utmost compassion and ... Read More

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