YA

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

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

The Soldiers of Halla: Finally, some answers!

The Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale

It’s been a few years since Bobby Pendragon first found out he was a Traveler. He’s been all over the territories of Halla, trying to thwart Saint Dane’s plans to throw all of Halla into chaos. Now the final battle is here. Can Bobby and his friends kill Saint Dane, or will all of Halla be forced to live in the terrible universe he has created?

The Soldiers of Halla, the final PENDRAGON book by D.J. MacHale, begins with Bobby learning who he is, where he came from, and what happened to his family — all in one huge infodump. I’m not sure why Bobby couldn’t know these things before... (Well, actually, I do know why — it’s because MacHale likes to withhold information for dramatic effect, even if it doesn’t make sense to the plot. This happens freq... Read More

Raven Rise: Sloppy plot, but I read on

Raven Rise by D.J. MacHale

Raven Rise is the penultimate novel in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series. (Expect spoilers for previous PENDRAGON books in this review.) At the end of the last book, The Pilgrims of Rayne, Bobby destroyed the flume on Ibara, trapping himself and Saint Dane on that territory. Now Bobby can never go home, but at least Saint Dane will not be able to destroy the rest of Halla. Or so Bobby thinks. Saint Dane is trying, as we knew he would, to find a way off of Ibara.

Meanwhile, the “Convergence” that Saint Dane keeps monologuing about has finally begun. Every territory is in turmoil. The territories have regressed so much that it’s as if all the work that Bobby and the Travelers did in the previous books has been wiped out. The Tr... Read More

The Pilgrims of Rayne: The stakes are high

The Pilgrims of Rayne by D.J. MacHale

The Pilgrims of Rayne is the eighth book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series for young adults. I’ll assume that if you’re reading a review for book eight, you realize that I’ll probably be spoiling some of the plots of the previous books here.

Bobby has now Traveled to Saint Dane’s next stop: a tropical island paradise called Ibara. At first Ibara seems like an ideal place to live, but soon, as you expected, Bobby realizes that Ibara is at a tipping point. Everyone is happy on Ibara, but they’re not allowed to leave. What lies beyond the island paradise? A few curious and disgruntled citizens would like to know, and one of those is the son of Ibara’s Traveler, a guy who was killed in the Quillan Games we read about in the previous book. When Bobby Pendragon teams up with these outlaws, they make a surprising discovery that is devastating ... Read More

The Quillan Games: Another exciting PENDRAGON story

The Quillan Games by D.J. MacHale

The Quillan Games is the seventh novel in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series. Bobby is now on Quillan, one of the most unappealing places we’ve been to so far. Here a large corporation called BLOK (think Wal-Mart) has price-busted everyone else out of business until BLOK basically owns and operates the entire territory. Everyone is poor (BLOK pays low wages) and they are merely surviving. But there is a way to get money. Kids who are willing to risk it, or who are sold off by their families, can play the Quillan Games. They live in a mansion and are treated like royalty... as long as they keep winning. The games are often deadly and eventually, if they keep winning, they’re bound to end up in a fight to the death.

The rest of the populace bets on the games, hoping to supplement their tiny incomes. They watch the games from huge screens that have been e... Read More

The Rivers of Zadaa: MacHale gets this series back on track

The Rivers of Zadaa by D.J. MacHale

With The Rivers of Zadaa, the sixth book in his PENDRAGON series for young adults, D.J. MacHale gets the series back on track after a disappointingly preachy fifth book. If you haven’t read the previous books, but plan to, I advise you to read no further in this review. It’s impossible to talk about The Rivers of Zadaa without spoiling some of the plot of the previous books.

This time Bobby and Saint Dane are battling it out on Zadaa, Loor’s home planet. Saint Dane is trying to trigger chaos by causing strife between the territory’s two main tribes, the Rokador and the Batu. The Batu, the tribe to which Loor belongs, live on the sunny surface of the planet while the Rokador live in tunnels underground. The tribes used to have a synergistic relationship, but now they are on the verge of civil war because most of the wate... Read More

The Ask and The Answer: Memorable characters and breakneck plotting

The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness

May contain spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go

If ever there was a book to grab you by the scruff of the neck and drag you to its end, it is The Ask and The Answer. Its prequel, The Knife of Never Letting Go had already set a rip-roaring pace, and the second volume in Patrick NessCHAOS WALKING trilogy does not disappoint.

We left Todd Hewitt clutching a bleeding Viola in his arms. They had finally, finally managed to reach Haven, only to find it is not Haven at all. It has been renamed New Prentisstown by none other than the notorious Mayor Prentiss, who, if you remember, was leading the army that Todd and Viola were so desperately trying to outrun. Now we find Todd being questioned by the ... Read More

Black Water: The plot suffers for the sake of the Message

Black Water by D.J. MacHale

In Black Water, the fifth book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series, the rules seem to be changing. All the things we thought we knew about how the flumes, the territories, the Travelers, and the acolytes work are different. Saint Dane, the villain, has brought that deadly poison he used on Cloral (in The Lost City of Faar) through the flume to use in the beautiful but dangerous territory of Eelong. Bobby Pendragon figures that if Saint Dane has broken the rules, so can he. And so do his friends Mark and Courtney who finally decide to dive into the flume and see what happens. I expect that most fans will be thrilled to see Mark and Courtney in action. Unfortunately, Bobby and his friends will soon find out that breaking the rules sometimes has really bad consequences.

Poison isn’t the only problem in Eelong. When Bobby first arrives,... Read More

The Reality Bug: Metaphysics for kids

The Reality Bug by D.J. MacHale

The Reality Bug is the fourth novel in D.J. MacHale’s 10-book PENDRAGON series for teens. In each novel, young Bobby Pendragon, a Traveler, visits a different “territory” (world) where he tries to prevent Saint Dane, the evil villain, from causing enough chaos to completely destroy the multiverse.

This time Bobby is summoned to the territory of Veelox, which seems peaceful at first. Then he learns that Veelox is quiet because 90% of its population is plugged into a computer simulation that allows them to control and play out all their fantasies. (Don’t worry. This is a book for kids, so these fantasies are all totally, if unrealistically, G-rated.) While people are in the virtual reality, their bodies are monitored and fed as needed. With most of the population of the planet being entertained 24 hours per day (or however long Veelox days are, I actu... Read More

Something Wicked This Way Comes: The thrills and terrors of early adulthood

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I didn’t read Ray Bradbury until age 40, so in my critical early years I missed out on his poetic, image-rich, melancholic prose and themes in books like The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, and his short stories. Though I can’t go back in time to rectify this, I am glad I finally took time to explore his world.

I’m sure if I had read Bradbury back when I was the age of his protagonists Jim Nightshade or Will Halloway, I would have loved his work immediately. But alas, I'm no longer a bright-eyed teen, my taste in books runs more to Neal Stephenson, Read More

The Knife of Never Letting Go: A voice that will stay with you

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk,” opens The Knife of Never Letting Go, “is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” This has been described by one critic as one of the best opening sentences he’d ever read, and boy does the rest of the book deliver too. It marks the first instalment of Patrick Ness’s CHAOS WALKING trilogy, a science fiction series set in a dystopian world where the thoughts of animals and men can be heard in a phenomenon called Noise. Unlike some of the other heavyweight dystopian trilogies, CHAOS WALKING has remained somewhat under the radar (although the film adaptation in the pipe line may soon change that). But it is unlike any of the other dystopian YAs out there, with their prescript... Read More

The Dark Water: Weaker than its predecessor

The Dark Water by Seth Fishman

Fair warning: spoilers for The Well’s End follow.

The Dark Water is the sequel to Seth Fishman’s The Well’s End and while the first book was a solidly entertaining and exciting book despite issues of weak characterization and a somewhat flat style, the sequel lacks its predecessor’s deftness in pace while it continues to have much of the same issues, making it a weaker novel overall.

At the close of The Well’s End (did I mention there will be spoilers? Seriously, stop now if you haven’t read the first book because I’m going to tell you its ending. No, really. I am), Mia and her friends dove into the miracle-water well to escape Sutton and find Mia’s father. They surface in an underground world, complete... Read More

The Never War: Subtle teaching moments and a real emotional impact

The Never War by D.J. MacHale

Note: Contains spoilers for previous PENDRAGON novels.

In The Never War, the third book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series, Bobby is now 15 years old and is gaining experience as a Traveler. His job is to protect Earth and other territories of Halla (which includes all peoples, places, and times that have ever existed) from Saint Dane, the super duper evil villain whose goal is to increase chaos everywhere. Somehow, the chaos gives him power.

By the end of book two, The Lost City of Faar, Bobby has successfully foiled Saint Dane’s attempts to throw the territories of Denduron and Cloral into chaos. Now he and Spader, the Traveler from Cloral, are following Saint Dane to the next territory: First Earth. When th... Read More

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