Young Adult

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

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

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

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). Read More

Cinder: A robotic twist on a classic fairy tale

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Once upon a time, a cyborg in New Beijing was trying to reattach her mechanical foot. It’s not quite the way the conventional fairytale begins, but that’s the best thing about Marissa Meyer’s Cinder: it’s a completely new take on the Cinderella theme and a breath of fresh air in the YA genre.

Cinder is a mechanic working in New Beijing, though she is not just any old mechanic. She is the best in the city. One morning she is trying to attach a new foot with the help of her android Iko, when a young man in a hooded jumper approaches her stall. Cinder realises it’s Prince Kai, son of the Emperor of New Beijing and general heartthrob of the city. But don’t let me lose you there — it doesn’t all descend into romantic pulp. On the contrary, Cinder does everything she can to get rid of Kai; being a cyborg, she’s considered an inferior citizen and she tri... Read More

Games Wizards Play: A lesser novel in the series but moves things along

Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane

Games Wizards Play is the tenth book in Diane Duane’s YOUNG WIZARDS series, and while a reader could struggle through it as a standalone, I’d say it’s definitely best read in the series, as there are many references to past events, a host of characters big and small and lots of terminology that will resonate more fully to fans of the series. As far as where it stands in that series (which I highly recommend, BTW), I’d say it’s one of the weaker books, though it does advance our main characters’ lives — both their wizardly ones and their personal ones — and set us up for future adventures.

The focus of the 600-plus page book is “The Invitational,” a sort of science fair for young wizards who get mentored as they create, then present, original spel... Read More

The Sleeper and the Spindle: Another treat from a favourite storyteller

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's latest offering defies the conventions of your typical fairy tale not just in content but format as well. You won't be able to sit down and read this to your child in one sitting as despite the multiple illustrations, for the story is lengthy and the font small.

Perhaps then it's better described as a fairy tale for adults, though I've always shied away from putting age restrictions on these types of stories. Let's go with calling it an illustrated short story that will be highly enjoyed by people of all ages with an interest in dark and twisted fairy tales.

The Queen of a faraway land is about to be married, at least until the arrival of three dwarfs bringing her news of events in the neighbouring kingdom. A sleeping curse has been laid upon a fair princess, but rather than th... Read More

Podkayne of Mars: Heinlein gives us a smart feministic mixed-race heroine

Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

Podkayne (“Poddy”) Fries is a pretty, mixed-race teenager who lives with her parents and her younger brother (Clark) on Mars. We learn about her family and her adventures via the diary entries she writes. Poddy tell us that her family was planning to take a vacation to visit Old Earth, but when there is a mix-up with some frozen embryos, they had to cancel the trip so Poddy’s mother can take care of the unexpected new babies. Poddy is devastated until her Uncle Tom, a man who is a respected politician on Mars, arranges to escort Poddy and Clark to earth on a luxury spaceship.

Poddy is not White.

On the spaceship Poddy and Clark make a friend and get to enjoy extravagant dinners and dances. Poddy learns a lot about how to fly a spaceship and, along the way, readers will learn quite a bit about space travel, including... Read More

The 5th Wave: One too many apocalypses in this YA alien novel

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

An alien apocalypse is Rick Yancey’s take on a new challenge for the plucky heroine prototype that has emerged in the wake of Katniss Everdeen. Whilst The 5th Wave is not quite a dystopia, there is something startlingly familiar about the feisty female lead who attempts to single-handedly take down the alien race that’s oppressing humankind in a post-apocalyptic world. With the film adaptation just released in the US, could this be the next YA mega-franchise?

First things first, how did the world fall to its knees? It seems Yancey couldn’t decide on his weapon of choice to wipe out humanity, so he chose them all. To begin with, there was an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out electricity, sending humanity back... Read More

Lioness Rampant: A conclusion fit for a King’s Champion

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce takes the best elements of the three preceding SONG OF THE LIONESS books and polishes them to a fine sheen in Lioness Rampant, the final book of the quartet. She manages to pack swords-and-sorcery, a quest narrative, kind-hearted nobles and charming scoundrels, dastardly villains, truly affecting emotional arcs, and Alanna’s never-ending journey of self-discovery into a single volume without it feeling over-stuffed or slowing the narrative. Pierce’s skills as a writer were visibly improving as she worked on this series, and in Lioness Rampant, the reasons for her lasting and continued influence on the YA fantasy genre are obvious even when one considers how early in her career this quartet was published (1983 – 1988). This book, more ... Read More

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Jennifer Lawrence of Arabia

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is the third volume of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet and the weakest volume of the series. Tamora Pierce makes a good effort of exposing Alanna (and thus, the reader) to some of the varying peoples and customs within the Tortallan kingdom and its neighboring countries, but relies too much on the White Savior trope, and the entire book suffers as a result. As I’ve said before, readers should start with the first book, Alanna: The First Adventure and work forward, though Pierce does a great job of summarizing key events from previous books.

The entire SONG OF THE LIONESS series is about old ways changing to make way for the new, and nowhere is that more blatant than in this b... Read More

The Star Beast: A great story buried under a lot of politics

The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein

The Star Beast (1954) is one of Robert A. Heinlein’s “juveniles.” When I was a kid in the late ‘70s / early '80s, I loved these and can still remember where they were located in the library of my elementary school. My dad had some at home, too, and probably still does since I’ve never known him to throw out a book. I can’t say that I love all of Heinlein’s work — in fact, I absolutely loathe some of his novels for adults — but I can give him credit for inspiring my life-long love of science fiction, so I’ve enjoyed listening to the audio versions that Blackstone Audio had recently been producing.

The Star Beast is about a teenage boy named John Thomas Stuart (the eleventh) and his pet named Lummox, a six-ton eight-legged brontosa... Read More

Newt’s Emerald: A fantastical Regency romance

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Here’s a charming young adult novel that you could file under both “Regency Romance” and “Fantasy.” In this fun story, Lady Truthful is celebrating her nineteenth birthday with her cousins when her slightly dotty father, a retired British admiral, brings out the family heirloom that Truthful will inherit in a few years. It’s an emerald that has magical power over the weather. As the admiral is displaying it, a fierce storm suddenly blows in and, in the hubbub, the emerald is stolen and the admiral is injured. To save the family heirloom, to keep its magic from falling into the wrong hands, and to protect her father’s fragile health, Truthful sets off to London to find her emerald.

Since it’s unsuitable for a proper young lady to be running about London by herself, Truthful disguises herself as a Frenchman. She gets help from a few people, including her great aunt and a handsome young m... Read More

In the Hand of the Goddess: Squire Alan(na) delivers some hard knocks

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

In the Hand of the Goddess is the second installment of Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet, and while Pierce does provide a fair amount of backstory and repetition of key details from the previous book, Alanna, I recommend reading the books in sequence. By starting at the beginning, readers will have a better appreciation for the trials and challenges Alanna experiences in her quest to become a knight, as well as her struggle to maintain her false identity as “Alan,” since only boys are allowed to train in the king’s service. This review may contain a few spoilers for key events in Alanna, but I’ll do my best to keep them vague.

The book opens as Squire Alanna is visited by the Great ... Read More

Truthwitch: A decent series starter, but has its issues

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch is a solidly engaging YA fantasy from Susan Dennard that, I’m guessing, will have a lot of fans (even if it isn’t quite my cup of tea) despite its sometimes nagging issues of craft. I’m assuming the first won’t matter because most of the book’s readers are probably far less weary of teen romance in their YA fantasy than I am, and the second reading obstacle — those craft issues — will most likely be outweighed by the fans’ positive response to Dennard’s depiction of the tight bond between the novel’s two strong female characters.

Those two young woman, Iseult and Safiya, are unregistered witches — Safiya is a Truthwitch able to discern lies from truth; Iseult is a Threadwitch, one who can see the emotional ties (“threads”) between people. While Threadwitches are not uncommon, it’s been a long time since a Truthwitch has be... Read More

The Seventh Bride: The miller’s daughter meets Bluebeard

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

One of the less well-known folk tales, Bluebeard, the tale of the aristocrat who has married several wives who have ominously disappeared, is dusted off and adapted by T. Kingfisher in The Seventh Bride, a middle grade/young adult fantasy. Note: Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon, the Nebula award-winning author of the short story "Jackalope Wives"). Rhea, a fifteen year old miller's daughter, is unhappily and unwillingly engaged to Lord Crevan, a nobleman whom she doesn’t even know. Her parents urged her to accept Lord Crevan’s offer: their family is having trouble making ends meet and Lord Crevan is a friend of the local marquis. And you don’t turn down lords. But Rhea, who keenly feels her l... Read More

Manners & Mutiny: An exciting “finish”

Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners & Mutiny is the fourth and final installment in Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series for teens (though as you can see from my reviews, adults will enjoy this, too!). This has been one of my favorite fantasy series in the last few years, so I’m sad to see it end. Fortunately, Carriger’s most-loved characters tend to show up in her other series, which are all set in the same supernatural England.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Ladies of Quality is, literally, a finishing school. Its ladies are taught how to “finish” other people, presumably enemies of the queen. At this point, Sophronia, Dimity, Agatha and their friends are close to completing their studies. They have learned many important espionage and finishing skill... Read More

The Scorpion Rules: The price of peace

Reposting to include Jana's new review:

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 eart... Read More

Bone Gap: Beautiful, mythic YA

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

In order to explain why Bone Gap impressed me so much, I may have to spoil it a little. I may have to tell you that it’s partly based on one of my favorite classical myths: the story of Persephone. With the recent popularity of bad-boy love stories in YA fantasy, this myth’s been revisited more than once, but mostly these retellings have disappointed me. Spineless Persephones, boring Hadeses, little to write home about. With Bone Gap, Laura Ruby gave me a version I’m profoundly happy to have read.

Beautiful Roza was the new girl in Bone Gap; she showed up one day in the O’Sullivan brothers’ barn, and they took her in. Now, she’s missing, and the town just isn’t the same without her. Sean, the elder brother, was in love with her, and he’s certain she just up and left him behind. Finn, the younger, is just as sure she didn’t... Read More

Diary of a Haunting: Great concept, but uneven execution

Diary of a Haunting by M. Verano

The conceit behind Diary of a Haunting is that M. Verano is an associate professor at a university in Idaho who has devoted his life to “editing a series of first-person narratives” which demonstrate instances of occult or paranormal incidents. “Montague Verano” is a pseudonym used to lend authenticity to the framing device for this narrative, which purports to be a collection of journal entries from a turbulent six-month period in the life of a teenaged girl. Naturally, the reader is assured that pertinent details like names have been changed to protect affected individuals.

Paige, her scientifically-minded younger brother Logan, and their mother have just relocated from sunny L.A. to dreary small-town Idaho following a much-publicized divorce. Mom, a modern-day hippie, will be studying “natural resource conservation” at the local university. ... Read More

Ink and Bone: Is a life worth more than a book?

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Imagine a world in which the Library of Alexandria still existed, a world in which all of that accumulated knowledge and human history was still accessible to any literate person. That sounds pretty amazing, right? What most people might not take into account, however, is how drastically different that world would be from our own with the benefit of said knowledge and the attendant power given to its keepers. Ink and Bone, the first volume of a planned YA duology by Rachel Caine, explores the ramifications of the Great Library’s continued existence and its effect on the course of human society. Readers who expect this to be a light, happy tale would do well to remember the old adage about the corruption potential of absolute power.

The year is 2025. Alexandria’s Great Library has sp... Read More

A Knot in the Grain: An engaging collection of five fantasies

A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley

I’m not sure if I bought this fantasy short story collection by Robin McKinley when I first saw it in the mid-1990s because McKinley was one of my favorite fantasy authors or because I was entranced by the cover art on the paperback, with the colorful contrast between the girl in a brilliant sapphire dress and the bright gold background of buttercups. Actually, at that time I was pretty much automatically buying everything McKinley wrote. Regardless, I very much enjoyed the collection of five fantasy short stories, and have reread them several times since. These tales are set in different lands and, for the most part, different worlds, but they are bound together by the fantasy element and their young women protagonists. As a whole, I rate this collection 4 stars, but I’ve given each story its own rating below. Read More

A Thousand Nights: An unusual take on the Scheherazade tale

Reposting to include Bill's recent review.

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 ... Read More

Grudging: Siege and sacrifice in a Spanish realm

Grudging by Michelle Hauck

Grudging, a newly published young adult fantasy and the first in a new series called BIRTH OF SAINTS from Michelle Hauck, is set in a country reminiscent of medieval Spain, where noble warhorses are a soldier's right arm and religious faith is a significant part of most people's lives, giving this fantasy an somewhat unusual cultural flavor.

Seventeen year old Ramiro wants nothing more than to be a respected soldier in his pelotón like his older brother Salvador: to fight in hand-to-hand combat with his sword and earn the right to grow a beard, the ultimate sign of manhood in his society. Ramiro’s people avoid the legendary witches who live in the swamps and kill strangers with the magic in their voices. But when barbaric Northern invaders besiege Ramiro's walled city of Colina Hermosa and threaten to murder all who live there, his f... Read More

Immortal Beloved: A light but promising new start to a supernatural trilogy

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya is a burned-out immortal who has spent hundreds of years trying to avoid any sort of real emotion. With her equally jaded friends, she spends all her time in endless, meaningless carousing. She’s not very likable at first, but that’s the whole point. When her friend Incy’s casual cruelty gives Nastasya a wake-up call about what her life has become, she doesn’t like herself much either.

Horrified with herself, afraid of Incy, Nastasya does the only thing she can think of. She turns to River, a woman who offered her help many decades ago. River runs River’s Edge, a halfway house for immortals that serves as part rehab, part magic school. Troubled immortals go there to relearn an appreciation for life and to study positive spellcraft. Nastasya doesn’t quite fit in at first but eventually comes to enjoy her stay at River’s Edge, though her attraction to standoffish “Viking god... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abducts Kaz and tells him an incredible story: a scientist, who is being held in an impenetrable fo... Read More

Hotel Ruby: “Hotel California” for the YA set

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Stories of supernaturally-afflicted hotels are easy to find, but can be hard to get right. Characters first must be brought to the hotel, enticed to stay, and then convinced to linger even when presented with evidence that they should run for the hills. Suzanne Young takes a stab at the “haunted hotel” novel with Hotel Ruby, a mostly successful YA romance-horror mash-up with really enjoyable elements of surprise.

After their mother’s sudden and unexpected death, Audrey Casella and her older brother Daniel are being relocated from Arizona to Nevada, where their father will leave them in the care of their strict, aloof grandmother. Their father claims it’s just for a summer, so he can get himself back into a parenting frame of mind, but the teenagers know better. On the drive up, they decide to stop for a night at the Hotel Ruby, so Dad can get some much-... Read More

Jana chats YA Horror with Lindsay Francis Brambles (and gives away a book!)

Today Jana welcomes Lindsay Francis Brambles, whose debut YA horror novel Becoming Darkness is available from Switch Press (Jana’s review can be found here). They discuss world-building, fictional texts within novels, and the practical challenges of conveying fantastical ideas. One lucky commenter will win a copy of Becoming Darkness! (see below for giveaway details)

Jana Nyman: In Becoming Darkness, Sophie Harkness’ voice is vulnerable, yet self-assured, with all the nuances of a young woman who struggles with the challenges of adulthood and maturity while realizing how very little she knows about the greater world. Was it difficult to authentically portray that voice on the page? How did her character come to you,... Read More