Young Adult

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

Tarnished City: Powerful social commentary and engaging characters

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Tarnished City by Vic James

As much as I enjoyed Vic James’ 2017 debut novel, Gilded Cage, I thought there were a few missteps and odd choices, and I wasn’t sure what that meant for the second book in her DARK GIFTS trilogy, Tarnished City (2018). I am pleased to report that Tarnished City blew all of my expectations out of the water, improving on the first novel in every possible way and preparing readers for world-shaking consequences with a true nail-biter of a cliffhanger ending. (There’s very little hand-holding here, so I do recommend reading the books in close sequence if you’re at all fuzzy on previous details.)

T... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin t... Read More

Your One & Only: Entirely too familiar

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Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay

While it’s debatable whether there are any new stories left to be told, I think that discovering fresh ideas or interesting twists within familiar stories is part of what makes reading so enjoyable. Aldous Huxley certainly didn’t create the Dystopian genre with Brave New World, nor did Lois Lowry with The Giver, and neither did Kazuo Ishiguro with Never Let Me Go Read More

Tempests and Slaughter: The education of young Numair

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Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

With Tempests and Slaughter (2018), Tamora Pierce launches a new series set in her beloved Tortall universe, which includes over twenty books. Pierce backtracks several years to relate the youthful experiences of Arram Draper, who plays a key role in other TORTALL books, particularly the IMMORTALS series, as the powerful mage Numair.

When Tempests and Slaughter begins, Arram is a ten year old boy, just beginning a new year at the School for Mages, part of the Imperial University of Carthak. Arram is much younger than most of his schoolmates at his level, and he feels the age difference keenly; in fact, he claims to be eleven, but that does little to narrow the social gap. ... Read More

The Diviners: YA supernatural horror

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 ... Read More

Bright Thrones: Whatever happened to Bettany?

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Bright Thrones by Kate Elliott

The Bright Thrones novella (2017) ties up some loose threads left after the conclusion of Poisoned Blade, the second book in Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES trilogy. In the middle of that novel, Jessamy reunites briefly with her twin sister, Bettany, who appears to be in servitude to a famous foreign doctor, Lord Agalar. Very little about their strange situation is explained at the time, and circumstances drive the sisters apart just when it seems that a reunification (though certainly not a reconciliation) might be possible.

Most of Bright Thrones takes place before Bettany and Jes meet up at the royal f... Read More

Empire of Storms: The series is kicked up another notch

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Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

The fifth book (not counting the prequel novellas) in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series is easily twice as long as the first book, but has one thing in common: half the story is a really good action-fantasy-adventure, and the other half is an overwrought "love" story.

In the case of Throne of Glass, the bad half was more to do with frivolous teenage angst impinging on what was otherwise a pretty serious fight-to-the-death tournament, but here it's the fact that nearly the entire cast of characters are caught up in rather melodramatic romances.

Love in YA fiction is usually (albeit accidentally) depicted as lust, angst, or a dire comb... Read More

The Hazel Wood: Not quite enough magic to enchant

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The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood (2018) is one of those novels whose reputation precedes it. Authors and critics alike are singing the book's praises, dubbing it mesmerising, creepy, captivating. It promises to be a dark and twisting fairytale in the vein of Caraval and The Bear and the Nightingale, but can Melissa Albert's debut live up to its own hype?

Alice and her mother have moved from place to place for as long as she can remember. Whenever they settle anywhere too long, sinister things begin to happen, so they've spent Alice's childhood trying to outrun the bad luck that constantly hounds them. But when Alice's grandmo... Read More

Queen of Shadows: More intrigue and adventure for Aelin and her allies

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Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

I have to admit I'm still not completely sold on Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series, though the fact I'm still reading must mean the pros outweigh the cons. There's been a pattern to my reading experience: every second book has been an improvement on its predecessor, which means I wasn't too impressed by Throne of Glass, was pleasantly surprised with Crown of Midnight, felt rather lukewarm about Heir of Fire, and returned to my former enthusiasm with Queen of S... Read More

Heir of Fire: Opens up more plots, introduces more characters

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Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

This is the third book in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series, detailing the journey of Celaena Sardothien throughout the fantasy world of Erilea; specifically her ongoing struggle to use her assassin's training to pursue justice throughout the land. Given that she's in the employ of the corrupt King of Adarlan, this requires a fair bit of subterfuge and deceit, for as we learned at the end of the previous book, Celaena is actually the lost queen of Terrasen and the heir to its throne.

In a reasonably good twist on the usual fantasy clichés, it turns out that Celaena knew her true identity all along and was simply keeping it a secret. Now sent on a mission to assassinate the rulers of Wendlyn, Celaena is instead discovered by a fae nobleman called Rowan and... Read More

Markswoman: A mostly-solid debut

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Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

Markswoman, the 2018 debut from Rati Mehrotra, is mostly a YA fantasy novel with a post-apocalyptic Earth background and sci-fi elements sprinkled in for flair. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and though it doesn’t always succeed, the characters and their world are interesting and Mehrotra’s prose is compelling.

Kyra, an orphan newly initiated as a Markswoman in the Order of Kali, has spent the majority of her life training as an elite warrior and learning to wield her kalishium blade — a short sword which has telepathic abilities. The Order took her in after her entire family was slaughtered, and has trained her in various deadly arts under the tutelage of their leader, Shirin Mam. But dissent swells in the ranks, led by the ambitious Mistress of Mental... Read More

Hermes by George O’Connor

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Hermes by George O’Connor

Hermes (2018) is the tenth book in George O’Connor’s stellar illustrated Greek gods series, and really, at this point there’s little to say that every household, especially but not exclusively, those with children, should have these books on the shelf and just automatically add them as O’Connor comes up with them. They’re just that good.

This one opens with a former slave and his dog traveling the countryside until they stop at a cottage where a many-eyed figure is the watchman over a very fine cow tethered outside. In exchange for some food and wine, the traveler offers to tell the watchman some stories, all of which, as one might imagine from the title, deal with Hermes. Logically enough, they begin with his birth and then his first act as an in... Read More

Beneath the Sugar Sky: A delightful confection with a heart for diversity

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Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

In Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018), the third book in Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN series, we return to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, that haven for children and teens who once found their way through portals to other, magical worlds but have been involuntarily returned to ours. At Eleanor West’s boarding school, at least they find others who believe them and empathize, and desperately hope with them for a way to return to a magic world where they truly felt they belonged.

At Eleanor’s there's a new girl, Cora, cautiously making her way through the halls and through daily life. Cora's been teased and abused as overweight all her days, except for that glorious time she slipped through a portal to a world calle... Read More

Sinless: Aims for more than superficiality, but misses the mark

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Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff

In many ways, Sarah Tarkoff’s debut novel Sinless (2018) follows the Dystopian YA rule book: a young woman in the near future discovers that the seemingly-idyllic world she lives in is built upon a foundation of lies, and in the process of deciding how best to fight back, discovers previously untapped depths of pluck (as well as previously-unrequited feelings for a dashing and rebellious young man from her childhood). This specific young woman is Grace Luther, the daughter of a well-connected American cleric, and her world is one of beauty and service to the Great Spirit, who made its presence known gradually around the globe in the years 2024-2025. People who are pure in thought and deed are gifted with glorious good looks, while people who transgress instantaneously experience a range of punishments from disfiguring ugliness to a sl... Read More

The Maze Runner: Not as gripping as it could be

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (2009) is a young adult read that zips along, mostly keeping the reader’s interest. James Dashner’s new novel is relatively suspenseful, but never as gripping as it could be due to weaknesses in detail and character.

The Maze Runner starts off strongly. Thomas is riding upward in a creaky old elevator, seemingly forever. Details have been wiped from Tomas’ memory, so he has no idea of where he’s coming from or where he’s heading. In fact, he has no idea who he is save for his name. When he arrives, it’s in a place known as “The Glade,” a relatively large open area bounded by towering stonewalls and populated by a group of boys, all of whom arrived as he did and with their memories wiped as well... Read More

Point Blank: Alex Rider is back (in more ways than one!)

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Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

I read the first book in the ALEX RIDER series (Stormbreaker) several years ago, and since I enjoyed it so much, I've no idea why it's taken me this long to get to its sequel: Point Blank, named for the elite boarding school high in the French Alps. Here the troubled sons of millionaires are sent in order to be tutored in isolation, away from any bad influences, though MI5 is concerned when two of the students' fathers are found dead in unusual circumstances. Surely it can't be a coincidence?

They decide to send in Alex Rider, the nephew of deceased agent Ian Rider, who has previously been used to infiltrate an organization that only a teenager could explore without attracting undue attention. Trained by MI5 and given a ... Read More

The Keeping Place: A dystopian world continues to expand

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The Keeping Place by Isobelle Carmody

This is the fourth book in Isobelle Carmody's ongoing THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES, detailing the lives of telepathic Misfits trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. After the cataclysm known as the Great White destroyed all know civilisation, humanity has re-emerged across various cities and communities, ruled over by a totalitarian Council and religious fanatics known as the Herders.

The Misfits are those regularly used as scapegoats by those in power; their abilities to heal, coerce, mind-speak, empathise and communicate with animals held up as examples of blasphemy and witchcraft. That hasn't stopped them from building a sanctuary for themselves at Obernewtyn; once a compound for experimenting on their people, now a place of safety ... Read More

Ashling: A long-running series takes on an epic scope

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Ashling by Isobelle Carmody

This is the third book in Isobelle Carmody's THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES, marking the point where the series takes on a truly epic quality. Seriously, this instalment is twice the size of the first volume, and the next one is even larger!

Elspeth Gordie is one of many so-called Misfits that dwell in the safe haven of Obernewtyn, a place where those with psychic abilities (whether they're telepaths, coercers, beast-speakers or far-seekers) can live in peace and secrecy. That latter quality is necessary due to the totalitarian Council that rules the rest of the land, their laws enforced by religious leaders known as Herders. In the eyes of Herders, Misfits such as Elspeth are an aberratio... Read More

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 originality of her previous work and felt altogether more normal. 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