YA fantasy has always been a favorite of mine. Finding a book that takes you away from the real world – far, far, away from the too-real issues of today’s politics, particularly – is a challenge, especially in YA, but when you find a good one the rewards are addictive.
The trick with YA is that it often falls into traps – too quick publishing times, a stubborn (if futile) adherence to what is considered “trendy”, and problematic social themes. Often, finding a YA book that has strong characters, good dialogue, and isn’t being condescending to its readers is often a challenge – and in the fantasy genre, it’s even more difficult.
So here’s a few selected titles, so you don’t have to dig through mediocre plot lines and forced romantic subplots:
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
The first of a series, Rebel of the Sands’ characters reminded me of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, with all the elements of Arabian Nights. Amani is a character who’s ready to fight her way out of her small town – where she will be married off the first chance her uncle gets, and instead gets involved in a magical rebellion. While the story slows in parts, the main character’s growth and the action elements make a great read – who doesn’t love women sharpshooters escaping from marriage right into a magical, political adventure?The next book in the series comes out in March, and it looks like it’ll be even more interesting.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo wrote another YA series within the same world, but Six of Crows is when she really found her stride. This story is a heist adventure with a cast of talented and unlikely characters thrown together towards a common goal. While dark at times it doesn’t flinch away from issues like slavery, prostitution, or corruption. It also has a good sense of humor, lovable and flawed antiheroes, and is a completed duology, so you don’t have to worry about waiting for the next book.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina is one of the most unique YA fantasy books I’ve read. It combines high fantasy elements – the castle, the magic, the adventure – with dragons who are highly scientific and analytical, and who are able to shapeshift into human form. It starts when a tenuous dragon-human treaty is under threat and Seraphina – a half dragon whose existence is considered a sin – is caught up between her dragon heritage and her human life. It’s not for everyone: the writing style is heavily descriptive and dense at times, and the second book in the duology is even denser. But it has a great message, exceptionally strong characters, and resonates long after you’ve finished reading. It’s also a great audiobook – if you’re into listening rather than reading.
The Seven Realms Series by Cinda Williams Chima
- The Demon King 2. The Exiled Queen 3. The Grey Wolf 4. The Crimson Crown
While this series is older, it never got the attention it truly deserved. This is YA High Fantasy at its best – a young queen secreted away from a plot to kill her, a street thief with a magical secret who gets tangled in the throne’s politics – plus enough romantic intrigue with realistic boundaries, and interesting representation with the story’s natives and people of colour. It’s a commitment with four books in the series, but it’s worth the read- every book has a unique feeling, and they only get better after the first.
– – Alison S.