I wrote a review recently which listed my top picks for adult fantasy books (you can read it here). Now it’s time to list my top picks for young adult fantasy! I’m going to attempt to write three young adult pick posts, because I can’t separate out my favourite authors from each other unless I do so by separating out their subgenres. My goal is to write one for fantasy (well done me, I’m already a third of the way there), dystopian and contemporary. Now there are plenty of other sub genres, but let’s just say those are my favourite three.
Today we start with fantasy. What I love about YA fantasy at the moment is that it is doing things that other people, other genres, can’t or don’t dare to do. There are so many layers of subtext and cultural critique in YA fantasy right now, and it works because it doesn't offend anyone, because the cultures and the powers -that-be are fictional. So, here are my top five:
Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas
This is a bit of a sprawling epic (weighing in at 8 volumes, including a collection of prequel novellas, with the last book to be released later this year). These were the books that made me fall in love with ready fantasy again. These were the books that inspired me to write my own. The series begins with Celaena - an assassin who has been captured and in serving time in a prison camp. She is enlisted by the prince to compete to become his father’s champion. If she wins the competition she is to serve the king for four years and will then be granted her freedom. The problem is, she hates the king with every fibre of her being.
It’s difficult to do this series justice in a short summary, and to do so without giving major spoilers away is impossible. Let’s just say this series includes badass assassins, magic, Fae, love, heartbreak, grief, friendship, demons and a WHOLE lot of sass.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
Karou is a blue-hair art student, living in Prague. By day, she goes to school, sketches and hangs out with her best friend Zuanna. By night, she collects teeth for monsters in exchange for wishes. But when devastation comes to those she loves, she is forced to face her past and take up the mantle of her future. This trilogy is about love and discrimination, about forgiveness and revenge. It’s Romeo and Juliet, but with monsters and angels. Laini Taylor is one of my all time favourite linguistic writers, her words and sentences and paragraphs are beautiful perfection - evoking emotions, imagery and drawing you into this exceptional world she has created. She is also releasing the final installment in her duology (Strange the Dreamer) later this year.
Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo
This duology is Ocean’s 11 meets Avatar the Last Airbender. Kaz Brekker is tasked with breaking a man out of a prison no one has ever escaped from. This man is the creator of a drug that could mean the undoing of the world Kaz knows. He puts together a team of 6 individuals, all who bring their own unique talents to the mission. “A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.”
Leigh Bardugo is the queen of plot twists, and this book will keep you twisting and guessing and gasping just like a good heist novel should. There is another trilogy that technically comes before this series, set in the same world just a few decades earlier. It is not necessary to read that series first (I didn’t) but if you love this one you might just want to read Shadow and Bone too.
An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir
What I loved most about this series when I first heard about it, is that it is a fantasy world inspired by ancient Rome rather than medieval britain. It is a quartet and the third book (A Reaper at the Gates) has just been released in July. The story follows two protagonists; Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar who has grown up in the slums, witnessing the oppression of her people. Elias is a Martial, training at one of the empire's finest military schools despite detesting the very tyranny he’s being taught to enforce. When a mission for the Scholar Resistance sends Laia uncover into the school, she uncovers that there is more going on than the endless war against the Scholar and the Martials, and her life and Elais’ are changed forever.
Ink and Bone - Rachel Caine
This world revolves around the questions: What if the Great Library of Alexandria had never burnt down? With a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure. In this world, the Library is the ultimate power; higher than law, higher than religion. The Library controls the flow of knowledge to the masses —but it is illegal to own a book. Jess has grown up in a family of book smugglers, but he believes in the values of the Library. When he is sent to train as a scholar of the Library by his father, to work as a double agent and steal books for the family to sell, Jess is confronted with a choice: The Library or his family. What he doesn’t yet know is that the library has been repressing the invention of a device that would make books easy to create and distribute to the masses, the revelation of which sets Jess and his friends on a dangerous path.
The world building in this series is fantastic, it has the perfect mix of real world, what could of been, and fantasy elements. The plot moves slowly, but keeps you hooked in and wanting to know more. This series is also a quartet, and the last in the series was just released last month.