YA Novels You Should Be Reading: Fantasy
At first we thought we would struggle to come up with a proper list of YA fantasy – true, epic fantasy, rather than paranormal fantasy – and would have to rely on old-time series like David Eddings’ Belgariad (which we still do urge you to check out). However, once we started working our brains, we came up with plenty and could have added even more. The fantasy side of YA is thriving, for sure! Here are our top ten picks of what to read – as is usual, if you agree, disagree or have more to add, then leave us comments – we luuuuuurve comments! *grin*
1) Kristin Cashore
First up is the series of books by Kristin Cashore – start with Graceling, move onto Fire and then join us all in waiting feverishly for Bitterblue, which is due out this year.
Here is the blurb for Graceling:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
2) Alison Goodman
Be warned that Goodman’s series came out with two different titles in the US and the UK – in the US, you’ll be picking up Eon and Eona, while in the UK it is The Two Pearls of Wisdom and The Necklace of the Gods (got any preference over title?)
Here is the blurb for Eon:
Twelve-year old Eon has been studying the ancient art of the Dragoneyes for two years. But he is playing a dangerous game: Eon is actually Eona, 16 years old and a girl. Her true identity must remain hidden at all costs: it is forbidden for women to practise the Art, and to be discovered would be punishable by death.
Let down by her injured leg, it seems that Eon is destined to fail in her quest, until a spectacular twist in events catapults her into the opulent but treacherous world of the Imperial court. Without a master to guide her, Eon must learn to harness her unprecedented natural power, while protecting the secret that could cost her everything…
3) Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce has written a whopping 27 novels – we want to particularly highlight her Tortall series of books. This has been published over various quartets and duologies, and we still think it is best to start with Alanna: The First Adventure (from there read In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lionness Rampant. You’re welcome).
Here is the blurb for Alanna:
Call it fate, call it intuition, or just call it common sense, but somehow young Alanna knows she isn’t meant to become some proper lady cloistered in a convent. Instead, she wants to be a great warrior maiden–a female knight.But in the land of Tortall, women aren’t allowed to train as warriors. So Alanna finds a way to switch places with her twin, Thom, and take his place as a knight in training at the palace of King Roald. Disguising herself as a boy, Alanna begins her training as a page in the royal court.Soon, she is garnering the admiration of all around her, including the crown prince, with her strong work ethic and her thirst for knowledge. But all the while, she is haunted by the recurring vision of a black stone city that emanates evil… somehow she knows it is her fate to purge that place of its wickedness. But how will she find it? And can she fulfill her destiny while keeping her gender a secret?
We loved this review of Alanna!
4) Megan Whalen Turner
We first heard about this series (The Queen’s Thief) after the championing of The Book Smugglers, and now we want to become champions ourselves! Start with The Thief, moving on to The Queen of Attolia, then The King of Attolia and finally A Conspiracy of Kings.
5) Philip Pullman
It is quite likely that you have already read His Dark Materials, the trilogy that comprises Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. These books have become a phenomena, held up as one of the finest examples of fantasy writing for young people.
Here is the blurb for Northern Lights:
Lyra and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. But the destiny that has awaited her since birth takes her on a dangerous journey to the frozen North in search of a kidnapped friend. It is a journey that will have immeasurable consequences for her own world…
6) Melina Marchetta
We include this author even though she is most famous for her contemporary YA, since it demonstrates that many fine authors have turned their hand to fantasy and achieved great success. The novel we are talking about here is Finnikin of the Rock.
Here is the blurb for the novel:
At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock—to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she’ll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.
We loved this review of Finnikin of the Rock.
7) Cinda Williams Chima
Cinda Williams Chima has written two fantasy series that will be enjoyed thoroughly by teens. The first is The Heir Chronicles (comprising The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir and The Dragon Heir) and the second is the Seven Realms quartet (comprising The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown).
The blurb for The Warrior Heir is:
Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great—until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts.Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: He is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game—a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir.As if his bizarre magical heritage isn’t enough, Jack finds out that he’s not just another member of Weirlind—he’s one of the last of the warriors—at a time when both houses are scouting for a player.
8) Garth Nix
It could be argued that The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix – currently Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen (with a handful of short stories and companion novels) – is more for middle grade. However, when we read it we felt that teen readers would gain just as much from the reading experience. Besides, it’s damn brilliant *grins*
The blurb for Sabriel is:
Who will guard the living when the dead arise? Sabriel is sent as a child across the Wall to the safety of a school in Ancelstierre. Away from magic; away from the Dead. After receiving a cryptic message from her father, 18-year-old Sabriel leaves her ordinary school and returns across the Wall into the Old Kingdom. Fraught with peril and deadly trickery, her journey takes her to a world filled with parasitical spirits, Mordicants, and Shadow Hands — for her father is none other than The Abhorson. His task is to lay the disturbed dead back to rest. This obliges him — and now Sabriel, who has taken on her father’s title and duties — to slip over the border into the icy river of Death, sometimes battling the evil forces that lurk there, waiting for an opportunity to escape into the realm of the living. Desperate to find her father, and grimly determined to help save the Old Kingdom from destruction by the horrible forces of the evil undead, Sabriel endures almost impossible challenges whilst discovering her own supernatural abilities — and her destiny.
9) Trudi Canavan
We realise that Trudi Canavan is also shelved under adult fantasy in bookstores, but we think her books fit better in the YA section. Read the Black Magician trilogy, starting with The Magicians’ Guild, then The Novice and finally The High Lord.
The blurb for The Magicians’ Guild is:
Each year the magicians of Imardin gather together to purge the city streets of vagrants, urchins and miscreants. Masters of the disciplines of magic, they know that no one can oppose them. But their protective shield is not as impenetrable as they believe. Sonea, angry, frustrated and outraged by the treatment of her family and friends, hurls a stone at the shield, putting all her rage behind it. To the amazement of all who bear witness, the stone passes unhindered through the barrier and renders a magician unconscious. The guild’s worst fear has been realised …There is an untrained magician loose on the streets. She must be found before her uncontrolled powers unleash forces that will destroy both her, and the city that is her home.
10) Sherwood Smith
Sherwood Smith is our last entry – she has written a large number of YA fantasy books, but we’ll concentrate here on the Inda quartet, comprising Inda, The Fox, The King’s Shield and Treason’s Shore.
The blurb for Inda is as follows:
Indevan Algara-Vayir is the second son of a powerful prince, destined to stay at home and defend his family’s castle. Inda is sent to the Royal Academy where he learns the art of war and finds that danger and intrigue don’t only come from outside the kingdom—and that one can find oneself on the outside, fighting the dangers that do exist there.
So there you have our ten!
- What do you think of our choices?
- Which books would you add to the list for YA Fantasy You Should Be Reading?