The 20 best YA fantasy books to escape in

We all need a break from the real world – and our screens – sometimes. Here, booktuber Jean Menzies, from Bookish Thoughts shares her edit of the best young adult fantasy books.

Young adult fantasy comes in all shapes and sizes from Judy Blume's classics to magical fantasy stories. 

The books selected here do what young adult literature does best, which is tackle headfirst the struggles of young people. Fantastical backdrops often offer the space to explore these experiences in new and engaging ways. Some of the most influential bestsellers of the twenty-first century have fallen into the YA SFF category, and speak to young, old, and medium-aged alike. Here are a few suggestions for exciting YA fantasy novels to get lost in. ​

Children of Anguish and Anarchy

by Tomi Adeyemi

Locked in a cage and trapped on a foreign ship by warriors, thousands of miles from her people and her homeland, Zélie is forced to confront her enemies once more. Facing King Baldur, the man who has destroyed everything in his path in search of her, Zélie, Amari, and Tzain set off in search of new allies to their cause to help the maji rise once and for all. With Baldur and the Skulls closing in, will Zélie save her people? Children of Anguish and Anarchy is the hotly anticipated conclusion to Tomi Adeyemi's Legacy of Orïsha trilogy.

A Tempest of Tea

by Hafsah Faizal

A Tempest of Tea is a swoon-worthy YA romance, from BookTok sensation Hafsah Faizal . . . with vampires. We meet Arthie Casimir, a criminal mastermind and collector of secrets in the city of White Roaring. By day she runs a tearoom, but by night this transforms into an illegal bloodhouse for the city's vampires. When her establishment is threatened she is forced to call on society's outcasts to infiltrate the vampire society known as the Athereum. But not everyone in her ragtag crew is on her side, and as the truth behind the heist unfolds, Arthie finds herself in the midst of a conspiracy.

This Dark Descent

by Kalyn Josephson

Enter the corrupt world of Veradell, where warring monarchs vie for a kingdom full of forbidden magic, illicit romance and cut-throat horse racing. Mikira Rusel is out of options. With her father imprisoned and facing rising debts, there’s only one way to save her family: enter the Illinir, a high-stakes horse race known for its high death toll as much as its flashy prize money. To help, she recruits Ari, Damien and Reid, all who have their own to help Mikira. As alliances deepen and romances form, Mikira will have to discover where everyone’s true loyalties lie. Steeped in Jewish folklore, this is a must read YA fantasy novel. 


by Frances Hardinge

In a world where anyone can cast a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them. Kellen does not fully understand his unique gift, but helps those who are cursed, like his friend Nettle who was trapped in the body of a bird for years. She is now Kellen's constant companion and his closest ally. But the Unraveller carries a curse himself and, unless he and Nettle can remove it, Kellen is a danger to everything – and everyone – around him . . .

Blood and Moonlight

by Erin Beaty

Both a fantasy and thriller YA novel, Blood and Moonlight follows the story of Catrin as she gets caught between a mysterious, genius detective and the the serial killer she's hunting. Catrin spends her days watching over the Holy Sanctum in the city of Collis. Then, she witnesses a murder and is pulled into a dangerous chain of events where the only certainty is that the killer will strike again. The detective on the case is Simon, whose insights into the mind of a predator are frighteningly accurate. But Catrin is also hiding her own secret — and it might be the only thing that saves her and those she loves from becoming the next victims. 

Silence and Shadow

by Erin Beaty

In the follow up to Blood and Moonlight, we continue to follow Cat and Simon after they confront a killer and flee to be with each other. Cat is looking forward to honing her healing magick at the local Selanae university, but instead finds a council of ruthless leaders threatening to erase Simon's memories to protect their secrets. Terrified, Cat takes desperate steps to keep him safe. But when a string of mutilated bodies turns up in the woods outside the city, and Simon is recruited to profile the killer, Cat is pulled back into a world of mayhem, and magick that threatens to consume her completely.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiden Thomas

From New York Times-bestelling author Aiden Thomas comes an LGBTQIA+ story about magic, acceptance and what it means to be your true self. In an attempt to gain his family’s acceptance, Yadriel decides to summon his cousin’s ghost and help him cross to the afterlife. But things get complicated when he accidentally summons the ghost of his high school’s resident bad boy, Julian Diaz - and Julian won't go into death quietly. The two boys must work together if Yadriel is to move forward with his plan,  but the more time Yadriel and Julian spend together, the harder it is to let each other go.

We Free the Stars

by Hafsah Faizal

We Free the Stars is Hafsah Faizal's spellbinding conclusion to the Sands of Arawiya duology. The battle is over, but the war is just beginning. Low on resources and allies alike, Zafira and Nasir are determined to finish their mission; to restore magic to their kingdom. But time is running out and if order is to be restored, sacrifices will have to be made. Both hopeful and devastating, this is YA fantasy at it's best. 

The Lost City

by Amanda Hocking

Welcome to a world in the shadow of our own, a fairytale land where the dangers are very real. In this first book in the Omte Origins trilogy, Amanda Hocking creates a fantastic adventure in her much-loved Trylle universe. Ulla Tulin was abandoned in an isolated Kanin town as a baby. Taken in by strangers and raised hidden away like many half-blood trolls, she has never stopped searching for her parents, or wondering about them. When Ulla hears of a project to help half-blood trolls, in the beautiful city of Merellä, she seizes the chance to discover her true heritage.

The Morning Flower

by Amanda Hocking

Amanda Hocking returns to the Trylle universe in her new series The Omte Odyssey. In the second book of the series, Pan and Eliana make an incredible discovery. Determined to learn more, they embark on a quest that takes them across the world, to find an ancient city that may hold the key to Ulla's heritage. But powerful enemies are close behind. While Ulla and Pan race to unlock the past, they discover an earth-shattering secret. This will challenge everything they thought they knew about the troll world. 

The Sunbearer Trials

by Aiden Thomas

Teo, a seventeen-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of the goddess of birds, isn't worried about the Trials . . . at least, not for himself, but he's determined to get himself and his friends through the trials unscathed - for fame, glory, and their own survival. This breathtaking, Mexican-inspired fantasy from Aiden Thomas, the author of the New York Times-bestselling Cemetery Boys, is a must-read for all YA fantasy fans. 


by Frances Hardinge

Hardinge treats the reader to her unique blend of magic, mystery, and eerie atmosphere in this novel. Enter the world of Myriad – made up of a cluster of islands – each of which was once ruled by a powerful god. Since the gods died out, the hunt for and sale of ‘godware’, the last remnants of Myriad’s deities, has turned into a thriving trade. Meanwhile, Huck, a young ‘artful dodger’ type, survives the streets on small-time scams. Things escalate quickly, however, when Huck’s mysterious friend Jelt ropes him into a far more ominous scheme. And so begins a richly woven adventure that perfectly balances light and dark. This book may be fantastical, but the relationships explored are highly realistic, for better or for worse.

The Lie Tree

by Frances Hardinge

Faith's father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father's murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. The Lie Tree is a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric novel by Frances Hardinge.

Girls of Paper and Fire

by Natasha Ngan

Book cover for Girls of Paper and Fire

The first book in Ngan’s young adult series combines elements of fantasy with dystopia. The world in which the reader is plunged into segregates society into three strict classes. Our protagonist Lei is the lowest on the ladder, and has been chosen as one of this year’s ‘paper-girls’. These young women are forced to serve as members of the King’s harem. In the midst of her captivity, however, Lei falls in love with another of the king’s female concubines: something that is strictly forbidden. This novel tackles patriarchy and sexual violence in an honest and sensitive way, whilst following one young woman who is discovering her sexuality in a world that scorns it.

The Wee Free Men

by Terry Pratchett

Book cover for The Wee Free Men

Sometimes we all need a little bit of levity in our literature. Pratchett is perhaps best known for his Discworld novels: forty comedic fantasy works all set on a planet of his own creation that rides through space on the back of a giant turtle. One of the series he set in Discworld was written especially for the young adult audience: the Tiffany Aching books. Tiffany is a budding young witch whose little brother is stolen by the fair-folk and taken away to the fairy realm. In order to get him back, she must enlist the help of the titular Wee Free Men, rowdy pictsies with bright red hair and a penchant for drinking and stealing sheep. What could possibly go wrong?


by Susan Dennard

In search of your next epic fantasy series? Look no further. Truthwitch marks the beginning of a marathon adventure following Safi, one of the few remaining Truthwitches. Safi’s magic allows her to know when someone is telling the truth or lying through their teeth – a skill some people would much rather no one could wield. Safi’s close friend Iseult, however, does not even understand her own magic. The two girls must find a way to survive in a magical world ravaged by war, but which alliances should they make and which should they break?

Oh My Gods

by Alexandra Sheppard

Book cover for Oh My Gods

Still not sure if fantasy is for you? Sheppard’s novel is for all intents and purposes a contemporary story about an ordinary girl dealing with ordinary problems, except her dad is the all-powerful Greek god Zeus. Helen has to keep her dad’s identity a secret whilst dealing with the loss of her mortal mother, attending a new school in London and attempting to make friends. It doesn’t help that her half-siblings Aphrodite and Apollo are wreaking havoc at home. Sheppard manages to perfectly combine the fantastical with the realistic in her debut novel, and readers will find it easy to relate to Helen – even if their own parents aren’t ancient deities.

The Library of the Dead

by T. L. Huchu

When Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker, earning a living by carrying messages from the dead to the living, it seemed harmless enough. But then the dead begin whispering about someone who is bewitching children and leaving them joyless husks. When Ropa starts investigating she needs to draw on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And what she finds will change her world forever . . . This magical fantasy book is the first in the Edinburgh Nights series. 

The Girl of Ink and Stars

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for The Girl of Ink and Stars

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her cartographer father once mapped. When her friend disappears, she volunteers to guide the search. The world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself. A beautifully written story of friendship, discovery, myths and magic – perfect for fans of Philip Pullman and Frances Hardinge.

Northern Lights

by Philip Pulman

Book cover for Northern Lights

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world. First published in 1995, and acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, this is the first book in Philip Pulman's His Dark Materials trilogy. 

In this episode of Book Break, guest host Elizabeth shares her book recommendations for fans of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.