Young adult fantasy comes in all shapes and sizes. It might sound like a niche genre, but you will find a hugely diverse range of stories within it. 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.
Deeplight 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.
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
The first book in Ngan’s young adult series combines elements of fantasy with dystopia. The world 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.
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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This high fantasy series is the young adult answer to Afrofuturism – a genre that is making waves in the world of SFF, which has been so Eurocentric for far too long. Adeyemi draws on African culture and mythology to create the mesmerizing, fantastical world of her books. The main character Zélie once lived in a world of magic, but now those who call themselves maji are hunted down by a ruthless king. Zélie is determined to restore magic, but it may be her own powers that prove the most difficult to master. It’s a coming-of-age story about self-discovery with a tumultuous background; there’s a reason this one couldn’t be pushed from the bestsellers list for so long.
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The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
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?
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Truthwitch 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
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.
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In this episode of Book Break, guest host Elizabeth shares her book recommendations for fans of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series:
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