Young Adult Fantasy: A Reading Guide

My time as a guest blogger here at Tor.com is almost up. Before I go, I’d like to talk a little about young adult speculative fiction, since that’s my genre of choice.

Some of you already read YA. Some maybe have only checked out the really big titles, like The Hunger Games and Graceling, but aren’t sure where to go from there. Some have probably considered picking up something from the teen section but don’t know where to start. And if you haven’t thought about giving YA fiction a shot yet, I suggest you do now! There are great things happening in YA speculative fiction, and I think any of you could find new books to love.

So, let me offer you my YA fantasy reading guide. (In my next and final post, I’ll cover science fiction.)

If you like “quiet” contemplative fantasy, like The Last Unicorn and Little, Big, try:

Birth of the Firebringer by Meredith Ann Pierce – Thoughtful fantasy about a community of unicorns who have been driven from their homeland, with poetic prose and haunting imagery.

The City and the Lake by Rachel Neumeier – A fantasy of shifting realities and parallel worlds, about a mage-in-training and a royal bastard whose lives converge when a prince goes missing.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb – A contemporary ghost story from the point of view of the ghost, who gets a second chance at life and love by slipping into a troubled teen’s body.

(See book cover images above.)

If you like political fantasy without much magic, like the A Song of Fire and Ice series and The Curse of Chalion, try:

The Attolia series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and the upcoming A Conspiracy of Kings) by Megan Whalen Turner – In a society based on ancient Greece, a royal thief fights to protect his country, win a queen, and prove his worth, not with a sword but with his wits.

The Westmark trilogy (Westmark, The Kestrel, The Beggar Queen) by Lloyd Alexander – A printer’s apprentice comes of age and falls in love as his country descends into civil war, and a young queen struggles to hold onto her crown.

Fire by Kristin Cashore – A human “monster” who stirs up the emotions of all who catch even a glimpse of her is drawn into her country’s political conflict and must face the horrors of her past.

If you like retellings of familiar tales, like Wicked or Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, try:

The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale – The first fleshes out the story of the princess who loses her place to her serving girl, and the second explores a little known fairy tale about a young woman who provides a voice for her anxious mistress.

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier – Take the 12 dancing princesses, eliminate seven of them and take away their royalty, then throw in vampires, fae folk, and Transylvanian culture.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones – A YA take on Tam Lin, in which a young woman uncovers lost memories of her childhood adventures with a man who now desperately needs saving.

If you like dark fantasy, like Perdido Street Station and the Black Jewels trilogy, try:

Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey – Two storylines separated by time, one in which a boy is forced into a torturous magic school that may as well be a prison, and the other in which a girl becomes entangled in the forming of that school.

The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein – An intense and brutal take on the King Arthur story, from the point of view of his first son, who is torn between love and jealousy.

Thirsty by M.T. Anderson – A raw, disturbing vampire story, about a boy struggling to contain the urges stirring within him while trying to avert a worldwide catastrophe.

If you like gritty urban fantasy, like The Dresden Files books and the Otherworld series, try:

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld – A unique take on the vampire mythos, where vampires are created by parasites, in which a young man who is a carrier uncovers a threat even greater than vampires.

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan – Urban fantasy from the point of view of the brooding, taciturn hero, on the run with his family from demon-summoning magicians while uncovering the secrets of his past.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause – A girl tries to fit into normal human life despite being part of a werewolf pack, until a series of murders makes her question just how human she can be.

Those of you who are already YA fans, feel free to share your own suggestions!


Megan Crewe is a Canadian young adult author whose first novel, Give Up the Ghost, was recently published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

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