Somewhere in the liminal space between YA fiction and fiction, there exist books with young protagonists who are dearly beloved of full-fledged grownups! Books like Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and IT give us adult levels of emotional depth and world-weary truth, but seen through the eyes of youth. From Mia Havero to Kvothe, we’re excited to present a rambunctious gathering of young SFF protagonists…most of whom are in over their heads! And be sure to add your favorite young protagonists in the comments!
All of these titles can be found in the Tor Store on iBooks!
The Just City—Jo Walton
Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past. The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human. But what will happen to the peace of the Just City when Sokrates—yes, that one—arrives to ask all the troublesome questions you’d expect?
Rite of Passage—Alexei Panshin
After the destruction of Earth, humanity has established itself precariously among a hundred planets. Between them roam the vast Ships, doling out scientific knowledge in exchange for raw materials. On one of the Ships lives Mia Havero. Belligerent soccer player, intrepid explorer of ventilation shafts, Mia tests all the boundaries of her insulated world. She will soon be tested in turn. At the age of fourteen all Ship children must endure a month unaided in the wilds of a colony world, and although Mia has learned much through formal study, about philosophy, economics, and the business of survival, she will find that her most vital lessons are the ones she must teach herself. Published originally in 1968, Alexei Panshin’s Nebula Award-winning classic has lost none of its relevance, with its keen exploration of societal stagnation and the resilience of youth.
Flora Segunda—Ysabeau S. Wilce
Flora knows better than to take shortcuts in her family home, Crackpot Hall–the house has eleven thousand rooms, and ever since her mother banished the magickal butler, those rooms move around at random. But Flora is late for school, so she takes the unpredictable elevator anyway. Huge mistake. Lost in her own house, she stumbles upon the long-banished butler–and into a mind-blowing muddle of intrigue and betrayal that changes her world forever. Full of wildly clever plot twists, this extraordinary first novel establishes Ysabeau Wilce as a compelling new voice in teen fantasy. This book features a teaser chapter from the second Flora book, Flora’s Dare.
Mortal Coils—Eric Nylund
Nothing interesting ever happened to fifteen-year-old orphans Eliot and Fiona while they’ve lived in the strict, oppressive household of their grandmother. A chance visit, however, reveals that there is much more to the twins. They are the offspring of a goddess and Lucifer, Prince of Darkness.
Now, to settle the epic custody battle between these two families, the fallen angels create three diabolical temptations, and the gods fashion three heroic trials to test Eliot and Fiona. More than ever they need to stick together to survive and to learn how to use their budding supernatural abilities . . . for family allegiances are ever-shifting in the ancient, secret world they have entered.
Dragon and Thief—Timothy Zahn
Falsely accused of a crime, Jack Morgan takes refuge in his Uncle Virgil’s spaceship. But after he pilots it to a remote and uninhabited planet hoping to escape capture, things get a little more complicated. When another ship crashes after a fierce battle, Jack decides to rescue the sole survivor, who turns out to be a K’da warrior names Draycos, who, it happens, might be able to help Jack clear his name. All they have to do is team up. No problem, right?
Until Jack learns that Draycos is not your average alien…
The Iron Tree—Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Jarred is a young boy who has grown up among his mother’s peaceful desert people. While Jarred loves his mother, he longs to know the history of his father, a journeyman who left years earlier, promising to return for his wife and infant son. A broken promise but a token left behind–an amulet for Jarred that he has worn always. Some say it brings more than a bit of good luck his way, for no harm has ever befallen the boy.
When Jarred comes to manhood, he decides to journey into the world to seek his fortune and perhaps along the way find news of his father. In his travels he will come to a place so unlike his own as to boggle his mind–a place of immense tracts of waterways and marshes, where the very air seems to teem with magic and a people surrounded by creatures fey and not, with enough strange customs and superstitions to make his head swirl.
And to the beautiful Lilith, a woman who will haunt his dreams and ultimately steal his heart…who perhaps can provide a key to his heritage.
The Name of the Wind—Patrick Rothfuss
The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet’s hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.
Fire and Hemlock—Diana Wynne Jones
Polly Whittacker has two sets of memories. In the first, things are boringly normal; in the second, her life is entangled with the mysterious, complicated cellist Thomas Lynn. One day, the second set of memories overpowers the first, and Polly knows something is very wrong. Someone has been trying to make her forget Tom – whose life, she realizes, is at supernatural risk. Fire and Hemlock is a fantasy filled with sorcery and intrigue, magic and mystery – and a most unusual and satisfying love story.
Widely considered to be one of Diana Wynne Jones’s best novels, the Firebird edition of Fire and Hemlock features an introduction by the acclaimed Garth Nix – and an essay about the writing of the book by Jones herself.
When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still–that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.
Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.
Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.
Furies of Calderon—Jim Butcher (First Book in The Codex Alera)
For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies – elementals of earth, air, fire, water, and metal. But now, Gaius Sextus, First Lord of Alera, grows old and lacks an heir. Ambitious High Lords plot and maneuver to place their Houses in positions of power, and a war of succession looms on the horizon.” “Far from city politics in the Calderon Valley, the boy Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans’ most savage enemy – the Marat – return to the Valley, he will discover that his destiny is much greater than he could ever imagine.” Caught in a storm of deadly wind furies, Tavi saves the life of a runaway slave named Amara. But she is actually a spy for Gaius Sextus, sent to the Valley to gather intelligence on traitors to the Crown, who may be in league with the barbaric Marat horde. And when the Valley erupts in chaos – when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies – Amara will find Tavi’s courage and resourcefulness to be a power greater than any fury – one that could turn the tides of war.
Cent has a secret. She lives in isolation, with her parents, hiding from the people who took her father captive and tortured him to gain control over his ability to teleport, and from the government agencies who want to use his talent. Cent has seen the world, but only from the safety of her parents’ arms. She’s teleported more than anyone on Earth, except for her mother and father, but she’s never been able to do it herself. Her life has never been in danger.
Until the day when she went snowboarding without permission and triggered an avalanche. When the snow and ice thundered down on her, she suddenly found herself in her own bedroom. That was the first time.
The Memory of Earth—Orson Scott Card
High above the planet Harmony, the Oversoul watches. Its task, programmed so many millennia ago, is to guard the human settlement on this planet–to protect this fragile remnant of Earth from all threats. To protect them, most of all, from themselves.
The Oversoul has done its job well. There is no war on Harmony. There are no weapons of mass destruction. There is no technology that could lead to weapons of war. By control of the data banks, and subtle interference in the very thoughts of the people, the artificial intelligence has fulfilled its mission.
But now there is a problem. In orbit, the Oversoul realizes that it has lost access to some of its memory banks, and some of its power systems are failing. And on the planet, men are beginning to think about power, wealth, and conquest.
The first half of the journey, The Knight took a teenage boy from America into Mythgarthr, the middle realm of seven fantastic worlds. Above are the gods of Skai; below are the capricious Aelf, and more dangerous things still. Journeying throughout Mythgarthr, Able gains a new brother, an Aelf queen lover, a supernatural hound, and the desire to prove his honor and become the noble knight he always knew he would be. Coming into Jotunland, home of the Frost Giants, Able (now Sir Able of the High Heart) claims the great sword Eterne from the dragon who has it. In reward, he is ushered into the castle of the Valfather, king of all the Gods of Skai.
Thus begins the second part of his quest. The Wizard begins with Able’s return to Mythgathr on his steed Cloud, a great mare the color of her name. Able is filled with new knowledge of the ways of the seven-fold world and possessed of great magical secrets. His knighthood now beyond question, Able works to fulfill his vows to his king, his lover, his friends, his gods, and even his enemies. Able must set his world right, restoring the proper order among the denizens of all the seven worlds.