Fiction is a mirror of reality. It’s no coincidence, then, that the broken worlds we often see in fiction are places that feel somewhat familiar; they resemble our own world, reflect our own fears and darknesses and troubles. Broken fictional worlds remind us of just how high the stakes can be.
Sometimes it can even feel like the stakes are too high. Why would people still live in places like this? we wonder to ourselves. Who still wants to reside in Gotham City, for instance, with a new evil showing up every week? Why doesn’t Batman just move to a nicer place? After all, he’s someone who could choose to live anywhere.
This is exactly why I’m drawn to stories about broken worlds, though. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire who chooses to stay in a city like Gotham, a grungy, crime-infested place that he nevertheless keeps fighting to fix. It’s the fixing of the broken world that pulls me in, and it’s a theme that I’m feeling these days.
So, here are five stories that I feel capture the fight for and the fixing of broken worlds—whether that world is a dark wonderland of roses and death, or a real place of gangs and injustice.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Dregs of Ketterdam isn’t prime real estate, but to Kaz and his crew, it’s home. They might be thieves and thugs, and their intentions may not always be the noblest, but they have noble hearts and exquisitely drawn backstories, and through Bardugo’s brilliant portrayal of them, you come to love this broken, magical place they fight for. I could read this book again and again.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Sabaa Tahir is a master in crafting a realistically dark, terrifying fantasy world and then populating it with characters that shine against that darkness. The contrast of Elias and Laia’s bold, bright hearts and the sinister backdrop of Blackcliff Academy and the Martial Empire emphasizes how broken the world currently is and what it could potentially be. No matter how bleak this setting becomes, though, our heroes never stop fighting for their loved ones and what they believe in. (Additional note: Helene. My love. That is all.)
Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
How does one person weave this much imagination, whimsy, and darkness into a single world? Tahereh Mafi does it somehow, and what you get is the heartbreakingly beautiful story of a young girl named Laylee whose thankless, grueling job is to wash the bodies of the dead. The world of Whichwood is like a dark Wonderland, a twisted mindscape of beauty and cruelty. Laylee is a heroine you root endlessly for, and it is her friendships that shine here, the bonds between souls that fixes a hopeless world.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
You don’t have to go into speculative fiction to find a story of fixing broken worlds. We live in one now, some of us far more than others. Jason Reynolds tells these stories with his searing prose. Long Way Down, written in verse, is the story of a boy who takes the elevator down his 8th-floor apartment complex to seek revenge for his brother’s shooting, only to be greeted at each floor by the ghost of someone related to the events that led up to his brother’s death. It’s a portrait of how breaking one person can break another can break another, of the real injustices faced by real people in real life, and how we go about fixing the wounds in our world.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I read this book years ago, but it still stays with me today. I wept for Verity and Maddie, two young female best friends fighting for their countries, for survival, and for each other during World War II. It’s a story of how friendship can endure during a time when real evil threatened to tear the world apart, and of how treasuring one another is, in the end, the entire reason why we try to fix broken worlds in the first place. Nowadays, this message resonates more than ever.
Marie Lu is the author of Warcross, the #1 New York Times bestselling series The Young Elites, and the blockbuster bestselling Legend series. Her latest book is Batman: Nightwalker, part of the DC Icons series written by megastar young adult authors including Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, and Matt de la Peña. Visit Marie on Tumblr and follow her on Twitter at @Marie_Lu.