2021 certainly has gotten off to a rocky start. It’s a good thing there is such good young adult science fiction and fantasy being published in January and February to take the edge off. Let’s dive into the new year with some of my most anticipated YA with books about embattled assassins, deposed monarchs, petty gods, Nazi punchers, and more.
Outcasts, Outlaws, & Rebels
We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal (Sands of Arawiya #2)—January 19, 2021; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Nasir and Zafira may have defeated the shadow forest, but victory is not yet guaranteed. Altair has been taken captive. Nasir is busy learning to control the powerful magic flowing through his veins. Soon he will have to use his magic against the Lion of the Night and his own father, who is being puppeted by the Lion. To restore magic to Arawiya, Zafira must return the five hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets in each caliphate. Zafira is pulled into the Lion’s orbit and it may cost her everything to break free.
Shadow City by Francesca Flores (City of Steel and Diamonds #2)—January 26, 2021; Wednesday Books
Aina Solís survived the events of Diamond City and now rules over a criminal empire of spies, thieves, and assassins. But trouble still looms. The man who they dethroned, Kohl, will do anything to take back control, and an ousted army general Alsane Bautix is trying to instigate a civil war. To save her nation, Aina must forge an alliance with her enemy…and stop Bautix before Kohl gets his hooks in her.
Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez (Woven in Moonlight #2)—January 26, 2021; Page Street Kids
Where the first book, Woven in Moonlight, followed Ximena, Written in Starlight picks up with Catalina, the deposed Condesa. Betrayed by her only ally and banished to the Yanu Jungle, Catalina and Manuel, the son of a former general, decide to take back the kingdom by force. They set off for the legendary city of Paititi. There they hope to convince the Illari, another exiled civilization, to join under her banner. Draws inspiration from Bolivia and Spanish colonialism.
Stormbreak by Natalie C. Parker (Seafire #3)—February 9, 2020; Razorbill
With this third installment, Natalie C. Parker’s thrilling trilogy comes to a close. Everything is on the line. Her nemesis is dead, but the violent gang of pirates he controlled – the Bullets – are still waging war on the high seas under a new leader, Lir, and a toxic drug, Silt. Caledonia raises an army of freedom fighters, but a sneak attack devastates her ranks. An unlikely ally appears. Accepting their “help” could give her the edge she needs to take Lir down once and for all, or it could cost her everything she’s fought so hard to achieve.
Gods & Monsters
Wings of Ebony by J. Elle (Wings of Ebony #1)—January 26, 2021; Denene Millner Books
After Rue’s mother is killed in a senseless act of violence, she and her younger sister are split up. Tasha stays with their father in Houston and Rue is sent to her biological father on the hidden island of Ghizon where residents have godlike powers. Eventually, the absence of her sister becomes too great so Rue escapes back to Texas, only to find her little sister caught up in the same powerful, dark magic infecting Ghizon.
What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo—February 2, 2021; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Expelled from the boarding school where she has spent most of her life, Eleanor Zarrin finally returns home to her family home in Winterport, Maine. There she discovers that her memories of strange creatures haunting the house were true: several relations are werewolves, her mother may be some sort of sea monster, a vampire passes through, and her Grandmother Persephone can see the future. When Persephone dies, Eleanor summons her Grandmere from France and immediately regrets it. To save her family from Grandmere, she may have to become a monster, too.
Bloodsworn by Scott Reintgen (Ashlords #2)—February 16, 2021; Crown Books for Young Readers
The Races may be over, but the war has just begun. Ashlord Pippa, Dividian Imelda, and Longhand Adrian plan to lead their armies against each other, but find common ground in hating the gods. Chaos is brewing amongst the seven Ashlord gods living in the underworld with their coterie of human slaves.
Reaper of Souls by Rena Barron (Kingdom of Souls #2)—February 16, 2021; HarperTeen
Arrah finally has magic of her own, but the gift comes with conditions she is unprepared to reckon with. As the only witchdoctor left, it is her responsibility to bring peace to a chaotic Kingdom, but in order to do that she must uncover the murky secrets in her past and understand her strange connection to the Demon King.
Magic with a Twist
Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert (The Hazel Wood #2.5)—January 12, 2021; Flatiron Books
We first heard about the book of fairytales written by Althea Proserpine in The Hazel Wood, and witnessed the fallout from them in The Night Country. Now Melissa Albert gifts us with the stories themselves, of Hansa the Traveler, of Twice-Killed Katherine, and of Alice-Three-Times, whose story will perhaps mean the most to readers. Don’t come into this collection expecting Disney princesses. Melissa Albert and Althea Proserpine’s stories are bloody and brutal and the Brothers Grimm feel sugary sweet.
The Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance—February 16, 2021; Razorbill
When she was just a child, Eline’s mother Silje stood on a fjord in Norway to whistle at the Northern Lights and disappeared, just as the local legends said she would. Ten years later, the Northern Lights appear for one night over Eli’s new home in Cape Cod. She whistles and her mother returns, bringing winter magic with her. This time when she vanishes, Silje leaves a cryptic message, and Eli sets off on a great adventure to find her.
The Shadow War by Lindsay Smith—February 23, 2021; Philomel Books
In this World War II alternate history, a gang of teens try to destroy the Nazis. Liam, a gay teen and theoretical physics genius, discovers a parallel universe with dark energy he might be able to use against the German war machine. He teams up with Daniel and Rebeka, Jewish siblings who barely escaped from the Łódź ghetto with their lives, Philip, an American engineering student, and his Algerian bodyguard Simone. The alternate world may hold the key to ending the war, but it also contains evil of its own.
The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney— February 23, 2021; Razorbill
Rose’s car breaks down in the desert. Somehow, a voicemail left by her best friend Gaby before her death plays on her car radio. Rose follows the transmission to the small town of Lotus Valley, a strange place filled with prophets who see her as the start of a series of events that will lead to the town being inundated with a flood in three days. Monsters and magic blend with her PTSD in ways she cannot predict or control.
The Future Sucks
Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha (The Mechanists #1)—January 19, 2021; Erewhon
Years ago, the world’s civilizations nearly destroyed themselves with war and climate change. Now, people are locked into Provinces, unable to migrate and entirely dependent on a global superpower to dispense funding. In the poorest part of the South Asian Province lives Ashiva, a young thief with a cybernetic arm. She and Kid Synch, the son of a powerful leader, get caught in the middle of a long-simmering revolution against the corrupt SAP overlords. Did I mention there are mechas? Oh yeah. Mechas galore!
Unchosen by Katharyn Blair—January 26, 2021; Katherine Tegen Books
Charlotte lives in future version of our world where the population has been decimated by a plague called the Crimson that turns humans into red-eyed cannibals. Rumors spread of a Chosen One who will defeat the curse and save the world, and as luck would have it, the Chosen One happens to be Charlotte’s sister Vanessa. Forced to pretend to be the Chosen One to spare her sister’s life, Charlotte is taken on a globe-trotting journey to find the source of the Crimson…and the boy she loved and lost. An interesting twist on the Chosen One trope.
The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold—February 9, 2021; Viking Books for Young Readers
In a not so distant future, in a world plagued by the Fly Flu, lives a teen girl named Nico and her dog Harry. Nico is sent off by her father to find a portal that can give her a less post-apocalyptic life. Along the way she encounters twelve-year-old Kit, a child who grew up in an abandoned movie theatre, and timey-wimey things start to get wibbly-wobbly. Watching everything is the Deliverer, a mysterious figure who lives again and again and has plans for Nico and Kit.
Game Changer by Neal Shusterman—February 9, 2021; Quill Tree Books
Ash Bowman lives a life of social privilege. He’s a cishet, white, high school senior cruising through life. Until he’s tackled on a football field and comes to in a world just slightly off. Each time he’s tackled, the world he wakes up in has changed again, and each iteration is more dangerous and less stable than the last.