The first house I lived in was a bi-level with a long, straight-shot hallway from the kitchen to the living room. Full length mirrors were set into the walls, in very 1980s fashion. My brother and I would turn off all the lights in the house and run up and down that hallway, catching ghostly glimpses of ourselves in the mirrors, playing “Night Faeries.”
A foreboding kind of rush would prickle through me as I held my arms out wide, making them wings, and swooping along in search of night flowers and glowing fruits (I think we were watching a lot of FernGully at the time). There was something illicit to the whole thing—being in the dark, transforming ourselves into something human but not quite. I couldn’t have recognized it at six years old, but there was a whiff of the uncanny to our game, and it was laced with “what if.” What if we were us, but we could fly? What if we were us, but magic?
That, I think, is one of the reasons fae stories are so enduring. They could be us. Fae are often portrayed as looking human, speaking like humans, interacting with humans, but they’re more. Immortal, bearers of powers that inspire both awe and fear. We want to get closer.
It’s no surprise that fae stories in YA fiction are often dark and full of glittering magic. If I kept an aesthetic board in my head while writing Beguiled, it was full of dark swaths of gauzy indigo fabric studded with silver stars. Something that could tent over the entire story before it fell and wrapped around my characters.
These five YA fantasy books centre fae and let us step into these unsettling but enticing worlds. I think you’ll enjoy your stay.
Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman
Okay, this book isn’t out yet but it sounds AMAZING. It also has an autistic changeling MC, and I love seeing that representation. I have an absolute soft spot for changeling stories, and this one promises treasure hunting and a fae realm. Sold.
Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove looks just like her twin, Isolde… but as an autistic changeling trying to navigate her unpredictable magic, Seelie finds it more difficult to fit in with the humans around her. When Seelie and Isolde are caught up in a heist gone wrong and make some unexpected allies, they find themselves unraveling a larger mystery that has its roots in the history of humans and fae alike.
Both sisters soon discover that the secrets of the faeries may be more valuable than any pile of gold and jewels. But can Seelie harness her magic in time to protect her sister, and herself?
A Cruel and Fated Light by Ashley Shuttleworth
This sequel to 2021’s A Dark and Hollow Star is dripping in fae world-lore, but it’s the characters who really pull you in—plus the fantastic queer rep. There will be a total of four books in the series, so this is a world you can get lost in for a while.
After thwarting the man behind the gruesome ironborn murders—and breaking several fae laws to do so—all Arlo wants is a quiet summer. As the deity of luck’s Hollow Star, capable of bringing about endless possibilities, this shouldn’t be too much to ask, right?
But someone is still trying to summon the mythical Seven Deadly Sins. All signs point to immortal meddling, and if this is the gods’ attempt at returning to the Mortal Realm, it’s Arlo they’re going to use to do it.
When Queen Riadne offers to host Arlo at the Seelie Summer palace, she jumps at the chance. She’ll get to see more of Vehan and Aurelian and perhaps even work out her complicated feelings for the gorgeous ex-Fury, Nausicaä. But no one trusts the infamous Queen of Light, even as Arlo wonders if she’s just been greatly misunderstood.
With the Summer Solstice quickly approaching, everyone expects Riadne to finally challenge the High King for his crown. And as Arlo struggles to get control of her powers and take charge of her destiny, she’ll soon be faced with a choice that won’t only change the fate of the Mortal Realm forever but could condemn it to a cruelty the likes of which the Courts have never known.
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Margaret Rogerson’s writing is just so gorgeous, and I fell fast into the world she creates in this book. The premise feels both fresh and like a long-established fairy-tale. Perfect for readers looking for comfort with engaging twists and turns.
With a flick of her paintbrush, Isobel creates stunning portraits for a dangerous set of clients: the fair folk. These immortal creatures cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and they trade valuable enchantments for Isobel’s paintings. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—Isobel makes a deadly mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his throne, and even his life.
Furious, Rook spirits Isobel away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously amiss in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending upon each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, perhaps even love…a forbidden emotion that would violate the fair folks’ ruthless laws, rendering both their lives forfeit. What force could Isobel’s paintings conjure that is powerful enough to defy the ancient malice of the fairy courts?
Isobel and Rook journey along a knife-edge in a lush world where beauty masks corruption and the cost of survival might be more frightening than death itself.
The Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black
Since they’re all out, I’m grouping them together—any list about fae books wouldn’t be complete with something from Holly Black. I absolutely love the way she blends fae stories and contemporary settings, and The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and Queen of Nothing are no exception. Plus, Jude is the morally gray protagonist that dreams are made of.
Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan
I love a good sibling-driven story, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s also darkly romantic, with a brooding love interest—and the sequel, These Twisted Bonds, published last month, so you can binge the duology!
After Abriella’s sister was sold to the fae, she thought life couldn’t get any worse. But when she suddenly finds herself caught in a web of lies of her own making—loving two princes and trusting neither—things are not quite as clear as she once thought.
As civil war wages in the Court of Darkness, Brie finds herself unable to choose a side. How can she know where she stands when she doesn’t even know herself anymore? In this darkly romantic thrill ride, the more Faerie is torn apart from the inside, the clearer it becomes that prophecies don’t lie and Brie has a role to play in the fate of this magical realm—whether she likes it or not.
Cyla Panin lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband and two sons. Her debut novel, Stalking Shadows, was called “both beautiful and brutal” by Kirkus Reviews. She has a bachelor of arts in English with a concentration in creative writing from Mount Royal University.