Five Books About…

5 SFF Books About Deadly Magical Games

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Both of us have always loved stories about games. They’ve played big roles in our childhoods, whether it was Pokémon or Mario Kart tournaments with our siblings (Amanda) or reading The Westing Game approximately twenty-five times (Christine) or being overly competitive at family game nights (…both of us).

So when we set out to write about a death tournament filled with dark, twisted magic, no one was particularly surprised. But while we’ve had a blast crafting our own duology, we also have a deep-seated love for other books that feature magical contests, tournaments, and puzzles.

Here are just a few highlights–some old favorites, some new favorites, and some upcoming releases we’re excited to read.

 

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

When compiling a list of favorite fantastical games, V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy immediately came to mind. All three books are compelling, wonderful reads, but the second installment, A Gathering of Shadows, contains a series highlight: the Element Games, where champions travel to Red London to compete in a friendly tournament intended to strengthen ties between countries.

The tournament is the perfect anchor for the plot, and serves to expand the series world building, bring in new characters and test familiar ones in unexpected and rewarding ways. Some characters use the tournament as an outlet for power they don’t understand; others are more concerned with the people who’ve arrived as part of it, resurfacing past wounds and unfinished business. And, of course, the tournament is also the perfect distraction for nefarious forces closing in on Red London…

Often, the second book in a trilogy can suffer from “bridge book” syndrome, where plotting, pacing, and character development slow. But A Gathering of Shadows adeptly side-steps such pitfalls, instead emerging as both a crucial part of a series and a shining achievement in its own right.

 

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

A death tournament that functions as the ultimate family drama abounds in this twisty, unputdownable YA fantasy series. Every generation, triplets are born on the isle of Fennbirn–raised together as children, then separated once their powers arrive, so that they can be trained as rival would-be queens. And when they come of age, the ultimate contest begins: two of them must fall, so a third can reign victorious.

Not only is this premise one of the most compelling tournament pitches we’ve ever heard, the plot delivers, crafting the tales of three very different sisters who have been raised to do the unthinkable. It’s tough to know who to root for, and tougher still to predict what will happen next. Over the course of this quartet, these three sisters will grow and change in fascinating ways, and their complex relationships to each other and their magic will forever change the future of Fennbirn.

 

A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

A Far Wilder Magic features protagonists Margaret Welty and Wes Winters, unlikely allies in a hunt for the last living mythical creature. The Halfmoon Hunt is Margaret’s best chance at bringing her distant mother home–and Wes’s only chance to prove himself as an alchemist.

This novel is one of our all-time favorite reads in recent years. It’s gorgeously written, with a cast of characters that feel like real people, especially the two leads. It balances a virtually perfect romance, layered world-building and lore, and thoughtful commentary on the challenges faced by ethnic minorities and immigrants. The Halfmoon Hunt ties all of these disparate elements together by locking the two leads in a contest that forces them to confront their internal and external struggles–all while finding solace, and eventually love, in each other.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

At the beginning of our friendship, around six years ago, one of the very first books the two of us bonded over was The Night Circus. So of course, when discussing our favorite magical contests and games, we had to include this modern fantasy classic!

For those unfamiliar with the text, the central conceit of The Night Circus is that the titular circus is a front for a contest between Celia and Marco, two magician’s apprentices who’ve been pushed into an ongoing battle of magic that begun in childhood and will continue until only one is left standing. In other words, a lifelong duel with light death-tournament vibes. But when Celia and Marco fall irrevocably in love, the machinations of their magician mentors and the circus they’ve created will be forever changed.

This story is a bittersweet and beautifully written love letter to the circus–a place of endless games, wonder, and entertainment–as well as a firm reminder to believe in magic, wherever you can find it.

 

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

In Berwah’s debut novel, sixteen-year-old Koral lives in an oceanic world brimming with dangerous beasts. Her family are indentured by the upper-class Landers to capture maristags, creatures used as part of the Glory Race–a chariot tournament for elites. Winning brings riches and status, but losing could easily end in a contestant’s gruesome demise.

Yet after Koral’s family finds themselves in dire straits, she makes a dangerous choice: cheat her way into the Glory Race to save her little sister’s life. This magical competition sounds like both a commentary on privilege and class and a high-octane plot element that’ll make the book hard to put down. Plus, one of the other contestants in the chariot race is Koral’s ex-boyfriend…adding a whole new element of drama and complication to the story.

Monsters Born and Made releases on September 6. We’ve heard so many amazing things about this book, and can’t wait to dive in once it’s out in the world!

 

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. She is a New York Times and indie bestselling author of YA and children’s fantasy novels, including the All of Us Villains duology, the Wilderlore series, The Shadow Game series, and more. You can find her on Instagram or at amandafoody.com.

Christine Lynn Herman is the New York Times and indie bestselling author of novels about magic, monsters, and growing up, including the All of Us Villains duology, The Devouring Gray duology, and The Drowning Summer. Writing updates (and cat pictures) can be found on Instagram or at christinelynnherman.com.

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