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Alex Brown

10 Great Parents from Young Adult SFF

Every so often someone laments the lack of good parents in young adult fantasy and science fiction. This is usually followed up with the claim that good parents make for poor YA fiction because good parents don’t let their kids go off on dangerous adventures to save the world. To which I usually reply that they clearly don’t read enough YA SFF. Parents—yes even the good ones—have a long history of involvement in young adult science fiction and fantasy, a trend that has actually been increasing in recent years.

In that vein, here are ten YA SFF novels where the parents are very much alive, are good people, and in some cases who even join the teen protagonist on their quest. There are, of course, a zillion more, so please add your recs in the comments!

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Mapping All the Known Portal Worlds in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series

In Every Heart a Doorway, the first novella in the stellar Wayward Children series, author Seanan McGuire explores what happens when children who disappeared into magical worlds returned to the real world. Her portal worlds are connected to our own through magic doors. Not just any child can cross the threshold; something innate in their being or in the other world draws them in.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel showing how Jacqueline and Jillian became Jack and Jill during their time in one of those other worlds. The consequences of leaving your home world for the real one come to roost in the forthcoming third novella, Beneath the Sugar Sky. Although the Wayward Children series is only three novellas (so far—book four, In An Absent Dream, publishes January 8th), McGuire has built a vast multiverse, one I tried to organize here.

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Home for the Holidays: The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman

The occult adventures of Lady Helen Wrexhall come to a thrilling conclusion in The Dark Days Deceit, the third and final book in Alison Goodman’s delightful Lady Helen series. It’s been an intense year. In the spring Helen learned she was a Reclaimer like her late mother, a being with the power to kill Deceivers, basically otherworldly demons. That summer she and Lord Carlston learned of a plot to destroy the world and were united as the Grand Reclaimer. Now it’s nearly Christmas and the end is nigh. By day Helen practices controlling her strange powers, and by night the Dark Days Club trolls the streets looking for the enemy.

All Helen and Carlston have to do is stop the Grand Deceiver. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. The only problem is her increasingly uncontrollable and destructive powers. And her upcoming marriage to the Duke of Selburn. And learning how to run a massive estate. And keeping her nosy relatives out of her Reclaiming business. Oh, and protecting the entire city of Bath from a pair of bloodthirsty Deceivers. Not to mention her simmering attraction to Lord Carlston. But other than that…

[“Amore mio.”]

Pull List: Blackbird and Jook Joint Remind You To Never Underestimate Women

October may be done and dusted, but horror comics are a year round affair as far as I’m concerned. Alright, so technically Blackbird isn’t a horror comic—it has a similar feel as Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina—but Jook Joint most definitely is. Either way, if these two creeptastic Image series aren’t already in your subscription box, you need to rectify that, like, right now.

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Rebellion or Revenge? Destiny Soria’s Beneath the Citadel

Cassa, Alys, Newt, and Evander had a plan. It wasn’t a great one, but it would do. And then Vesper, the fifth member of their rebellious little group, betrayed them all. After a daring escape from the dungeons and death sentences, the quartet descend into the bowels of the Citadel. There in the darkest, deepest pit, they meet a man with a story that’s too good to be true. The kids have a choice to make: free the angry prisoner and he’ll destroy the Citadel or save the city by keeping the man locked up and the Council in power. But do they even have a choice at all?

The city of Eldra was once led by seers and their infallible prophecies. Without a new prophecy, the Council has no claim to power, and there hasn’t been one in ages. A century-old revolution was recently quashed and what little hope there was for change was snuffed out with the deaths of Cassa’s rebel leader parents. Each teen wants revenge on the Council for their own personal reasons, but soon they find themselves pawns in a much larger game. Every choice they make pulls them further into prophecies with ominous endings. No matter how much they try to forge their own paths, destiny—or something masquerading as destiny—keeps yanking them back. The only way to save the future is to defy their fates.

[“If they own your future, then they own you.”]

Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is Enchantingly Spooky

It took me a grand total of one episode for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to hex me into obsession. Based solely on my love of the comic from which the show was adapted, I knew going in that I’d like it. But my preemptive affection turned into post-binge adoration with the show’s twisted sense of humor, campy sense of horror, and willingness to engage with social justice issues, not to mention the fantastic cinematography, direction, and acting.

So let’s take a look at my latest addiction that I’m sorely tempted to go back and rewatch next weekend.

Some spoilers.

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Pull List: Life Lessons in The Nameless City and The Girl Who Married a Skull

It’s been awhile since we last looked at middle grade comics for Pull List, and what could make a more perfect return than The Nameless City and The Girl Who Married a Skull and Other African Stories? While the latter retells folktales from the African continent, the former finds life lessons in a story of colonial occupation and Indigenous rebellion. Plus, Faith Erin Hicks writes for both comics, and her presence is always a good sign.

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Haunted by the Past: Lila Bowen’s Treason of Hawks

At the end of Malice of Crows, Rhett experiences a loss so devastating, he doesn’t think anything could ever be worse. Treason of Hawks proves him wrong time and time again. In fact, “worse” is an understatement. Rhett goes through hell physically, psychologically, romantically, emotionally.

The fourth and final book in Lila Bowen’s excellent Shadow series picks up right where the third book left off, and never lets up on the tension. Wicked Ranger Haskell and his band of brutes are harrying Rhett’s trail as a gang of chupacabras taunt his motley crew. Meanwhile, an unknown fiend is picking off the people from Rhett’s past, leaving them dry, desiccated husks. And on top of all this, supernatural beasties from all across Durango are making their way to Rhett’s camp at Inès’ mission. Something is drawing them to the Shadow, and whatever it is, the Shadow knows not everyone will make it out alive. All he wants is a quiet life of cattle ranching and romancing Sam, but what Rhett wants and what the Shadow demands are two separate things. The fight of his life is coming … and Rhett isn’t ready.

[“You’re the Shadow! People need you!”]

The Secrets We Keep and the Lies We Tell: Anna-Marie McLemore’s Blanca & Roja

Blanca & Roja is as haunting and beautiful as a frost-tinged forest at dusk. It is a poem stretched into prose then stitched around ancient fairy tales like a grandmother’s quilt. It is astonishing. Defiant. Wondrous. Cutting. Feverish. Dazzling. It is all of those things and so much more.

[“What marked me as part of my own family made the world love me a little less.”]

Womanly Arts: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy couldn’t have come out at a better time. Women are angry. We’re stepping up and raising our fists. We’re shouting at those who would silence us and resisting those who would pat us on the head and send us back to the kitchen. So thank Hera for Felicity Montague, Johanna Hoffman, and Sim Aldajah, for they are just as angry as the rest of us. No man dare stand in their way.

[“You deserve to take up space in this world.”]

All the World’s a Stage: For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

Years ago, the Aquitans crossed the sea and invaded Chakrana. Now under strict colonial rule, Chakrans are second class citizens in their own land. Compliance is demanded by a distant king, and resistance is brutally put down by the Aquitan army. Despite the odds, the Chantray family has survived, using their skills as performers to appease the colonizers and remind the colonized of their stolen traditions. They are shadow players, artists who use paper cutouts, screens, and fire to tell ancient folktales through shadow puppetry. Jetta’s brother Akra used to perform with them before he was lured away to the army by the promise of a salary big enough to send home to his family. Akra stopped writing letters a year ago. He never returned. Today, it’s just Jetta and her parents traveling the countryside, a family with no home, no village, no history, no land.

After a disastrous bid to win a trip to Aquitan where she hopes to access a cure for her “malheur,” Jetta falls into the arms of Leo, a brooding, secretive dance hall owner with ties to the rebellion. Leo also has the unfortunate luck to be the illegitimate son of the head of the Aquitan army and a long dead Chakrana woman. Despised by both groups, he is trapped in a suffocating space between two worlds. Yet he has learned to navigate the borderland by exploiting his Aquitan power to benefit the impoverished Chakrans. Guided by Leo’s sordid ties, Jetta and her parents travel to the Chakrana capital for a last ditch attempt to sail to Aquitan. Disaster besets them at every turn, and death stalks them like a shadow.

[“She is still battered, still broken, but it is enough. Souls are so strong.”]

Magic, Superpowers, and the Undead in This Autumn’s Upcoming YA SFF

Tis the season for stories about queer teens of color fighting to save the world from utter destruction. Listen, a lot of times there are so few young adult science fiction or fantasy novels published in a season written by and about intersectionally diverse people that filling out this preview list is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. This fall/winter, however, there were so many—especially #ownvoices!—that I couldn’t include them all without turning this into an ungainly longread. And when I say “so many,” what I really mean is “there are more YA SFF novels being published in just October than in November and December combined and I think I’m going to pass out from all the excitement.”

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Falling Down the Rabbit Hole: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

The night Alice’s father died in the hospital, Alice nearly died in a nearby alley. A Nightmare, a monstrous creature forged from human fears, would have killed her quickly and painfully had it not been for Addison Hatta and his too-sharp blades. He introduces her to Wonderland, a portal world full of magic and sadness. Nightmares come through Wonderland to our world, but because they’re created by humans only a human can kill them. Alice is one of those select humans. He offers to teach her, if she’s willing…

A few years later, Alice is at the top of her game. She dispatches Nightmares if not with ease than at least with some confidence. But between high school, her mom, and saving the world, it’s all getting to be a bit too much. Retirement sounds awfully appealing. Her dreams of hanging up her daggers are quashed when a mysterious villain begins sending Nightmares after Alice. The wicked Knight pushes Alice around like a pawn on a chessboard. Hatta keeping some Very Important Secrets from her isn’t helping matters. As Wonderland’s darkness begins to spread into the real world, Alice will have to risk her friendships, her mother’s trust, and even her life to save the day.

[“I’m protecting the world. Who’d protect me?”]

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