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July 16, 2018

4 Fantasy Novels for Teens #MondayBlogs

by MK French

Summer is winding down but there is still time to fit in some pleasure reading before school and mandatory reading lists begin. Here are 4 novels for fans of young adult fantasy.
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Blessings of the Firebird's Light by Rose S. King

Blessings of the Firebird's Light
November 2017; 978-1976002991
ebook, print (340 pages); religious
Audry Duvessa is a witch on one realm of existence that is fairly close to the darkest part of the universe. She is expected to lead her mother's coven of witches after they were killed by Peacekeepers, men of strict Christian faith that destroy sorcery in order to preserve the Light. While escaping the notice of Roei, the most skilled of the hunters, Audry stumbles upon a Firebird feather and is convinced that collecting all twelve of the Firebird's feathers will help save magic and the coven she didn't feel ready to lead.

Audry was fairly likable as the book unfolded. She is fairly driven by her ideals and her sense of family. She's never truly painted as evil, for all that she is a witch and clearly delighted in causing problems for villagers when she was ostracized. I was disappointed that Roei's story involved the classic fridging of another character we barely meet in order to give him emotional pain when he had enough drive for his work and faith in God to keep him going. In fact, we're first introduced to him praying over someone to give them support and aid. It felt a bit contrived when they joined forces in the search for the feathers, and there is the explicitly stated passage of time that's meant to imply that they get to know and trust each other. It apparently takes months to discuss their belief systems, and for Roei to explain how the beliefs she was raised in dovetail with his own.

I was a bit distracted by some punctuation and pluralization errors, such as writing "the Dahlia's" when referring to the Dahlia family, or “Be good boy’s while we’re gone," etc. There are some odd word choices, like strutting through a savanna on their journey, or little details like Audry walking on stilettos on cobblestones in the village, which feels a bit discordant. The time skips in the last third of the book adds to that feeling. Chapters are short and fly quickly. It's an epic kind of quest that Audry is on, yet we don't really find out the consequences until about two-thirds of the way through it, and we never discover why Apollo opposes it so much. This is the first book in a saga of books, so that will likely be explained in later ones. I think it would have felt better for the story to feel complete in this novel with a few threads for a second book to pick up on, rather than having a huge time skip and references to another major quest to save all the different worlds from the darkness.

Buy Blessings of the Firebird's Light at Amazon

Refugees (Mud, Rocks, and Trees Book 1) by R.A. Denny

April 2017; ebooks (288 pages); mythology
Three individual teens of different tribes were destined for greatness, and a new star in the sky signals the start of the prophesied time. Amanki is a Webby, a human with webbed feet like a duck's, which allows him to swim quickly in the river near where he lives. Brina has skin flaps like a flying squirrel, the same as all the other Gliders living in the forest. Moshoi is woken early from the summer hibernation that the rock people do to conserve limited resources in the desert. Linking these three teens is the same need to travel to Tzoladia, where the Emperor sits uneasily on the throne he stole from his brother. Each has trials to bear, and the journey is a long one.

Some fantasy novels use names from our world, so it's only a thin veneer of fantasy overlaying what is clearly meant to be commentary on our world. Here, each of these teens' cultures has distinct origins, religions, and social structures. The names are not simply misspelled English ones, and the cultures make sense given the needs of the different types of people that they are. The prophecy is told to the teens by Baskrod, a wise fisherman who is a devotee of Adon, a monotheistic god in the face of the other cultures' pantheons, which is more or less derided and persecuted. It seems like a thin allegory for Christianity, and that is pretty much the only aspect of this fantasy close to our reality.

The plot is laid out cleanly and there is a lot of detail regarding the lives that the teens lead before they set out on their journey. It can be a little slow going at times, but even the background characters are fairly well drawn and described. Though this isn't marketed specifically as a YA series, the fact that our heroes are teenagers might help draw them in. We still have the usual teen problems of chores and talking to elders, relating to siblings and a wider community. They're given the additional problems of being Prophesied Heroes in Epic Fantasy, driven from their homes because of various circumstances.

Because this is book one of a series, the end doesn't neatly tie off any of the characters' story arcs. They're a long way to the capital and haven't even met each other yet. It's an interesting start to what should be a fascinating series, so getting them all together and working toward their destiny should be a fun read.

Buy Refugees at Amazon

The Goodnight Kiss by Jennifer L. Hart

The Goodnight Kiss
January 2018; 978-1983565168
audio, ebook, print (404 pages); mythology
Nic Rutherford is a 16-year-old girl with a secret: her kiss will lead to death in whoever she comes close to. She uses it to kill sexual predators that think she's an easy target in alleys outside of nightclubs and keeps herself emotionally distant from others. Aiden Jaeger is the new boy in town that others seem to believe had always been there, and he slid seamlessly into all of her classes at school. The boy has mysterious abilities of his own, and after her best friend Sarah dies in an accident, seems to be the only one that can not only explain Nic's powers but discuss a way to bring Sarah back.

The mystery of who Nic really is and why she has this power is slowly revealed over the course of the book. It's a mix of Greek, Gaelic and Norse mythologies, and that isn't as odd sounding as you may think. There are references to rape, murder, and all kinds of violence, as well as explicit language and underage drinking. Nic and Sarah are sixteen, after all, though Nic has a long history that is only coming back in flashes. It's loosely based on Sleeping Beauty by its description, but it has more to do with the Seelie and Unseelie courts of Faerie.

Nic is hard to get a handle of initially because she deliberately keeps herself emotionally closed off. That's different from the fact that she outright states she's asexual; as much as she plays up her sexual appearance to be bait to lure in predators, she abhors the idea of actual intercourse. She has emotional ties to Aiden that we discover the source of as the novel progresses, which sometimes leads to almost sexual thoughts, too. Still, I do like that we have an asexual character in a novel and this is accepted by Aiden without being told she's broken or strange because of that. She has other reasons for being odd, and her ability to kill predators is only the start of it.

As the novel progresses, we learn more about Nic as she does, and she certainly grows up a lot. She's very different as a result of what she's experienced, and the losses force her to make difficult decisions. She does so and has the strength of will to follow through, even when it's more difficult than she thought it would be. For this reason, I was really impressed with her, and I look forward to future novels in the Unseelie Court series to see what she does next.

Buy The Goodnight Kiss at Amazon

Ruthless Magic (Conspiracy of Magic Book 1) by Megan Crewe

Ruthless Magic
May 2018; Another World Press
978-1989114018; ebook, print (368 pages)
Every sixteen year old is assessed for their magical skills, and is either accepted for further study or has their skills burned out so that they are as Dull as those without magical abilities. The only way to avoid that fate is to declare for the Exam, which has a considerable and deadly risk. Finn Lockwood knows he was Chosen because of his family affiliation, not because of particularly outstanding talent despite how much he studied and trained. His best friend Prisha is new magic, with no affiliation to the Confederation of magic. They both declare for the Exam and meet a number of other teens who are also fighting to keep their magic. This includes Rocío Lopez, who has a knack for magic, is gifted with it, but poor enough that she didn't attend any of the magical academies in the country. Along with a few others, they're grouped together to take the Exam, which is becoming more and more of a conspiracy as it goes on.

This is a magical Hunger Games, as the tagline had described it, and it's certainly as vicious and potentially lethal. At first, you think that the Exam can't be as bad as everyone feared in the beginning of the novel, but the very start of the Exam set the tone for the rest of it. Relationships are made and broken, and the motives of the Confederation and Circle running it are called into question by several of the students in the Exam. They happen to be injured badly over the course of the exam and don't manage to escape it.

The action is practically nonstop once the Exam starts, and even the downtime moments in it up the ante with the malevolent atmosphere. The burgeoning romance between Finn and Rocío is nice and never pushed too far or too fast for sixteen-year-olds. It's not the main focus in the story but serves as additional motivation for the two to push through the Exam, no matter how relentless it gets. Both are determined to succeed without compromising their values, which is certainly difficult when faced with life or death in an indifferent atmosphere. The Examiners are more or less cardboard cutouts, and even at the end have no real presence other than to be the emotionally blank and somehow menacing figures in charge of the atrocities being committed in the name of the Exam and the Confederation.

As the first in a series, this book certainly sets up the world and the laws of magic within this universe. It's very coherent, and the characters remaining at the end are certainly vibrant enough to draw the attention for future books in the series. I want to know more about the conspiracy and why the Exam is structured the way it is, as well as the theories that  Rocío had about the nature of magic in this world. It's a fascinating start to what is bound to be a great series.

Buy Ruthless Magic at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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  1. I've never heard of any of these books beforem Ruthless Magic seems interesting.

  2. I really enjoyed that one a lot!