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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

September 1, 2020

5 Books for Fans of Young Adult Fantasy

by MK French

Young adult fantasy has long been a popular genre for both the target audience as well as adults. There are a great number of fantastic books in this genre and it can hard for new books to stand out from the crowd. Here are 5 books you don't want to miss.
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Fable by Adrienne Young

September 2020; Wednesday Books;  978-1250254368
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); epic fantasy
Fable is the daughter of one of the most powerful traders in the Narrows, but her mother had drowned four years ago. Her father abandoned her on an island full of thieves and very little food. Over the course of four years, she had to survive on the island, with the goal of eventually getting off it. Teaming up with West to escape, she finds that her father's enemies have grown, there are more dangers than she knew about, and even West isn't what he seems.

Fable is the first of a duology, with Namesake set to be released March 2021. Because of that, there's something of a cliffhanger ending for this novel, even though Fable's plan is carried out to its conclusion. Fable had been raised with a set of rules, including never revealing that her father is Saint, the most feared man of the Narrows. Nothing comes for free and everything is a trade, and people hold anything and everything valuable close to the vest. As a dredger, Fable can dive deep to find treasures that were lost in the sea, and this talent is one of the ones she had learned prior to being dropped off after her mother's death. West initially bought the items she dredged every other week, but soon had to help her escape the island to save her life.

Life at sea isn't easy, and even getting back to the cities she once knew doesn't help. Her father Saint has no intention of acknowledging who she is, or helping her in any way. There's an old feud that she's caught up in, and this makes it far more difficult to reclaim her inheritance and free the ship from her father's influences. There are hints of secrets involving her mother and what had happened long before she worked as a dredger for Saint and they fell in love, and those secrets are likely to play a large role in the sequel. This book hooked me from page one, and it's going to be a very long wait for the second book to conclude this story.

Buy Fable at Amazon

Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal

Mermaid Moon
March 2020; Candlewick; 978-1536209594
audio, ebook, print (496 pages); mermaid fiction
Sanna is half seavish, making her an outsider in the flok. The merfolk are matrilineal, and her mother was landish. Sanna wants to search out her roots, so she becomes the apprentice to the sea witch. Crafting legs to walk on land, Sanna looks for her mother, instead finding a witch who has drained life and magic from a series of victims in order to live forever.

Influenced by the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Little Mermaid, this young adult novel follows the mermaid desiring to go to land to find her missing mother. The actual story takes place over the course of a week, and Sanna learns a lot about herself and the nature of love during that time. There is love of a child for a parent, and parent to child, extended family members, teacher/student caring, as well as romantic and platonic love. There are many relationships within the novel, not always explicitly discussed. Sanna has always felt love from her father, but when she discovers that her mother had been forced to leave her behind and everyone had forgotten her, she wants to find what she had been missing without her mother.

The story flows ridiculously fast, and while the Baroness is used to getting her own way and has magic of her own, it still seems unrealistic for the speed at which everything progresses. She can determine that Sanna should marry her son Peder right away, as that would be a way to control Sanna's magic, but to have everything set up for a grand wedding and a water garden created within three days stretches my incredulity. The language and descriptions are sumptuous, and I love the fact that the merfolk have such a different society than the landish folk. Other than that, I wasn't too convinced by Sanna's actual romantic choice at the conclusion of the novel.

Buy Mermaid Moon at Amazon

The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

The Beast Player
March 2019; Henry Holt and Co.; 978-1250307460
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); epic fantasy
Elin's family has always cared for the water serpents that made up the backbone of the kingdom's army. When some mysteriously die, her mother is put to death. Her mother sends her away to save her life, and that is when Elin learns she can talk to not only water serpents but the flying beasts that guard the queen. This ability makes her incredibly important but also embroils her in deadly plots.

Both the water serpents, known as the Toda and the Royal Beasts, are animals that were taken in infant stages and raised by humans for specific purposes within the twin sides of the kingdom. The Aluhan side is more militarized and does the "dirty" work to keep everyone in both halves safe, and the other is the "holy" populace that seek to protect the Yojeh, the holy woman that is the spiritual heart of the country. The populace immediately around her are spiritual but poorer and get tributes from the militarized part of the land. On top of that are the mysterious Ahlyo, who aren't part of either kingdom and uphold a Code of secrecy along with their well-known healing skills. The wild beasts are different from those raised by humans, such that the Toda are larger but sterile and used for war, and the Royal Beasts don't fly.

Elin is so concerned with learning, understanding and ultimately healing that she has no time or interest in romantic entanglements. She is actually disgusted when Damiya flirts with her and tries to initiate a sexual liaison. Her main concern is being part of the school and then in caring for the Royal Beast cub in her own way; because she never learned the "proper" way of doing it, Elin essentially raises the cub as she had seen the wild ones do. This had never been seen before in captivity and is the secret that has to be kept. Aluhan wants to take over the Yojen's half of the country and fuse it into one, and she has no army in her territory.

This novel is heavily influenced by East Asian cultures. It's in the way honor is so important to the people, education and influence determine and are determined by class, the landscapes, the names, and even the animals that are so spiritually important to the people. The story is told with a lot of detail and nuance, and it is through those details that the plot advances. It's not until the final quarter that you discover the treachery that was hidden within the innermost circles of the royalty, because Elin wasn't exposed to them until a little before that time. From the first, Elin's only thought was for the safety and wellbeing of the Royal Beasts, and this love of life and understanding is the bridge by which she tries to save the kingdom.

The nuance and detail in this novel is amazing, and it really is a quiet character study that is worth the attention you have to pay to it.

Buy The Beast Player at Amazon

Special by Chino Chakanga

September 2019; Indie; 978-1075673122
ebook, print (257 pages); superhero
In a world where everyone has a special power of some kind, Hope doesn’t have any. She’s a medical mystery, and goes through extensive and painful tests as well as “treatments” to try to give her some kind of special ability. In the meantime, she’s the only one at school without a power, when even her  younger brother has several talents.

Hope being powerless in a world full of powers is a mirror to  the usual pressures in society now. Children are pretty much told that they have to stand out in some way, but not too much or else they’d be ridiculed. Special abilities are medicalized here, so that underdeveloped or lack of abilities have an actual disorder name and there are therapies developed to unlock genes, as well as psychotherapies to help people cope with limitations. There is so much focus on what Hope can’t do that I have no sense of what she can do without powers. So much of her identity is focused on the absence of abilities in the beginning of the book; this is certainly a chilling commentary on their society as well as ours.

On top of the usual high school issues of bullying and not fitting in with the popular kids, there is the concern of medicalizing Hope’s condition and a new villain causing disruption in society, where people are getting hurt. Hope isn’t disrupted, as she doesn’t have powers, but everyone else she cares about s getting injured. Her parents try to do what they can to help others with their abilities, and Hope is left fearing for everyone’s safety. Because it’s a novel, she figures out what’s going on by the end and tries to do her best in talking down the Marauder, and she has clearly understood what is most important about life. Abilities aren’t it, and blaming the lack of them isn’t it either.

While the story is geared toward a YA audience, even middle grade readers would be able to enjoy this and understand the characters’ feelings and motivations. It’s great as a conversation starter regarding the need to be popular, the need to be special, working through cliques at school and parental discord. In the end, it’s only by working together and communicating that people can fix problems, and that’s a wonderful message to learn at any age.

Buy Special at Amazon

Enigma by Kim Idynne

May 2020; Indie; 978-1735079813
ebook, print (259 pages); adventure
Dominic rescues Hannah from the underground tunnels of Wupatki, and the two find themselves lost in a strange realm. Dominic thinks he's hallucinating from a scorpion sting, but soon is convinced he’s in purgatory. He can only go home as someone else, and must leave parts of himself on the underworld road. Hannah is thrilled to be on a quest and solving the riddles along the way. The realm is dangerous, and a ghoulish man will grant  her freedom if she solves a puzzle that unlocks an inter-dimensional gate. Hannah is eager to prove herself, but failure will lead to self-destruction, and unlocking the gate may unleash a powerful demon on her own world.

Hannah is the one to name the poems and riddles enigmas from the start, and she is the one to figure them out. Dom in the beginning is too busy thinking he’s dying, and bickers with Hannah. While he’s described as very short (just over four feet) it’s his behavior that makes him seem fairly childlike, since he’s acting in the same manner as eleven-year-old Hannah even though he’s a college aged adult. The enigmas for each realm follow the zodiac, and there are also stories within the story here that are told by various beings that Hannah and Dom encounter. Most are Greek in origin, but there are also stories about Gilgamesh and some regarding Hopi tradition. I enjoy that aspect of the stories, and how they do learn a lot from each encounter as they go.

I would place this more as a middle grade book because Hannah really seems like the main character. We might meet Dom first, and his friend is really obnoxious and rude, but she drives the search for each enigma and solves most of them. She’s also the one with the adversary, and her ability is the one that could make or break the entire world of the enigmas. Parallels between the stories earlier in the novel and events later on show that there are always consequences for actions, and thought has to be applied or else grievous mistakes are made. I was disappointed with the ending, because I wanted to know more about what would happen to the characters. There are important lessons to learn for the main characters, and I hope that there will be more for them in the future.

Buy Enigma 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 a golden retriever. 

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  1. I read and liked Fable! The others are new to me, but I will definitely be checking them out, thanks for putting them on my radar!