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July 21, 2022

4 Books for Fans of Young Adult Fantasy

by MK French

There is some really great young adult fantasy coming out this month. Here's a round-up of 4 books you'll want to keep an eye out for.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Wake the Bones
by Elizabeth Kilcoyne

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Wake the Bones by Elizabeth Kilcoyne
July 2022; Wednesday Books; 978-1250790828
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); YA fantasy

Laurel Early dropped out of college and hoped to return home to resume life as a taxidermist and tobacco farmer. The land has changed, and the same devil that tried to court her mother years before is now coming to her. Laurel must unravel her mother's legacy and her own magic before it's too late.

Magic here is a psychic sense, Laurel knows how animals died when she touches the bones that she finds on the land before cleaning them up for crafting. Growing up in rural Kentucky, she didn't expect much more than hard work, but oddness surrounds the family farm. First are gouts of blood and flowers stuffed into a rotten deer carcass. Next come dreams, a skeleton frightening her and her best friend Isaac, and then more strange things that defy explanation. Feeling out of sorts and homesick for a place that changed without her, Laurel doesn't know what her next step will be. It's not much of a surprise that Isaac wants to leave, since being gay in rural America is about as wanted as strangers moving into the valley, but then she really would be alone.

The rural area depicted here is a dry and unforgiving place. Loneliness and desperation plague the young people, and that's even without magic ratcheting up their fear. Ultimately, the story is a melancholy one, with grief and loss underlying the fear. The devil that stalks the farm waiting for Laurel is greedy to devour life, and she's known so much loss already. Still, out of loss and decay, new growth can arise. That's the truth of nature, which Laurel's mother forgot in trying to contain the demon she tried to raise. Change is inevitable, but accepting that helps build a future. This is a thoughtful book, it's magic bound up in growth and the love people have for one another. 

Buy Wake the Bones at Amazon

Blessed by Kandi J. Wyatt

book cover of young adult fantasy Blessed by Kandi J. Wyatt
July 2022; Indie; 979-8429354743
ebook, print (376 pages); YA fantasy

Hest had found a baby dragon in the dungeon and now hears its voice all the time. Over the two months since the discovery, they have bonded, but not everyone in the kingdom thinks it's safe. Hest can't hide the bond he shares, which puts him in line for the throne. A mage is now determined to steal the crown, the dragon, and the princess. As difficult as it is for Hest to deal with, he'll even let the dragon control him if it means the kingdom can be safe.

This is the second book in the Four Stars Over Ardtaz trilogy, following Uprooted (read my review). In that book, Hest was taken away from a humdrum life with the intention of teaching him to be a squire and horseman and ultimately became a spy for the king. With accidents like that, it's no wonder that he finds himself in even more dangerous situations. In this book, we pick up not too long after the first book, so you absolutely must read that one first. Hest is still a student in his new land and still learning who he can trust.

I do like that Hest doesn't immediately know everything, and isn't magically better just because of his connection with a dragon. He still trains, studies, and pushes himself to do more. He doesn't take anything for granted, though some of that is out of sheer ignorance about the kingdom and the relationships and responsibilities that are common there. Because Hest is now primed to be king, there are a lot more to the kingdom festivities, the potential damage that Liam could do if he decides to attack, and the future of the kingdom. It's a lot of detail, and between that and Hest's confusion, it really slows down the pace for a good portion of the book. Even times when it should be incredibly tense, there's too much talk, and I don't feel the intensity of the moment. Other subplots show Hest's caring and how he empathizes with the poor, homeless, and orphaned. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when it's implied there should be more action coming up. When it all does come to a close, we still have a hook for the third book in the trilogy, a bigger bad than Liam.

Buy Blessed at Amazon

Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen
July 2022; Delacorte Press; 978-0593427538
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); young adult fantasy

Violet makes her place in court by cleverly worded prophecies, but Prince Cyrus will strip her of her role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer. The king asks her to prophecy his love story, and Violet awakens a curse that could potentially damn or save the kingdom, depending on his choice of bride. She can survive the cutthroat court, but even she can't change her fate. Violet must choose her path that could save herself and the kingdom, or destroy them all.

Most heroines are sweet in some way, but Violet is glad to be prickly, rude, and sarcastic. As an orphan with a bit of precognition in her dreams, she had to fight to stay alive and eat prior to rescuing the Crown Prince as a child. The Crown Prince himself is charming but not dumb; he realizes that Violet is beholden to the King for her lifestyle, and therefore assumes everything is a lie, even when it isn't. He must maneuver through Court and their expectations because they (and his father) want a measure of control and power. Cyrus isn't necessarily different from his father, who dreams of unifying the entire continent under his country's rule and to eliminate the fairy woods in the continent center.

I love the hints of multiple fairy tales in this story, the court gossip, and the whispered fragments of Prophecy in Violet's dreams. The individual nobles clamoring for favor aren't necessarily memorable, but as a whole, they're a fascinating glimpse into the culture of the kingdom, the divide between Fates and fairies, and whether people have the ability to change their fate. Even as Violet and Cyrus are drawn to each other, they can't help hurting each other, too. As a survivor, Violet needs to feel in control of her own fate; while the King doesn't really give her that control, he gives her the illusion of it and she feels beholden to him for her current status. Cyrus can't trust the King-approved lies she spills, and can't offer her a truly different way of life except for exile, which he threatens out of anger. The external dangers mount, some of which conform to the fragments of visions that Violet had seen. She's out of her depth when it comes to magic or the wider political machinations, right until the very end.

Fantasy stories are a good outlet, letting us see the heart of characters in new worlds and situations. We might not know what we would do if we had Violet's life, but we can live vicariously through her and see how to make the most of it. She's clever, strong-willed where it counts, and still has the ability to love and care for others. As prickly and anti-social as she can be, I still find her likable and incredibly fascinating to read about.

Buy Violet Made of Thorns at Amazon

When Stars Come Out by Scarlett St. Clair

book cover of young adult ghost story When Stars Come Out by Scarlett St. Clair
July 2022; Bloom Books; 978-1728262994
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); YA fantasy

Anora Silby keeps her ability to see the dead and turn spirits into gold a secret at her new school. On her first day, she takes the soul of a dead girl on campus and lost the coin. The coin gives others the ability to steal souls, and a classmate is found dead; Anora knows what killed the student. She's dealing with grief, mistrust from her mother, attention from a student named Shy, and the student gossip app threatening to expose her. Anora still must find the person that stole her coin, making herself a target for the Order. The organization governs the dead on Earth and wants Anora and her powers for themselves.

From the start, Anora and her mother have a prickly relationship, and her mother's volatile mood shifts are difficult. Anora's confusion and discomfort are such tangible things, as much as her fear of the ghosts on campus, you can't help but bond with her immediately. Shy, as off as he comes across to Anora, also quickly gains my sympathy. We see what his struggles are as a knight in training, the rigid rules, and the other trainees informing on each other. With an oppressive atmosphere like this, of course, we want the teens to make a break for it. 

The teens in the story are largely in over their heads. Shy believes the party line and wants to do right by the rules he was raised with, even though he feels a connection to Anora and wants to protect her. His friends within the organization are also trainees, so things don't go as well as they hope when they move independently of their supervisors. To be fair, the Elders are autocratic and stern, appearing to have no sympathy for others and wanting their own agenda fulfilled. None of the teens are willing to take them at face value, and seek to forge their own path, right up until the end of the book. I wonder if this is the start of a series because the world-building is fascinating and I would love to see more. 

Buy Violet Made of Thorns 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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