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January 11, 2023

3 Must Read Books in Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

by MK French

One of the big things that the science fiction and fantasy genres has in common is world-building. The authors of these three novels have created interesting worlds and I for one would love to read more in these universes. So whether you prefer zombies, vampires, or otherworldly adventures, you can't go wrong with any of these stories. You will want to put them on your must-read list.

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

Waking Fire by Jean Louise

book cover of young adult zombie novel Waking Fire by Jean Louise
January 2023; Inkyard Press; 978-1335428578
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); YA fantasy

Naira Khoum lives in Lagusa, a quiet village the rest of the world considers a myth. War rages, led by Sothpike and his army of undead monsters called Dambi. Lagusa is attacked by a Mistress with Dambi, willing to destroy it in her search for something. Naira convinces her twin brother Nez and refugee Kal to join the newly formed resistance with her. Together, they’ll figure out what the Mistress wants and save Lagusa.

We're introduced to Naira and the village bullies right away, then the horrors of the Dambi when the bullies try keeping her out of town. It draws us in immediately, feeling everything she does. The fighting is intermittent; refugee caravans brave the desert to look for Lagusa, and as they're let in, the Dambi follow. The Mistress is looking for a specific child who was presumed dead, the one that should be on the throne that Sothpike wants. Naira can't sit idle as the village is attacked and children stolen and "tested," and even wounds don't keep her down for long. Gradually we get clues to the long-forgotten history of the kingdom, gods older than the thirteen dragons, and why the Mistress persists in Lagusa. 

This is a fun read that sucked me in almost immediately and made me forget about the outside world. There are glimmers of romance for Naira and Nez, but the main focus is on the fight for safety. Naira is in a dangerous place and even defeating an immediate threat doesn't mean it's over. Sothpike is approaching through the desert, an undead army and more Mistresses under his command. I can't wait to read more in this universe. 

Buy Waking Fire at Amazon

City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer

book cover of young adult vampire novel City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer
January 2023; Clarion Books; 978-0358647300
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); YA fantasy

Newham is a city where no one sleeps, as dreaming can lead to waking up as someone's worst fear. Ness' sister became a man-eating spider and slaughtered people, so she will do anything to avoid becoming another victim. She hides with the Friends of the Restful Soul but must prove herself worthy of belonging to the organization. The job goes disastrously wrong, leaving her and a Nightmare as the only survivors. The two must return to Newham and uncover the truth behind the attack, no matter the cost.

Ness is afraid of everything, and Newham isn't exactly the kind of place that inspires a sense of safety. On top of the fact that people can turn into their worst nightmares without dream suppressing medicine, corruption runs rampant. The mayoral race commonly includes the assassination of rival candidates. Police take bribes and regularly threatens the people. Rival gangs also have their territory wars in the streets. Ness feels safe in her tiny room with the Friends of the Restful Soul, which is the only incorruptible place she knows. She has a best friend who's fearless, a sharp contrast to her fearful nature. Ness isn't very good at most jobs, so she hopes to do a mail run to avoid getting thrown out of the order. She is forced to face her fears at many points throughout the novel, confronting the thought that all Nightmares are inherently evil.

I really enjoyed the world-building here and the gradual way we move beyond Newham's borders. We see the varying levels of corruption, how many people are actually consumed by their fears, and Ness slowly realizes how constrained her life was. She was repeatedly pushed out of her comfort zone, which led to her not just reacting, but planning her next step. As much as she still has concerns, she finds a reasonable balance between logic and fear. I loved how natural that growth was, and how she never once became someone she wasn't. This was such a fun book to read, I would love to see a dozen sequels in this world. 

Buy City of Nightmares at Amazon

Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame by Meg Long

book cover of young adult science fiction novel Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame by Meg Long
January 2023; Wednesday Books; 978-1250785121
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); YA science fiction

Two years after a mission went sideways, Remy is still trying to find the friend that helped her escape her corporate brainwashing. The only lead she has is finding Kiran Lore, a fellow genopath that had left her for dead. She nearly caught up to him on Tundar before joining the infamous sled race alongside outcast Sena and her wolf companion Iska. Now, all three of them have tracked Kiran back to Maraas, the jungle planet where Remy lost everything. Storms circle the planet, corporations are in conflict with scavvers and syndicates, and Kiran isn't as difficult to find as Remy thought he'd be. He'll help Remy if she helps him with the revolution. How far will Remy go to help her friend?

Following the events of Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, (my review here.) Remy is now on a jungle planet with Sena and Iska. Our main focus before was on Sena and Iska, their plight and the dangers of the sled race. It's neatly summed up in the beginning if you haven't read that book, and this story is Remy's. Told from her perspective, we learn about genopath training, the life Nova expected of them, and the jobs that Remy had to do. We learn why her friend is so important to her, and why Kiran upsets her so much. The action is nonstop in the book, moving from one rapid-fire event to another. It sucks you in hard, I couldn't help but root for Remy much as I had for Sena and Iska in the last book. 

If you're a fan of the genre, there are some aspects that you can guess, such as where Alora is and why Kiran acts the way that he does. Remy is impulsive and sets off a few (literally) explosive scenes which are really fun to read. While there are definitely tearjerker moments over the course of the book (Sena learns more about her äma, some of the memories that Remy relives, parts of the climax), there's more action and adventure, and villains you love to hate that all but twirl mustaches as they plot. I really enjoyed the conclusion, and hope to see more in this universe soon.

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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