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October 3, 2023

3 Young Adult Fantasy Novels to Read This Month

by MK French

It's the month of all things spooky and as such fantasy is usually the go-to genre for filling up your Halloween reading list. I'll have a few reviews this month that feature books that are great for the holiday. Today, we start off with young adult fantasy.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker

book cover of young adult fantasy novel The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker
October 2023; Inkyard Press; 978-1335458018
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); dark fantasy

In an alternate Tang Dynasty China, a poor biracial girl who can raise the dead gets caught up in dangerous political games. Zilan raises the dead to earn money, though she hopes to become a royal alchemist. When she goes to the capital to take her exam, rumors of her skill have preceded her and draw the attention of the Crown Prince. The better she does in the capital, the more Zilan is in danger.

This is book one of a new duology, steeped in Eastern culture and mythology. Alchemy here has a principal rule: all good created with it will create an equal evil. If you have ever seen "Fullmetal Alchemist," you know this as the law of equivalent exchange, though in this book it's a little less concrete. Zilan is mixed race, often looked down on for this, and feels like she doesn't belong, even in her own family. I understand that feeling, and from the start of the novel my heart went out to her, and I immediately connected with her and her journey. 

As a member of the merchant class, Zilan and her cousins are disdained by scholar-class administrators, and the use of her alchemy by transmuting stones corresponding to various elements is one of the few ways to augment the family's dwindling finances. Going to the capital is expensive, too, and the alchemy exams are dangerous; those who pass become royal alchemists for life, as they learn secrets the Empress will not allow outside of the palace. Monsters stalk the halls and occasionally escape into the city, wreaking havoc. 

The world-building here is amazing. It's an alternate history, where alchemy created life gold, allowing the nobility and royalty to extend their lives. Resurrection is also possible, which Zilan does even without formal training. The evil in such actions is the consequences, which she doesn't learn about until later. We learn of secrets she didn't realize that she had, and the final third of the book is a breakneck action story, with pain, loss, and the glimmer of hope for the future that will likely complete the duology. I can't wait to see what it has in store for us.

Buy The Scarlet Alchemist at Amazon

Night of the Witch by Sara Raasch and Beth Revis

book cover of young adult historical fantasy Night of the Witch by Sara Raasch and Beth Revis
October 2023; Sourcebooks Fire; 978-1728272160
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fantasy

Fritzi is the lone survivor of a brutal attack on her coven, leaving her determined to find her remaining family. She also wants to bring the witch hunters known as hexenjägers to justice by bringing down their leader, Kommandant Dieter Kirch. Otto keeps his cover as a hexenjäger, but is plotting revenge for the murder of his innocent mother. Fritzi and Otto are thrown together and don't trust each other, but forge a truce to take down their common enemy. Uncovering dangerous truths about the hexenjäger attacks, they grow ever closer not just to the Kommandant, but to each other.

Night of the Witch is set during the German witch trials. Witches are real here, whether they use herbs like Fritzi, or work with elements or animals. They draw helpful power from a Well of magic, and wild magic has no rules or constraints as Well magic does. Fritzi fears the wild magic as much as the hexenjäger teams, and we eventually find out why, as well as Otto's reason for mistrusting the archbishop and Dieter. Rescuing trapped witches, most of whom are innocent people accused to get them out of the way or because they were Protestant instead of Catholic, is just the beginning. The second half is all about the nature of magic and the fight to protect it, Dieter is determined to get his way. He's a chilling and amoral villain, and he's easy to hate. The conclusion makes me hope for a sequel, with magic warriors fighting against the continued hunt for witches. 

Buy Night of the Witch at Amazon

Flower and Thorn by Rati Mehrotra

book cover of fantasy romance novel Flower and Thorn by Rati Mehrotra
October 2023; Wednesday Books; 978-1250823700
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); fantasy romance

Seventeen-year-old Irinya has knowledge of magical flowers and uses this to help her caravan survive in the harsh desert. A silver spider lily is their chance for a better life, but Irinya is tricked by an attractive impostor. To recover the priceless flower and fix her mistake, Irinya goes on a dangerous journey that she might not survive.

Irinya is part of a nomadic tribe roaming the Rann, a deadly place with salt flats and poisonous plants, some of which have magical properties. The flowers are purchased by intermediaries, as her people are in debt to them, and the flowers are then sold further up the chain to the sultans, who are trying to fight off the Portuguese from invading the Indian subcontinent. She doesn't know about the impostor until much later and only knows that the silver spider lily is worth more than the debts of her people, and she needs to get it back to save them from further debt and terrorization. This leads her away from everything she has ever known, wandering into the cities and the politics of the ruling class.

The idea of myths, personal history, and the flowers of the Rann are all interwoven. Irinya is used to being considered less than due to her status, but she has a sense of honor as well. She wants to do what's right for her people, but that soon encompasses all of India fighting back against the Portuguese. Those who are selfish and would use the gifts of the Rann for their own gain suffer the consequences of it, and Irinya does her best to do the right thing. She makes mistakes along the way and is caught up in a world much bigger than what she had known, but it's a fascinating story and one that kept me hooked until the very last page.

Buy Flower and Thorn 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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