10 Mar 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books for Readers Who Like YA Fantasy

I would say that there's very few books on this last that most people haven't already read, but I've never been one to shy away from talking about my favourite books, so HERE WE GO:
1. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin: What's not to love about this duology? Fantasy novels have a tendency to model their worlds on medieval western Europe, or to borrow features from medieval European society. Not this one. Jemisin's story is inspired by ancient Egyptian society - so, goddesses of the afterlife, priests (ninja priests) who are given far too much power and have become corrupt, the concept of the soul - but also feels entirely of Jemisin's own creation. It revolves around the idea of a belief system that also kind of works as a medical system... it sounds strange, but it's not. What this means is that there's kind of an exploration of morals: is corruption of the soul the same as corrupted actions? If somebody does something monsterous with good intentions, are they corrupted? Who gets to decide what is good for all of humankind? You end up reading with this strange mix of fascination and HORROR. Also, if you're kind of sick of whitewashed literature: Jemisin's world is made of of PoC, and dark skin is considered to be a sign of superiority and demonstrates one's class. Those with lighter skin are seen as "tainted." In a genre that is overpopulated with white people (and whether that's because a lot of fantasy is based on medieval western Europe or because there's a belief that books featuring PoC won't sell as well as books featuring white people or because of something else entirely), it's eye-opening to see that inversion of privilege. Jemisin has put so much effort into her world-building: it's complex but clearly-defined. The rules are explained to the reader without a lot of info-dumping (Jemisin definitely has 'show don't tell' down pat) and everything about this book feels utterly genuine. I didn't want to walk away from this world.
2. The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker: I'm fascinated by mythology, so picking up this book was a no-brainer for me. Wecker deftly melds together Jewish and Arabic mythology and makes it her own. I thought that The Golem and the Djinni was going to be a fun book filled with fairytale magic and a little romance, but this book is actually more literary than the blurb would suggest. It raises philosophical questions, considers serious moral issues and explores the immigrant experience.
3.Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta Here's what I love about Marchetta's writing: she creates such believable characters. Her stories are always about finding one's identity, and Finnikin of the Rock - all of the Lumatere Chronicles, really - is about identity. We have the Lumaterans, who have lost their identity as a nation, and are trying to get back. There is Trevion, who has been imprisoned for ten years and is trying to re-establish his identity. There's Evanjalin, who's hiding her true identity in order to save her country, and Froi, who doesn't even know how to start finding his. Being Marchetta's first fantasy novel (she usually writes contemporary YA), you'd think she'd write less assuredly - but this is a tightly-plotted, intriguing novel filled with interesting, flawed, morally-grey characters. It is so much more than a fantasy novel. It looks at the impact of war and persecution, it discusses genocide, and it gives a voice to people who have had their homeland and identity stripped from them. You really do feel for the Lumaterans and their plight, this book is heartbreaking. It is, in a word, brilliant - and the series only gets better from here.
4.A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: Admittedly, this book gets off to a slow start. I always recommend this book with some reservations, because I know that very few will persevere with it - but you should, because not only is the second half of this book jaw-droppingly awesome, but the second book in the trilogy will leave you reeling. I cannot WAIT for the release of the final book. There is so much going for this book, I don't even know where to start. It's set in Cambridge, England and the fictional Cello, and the chapters alternate between Madeleine and Elliot, our two protagonists. Moriarty is a pro at world-building, and she does it so subtly - you don't really realise you're being fed information about Cello - that is to say, you're getting clues in order to understand the greater plot. It's mostly done through excerpts from tourist guides, newspaper articles written by the Princesses and the letters between Elliot and Madeleine. While this book mostly details Elliot and Madeleine just going about their normal lives (probably why the book feels so slow for some readers), it actually leads to a greater plot at the end of the novel. The characters are also well-drawn - flawed but still likeable, dynamic and interesting.
5.The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: When The Raven Boys first came out, I assumed that it would be a book that I wouldn't like. Weary of the one-dimensional teenage girls in YA and fantasy lit - the ones who are shy and beautiful (but they think they're plain and unattractive, of course) and whose lives revolve around their love interest - I automatically dismissed it. Fast forward a year or so later, when one of my friends was raving about it: she convinced me to pick it up, and I have never looked back. Loosely based on a Welsh legend, there are so many mysteries going on, plotlines to follow and characters to keep track of (some would say too many, but I didn't think so). It's imaginative story-telling at it's best.
6.Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: Remember a few paragraphs ago when I told you how much I loved mythology? This is a really great example of imaginative story-telling using angel & demon lore. Like, really great. What I loved most was Taylor's world building. Having just read Lauren Kate's Fallen before this and being incredibly underwhelmed, I was surprised by what Taylor delivered. She really makes use of the wealth of information at her disposal, turning it on its head and making it her own. Rather than serving up a hot guy with wings and a dark secret about their fall from grace, Taylor let me delve into the world of angels (and demons): their culture, their world... their wars. It was fascinating.
7. Angelfall by Susan Ee: Ahhh, the little book that could. I didn't love this one as much as I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but that doesn't mean it's not 330 pages of angel-filled goodness. Penryn Young is one of my favourite female protagonists ever, and she's probably one of - if not the - best female voices in YA fiction right now. She comes across as authentic and real - you're never left scoffing, "yeah, right." She's resourceful and determined and a little prickly, but you never forget that she's a seventeen-year-old girl with vulnerabilities and fears. She's not a Mary Sue - she's a three-dimensional character and that's wonderful to see in a landscape of cardboard cutouts. This book is also technically a dystopia (world overrun with angels with their own agenda). Like Taylor, Ee takes angel lore and makes it her own, and she does so brilliantly. I cannot WAIT for the publication of the final novel in the trilogy.
8. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton: This book is more of a magical realism kind of book, and I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. It is a story of love in all of its forms. Of familial love. Of maternal love. Of the love between two friends. Of lust. Of lovers who missed their moment. It is a story of loss, of wanting, of desire and obsession. Even though the story has its fantastical moments, there is something about that makes it so real and relatable. I was thinking about this book even when I wasn't reading it. Despite being the title character, Ava doesn't show up until about halfway through the book - we hear the stories of her grandmother and mother before hearing Ava's. Their lives are all intertwined, obviously, and it's beautiful to see how their stories come together. You'd think a book dealing with three generations of women means introducing a lot of characters that we don't get to spend a lot of time with - and you would think that they would be underdeveloped or caricatures. Somehow, Walton makes you feel like you know and understand these characters. A wonderful story filled with magic and whimsy and raw emotion.
9. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski: This one kind of feels like a fantasy novel and a historical novel (admittedly, my knowledge of historical novels is limited and I may not be the best person to take advice from regarding this). Rutkoski has done an amazing job creating a culture - and while I still have some reservations about the world-building, it doesn't stop this book from being 100% AWESOME. Kestrel is also... an unexpected surprise. She's not a Katniss (a fighter) or a Hermione (knowledgeable) or a Bella (wet blanket, sits around waiting for someone to rescue her). She's strategic and cunning. She's street smart, rather than book smart. Another plus: no insta-love! For once, I didn't get "...and I saw him from across the room, and my heart started to beat faster." News flash: female heroines are more interesting than their love interests. Kestrel and Arin come from different social spheres, and they definitely clash when they first meet. Arin is especially dismissive of her, although for a slave, especially one with his attitude... he gets away with quite a bit. That's it. That's what I found most unrealistic about the book.
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore: This is another book I recommend with reservations, if only because some of it sounds like a radical feminism pamphlet. Let me clear this up: radical feminism belongs in the trash. It gives feminists everywhere a bad name, it is geared towards white, middle/upper-class women and excludes transwomen, WoC and women from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Feminism is about celebrating womanhood, about giving women choices and bringing equality between genders (which means letting men in on the conversation, folks - you can't have gender equality while excluding an entire group of people). So listening to Katsa ridicule women from wearing dresses and having long hair, or talk about how marriage would take away her identity - I get it: these things aren't for her. However, these things are for some women, and it doesn't make those women any less strong or capable of kicking butt than Katsa. It just means that they do so in a different way. Looking down on a female for wearing floral prints does not make you better than her. Floral prints are not the source of gender inequality. I love the author's intent behind creating the character - creating an empowering female character for teenage girls - but it was pretty heavy-handed and Katsa became almost caricature-like. Having said that, I found it refreshing that Katsa refuses to apologise for being who she is. She is independent, determined and fierce. In many ways, she is a lot like Katniss Everdeen - she is cold, pragmatic and practical... and she also has a naive take on the world. The fantasy side of this series is great. The raging radical feminism is not.


  1. Great list! I always tell myself I should read more fantasy books, thanks to you I've got a great list to start :D
    You can check out my list if you have some time : http://wp.me/p5pugy-8L :)

    1. Thanks lovely! There's a few books on your list that I've been DYING to read, I will definitely move them up in my TBR pile!


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