Wanted: Good YA fantasy that is NOT "urban" or contemporary
Join LibraryThing to post.
This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.
Even though I'm getting quite a bit of age on me, I enjoy a good YA read once in a while. I once heard a speaker address the question, "What's the difference between YA and adult fantasy?" and then give a simple one-word answer -- "Hope." It's this hope, this acknowledgement that human/alien/Other nature may have a bright side as well as a dark side, that makes a refreshing change. (I'm plowing through "A Song of Fire and Ice" as we speak, and while I'm relishing it, I'd also welcome a counterbalance to its despair.)
However, I've also discovered that, aside from Harry Potter, I don't really care much for fantasy set in contemporary times, particularly "urban fantasy." I prefer a period (WW II or previous) or a mythical setting. I'd like to see my YA heroes and heroines fighting magical battles, but I'm not so keen on seeing them forced to navigate the mean corridors of the modern high school. It's a milieu in which I'd rather not spend much time. Yet I've noticed that among the new YA releases, nine out of ten are contemporary or "urban" fantasy. So maybe you guys know some good titles that don't follow that tide.
Here's what I'm looking for:
1) Again, a setting other than contemporary. Futuristic is okay but not preferred. Steampunk is definitely acceptable. But mythic is preferred above all else.
2) Both male and female characters given importance in the story, treated with sympathy, and given the chance to act heroically. I'm not interested in books that bash the guys, just as I'm not interested in books that sideline the gals.
3) Romance is okay but not essential. I prefer love stories when they are a part, but not the whole, of the protagonist's journey.
The Sabriel / Lirael / Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix ?
The two protagonists (of book 1 and 2-3) are strong females endowed with magical abilities.
The setting is a divided alternate England with the south part being relatively close to the RL contemporary era, or at least close enough to have electricity and cars, but it occupies little space in the novels, the fantasy realm that occupies the north part is much more prominent. There's some development of sentiments but it's really low-key and non-sappy.
There's actually quite a bit out there that meets your guidelines. May I suggest a website where you might be able to explore what's available in YA fantasy? It's
Full disclaimer--I'm a member of this site, but I really think you'll find it helpful.
And I love your quote about "hope"--that encapsulates beautifully most of YA fiction--it looks forward, rather than back.
I love Tamora Pierce's books. Particularly the Lioness Quartet which starts with Alanna: The First Adventure. Lots of girl power through hard work and determination.
I also love Robin McKinley. Particularly The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. She also does fairytale retellings.
Diana Wynne Jones is a good choice too. My favorite is Fire and Hemlock but that's more contemporary. You could try Howl's Moving Castle or the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series instead.
All three authors have decent catalogs and you can keep yourself reading all year (and maybe thensome, depending).
If you want something published more recently, I enjoyed Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore.
For something a little different, but still recent, I highly recommend The Thief and its sequels by Megan Whalen Turner about a young thief and 3 neighboring kingdoms. (But don't read the back covers, they spoil all the twists!)
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. The third book of this series comes out later this month.
I'd add my recommendation for all of the above-mentioned books and authors, particularly Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Megan Whalen Turner, and Patricia C. Wrede (but I believe Dealing with Dragons is the first in the series).
I'll add the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, The Demon King and its sequels by Cinda Williams Chima, and the Hollow Kingdom trilogy by Clare B. Dunkle.
Yep! The first one is Dealing with Dragons. It's been ages since I read them.
As a warning, most or all of what I have to suggest may be out of print, but should be fairly available in US used bookstores or online used. (A second warning that this is a somewhat long, rambling post :)
Chris Wooding's Broken Sky series was one of my very favorites. It focuses on two parallel fantasy worlds and overthrowing an evil king, there are heavy anime (as far as the pacing and level of action) and light steampunk influences (a machinist's guild, large machines), and a wide cast of well-fleshed-out female and male characters. Romance is not the main plot. The publishing history is a bit weird- it was put out as 9 books (around 140 pages) in the UK as children's, then 3 books as YA, while in the US it was 6 books then the last 3 collected in an omnibus as "book 7".
Patricia Wrede, in addition to her Enchanted Forest Chronicles mentioned above, had a more typical fantasy series of loosely connected books (common setting, no real common characters or time period). The first (publication order) is Shadow Magic, but my favorites are Caught in Crystal and The Raven Ring. Her standalone novel The Seven Towers is also good, as is the magic-in-the-Regency epistolary novel Sorcery and Cecelia (which has sequels I haven't read). Un-recommendation for her recent Thirteenth Child, an alternate frontier setting where Native Americans don't exist (google "Mammothfail" for details).
However, if you are looking for a frontier America setting Katharine Eliska Kimbriel has two good books, Night Calls and Kindred Rites. These were published as horror (because there are werewolves and poltergeists involved), but follow the training of a young girl in the Wise Arts as she learns to protect her family.
Tanith Lee has some good YA as well. The Unicorn trilogy starting with Black Unicorn follows Tanaquil, a girl who has inherited none of her mother's talent for sorcery but who has a gift for mending things. Black Unicorn can stand alone. Biting the Sun (a duology originally published in the 70s, commonly available in one mass-market omnibus now) is also very good, it has a futuristic setting however. Tanith Lee is a very prolific author, but these are my favorites of hers.
Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark series has a mythic feel to it. It has an interesting narrative style that blends the story with legends, myths, histories, and songs from the fantasy culture about the events in the story. White Jenna follows the characters from SL,SD, while the third book The One-Armed Queen follows the next generation.
Yolen's Pit Dragon series (I think it was a trilogy, but is now a quartet) starting with Dragon's Blood is good as well. The first book can stand alone, it's about a boy who steals a dragon egg to train so he can win money to buy out his bond-servant contract. It does have a more sci-fi setting in that it's set on a colony planet in the future.
The Borderland shared universe is sort of an alternate modern day (80s) setting, but it doesn't have high school or insipid romance plots. (The books are from before the current "my magical boyfriend" trend.) Think elves, teenage runaways, and rock n' roll instead- the premise is that the Elflands reemerge in reality, and elves can come over to the real world, but humans can't cross over to the other side. The setting is Bordertown, an anycity on the border of Elfland where both magic and technology only work sporadically (leading to interesting hybrids like magically powered motorcycles).
There are several short story collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, starting with Borderland, and three novels. Elsewhere and Nevernever, a duology, follows a teenage boy who comes to Bordertown looking for his runaway brother. Finder by Emma Bull follows Orient, a teenage human boy with a knack for finding things, his (female) elf best friend Tick-tick, and (also female, adult) police officer Sunny Rico as they try to track down the distributor of a new drug that promises humans a way to cross into Elfland (it of course kills them instead).
Hawk In Silver by Mary Gentle is set in the 70s/80s in the UK (contemporary when the book was written, but now feels somewhat historical) and follows a teenage girl and her friend who get involved with the secret fairy kingdom and try to stop a war between two factions. It reminded me a lot of Louise Cooper's Mirage, which is a pure fantasy setting with similar themes.
The Fire's Stone by Tanya Huff is a standalone fantasy novel. It may be a little more adult though due to some of the themes (one of the protagonists is a prince who overcomes alcoholism to take responsibility for saving his kingdom). It follows a teenage (positively portrayed asexual) sorceress setting out to meet her betrothed (the aforementioned prince), the aforementioned prince, and a (male) thief who gets caught trying to steal a jewel from the royal scepter (to place on the grave of a friend who had died) as they try to recover a stolen magic stone, the only thing holding back a large volcano from erupting to destroy the city. There is a love triangle, but probably not the one you would expect. I believe this is still in print as part of the omnibus Of Darkness, Light, and Fire (I haven't read the other book in that collection though).
Tamora Pierce's Alanna books were mentioned above, but I preferred her Circle of Magic books, starting with Sandry's Book (the first quartet is my personal favorite). These follow four children, three girls and a boy, with magical affinities (thread/weaving, forge/metalworking, weather, and plants) and troubled pasts as they grow up and into their talents. The second quartet follows them as they travel individually and each find a student, and The Will of the Empress brings them back together.
Midori Snyder's Queen's Quarter trilogy (starting with New Moon) is a fantasy set in a land that used to be ruled over by four queens (one for each of the usual elements, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth). Except, the Fire Queen killed the other three and rules alone and immortal, killing any children born with magical talents. A rebel group called The New Moon is organizing in the capital city.
Finally, some quick mentions,
- Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books (starting with A Wizard of Earthsea)- these are popular and on the mythic side, but to be honest I could never get into them
- Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster of Hed fantasy quest trilogy starting with Riddle-Master (also available as an omnibus), very lyrical writing and somewhat mythic, also her Cygnet duology (The Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird) which I liked better; these are in print and available as omnibuses
- Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, the first trilogy that starts with Arrows of the Queen and the Vanyel trilogy that starts with Magic's Pawn- these are sometimes a little problematic if you think about them too much, but are generally light, quick reads
- Joan Vinge's Psion and sequels, also futuristic, a half-human, half-alien street kid accepts training to develop his psychic abilities
- Elizabeth Waters' Changing Fate is a fantasy standalone about a shapeshifting priestess
- Kate Forsyth's six-book Eileanan fantasy series (starts with The Witches of Eileanan, if you can get past the written-out Scottish accents
- Seconding Garth Nix's Sabriel (which I liked best of the trilogy), also futuristic dystopia Shade's Children
- Malinda Lo's retelling of Cinderella, Ash
Going back a little, it's really hard to go wrong with Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books.
For something more recent, I've enjoyed John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series.
And while Henry H. Neff's The Tapestry series starts out in a contemporary setting, that changes rather quickly. My favorite YA books of the recent years.
God, but I hate "my magical boyfriend" books! They're the first and foremost reason I tend to resist anything urban or contemporary. Ironically, the female characters from books set in a mythic past tend to have more agency, more autonomy, and more courage than those from books set in the present (Hermione Granger being a welcome exception). In contemporary-set books, whether the heroine is a complete mundane or has some little power of her own, all too often it's All About the Boy.
I tried once to read A Wizard of Earthsea and likewise couldn't get into it (that whole "weak is woman's magic" and "wicked is woman's magic" probably had a lot to do with it -- I tried to read it back in the late '80s on the heels of Tolkien, and while I loved Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I wanted to read a fantasy with girls in it and thought that a female writer's work would surely give me what I was looking for -- I won't make that mistake again). But you guys have given me quite a lot of recs I can take under advisement. I'll have to check and see which of these are out of print.
The Bartimeaus Trilogy, which starts with The Amulet of Samarkand takes place in an alternate world.
The Tiffany Aching series, starting with The Wee Free Men takes place in a fantasy world, the Discworld.
I second Diana Wynne Jones. The Dark Lord of Derkholm, The Lives of Christopher Chant and Howl's Moving Castle would all be good places to start.
Speaking from curiosity: is there a decent heroine in The Lives of Christopher Chant? I know there's a teenage girl who is Evil Incarnate, but is there a heroine worth rooting for?
Egads, "weak is woman's magic" and "wicked is woman's magic"? That's worse than I remembered. I have read that LeGuin tried to make amends for the sexism in the trilogy with her fourth book, Tehanu, written about 20 years after the third book, but reading the summary it seems like women's power is revealed as holding society together through daily domestic tasks. This kind of "separate but equal" situation where men have superhuman flashy magic and women have the power of... normal humanity makes me uneasy at best. Separate never really is equal.
I feel exactly the same way about "my magical boyfriend" books. I've tried picking up several recent YA books that sounded promising, only to put them right back down again when the romance subplot reared its head. It's not even that I object to romance, it's that it's always, always the young, naive/ignorant normal girl paired up with the smugly capable boy who's already immersed in the paranormal/magical world. And he's usually older, sometimes significantly so, which only heightens the inequality between them...
>15 it's that it's always, always the young, naive/ignorant normal girl paired up with the smugly capable boy who's already immersed in the paranormal/magical world
Not always. There's Sophie Jordan's new YA series starting with Firelight, in which the female lead is a shape-shifting dragon, and Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics, where the female leads are the ones with magic. They're out there...you have to look, but they're there.
Could you expand on your un-recommendation of The Thirtheenth Child in post 10?
I've wishlisted it recently, but is kind of on the fence about it.
>14: Are you thinking of Charmed Life, the first book in the Chrestomanci series? That has Gwendolyn, who is indeed Evil Incarnate, but it also has Janet who is a girl from our world brought into the magic world to take Gwen's place. She is a good character - bewildered, but still strong. The only girl I remember in The lives of Christopher Chant is Millie, who is awesome, definitely a great character. And there's also an excellent cat :-)
>16: I wouldn't recomend them for this thread, (contemporary setting), but another series that reverses the mundane girl-powerful boy trope is the Beautiful creatures series, which is narrated by an apparently normal boy, who falls for a girl with supernatural powers. "My magical girlfriend", if you will!
I was very impressed recently with Elizabeth Bunce's StarCrossed. I loved how resourceful and smart the protagonist was, while still being a bit over her head, and it has some nicely convoluted plotting for her to figure out. The sequel due out this fall is one of my more anticipated future releases right now.
Also, they're not... technically... fantasy, but Elizabeth Wein's series that starts with The Winter Prince is one of those YA series that I pimp every chance I get. They ping as "fantasy" for me because the first book is a (greatly tweaked) version of the Mordred story of Arthurian myth, but then they go off onto a tack, leaving Arthur behind and making their own way. Really lovely reads.
#18 -- I'll jump in, since I followed the controversy a bit when the book came out. When Thirteenth Child was published, a lot of people were up in arms about a controversy inherent in the book. Here's a link with a sample of what people were saying. Basically, Wrede wrote a fantasy novel set in an alternate-history America, and in her alternate world, the American continent was populated by such large and nasty beasts (dragons and various other things) that, until the European settlers arrived (with the levels of magic and technology that they had achieved), no group of humans had ever managed to survive on the continent -- so there were no Native Americans.
There was a lot of talk about Wrede's intentions in doing this, and whether it is acceptable to do this. After all, she is not writing a historical novel, but an alternate history/fantasy in a world that is very different from our own, though the shape of the land masses may be the same. My advice would be to read it for yourself and see what you think.
22 - I recall that the book mentions that there was no successful expeditions across the Rockies. So, it is possible she could bring in Native Americans later on in the series.
Thanks for the explanation - I may give it a go as long as it is more about the ideology than the writing.
poison study and sequels.
karen miller has written some YA stuff under a pseudoname. Her adult fantasy is quie good - but definetly not YA. I've nto yet tried the YA.
#15 "but reading the summary it seems like women's power is revealed as holding society together through daily domestic tasks."
tehanu and other wind Umm not really. You can't just rely on the summary! I will try and avoid the spoilers but really these do very much redress the balance. Tehanu's magic in no way is just daily domestic tasks, she's more than Ged ever managed.
The Inda books by Sherwood Smith have a good balance of strong male and female characters... I'm not sure if they were published as YA, but they do make good YA books.
I've very fond of A Business of Ferrets by Beth Hilgartner if you can find a copy. It has a lot of the traditional fantasy elements - thieves and temples and guilds etc - but also a strong sense of friendship and loyalty triumphing over evil.
Both of the above books have gay characters portrayed in a positive light.
I'd un-recommend Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Not all YA fantasy has a sense of hope.
>29 My bad then, I should give them a fair chance.
>30 Those Hilgartner books look good, I will try to track them down. It's a shame Meisha Merlin books are so hard to find now..
>15 Wings and Spells by Aprilynne Pike are YA fantasy where the girl is the one with the powers. Actually, she turns out to be a faery. She has two boys she's interested in, one is a normal boy, the other is an older faery, but he's her social inferior. Not suited for the original request though; the books are contemporary and part of the story plays out in high school. The other part is in the faery world, so perhaps you'll like that part.
The Princess Series (starts with The Stepsister Scheme) by Jim Hines seems to be fun. (I've only read the first book.) Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty have adventures, battle monsters, and rescue princes.
My favorite author at the moment though is Frances Hardinge. I loved Fly by Night which is set in a city very loosely based on historical London and features a silver-tongued conman, a surly Irish girl, and a homicidal goose as unlikely revolutionaries. And there's a sequel just come out!
I don't know how to add links, but I really enjoyed ShadowMagic by John Lenahan. I have the second in the series, but haven't read it yet. Good, solid YA fantasy that seems to meet your criteria!
It's easy, the examples are to the right of a post while you're writing it. You add square brackets around a title (1 set) or author (2 sets). When you've done that, the link appears on the right of your post and if it's the wrong one, you can set it right by clicking on 'others' next to the link.
Touchstones: Shadowmagic by John Lenahan
Robin McKinley's Chalice has become one of my favorite fantasy novels. I think it's considered YA, it has a mythic, rural setting, and the romance is extremely minor. The heroine struggles with her newfound powers, but handles them very well in the end. A couple of others that might meet your criteria are The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean, and Lifelode by Jo Walton.
Thanks! Someone else on another thread set me straight as well. I'm getting it all figured out. They'll probably change the code and rules two days after I'm comfortable...
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Green Rider by Kristen Britain
I agree with The Riddle Master of Hed, Graceling and Sabriel.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Green Rider by Kristen Britain
I agree with The Riddle Master of Hed, Graceling and Sabriel.
Crystal Singer too.
I don't think I saw the Terry Pratchett YA books mentioned. The first of these, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is perhaps a little to one side of what the original post seeks (but good, nevertheless), but the rest, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight would seem to fit the bill pretty much exactly. Set in Pratchett's Discworld, and including "guest appearances" by several characters that were born in earlier Discworld novels, they chronicle the adventures of young witch, Tiffany Aching, and her helpers the pictsies, or Nac Mac Feegles.
I think I first answered this thread before I read The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumier, which I loved. I have her previous 4 books (one trilogy and a standlone) on my reading list.
I also recommend the blog The Book Smugglers, which is dedicated mostly to speculative fiction and YA. I've found them to be a fairly reliable review site and have found a lot of great books there.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.