There’s a certain type of book I love: lush and atmospheric with descriptive and dreamy prose. There are themes I return to again and again in literature: dark fairy tales, complicated families, forbidden or doomed love.
These 2017-2018 fantasy young adult novels tick each of these boxes.
The Hazel Wood by Melisa Albert
As much as I love romance, a really great story doesn’t need it.
This debut is an excellent example of a layered, character-driven contemporary fantasy adventure without a hint of a love story.
A jaded teenage narrator with a complicated family history learns that the mysterious collection of dark fairy tales in a rare book written by her grandmother are more real—and sinister and creepy—than she’d like to believe.
Mister BS loved this novel, too — he’s even currently re-reading it!
Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic
Sisters Iris and Malina share a family trait — the magical ability to manipulate beauty. They’ve also been forbidden from falling in love by their mother. When she’s attacked, they must unravel the mystery of the family curse.
Lush, sensual writing full of sensory detail brings this story of magical sisters to life. I’d highly recommend this one for fans of Laini Taylor (she’s the one who recommended it to me when I interviewed her for Book Riot).
Though the curse about doomed true love isn’t exactly original here, the Balkan twist on the familiar folklore keeps this story fresh. Evocative and thrilling, read this for the language, not the plot.
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
A romance threaded with mystery, this is the story of a family who tends the lush gardens of La Pradera. Readers who love doomed love tinged with magic will revel in this novel.
This has been my favorite of McLemore’s books—while her previous novels always felt like they were things I should have loved, I enjoyed them but wasn’t extraordinarily thrilled by them.
This one I read in sips, savoring the language, and while I’m still not sure if I loved it, I definitely couldn’t stop thinking about it. This romantic YA novel bursting with magical realism is for readers who want to immerse themselves in lavender prose rather than an action-driven plot.
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
This is the story of Isobel, a painting prodigy whose work is commissioned by the fae. When she paints the Autumn Prince with sorrow in his eyes, he whisks her away to the lands of fairy to stand trial for threatening his position. But their journey is full of danger, intrigue, and then, of course, romance—which means they’re both going to be punished for violating the laws of the fae, as love between a fae and a human is forbidden by the Alder King.
This debut is perfect for readers who enjoy fantasy but want more action along with contemporary, witty dialogue. It’s fun, with characters you want to cheer for. I have lots of unanswered questions about the plot—but in the end, they don’t matter, because this was a fun book to read.
All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
What does a miracle cost? Three Latinx cousins in the desert of Colorado grapple with their futures in standalone YA fantasy.
An intensely character-driven novel, this will satisfy readers who enjoy contemplating the spiritual. The story is as much about family and forgiveness as the magic of miracles.
This novel has Stiefvater’s characteristic wry sense of humor and playful use of language. My only disappointment was the audiobook narrator—nothing is ever going to beat Will Patton’s rendition of The Raven Cycle.
All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry
A Fierce and Subtle Poison was one of my favorite young adult novels of 2016, and Samantha Mabry’s sophomore novel didn’t disappoint me.
Sarah Jac and James both work the fields in the dusty and wild Southwest in a near-future world, and when they fall in love, both know they must keep it a secret.
The setting of this novel steals the show! The forlorn, mysterious landscapes come to life on the page. The characters take a back seat to the lush language and evocative descriptions. Fans of magical realism in YA will enjoy this YA novel.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
In this debut, a stepmother queen with a heart of glass and a stepdaughter princess made from snow in her dead mother’s image form a strong bond, then are put at odds with one another.
Books touted as “feminist fairy tale retellings” are a dime a dozen in YA, but this novel really earns the label. The story feels both fresh and reminiscent of Angela Carter in the best possible way (though not quite as dark).
The fully realized female characters break from traditional plot arcs and refuse to let power or jealousy drive their actions. For readers looking for a complicated, layered tale full of magic, this YA fantasy won’t disappoint.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Holly Black has long been a favorite of mine. As often as she’s written stories of the fae, I can still trust her to keep it fresh.
Jude’s parents were murdered in front of her when she was seven years old, and she was whisked away to Faerie. As a human, she’s mostly despised, but desperately wants to prove herself and fit in, while her half-fey half sister wants nothing more than to return to the human world.
As Faerie stands on the brink of civil war, an unlikely alliance with the wickedest son of the High King may be the only way to save her sister—and all of Faerie.
Nobody does romantic tension quite like Holly Black. She draws out the will-they-or-won’t-they love-hate moments between Jude and the Prince as tight as a highwire rope.
The Cruel Prince doesn’t even come out for a couple months and I’ve already read it twice—it’s that good. I can’t wait for the rest of the series!
Are you a fan of YA fantasy, stories of the fae, or magical realism? Let me know your favorites!