The first genre I really fell in love with once I started buying my own books was YA Fantasy. The magic of escaping to another world, with various creatures, powers and high stakes adventures, is unbeatable. However, YA Fantasy has become an incredibly oversaturated market, and the more I read, the more I find plotlines being reused. Over time, romantic interests got boring. Plot twists became predictable.
And so, below are some of my personal favourite YA Fantasy books, for if you find yourself looking for something new to read. This particular brand of fantasy is full to the brim with romance, but also with platonic soulmates. There is action and adventure, but also introspection and personal growth. There are moral dilemmas, and compromising decisions. There are old stories, retold in a new way.
As always, please check the content warnings for yourself before you start reading any of these books.
By Kendare Blake
Quick Summary: Hell hath no fury like a magical set of triplets
In this series, three triplets with three different powers are all equal heirs to the throne. Mirabella is an elemental, able to control the elements at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, who can consume any poison without any side effects. Arsinoe is a naturalist, and can control both flora and fauna. But, to claim the throne, these three sisters must fight to the death.
There is brutality and the promise of violence dripping off every page, but it is so expertly done that it doesn’t feel gratuitous. However, the real highlight of this book is its exploration of human relationships. Kendare Blake presents romantic, platonic and familial relationships, all while asking how much you will forgive of your family.
I am a sucker for knowing all of the little cultural details about the world I’m reading about, and I feel that this was the only element lacking ever so slightly from this first book. However, stick with it and read the whole series, because over time the gruesome, dark and demanding world of Three Dark Crowns unfurls.
By Laini Taylor
Quick Summary: Be right back, off to dye my hair blue.
Laini Taylor scores a home run with this trilogy. Daughter of Smoke and Bone has everything a YA Fantasy novel should have. Thrilling adventure, friends who would cross worlds for each other, spine-tingling romance and epic writing. Additionally, this is one of the less violent books among my recommendations today.
Karou, the blue-haired, enterprising protagonist lives a complicated life on the fringes of Earth and Elsewhere, at the beck and call of a mysterious creature. She is bold and artistic, but has to hide half of her true self from the human world, including her best friend Zuzana (my all time favourite, by the way.)
I could read this book over and over again, simply because Taylor’s writing is nuanced, detailed and outstanding. Interactions between characters, whether it be a conversation or a sideways glance, are full to the brim with intrigue and foreboding, daring you to remember every hidden detail in case it reappears later.
My absolute favourite element of this book is that Taylor’s female characters are not necessarily strong solely because they can kick ass. Strength in the female characters in these novels means many things – being able to be vulnerable, being able to stand up and take responsibility when needed, keeping going when their world is falling apart. Taylor does not shy away from showcasing the weaknesses of her characters, and that elevates this book series above many others.
By Alexandra Bracken
Quick Summary: The Gods are back on the streets of New York
As I mentioned in my Recommended Reads: Post-Reading Slump, this is one of the best books I have read in a while. In this innovative, New-York based reimagining of Greek mythology, we are thrown into the brutal, merciless Agon. In the Agon, Nine Greek gods walk the earth as mortals, and descendants of their bloodline hunt them down, eager to gain their immortality and power. We follow Lore, the last descendant of her bloodline, as she attempts to leave this hunt behind forever.
Lore was captivatingly original, savage and an epic from start to finish. Similarly to Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and many other YA fantasy novels) we are placed in a real-life city that has a magical undercurrent most people don’t know about. Alexandra Bracken expertly crafts a magical New York City that feels equally terrifying, deadly, and just like home. This world-building is assisted by some excellent character writing, where we question every moral and decision. With a complex plot full of twists, it may take some concentration to fully grasp the intricacies of the Agon, but it is well worth the brain power.
By Sarah J Maas
Quick Summary: Worth the hype
Sarah J Maas’ novels have had great acclaim all over Bookstagram, Booktube and book charts alike. A Court of Silver Flames is the next book in her massively popular A Court of Thorns and Roses series, and follows Feyre’s sister Nesta Archeron as she navigates her newfound High Fae status. In a world that is still plagued by imminent war, Nesta and warrior Cassian “battle monsters from within and without” as they search for acceptance, healing and peace.”
This series is well overdue a full, in depth review from me, because there are so many things I love about it. The world construction, romance and high stakes action are all gripping, and each book leaves you with a book hangover for weeks! Maas has come under some criticism for her character writing, with arguments that she perpetuates the strong alpha-male stereotype too much. However, I feel Cassian’s character in A Court of Silver Flames, has a delicate balance of physical and emotional strength that shows a development in Maas’ writing in this area.
Be aware that this is a more mature series than some of the other fantasy recommendations in this list, and comes with content warnings.
By Kiera Cass
Quick Summary: A royal guilty pleasure
The Selection is my go to series if I want a satisfying, romantic, easy-to-read fantasy series that is sure to cheer me up.
In a world dictated by a caste system, America Singer is selected as one of 35 girls from across the castes to compete for Prince Maxon’s hand in marriage. We follow America as she is conflicted in love, and has her eyes opened to the politics, people and flaws of her country.
This is not the most complicated, or profound book that has ever been written, but it is an enjoyable gem that keeps you smiling, and melts your heart. This royal romance draws comparisons to the rags-to-riches narrative of The Princess Diaries, where a girl is dragged from obscurity into the limelight of a royal lifestyle. Suitable for all ages in the YA category, The Selection is a guilty pleasure through and through.
You really thought I could get through a YA fantasy recommendation post without recommending this series?
In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.
On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.
Retelling at its finest, this is a series not to be missed.
In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.