In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

YA Fantasy: Beyond Vampires

Dear Annie,

What an excellent post! Reinforces all my initial negatives about the Twilight series.

Okay, so you ask about whether there's any such thing as "really good fantasy/fairy/faerie/vampire YA lit being written out there." I suspect that as far as faeries and vampires are concerned, that's an oxymoron. But that could just be my prejudice. There is one riotously funny vampire satire, The Reformed Vampire Support Group. It's about a group of slightly sickly vampires who have banded together in an AA-like group to keep each other from attacking humans. They do, of course, still need blood -- you'll never think the same way about guinea pigs again.

For those folks who actually take Twilight seriously, I tend to recommend Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle Trilogy (first book: A Great and Terrible Beauty). My Lizzie got fond of these books toward the end of high school. It's a combination 19th-century British boarding school tale, crossed with magic and mysterious dark men (probably magical) hanging out in poorly lit places. But the writing's okay, and the author is definitely thinking more about women's place in society.

Two good recent YA fantasy books:

, by Kristin Cashore creates a really interesting medieval-style world where some people are born with "graces": extraordinary talents. Katsa, the heroine, believes her "grace" is killing people: she's excellent at combat and has been forced into the role of enforcer for an evil king. Turns out her talent is more complex than that. Takes a sympathetic guy (who's also a great fighter) to help her figure out what's going on. Has a satisfyingly unpredictable ending. The sequel/companion book, called Fire, is pretty dismal: Cashore creates a different main character who is so beautiful that everyone goes nuts around her because they're consumed by desire. Kind of the ultimate cheesy fantasy.

Then there's a very interesting trilogy-in-progress called Chaos Walking. First book is
The Knife of Never Letting Go
. It's set on a planet which has been colonized by earthlings who came as fundamentalist settlers. Shortly after arrival, a virus infects all the men, making their thoughts audible to others. Women are unaffected. The first book involves an odyssey through many settlements, each of which has dealt with the issue differently, from extreme repression of women to hippie matriarchy. The bad guys are really bad, setting out to take over all the settlements, using extreme coercion and torture in the process. They have also enslaved what remains of the native population. I've read the first two books wondering when the action was going to veer into awful sexual violence, but so far that hasn't happened. A lot of adults try to manipulate the teenage protagonists, and there are some fuzzy lines between resistance and collaboration. It's one of those series that gives a teenager a lot to think about. Also a good read -- I really want the last book to come out, already.

And then, aimed at the sixth grade and up crowd, one more trilogy which is great and impossible to sell. Just mentioning the premise in the presence of a parent is the kiss of death: dystopian future in an America divided into 12 states, each of which must send two teenagers a year to a reality television show which involves the contestants killing each other until there's one winner. Two books are out:
The Hunger Games

Catching Fire
, the third is coming in August. They're psychologically and politically fascinating books. Katniss, the main character and Hunger Games contestant in the first book, is horrified by the games and improvises her way into resistance, initially simply to save herself, and ultimately because her acts on television have helped fuel an underground movement. It sounds grim, but the core of this series is anger mixed with hope.

Time to get back to cheerier stuff --




  1. Yay! I LOVE THE HUNGER GAMES! I'm so glad you brought up those books -- I think they're just brilliant, and I'm absolutely dying for the third one (just a few more months!). :)

    Annie will probably mention this, but we actually went to college with the author of Graceling. Kristin is terrific...personally, I loved Fire, although I know what you mean about gender issues and all that -- it's much much better than Twilight, though! :)

    Another amazing YA fantasy series I'd recommend is Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books -- starting with The Thief, then The Queen of Attolia...they seem like classic fantasy at first, but the characters are twisty and the relationships are insane and the books are subtly funny and generally mind-blowing.

    Also great fantasy: anything by Terry Pratchett, especially his YA Tiffany Aching books -- now there's a real heroine! Sensible and funny and tough even at age nine, which is her age when the series starts in The Wee Free Men.

    Oh, and Diana Wynne Jones! SO much great YA fantasy by her!

    In the faerie genre, I actually quite liked Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr. And, um, there is this one vampire YA book which isn't SO terrible...I hope, since I'm the author! ;) But I'll be the first to tell you it's no Hunger Games. Annie, read The Hunger Games! It's SO great! :)

  2. Impossible to sell? Hunger Games et al are fantastic. I read it with my 11 year old in her middle school's parent/guardian-child book group. We've preordered Mockingjay, the last in the trilogy. Can't wait to see how they defeat the capital and, who everyone ends up with.

    Thanks for the Twilight overview. I don't ever want to censor my child's reading but I can certainly talk about the issues that come up. What do you all think of the Clique series? Another ugh, but my kid eats them up.

  3. I've got The Hunger Games cued up on my library hold list now -- very exciting. I can see this blog will be leading to me reading a lot more YA novels.

    Speaking of which, here's the vampire book Tui wrote (under her romance pseudonym, Tamara Summers): Never Bite a Boy on the First Date

    I haven't yet read this one, but I've enjoyed her others.

  4. Sasha, I haven't read the Clique series, but I'm sure Deborah can address that one. Thanks for your comment!

  5. There's actually a new Fairy series that's fabulous -- The Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor. I've got reviews of the first two books posted on and I've also recently read two teen books that I think will appeal to those who like the romance aspect of Twilight. There's The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting, in which the protagonist is pulled to dead bodies: and Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst, which is a retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," and has well-done romance:

  6. I love the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and The Hunger Games, but really didn't like Graceling. I think it might be because I read it immediately after The Hunger Games, since they were released within, I think, a week of each other, and I inevitably compared them, but I thought it just dragged. And that Katsa wasn't as brilliant as everyone said she was. So too much telling, and not enough showing, I guess.

    I've looked at the Chaos Walking series before, but never really picked it up. I think I'll give it another shot.

    As for good faerie/shapeshifter/vampire books, I really love Holly Black (The Modern Faerie Tales series), and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (The Den of Shadows Quartet and The Keisha'Ra series). I listed off my reasons in a really long post on Ms. Thoms' post, since this comment box wasn't working earlier, but yep. :)

  7. (The reasons are on the "On Twilight. Oy." post. Sorry-- I didn't clarify!)

  8. I have to add the Dusk Gate Chronicles by Breanna Putroff as a good YA Fantasy option. Clean and adventurous with very likable characters. In the first book a high school girl follows a fellow student to another world and meets his amazing family and helps solve a medical mystery. No trashy storylines. Enjoy!