One thing you should know about me is that my favorite genre in books is fantasy. When I read, I love to see princesses in peril, magical powers, and romantic entanglements. No other audience in literature seems to understand what I want more than Young Adult. I used to fluff YA off as childish and cliched, but when I looked deeper I found many more great stories lying beneath the surface.
These 4 fantasy novels are some of my absolute favorites and they exemplify that searching a little bit harder can yield remarkable results.
4. Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor
Fans of Strange The Dreamer should check out this collection of three separate dark fantasy stories that surprise as much as they make you swoon. In each tale, a dark-haired, blue-eyed female is faced with the magic of a kiss and the ramifications thereafter.
“Goblin Fruit” (my personal favorite) opens the collection. Kizzy is warned not to be tempted by goblins, but when the allure of a new boy at school (who may or not be a goblin himself) calls her, she has to decide whether to embrace her desires or deny her passions, all for the sake of one, tantalizing first kiss.
“Spicy Little Curses Such as These” centers on Anamique who is cursed at birth never to speak a word lest she kill all of those within earshot. When a soldier falls for her, she has to choose whether to believe the curse and stay silent or risk destroying the man she loves.
“Hatchling”, the longest and most complex of the collection, focuses on Esme and her mother, as they attempt to outrun and outwit the wicked, inhuman creatures known as Druj. When one Druj shows just a semblance of emotion, a torrent of questions are raised about the origins of the Druj and what lies at the source of their eternal brutality.
After reading the collection, you can’t help but be impressed by Laini Taylor’s skill (as well as the gorgeous illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo.) “Hatchling” alone is an intricate story, with an incredible depth and a vast knowledge of mythology. If none of these stories get you in the heart, then you may be just as heartless as a Druj yourself.
3. The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter
Fervent readers of fairy tales will likely be familiar with Angela Carter. Her short story collection The Bloody Chamber, and most notably its tale “The Company of Wolves” is her most popular work. However, they might have passed over this wonderful little gem. That would be a shame.
The Magic Toyshop follows Melanie whose parents are killed in a plane crash. Her and her two siblings are taken to live with their estranged Uncle Philip, his wife Margaret, and her brothers Finn and Francie. While staying with them, she begins to develop a tender relationship with Finn while uncovering the disturbing secrets of her extended family. It’s this story’s ambivalence that makes it work so well. The back and forth of Melanie’s feelings for Finn, the unsettling characters and atmosphere, along with the peculiar puppets that represent those involved create a unique story that isn’t going to be for everyone. And its revelations will have you reeling for days.
But if you’re willing to do into darker territory with your reading, this is a high recommendation from me. Not in the mood to read? A movie version is available on YouTube that’s really good; in ways, it even improves upon the book.
2. The Songweaver’s Vow – Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Not only do I love a good fairy tale, I love mythology, particularly Greek and Norse. Both have such fascinating characters and stories that I don’t know which one I like more. With this book, I didn’t have to choose.
It follows Euthalia, a young woman captured by viking raiders and forced to marry a dragon god. Despite how this sounds, Euthalia actually comes to discover the dragon god, named Vidar, is quiet kind and gentle. Yet, their love is unconventional. Stricken by a curse, Vidar warns Euthalia never to look at him in the light. Euthalia breaks this promise and he leaves her. She eventually goes on a quest to find him, all while preventing the prosphesied Ragnarok from ever occurring.
Along the way, Euthalia tells Greek tales to the Norse Gods, making the story a unique blending of the two distinct mythologies. The execution of Loki’s character, a primary force in the novel, is exquisite while other gods and goddesses are also fleshed out. Don’t know the myths? Don’t worry. You don’t need to. Just enjoy the surprising, sweet, and bonkers journey this takes you on.
1. Trick – Natalia Jaster
Set in a world ruled by the kings and queens of the four seasons, this entertaining and thoughtful romp pivots between the dual viewpoints of Briar, the level-headed princess of autumn and Poet, a jester of spring whose clever wit is matched only by his deviant bedroom antics. Considering his reputation, Briar instantly takes a disliking to the charismatic jester. After a creature attacks them in the forest, Briar gets wounded attempting to protect Poet and is taken back to a cottage where he reluctantly reveals his biggest kept secret. She starts to gradually lower her guard down while Poet also begins to see her in a new light. Like a flower in spring, a romance slowly blossoms, even at the risk of losing the things they hold dear. Are they willing to risk it all for true love?
I’m going to be honest with you. Brace yourself. This is the best book I’ve ever read. Hands down. While it is more NA (New Adult), than it is YA due to the mature content, it nevertheless is a funny, charming, steamy novel with two leads whose chemistry is off the charts. It’s not Disney-friendly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great princess story.
Honorable Mention: The Perfect Fool – Bethany Zohner Herbert
If Trick turns you on to jesters, this romantic (though much cleaner) story is still incredibly funny, lighthearted, and swoony. Fans of The Princess Bride will really get a kick out of this romantic medieval tale.
Fantasy, fairy tales, and mythology are all well-represented in modern YA. These 4 tales are examples of crisp, intelligent writing, intriguing characters, and fascinating plotlines. Look for them at your next visit to the book store. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
See you next time!