I was just at the library, flipping through books to look for ones I haven’t read before, and I thought I’d recommend a few books for you guys. These are most likely the best YA fantasy books you’re going to come across, although a few of the Robin McKinleys and Terry Pratchetts live in the adult section. That’s okay. None of them are overtly inappropriate, and you can tell your mom I said so. All of these books are High Fantasy, and the summaries are taken from Goodreads.
Chalice, by Robin McKinley.
As the newly appointed Chalice, Mirasol is the most important member of the Master’s Circle. It is her duty to bind the Circle, the land and its people together with their new Master. But the new Master of Willowlands is a Priest of Fire, only drawn back into the human world by the sudden death of his brother. No one knows if it is even possible for him to live amongst his people. Mirasol wants the Master to have his chance, but her only training is as a beekeeper. How can she help settle their demesne during these troubled times and bind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone?
Five out of five stars, as with all of Robin McKinley’s books. Her prose is descriptive, but not overwhelming, and her characters are very alive. It has the feel of a fairy tale. I’m not going to list all of her books, so assume that they are all amazing and find them at your local library.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson.
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.
And he’s not the only one who needs her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.
Most of the chosen do.
Once again, five out of five stars. It has all of my favorite things, including a very strong, capable princess, a fat WOC main character with a positive attitude, spies, a war, and sequels. The story gets progressively better with each book, and, without spoilers, I will say that Elisa is my favorite royalty character ever. There is a religious aspect, with the Godstones, and prayer is important, but it’s not preachy at all, and is more like a mythology than anything. One of my favorite books.
The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
A nightmarish danger threatens from the other side of reality . . .
Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland. Luckily she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle—aka the Wee Free Men—a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.
Together they must face headless horsemen, ferocious grimhounds, terrifying dreams come true, and ultimately the sinister Queen of the Elves herself. . . .
A Story of Discworld
Again, five out of five stars. I’m recommending my favorites before anything else. Practically all of the Discworld books are ridiculously amazing, and have influenced my writing immeasurably, but the Tiffany Aching arc of stories were my first introduction to Discworld and are still my favorites, although, admittedly, I have not read as many Discworld books as I’d like. (I’m blaming the local library.) Any of Terry Pratchett’s books about witches are phenomenally feminist in the sense that it’s difficult to find a book that passes the reverse Bechdel Test (Two named male characters talk to each other about something that isn’t a woman.) In this first book, the main character is a feisty, sensible nine-year-old girl, and she is one of my favorite characters ever.
Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones.
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
Let’s just assume all of the books I recommend are amazing and move on, alright?
Now, Diana Wynne Jones is a pretty decent writer. Not stunningly brilliant, but I’ve liked all her books. This book blows all of her others out of the water. Sophie is amazing, Howl is somehow a sweetie and a bastard at the same time, the relationships are all great, the magic system is wonderful, and I really can’t tell you anymore without spoiling it. There’s an animated movie, too, by Hayao Miyazaki, which is nearly as good although it’s completely different.
Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
This book is a lot darker than any of the others I’ve recommended, with things like child abuse and seduction and child brides and assassinations. Probably not appropriate for under-14s. (Yes, Mom, it’s in the YA section, and it’s appropriate for me, God.) It’s a vicious, alternate-history type book, but it has magical powers involved so I’m letting it squeak by as a High Fantasy book. It’s still very good, though.
Terrier, by Tamora Pierce
Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost’s Guard, commonly known as “the Provost’s Dogs,” in Corus, the capital city of Tortall. To the surprise of both the veteran “Dogs” and her fellow “puppies,” Beka requests duty in the Lower City. The Lower City is a tough beat. But it’s also where Beka was born, and she’s comfortable there.
Beka gets her wish. She’s assigned to work with Mattes and Clary, famed veterans among the Provost’s Dogs. They’re tough, they’re capable, and they’re none too happy about the indignity of being saddled with a puppy for the first time in years. What they don’t know is that Beka has something unique to offer. Never much of a talker, Beka is a good listener. So good, in fact, that she hears things that Mattes and Clary never could – information that is passed in murmurs when flocks of pigeons gather … murmurs that are the words of the dead.
In this way, Beka learns of someone in the Lower City who has overturned the power structure of the underworld and is terrorizing its citizens into submission and silence. Beka’s magical listening talent is the only way for the Provost’s Dogs to find out the identity of this brutal new underlord, for the dead are beyond fear. And the ranks of the dead will be growing if the Dogs can’t stop a crime wave the likes of which has never been seen. Luckily for the people of the Lower City, the new puppy is a true terrier
My favorite Tamora Pierce book yet. It’s kind of a police-mystery-fantasy book, set two hundred years before Alanna: The First Adventure, and Beka is an intensely realistic and amazing character. It’s told in first person, which I usually don’t care for, but it’s in diary format, so it’s okay. I’ve probably read this book at least five or six times, and it’s just as good every time. The language is slang-y and full of creative fictional curse words, like “Poxy, horse-swiving Rat” and other things, which made me grin.
Now, again, these are only the high fantasy book recommendations, and you are strongly encouraged to read other books by these authors.