As an aside, I’ve decided I’m not going to review the Novels because I’ve not read about half of them. Harrow the Ninth requires me to reread Gideon because I forgot the important details, and Relentless Moon is a book 3 where I read only book 1. I don’t particularly like Susanna Clarke, and I found Black Sun actually underwhelming. That’s it, that’s the review. I’m currently reading The City We Became, and enjoying it, as I enjoyed Network Effect a few months back. I’ll probably vote but I don’t really have clear enough Opinions on most of these to give you the rundown like I did for the others.
So, the Lodestar. The best of fantasy YA for this year.
They’re all so good! They’re basically all 5 stars or very close to it.
Let me go through them in the order that I read them:
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions)
I read the audiobook for this one, and it was, as always, a riot. I did not really know how T. Kingfisher’s writing style (and usually sexy humour) would translate to YA but it was still hilarious, while also staying very human, as her books tend to be. Mona’s a baker… with magic. But magic only for bread! nothing else! maybe a bit of icing if she reaaally tries. So… How do you defend your city, and the useless adults in it, with baking?
I loved the whole concept, I loved the characters, from the old “crazy” lady with dead horses and PTSD, to the street urchin who helps Mona, to the freaking gingerbread man on her shoulder. And it really had the vibes of “why do I, a 14 year old girl, have to do all of this? why didn’t you adults do anything?” which I think a lot of YA novels miss. Gowan and shame the adults! They deserve it! Just entertaining, funny, heartwarming and good fantasy, ticks all the boxes for me.
A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
This one was also super entertaining. It’s your regular magic school setting, except there are no adults (so they don’t have to pretend they care while obviously putting you in danger) and everything in the school – including the school – is trying to kill the students. They’re supposedly there for their own protection, but the game’s rigged against the elite, so. There is that. It’s basically Harry Potter meets the Hunger Games, but with actual representation!
It was also interesting to have a heroine who’s Welsh-Indian, because I’ve been in Wales, I know the places she describes – and I can totally believe the racism. And within the school itself it’s not exactly a race thing and more “you’re not powerful already? screw you” kind of thing, which is still very relevant to the real world, and El’s anger about the whole thing was both 100% justified and quite refreshing.
I also loved how El ends up building friendships which she really did not expect to have, I can relate, as someone who was kind of a loner at school and suddenly was like “friends? real friends? is this a trick?” when I grew up.
The worldbuilding is very interesting, although I’d have loved a schematic of how the school looks like. And the ending was absolutely brilliant. I already have the second book and will be jumping into it as soon as I’m done with my current books.
Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet / Hot Key)
This one’s on the longer side for a YA and took me some time to read, but mostly because it’s an ebook, and ebooks and I aren’t great friends. I had heard a lot of good things about it and they were all true!
The worldbuilding was so intricate, it was like walking through that universe yourself. It’s a mix of a lot of different cultures in one same empire/continent, and it deals with both the ideas of colonialism, tyranny, and the patriarchy. Our heroine, Tarisai, has been cursed to kill the emperor’s son, who’s become her best friend… The story focuses on her growing up in a very abusive/neglectful household, being brought up to the palace, and trying her damnedest to escape the fate that was assigned to her while also protecting herself and her friends. I especially liked the themes around the true idea of justice, and how people in power might do better by the people they serve.
I cared about so many of these characters! And I was mad about so many others! (especially some of the parents… are absolutely awful!) I also thought I knew where it was going, but the last 15% of the book were just one big event after another, I simply couldn’t stop reading! It’s brilliant.
Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
I only have the Hugo packet extract for this one (I didn’t look into it quickly enough and the library has 1 copy for the whole country) so my impressions are limited compared to the other ones. I think it was maybe 100 pages or less? There were some issues with the mobi format making it hard to tell.
One thing I found lovely were the illustrations. Black and white, very atmospheric, I love the fact that this was included even in a YA book.
The story itself is a bit different than the others on this list, there’s definitely magic at play and we’re shown a US where vampires and fae walk around but it’s more tame and atmospheric again, rather than full on urban fantasy. Like it’s part of everyone’s life, no big deal. It’s a choice, but it means that in this short extract I only caught a small glimpse of the universe, which left me wanting more. It’s also a murder mystery in a way, which sets it apart from the others and makes it hard to compare. One of the highlights was Ellie’s pet (ghost) dog, which was really cute!
I really loved that the main story is peppered by Ellie’s memories and tales of her Six-Great Grandmother’s exploits, usually around Lipan traditions and monsters. As a European, I didn’t exactly get exposed to (non-stereotypical) Native American stories as a kid, so I’m glad there are more options out there now.
Legendborn, Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry/ Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
I was honestly not sure about this book when I went in, because I find it really hard to get into Arthuriana, and also into “real world” fantasy/urban fantasy, especially in YA where they’re very often about highschool cliques…
Deonn gets away from that by making the heroine go to “early college” which puts her in a totally different context and allows for much larger stakes. But even beyond that, it just… sucked me right in! and I couldn’t drop it. The worldbuilding is very thoughtful, and I was amazed by how well the author weaves in real world politics and racial issues, with this universe’s own mythos and secret societies. It’s very much has colonialism and slavery as its backdrop and honestly I wouldn’t expect anything else from a book set in the South US, with a Black heroine. It was amazing through and through, I loved 99% of the characters (loved to hate a few of them too. Perhaps surprisingly, I think Nick is wayyy too fucking controlling).
One gripe I had with it was the psychologist Bree sees, who throws a diagnosis onto her after basically retraumatising her on purpose, and barely evaluating her. It pissed me off, but then jury’s still out on whether that character was good or right (I mean in the real world she’d be wrong and also would not keep a licence after any ethics review but I mean within the narrative, it’s murky whether the author saw that as a good thing that happened.
Anyways despite that, I’d still give this book 5 stars, because in the grand scheme of things it was still amazing.
Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)
I’m a slower reader than I tend to think I am, so I’ve not finished this one yet, but as of writing this the votes are closing tonight, so I did want to get that post out in time! I might end up posting a longer review when I get to it.
The short of it is that I’m really enjoying this. One thing I noticed this year was the lack of trans authors and trans characters in what I read, so this is a nice change, and I’m enjoying the dive into a culture that’s completely unfamiliar to my own. So far I’m about 25% in and I’m loving the banter, the humour, and the heart of it at the same time. It’s just lovely all round and I’m excited to finish it soon!
How about you, have you read any of these books? Which one’s your favourite?