Popular even before it was complete, award-winning before it was published, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a unique debut graphic novel about heroes, villains, monsters and peeling off those labels to see the people underneath. Our story begins when longtime supervillain Ballister Blackheart receives an unexpected visitor in his secret lair — stout little Nimona, a young and eccentric shape-shifter who insists on becoming his evil sidekick. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nimona’s commitment to evil might be a little more heartfelt than Blackheart’s, and the question of which side of the fight is truly righteous comes into question not too long after.
Emotional backstory, in-depth character writing, a complex, strangely believable fantasy universe that combines medieval-style armor with apparatus of science fiction are all to be found in Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style, often praised for its expressive energy and humor, proves equally effective when expressing the dark, dismal and threatening — and a cool shadow dragon or two. LGBT readers can take note of the warm handling of the gay relationship in the book as well. It is written so subtly it has the effect of normalizing the subject rather than pointing aggressive arrows towards it.
Virginia Boecker was able to cross an item off her bucket list when she published her debut novel The Witch Hunter. As an English history buff, Boecker was spending time in London when she was inspired to write the novel. Though this story takes place in a very different world, where witches and other paranormal creatures are common place, the setting is reminiscent of old world England.
It’s 1558, in a place known as Anglia, where witches and other creatures are pitted against the monarchy for the right to live and practice their beliefs freely. The country is divided with many wanting to see witchcraft practiced openly. King Malcom and his grand inquisitor do all they can to eradicate witches and witchcraft by having a small and elite band of witch hunters that tracks and captures witches who are later burned alive.
By day, Elizabeth Grey is a servant in the kitchen. By night, she is one of the king’s most capable witch hunters. When she is caught with a collection of suspicious herbs, she is arrested as a witch. It’s while she sits rotting in a cell and awaiting her execution that she finds an unlikely ally who leads her to question her black and white world. Could it be that she has been manipulated by the very people she trusts the most, or is she simply being misled?
This young adult novel is a wicked mashup of genres, from romance to adventure, with a healthy dose of historical paranormal fiction to tie it all together. If this is your magical brew, look to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes for another gripping historical paranormal fantasy with a strong female protagonist, who also has a tendency to challenge authority.
An Ember in the Ashes is a deftly written debut novel by Sabaa Tahir, a promising new author not to be ignored. With alternating chapters, this teen novel skillfully intertwines the lives of two young people living in a martial society.
The book opens with Laia, a member of the colonized Scholar society. Though they’re called Scholars, these people have been beaten down and denied their heritage to the point that people are no longer even taught to read. When Laia’s home is invaded by law enforcement, her life is forever changed. She’s put on a path to go against her demure disposition and rally to save the only family she has left.
On the other end of this society, we follow Elias as he completes his training to become a “Mask.” Masks are the highest form of defense in the Serra community. They are both feared and revered. As a Mask, Elias is trained to be a graceful killing machine, a skill which disgusts him to the point that he contemplates desertion.
The setting and power struggles of this book are reminiscent of Game of Thrones while the trials that Elias faces are evocative of the Hunger Games or Divergent. Despite this book being suggestive of these other series, Tahir creates a unique and captivating read that is hard to put down.
Amy McCulloch is an editorial director for a children’s publisher, so while this is her debut as a novelist, she is no stranger to the writing process. It’s clear from this novel that she carefully constructed a young adult series that weaves together mysticism, intrigue and suspense.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is the first in McCulloch’s The Knots Duology. This introductory novel is set in a fantasy world where a person’s oath is their soul and the consequences of going back on your word have a devastating effect. It’s the very foundation of the world’s structure and is infused in every decision each character makes.
Raim, the protagonist, is from a nomadic tribe of goat herders and has been raised as a warrior apprentice since he was 7. He was just a baby when he was given an oath that he wears as a knot around his wrist — a reminder of a promise he cannot remember. It’s this oath, made long before his memories start, which holds a mystery that could unravel his well-planned future or be the answer that saves a kingdom.
This historical fantasy is a fast-paced whirlwind of a ride that will leave you eager for more. Its sequel The Shadow’s Curse, though already published in Canada and the UK, does not yet have a publication date for the US. After The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, you won’t be able to wait for its release.
Journalist, novelist and activist Cory Doctorow has teamed up with illustrator and cartoonist Jen Wang to create an unprecedented graphic novel about a girl gamer who discovers real social issues lurking behind the colorful facade of her favorite online world. In Real Life is one of the first books written for the burgeoning audience of self-identifying girl gamers, which is growing at an exponential rate as more girls — and women — embrace their passion for gaming.
Anda, the heroine of In Real Life, enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons with her friends during their lunch period, kicks butt in her Python computer programming class and walks the high school halls worrying more about surviving a tough boss fight than she does about staying fashionably relevant. With her mother’s blessing (and credit card), she delves into the digital world of Coarsegold Online and becomes totally enthralled, allying herself with a guild of other like-minded girl gamers. Quests call Anda and a feisty guildmate to a hidden verdant enclave lousy with gold farmers — players who repeatedly collect valuable items to sell to other players for real money. Anda and her friend defeat the illicit farmers and take their items and gold to stymie the questionable practice.
Initially, Anda is excited to be completing quests and leveling up her character, but after a gold farmer shows some compassion and helps her obtain a rare item, she begins to ponder the consequences of her actions. Who are the other players behind these foreign avatars? Why do they congregate in droves and move around in secrecy? What does "Ni Hao" mean? And most importantly, what happens when they’re killed and lose their farming progress?
Doctorow’s purpose-driven storyline presents many social issues that may be unknown to people who have yet to be acquainted with online gaming, and Wang’s adorable artwork inspires a world teeming with vibrant beauty and softens the blow of an otherwise rough reality check. In Real Life is a great read for anyone who enjoys young adult graphic novels, and is essential for MMO and gaming fanatics.
My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of 12 holiday stories from young adult authors like Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor and David Levithan, among others. Each story is unique — some are realistic, romantic stories set at Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations, others are fantasy stories filled with elves or set in far-off lands. They’re all sure to put readers in the holiday mood!
Though each story is delightful, Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” was my personal favorite. Perkins, who is also the editor of My True Love Gave to Me, brings holiday romance into readers’ lives with Marigold and North’s story. When Marigold buys a tree at North’s family Christmas tree lot, he agrees to help her carry the tree across the street to her apartment, not knowing the night of adventures this decision will bring. Other stories deal with lesser known holiday traditions, like Holly Black’s “Krampuslauf” about a group of teenagers who live in a town who have an annual celebration for “Saint Nick’s creepy buddy, the Krampus.” Gayle Forman’s “What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?” follows Sophie, a freshman at a college in the middle of nowhere, who is sad to be away from her mother on the last night of Hanukkah. Other stories are totally fantastical, like Laini Taylor’s “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer,” set on the Isle of Feathers, where a girl named Neve must face the Advent traditions of her home.
Perkins did a wonderful job editing a diverse group of stories dealing with holiday traditions both real and imaginary. My True Love Gave to Me is a great holiday read, especially for those looking to find new teen authors to enjoy in the future. As an added bonus, make sure to pay close attention to the cover, as you can see the couples from each of the stories!
The third book in Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate, wraps up the Cahill sisters’ story. Cate, Maura and Tess are three very powerful witches living in an alternate America in which anyone suspected of being a witch is locked away in an asylum, or worse, sentenced to death. The Brotherhood who control the country has continued life in the Puritan tradition, oppressing women and blaming witches for the country’s problems.
In Born Wicked and Star Cursed, Cate tried to protect her sisters from the Brotherhood and other witches who are jealous of their powers, but now because of the betrayal of one sister and the burgeoning power of another, Cate is conflicted about how to proceed. Cate eventually begins to work with a group of people resisting the Brotherhood, attending secret meetings and planning ways to change life in the country. When a fever begins to ravage New London and the witches are blamed, change becomes essential to preventing the deaths of witches and humans alike, bringing Cate and the other witches to make extreme choices.
At turns a nail-biting, action-packed story and family story about sisters who just happen to be witches, Sisters’ Fate is a satisfying conclusion to Spotswood’s series. Spotswood does a wonderful job creating flawed, interesting characters who fight for what they know is right until the very end.
Former intelligence officer Amber Lough is trying her hand as an author of young adult fantasy with The Fire Wish. The backdrop for this book is the Middle East in a time full of mysticism and intrigue. The humans live in and around Baghdad while the jinni population inhabits a sprawling underground cavern.
The chapters of this novel alternate between two 16-year-old girls, Zayele and Najwa. Zayele’s father arranged for her to marry Kamal and become a princess of Baghdad, but the prospect of living this sheltered existence seems stifling to her free-spirited tendencies. In what seems like another world, Najwa is weighed down with responsibility and, while she is ready to rise to the occasion, she finds her abilities suppressed by the elders in her community. Both girls are caught in a war between the jinni and the humans. When the desperate Zayele makes an impulsive wish, it forever alters both of their lives and connects them in ways they never thought possible.
The Fire Wish is the first installment of Lough’s new series, and this dual perspective, fast paced fantasy contains everything from action and adventure to romance. Fans of Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King will surely find this book just as magical.
As a boy, Jacob Portman was always spellbound by the stories his grandfather told him about children with strange powers who lived in an isolated house on a Welsh island. After his grandfather’s violent death, he receives a mysterious letter from a Miss Peregrine, travels to the island and discovers that his grandfather’s stories — and the children — are very much real. So what happens next to the Peculiar Children? Ransom Riggs’ much-anticipated new book, Hollow City, is the second book and sequel to his bestselling novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. In Hollow City, Jacob and the peculiar friends he meets in the first book have escaped Miss Peregrine’s island and are now traveling to 1940s war-era London. Their purpose for the journey is to try to help Miss Peregrine who, thanks to a spell, is now in bird-form. Along the way, they make new friends, become acquainted with some truly unique people and animals, and continue to battle the monsters who threaten the Peculiars’ existence.
Similar to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the characters in Hollow City have matured, and the issues and relationships they face have also become more serious. There is a balance of fast-paced suspense and horror melded with lighter and touching moments of friendships and loyalties, making this book and its predecessor good picks for both those who like fantasy or realistic fiction. Riggs continues the practice of using old, strange and, in some cases, disturbing vintage photographs to tell a story that combines real history with the fantastical. As many reviewers have pondered, in a “chicken or egg” fashion, did the photographs inspire the story or did the story create a search for unique photographs which would enhance the plot?
The film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton, is in development, and is due out in 2015.
Angels, demons, forbidden love, and now, war—Laini Taylor’s captivating Daughter of Smoke and Bone series tells the story of Karou and Akiva, who fell in love despite the dangers that came along with their feelings. Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the final book in the series, picks up where Days of Blood & Starlight left off. The vivid world that Taylor has created begins to collide with our own, when angels begin to appear on earth. Panic spreads both on Earth and on Eretz where Karou, the chimaera, and the rebel angels must decide their course of action in order to save their world and our own.
Underlying the battle is the romantic tension between Karou and Akiva, whose forbidden love has caused them both immense physical and emotional pain. After Akiva’s betrayal of Karou in the first novel, their relationship has not been the same. Now, as they must work together to reach their shared goal, their love is put to the test once again. Karou’s human friends, Zuzana and Mik, return to Karou’s side to help her keep the chimaera army going. New characters with their own secrets pop up as well, adding to the intrigue Taylor has already created in the series.
Longtime fans of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series will enjoy returning to the brilliant world that Laini Taylor has created for her characters. Readers looking for a new series set in a unique world filled with fantastical creatures will be sure to want to start with book one and work their way to this thrilling conclusion.