Category: 17 and up

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

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While this concluding volume is not a heist story, like the first one, it is still filled with plot twists and surprises. Our gang of six teens return to fictional Ketterdam (think historical Amsterdam) with a mission to get what they are owed. But instead of conning a tourist (or pigeon), they are up against the wealthiest merchant in the city. Bardugo tells a ripping good yarn, and her world-building is like no other. There is terrifying violence in the story, so I recommend 17 and up.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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One of the few times when the phrase “shocking conclusion” has merit. This series has only grown more intricate, and with this, the finale to the trilogy, we are steeped in the realm of nightmare. Having Mara locked and restrained in a psychiatric institute, drugged repeatedly against her will, with no one believing the truth, is all very dark and makes for tough reading. The story does not stay in the darkness indefinitely, but it remains harrowing and intricately plotted. I recommend it, since I was unable to put it down, but this is among the darkest YAs I’ve ever read. Recommended for 17 and up, due to sex, violence, and nightmare fuel.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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his YA series has grown much darker in this second novel in the series. 17-year-old heroine Mara Dyer remains an unreliable narrator as her life seems to crumble around her. With this novel, the series takes a leap into suspense, almost into horror.

Mara and her boyfriend Noah are part of the “kids against the world” trope, but it’s made much more realistic than usual, since none of the adults in her world believe her because she’s mentally ill. Is she really hallucinating? Has she made it all up? Or is she being gaslighted by parties unknown? Since the narrative is first person, we don’t know those answers either, and we feel the tension and fear along with Maya. For age 17 and up, due to sex, violence and the fear factor.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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It took me over a week to read this book, which means it didn’t hold my interest well. Mara, our 17-year-old heroine, has come through a trauma and her PTSD makes her an unreliable narrator. We are supposed to be distracted from her confusion by the love interest, Noah, who is quite appealing. However, the abrupt (and fantastical) plot switches give this a magical realism vibe which causes the tone to change repeatedly throughout the book, to its detriment. I struggled with it, but may I read the second book in the trilogy to see if all the jerking around was worthwhile. For YA 17 and up due to gore.

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

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Sensational fantasy novel that invariably zags when you expect it to zig. It’s not a princess in a tower book, or an evil magician book, or a fish out of water book, or a heroic battle book, though it flirts with all of those. The very title itself changes meaning as the book progresses.

Instead, this is an adventure, a strong heroine book about a girl who has to change quickly as her life circumstances shift, but who manages throughout to find creative ways to be who she is and to problem-solve. I loved this book, loved that it pulled me along even when I had no clue where it was going. I loved our heroine, who has a Polish name pronounced “ag-NYESH-ka,” and her top skill at the start of the book is getting spectacularly dirty no matter what she’s wearing . This skews older teen, 17 and up, due to vicious violence, sexual content, and deeply disturbing fantasy imagery.

To Weave a Web of Magic, by Claire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Patricia A. McKillip, Sharon Shinn

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Another great set of stories from female fantasy authors. McKillip’s is my least favorite – a story of a painter and his muse. But the other three were wonderful: Kurland’s story of a princess fleeing her betrothal and the man she finds in an abandoned castle is beautifully written with a wonderful twist you won’t see coming; Shinn’s story of a well-off young woman and the rogue angel she hears so much about is lovely; and Delacroix’s haunting story of a half-fae/half-mortal woman trying desperately to throw off a curse brings grief as well as joy. For adults and older teens.

Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

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An extraordinary culmination to one of the best and most immersive high fantasy series I’ve ever read. After the extraordinary events of book 2, our hero Fitz leaves behind all he knows and sets out on his own quest. His amazing journey closes every loose end and leaves this reader with an abiding sense of satisfaction and joy. Hobb brings to her series incredible world-building, detailed characters that we care passionately about, and adventure beyond imagining.

Recommended for older teens and up due to violence and war, but recommended primarily for adults who can look back, like our narrator, on the follies of youth. An exceptional read.

Fortune and Fate, by Sharon Shinn

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This final book in the Twelve Houses series seems a quieter epilogue to the book that came before, but is no less wonderful in its own way. In this story, the civil war is over, but a high price was paid by many, including Wen, a former King’s Rider, who was one of the king’s top soldiers. Tortured and guilt-ridden over her part in the war, she rides aimlessly through Gillengaria, seeking to atone by helping those in need, but careful not to settle down or commit herself. Her reluctant agreement to help a noble house challenges all of her choices, but may yet bring her the redemption she longs for. Gorgeously written, and filled with quiet hope as well as adventure, this one has everything I love in this series in miniature. Recommended.

Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb

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The riveting second part of this trilogy brings Fitz, born a bastard to a prince he never met, ever deeper into the court’s web of intrigue. Fixed in his heart as a “King’s Man,” his loyalty is tested by both the those who mean him well and those who mean him ill. And it is tested, most of all, by the desires of his heart and the woman he loves. Filled with battles, betrayals, passion, and deception, the plot rockets to its conclusion and we despair, with Fitz, whether his beloved kingdom can ever be whole. For adults and older teens.

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb

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Terrific fantasy novel about Fitz, bastard son to a prince, who grows from child to young man over the course of our story. Extraordinary world-building, seen through Fitz’s eyes, shows us a high fantasy world without magic, beyond that some have an affinity for animals and others have knowledge of the Skill, an ability to project your thoughts into another’s mind. Fitz grows up in the stables, then in the court itself, then finally under the tutelage of the court assassin, a position that exposes him to the broader world and the political intrigue that roils the kingdom. Wonderfully told, completely immersive. Targeted toward adults, but okay for older teens.