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Three Great YA Fantasy Books You May Have Missed

For me, the best thing about a fantasy story isn’t the magic or the unknown world, though I do enjoy both of these details. For me, the best thing is the quest, the dangerous adventures and journeys of self-discovery that the main characters undertake. And that’s what’s at the heart of these three books and what makes them special. They each feature a journey so perilous and encompassing that the main characters are changed forever after.

Finnikin of the Rock by Marlina Marchetta

Marchetta is well-known for her realistic YA novels like On the Jellicoe Road. Finnikin is her first fantasy novel, and it lives up to her high reputation. The story is about young Finnikin who at the age of nine witnesses the destruction of his homeland, Lumatere. During what becomes known as the five days of the Unspeakable, an imposter seizes Lumatere’s throne and Finnikin’s best friend and heir to the throne, Balthazar, disappears without a trace. Afterwards, a terrible curse prevents those who fled the destruction, like Finnikin, from reentering their country, and they are left to roam the land as exiles forever separated from those left inside the curse’s boundaries.

Ten years later, Finnikin has given up on ever returning to Lumatere when he is summoned in a dream to meet an intriguing young woman, Evanjalin, with a startling claim: prince Balthazar is alive. She promises to lead Finnikin and his mentor to the prince, but Evanjalin is not what she seems and instead her path leads them, perilously, closer to home. The knowledge that only Evanjalin holds will test Finnikin’s faith in her and in all he knows to be true about himself, his past, and his future.

As always, Marchetta delivers complex, three dimensional characters whose personalities and choices will live with you long after you finish the last page. The relationships between her characters, especially between Finnikin and Evanjalin, are complicated and fraught with emotion. This paired with the suspense and danger of Finnikin’s journey make this story captivating and irresistible.

This is a great book for both guys and girls because while its main point of view is that of Finnikin, Evanjalin is also such a presence in the story. (And I have to admit that she is by far my favorite character. She’s strong and courageous, can wield a sword and fight like an alley cat.  She’s the driving force behind Finnikin’s quest and is not afraid of making the hard choice, as long as it’s the right one.) I’d definitely recommend this book for grades 8 and up since Finnikin is 19 during most of the story and since it deals with some complex political and social themes.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

On her first birthday, Princess Elisa is chosen by her god to bear the Godstone. In a ray of brilliant sunlight, the stone – a large, sparkling gem – appears in her navel, marking Elisa for a great destiny. 15 years later, Elisa feels the Godstone as a living presence, pulsing heat whenever she prays and turning icy in warning of danger. Yet she doesn’t feel destined for greatness. In fact, as the shy, overweight, younger of two princesses, Elisa feels as if she has never done anything remarkable, unlike her beautiful and accomplished older sister. And she doesn’t see how she ever will. That’s why she’s shocked to find herself, on her 16th birthday, marrying the handsome king of a neighboring kingdom. What could he possibly want with her? And how is she ever going to be a good queen?

But the king is not the only one who wants to claim the chosen one and her Godstone as his own. Savage enemies from the north with a mysterious dark magic are hunting her and threatening to overrun her new home. At the same time a daring revolutionary with his own agenda thinks she could be the savior his people need. And he looks at her in a way no man ever has before, certainly not the stranger she has for a husband. Elisa could be everything these people, her new citizens, need. The Godstone is her proof. But can she find the strength within herself to become the chosen one? Or will she die young, as most of the chosen do?

This story is so exciting because everything about it is unique. The system of magic, with the Godstone at the center, is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in fantasy before. And it’s refreshing to read a fantasy that departs from the traditional fantasy setting and characters of medieval England. Elisa and her people are dark-skinned and from a hot, desert land while their enemies are the light-skinned, barbaric people from the cold north. And I love the way that Carson deals with faith, making religion a central part of her system of magic, without getting at all didactic or banging you over the head with it. Above all, I love Elisa and her struggle to prove that she is worthy of the Godstone’s power.

I’d highly recommend this book for fans of the girls-with-sword fantasy sub-genre, especially fans of Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.

Farwalker’s Quest by Joni Sensel

Three days before their Namingfest, the day when they officially become adults, best friends Ariel and Zeke discover a mysterious object out in the middle of the forest. Something ancient. Something dangerous. It’s a telling dart, a magical object that was originally meant to act as a messenger, traveling great distances and only revealing its message to the intended recipient. But telling darts, like most other magical objects, haven’t been used for years, ever since the Blind Wars, and knowledge about them has been lost to the world. Yet soon after Ariel and Zeke find the dart, two mysterious men show up in Ariel and Zeke’s village. They know the dart arrived, and they’re looking for whoever it was meant for. Soon, Ariel and Zeke are forced into an adventure that will change both their lives forever.

Farwalker’s Quest follows the arc of the classic fantasy quest and is comforting as only classic fantasy can be. While the fast paced adventure keeps you moving along at a good clip, it’s the relationships between the characters that you will remember. Zeke and Ariel support and encourage each other throughout their perilous journey as only best friends can.

While the main characters are only 13 years old, I think this story could be enjoyed by younger and older teens alike. It is fantasy after all, so Ariel and Zeke do act a bit older than what we would think of as 13 – they’ve just become official adults after all! – and their difficult quest ages them both, in spirit and in appearance. That coupled with the fact that many of the obstacles they face are surprisingly, though satisfyingly, dark and dangerous would make this book a good choice for readers of any age. It’s recommend this book for fans of The City of Ember and The Edge Chronicles.

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