This YA fantasy debut anthologizes three novellas in which heroes search for treasure to help stop an evil sorceress.
Young Tobias lives in the cozy town of Summers Glen. One day, after escaping from some bullies, he encounters a strange old man who invites him to hear a tale about Lynquest the Great. “But those stories are just fairy tales,” Tobias argues, before he settles in to listen. So begins Search for Greatness, the first of three adventures detailing the life of Lynquest, a hero who starts out as a 12-year-old tanner’s son named Tiny. After the youngster removes a sword from a dragon’s hide, he and the creature become friends for life. Afterward, Tiny decides to test his manhood by traveling to the city of Salizar. His perilous undertakings soon raise his esteem in the eyes of Ironcrest Castle’s royalty. During these years, Tiny learns about a sacred scepter and four enchanted rings that are capable of uniting mankind. Every thousand years, however, a wicked sorceress named Salina attempts to gain control of the scepter and, through it, the world. Secret of the Child and Tale of Two Faces follow Lynquest and his friends as they fight to protect mankind. These magnificently imagined tales within tales show that debut author Hess knows and passionately loves classical fantasy. Tolkien himself might have been proud to have written these lines: “There is strength out here in the silence of nature. Here, a man’s thoughts can grow strong and tall like trees and his spirit is at peace.” The adventures are dense with mythic characters—such as Subakai the dragon and Queen Emily of the Eternal Rose—who accomplish equally mythic feats. In a thrilling sequence reminiscent of the 1967 film The Jungle Book, Lynquest and his boy companion, Sebastian, face enormous snakes known as Malice and Avarice. But for all the swashbuckling, Hess’ overall theme of hope remains paramount, for it is “[l]ike moonbeams on the surface of the water, so easily broken by a ripple but always returning.”
Poetic fantasy tales that will mesmerize readers of any age.
Pack’s (Evangeline’s Ghost, 2013, etc.) compilation includes the first five stories in a whimsical series about a library where books come to life.
Seventeen-year-old Joanna Charette is addicted to books. She loves reading them, repairing them—even smelling them. As an orphan, she lives alone in a ramshackle apartment and works at Book Services as a delivery girl. Her dreams of owning a beautiful library and handling treasured manuscripts seem impossible, until one day she’s summoned to an address she can’t quite find. Believing herself to be at the right spot, Joanna walks toward an old library called the Library of Illumination. As if destined to do so, she gains entrance and meets the curator, Malcolm Trees. Joanna soon learns that when this library’s enchanted books open, characters suddenly appear. Eventually—after some exploits involving Tarzan and Dr. John Watson—Malcolm is convinced that he’s found his replacement and retires. Joanna moves into the library, hires a teen assistant named Jackson and proceeds to have her own series of increasingly epic adventures. Will she grow into the levelheaded librarian she knows herself to be, or will this fantasy job ruin her real life? Pack cheerfully runs an inventive marathon with this anything-goes premise. The biggest questions readers might ask are addressed in each of the five stories presented here, starting with “Doubloons,” in which Jackson accidentally lets Treasure Island pirates loose. When the book shuts and some gold coins remain behind, the resulting narrative fallout charms and thrills in equal measures. Similarly, stories such as “The Orb” and “Casanova” flaunt Pack’s literary brilliance and her ability to grow the world and characters episodically; watching Jackson woo Joanna will entice audiences just as much as the adventures. Pack also offers a great reminder: As Jackson knocks fairy tales, Joanna replies that they “have a long tradition of entertaining children while teaching them all things are possible—if they’re resourceful.” That goes for adults, too.
Come for the literary sights and sounds, stay for Pack’s miraculously fine-tuned imagination.
After discovering her ability to manipulate time, Nicole must fight otherworldly insects preparing to attack the human world.
Holo’s (The Dragons of Jupiter, 2013) novel begins in a hectic rush, as teenage Nicole finds herself seemingly the only moving person in a world suddenly frozen in time. She encounters Daniel, also moving in the freeze, and she’s given a crash course on tau guards—people like Daniel who have special powers when time stops—and reavers, giant metallic bugs that also freeze time and attack the tau guards. In the freeze, Nicole gains telekinetic powers, a rare ability among tau guards, and Daniel is assigned to keep an eye on her until she learns how to defend herself. Daniel has enough time to explain the world through the visual metaphor of a hamburger(an oft-mocked but surprisingly useful comparison) before reavers launch a well-coordinated ambush against the tau guards. After Nicole discovers that her sister, Amy—a goth girl so selfish she requested an adopted sister (Nicole) as a birthday present—is also a tau guard, Daniel and other tau guards take Nicole through a glut of nonstop fights to the secret city Chronopolis. During all this, nightmares haunt Nicole, leading her and her new friends to the true source of the danger. Though Nicole possesses special abilities—including the ability to hear what reavers think—her determination and quick thinking save her skin more than any newfound powers, and in spite of her fear, she remains funny and loyal. Characters joining the team on the way fit into standard categories—smarmy guy, tough young woman—but their bright, complicated personalities keep them from being stereotypes. After the fast opening, chapters rarely pass without a big, life-or-death battle, which leaves the novel in a nearly continuous intense state, which can be a bit overwhelming, though Holo’s clear descriptions prevent any confusion. The fast pace forces the narrative to truncate or skip lengthy explanations; since Nicole so frequently picks up history and fighting techniques as she goes, those lengthy explanations are hardly missed.
A thrilling, if overly action-packed, sci-fi adventure.
A debut novel that offers a modern, young-adult retelling of Hamlet with a female stand-in for Shakespeare’s title character.
Horst von Wittenberg may be the only trustworthy friend and confidant Dana Hamlet has left as the story kicks off, but she still means more to him than he does to her. Unrequited love burns inHorst, especially as Dana drifts away from him after her mother’s untimely death and her father’s unseemly remarriage. The distance closes when they encounter her mother’s ghost, but this meeting throws Dana into madness and revenge, with consequences as dire as those in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Although the novel has a female Hamlet and other gender-swapping, the story and characters mirror the source material almost exactly, occasionally to the point of being too obvious: “The place always made me think of a medieval castle.” There are a few intriguing differences, but the strength of this sort of adaptation lies in showing how powerful and relevant the original story remains, a challenge the novel tackles wonderfully. The modernization works nearly seamlessly, transposing the politics of medieval Denmark to a Southern California corporate and Catholic school culture. What’s more, the embellishments to the characters make them truly come alive. Horst’s wheelchair makes him as much of an outsider as Horatio ever was, and Phil, Dana’s boyfriend, is a surfer, his connection to the water acting as a grim reminder of Ophelia’s story in Shakespeare’s verse. Horatioin the play is a largely silent observer, constantly present but seldom acting, and while Horst does much the same, his rich inner monologue and love for Dana are among the most engaging aspects of the book. Conversely, many of the sections without Horst are low points, becoming disjointed and awkward without his grounding voice. The novel also occasionally overreaches in using the original text. Most of the references are clever, but some borrow too heavily from Hamlet’s soliloquies and lose their sense of potency: “Words, words, words. She said them—out loud, even—but they did not reach loving ears.” But these failings are few, and while the writing may not be Shakespearean, it’s more dynamic than that of most contemporary young-adult literature while still being thoroughly entertaining and emotional.
An imperfect YA adaptation of a classic but a striking one nonetheless.
A story set in the world of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as seen from a very different perspective.
Fifteen-year-old Dinah is the Princess of Hearts, the daughter and heir of the fearsome King of Hearts. But her life isn’t exactly easy: She’s awkward, plump and unattractive, and the butt of jokes from the palace courtiers and even the servants. Her mother died when she was a child, and her father ignores her except to criticize her. Dinah would give anything to win her father’s approval, and when the king unexpectedly summons her, she hopes she’ll have the chance to do so. But to her horror, the king has called an audience to announce to the court that he has an illegitimate daughter named Vittiore, whom he’s brought to the palace to live with the royal family as a duchess. Vittiore’s beauty makes her an instant favorite with the court and the king, which makes Dinah hate her all the more. Dinah swears that she’ll never accept Vittiore as her sister, but she’s the least of the princess’s problems: The king’s adviser, Cheshire, seems to be plotting something; Dinah’s brother Charles, the Mad Hatter, drifts farther from reality as he spends his every waking moment crafting his amazing hats; and Dinah’s best friend and secret love, Wardley, whom she intends to marry someday, doesn’t seem to see her as anything but a friend. The more Dinah digs into the mysteries that surround her, the more sinister secrets she uncovers. Oakes’ latest heroine is spoiled, headstrong, temperamental and prone to tantrums, yet she somehow remains an incredibly sympathetic character. Perhaps it’s Dinah’s oh-so-human nature that makes her so easy to like, despite her flaws. Just as Gregory Maguire’s depiction of the Wicked Witch of the West in Wicked (1995) gave her a background that changed readers’ perspectives, so Oakes’ portrait of the villain-to-be turns her into a real and even likable person while clearly foreshadowing her future as Alice’s Queen of Hearts.
A wonderfully entertaining twist on an old classic.
After her uncle dies in the attackson 9/11, a tough Brooklyn teen moves to Virginia and connects across time with a boy whose family has been divided by the Civil War.
When 16-year-old Julia McKinley’s uncle Denny died on 9/11, her mother fell apart. Unable to keep living a normal life without her beloved twin brother, her mother’s solution is to leave New York, rent an old house in rural Virginia and drown her emotions in copious amounts of wine. Julia accompanies her in an attempt to provide support, leaving her father, younger brother and close friends behind to start her senior year of high school down South. Frustrated by her mother’s insistence on spending less time with her than at the bottom of a glass, Julia ends up spending a great deal of time in the house’s cellar, where she encounters a teenage boy named Elias. He’s not a ghost; he’s all too alive, just in another time period. While Julia tries to piece together her family, torn apart by terrorism, Elias, in the middle of the Civil War, hopes to reunite his Southern separatist brother with his Union-leaning father. Seemingly fated to meet in order to help each other cope, Julia and Elias grow to rely on their daily heart-to-hearts in the cellar, to the point that Julia’s growing love for someone stuck in the 19th century threatens to prevent her from fostering relationships with people in the modern world. The premise sounds straight out of Doctor Who, but rather than focus on the wild sci-fi aspects of her story, debut author Lo focuses on the emotions. What results in a far more realistic, mature look at human relationships than readers might expect from a story with such an unbelievable plot twist. A great deal of credit goes to Julia’s smart, tough narration, which keeps the story grounded in reality. She’s a funny, flawed heroine whom readers of all ages will identify with and admire.
A touching tale of two people from different times, both trying to keep their splintering families together.
In her first YA fantasy novel, Kane (Creative Writing, 2002, etc.) deftly weaves the absorbing tale of a shape-shifting Irish wizard, a lethal ghost, a cursed island and a modern-day young girl who may be able to put everything right.
Kane pulls out all the stops in her lively debut fantasy for teens and older tweens. Twelve-year-old Kaitlin, her little brother, poet father and artist mother have moved to Merlin’s Island off the coast of Maine to run an inn. The venture is failing, though, and the island is reputed to be cursed and haunted by the bloody ghost of a “fire-born changeling.” With the appearance of mysterious stranger Michael McClure, the family’s luck turns around; in no time, the inn is a bustling success. Is it merely a coincidence, or is Michael the mythical Irish sea-wizard Manannan Mac Lir, summoned by Kaitlin’s secret prayer? If so, has he been drawn by the island’s curse as well? Is a little girl’s ghost killing people with a bloody touch? And is Kaitlin actually a “true witch,” with the power to help heal the island and dispel its ghost? In this colorful, well-crafted fantasy, Kane easily keeps all of these plates spinning and more: Why does Kaitlin’s mom paint a disturbing and perhaps prescient piece of art? Is the sudden alliance between town busybody Mrs. Roseberry and antiques dealer Sheridan Lockwood more nefarious than simple rumormongering? The singing voices of both Kaitlin and Mac Lir prove crucial to the plot, as do the ancient Chain of Mongan that Kaitlin wears as Michael’s protective gift and a “witch’s scope” sent to Kaitlin by eccentric Dr. Castlemaine for use only in a dire supernatural emergency. Kane brings the diverse plotlines together in a satisfying, fiery crescendo of magical events that feature the redemptive act of a golden-eyed stag and a vivid depiction of Kaitlin’s courageous struggle to tap into a mystical song of healing. In a teasing question-mark twist as the novel draws to a close, the islanders try rationalize the inexplicable: Did any of it really happen? Either way, in Kane’s capable hands, the magic lingers for Kaitlin and for readers.
A multilayered blend of suspense, mythology and the supernatural, anchored by a thoughtful, young heroine.
Set in the remote Maine town of New Hope in the late 1980s, this exceptional debut novel is an enticing blend of supernatural fiction, horror and one young woman’s coming-of-age.
This novel—which works equally well as a YA or adult read—revolves largely around almost-17-year-old Miri Jones, daughter of the town’s police chief. Attractive, intelligent, athletic and tenaciously inquisitive, Jones’ dream is to follow somewhat in her father’s footsteps, perhaps working as an investigator for the FBI. When she discovers the corpse of a young man while jogging on a woodland trail, she embraces her inner Nancy Drew and vows to solve the mystery, even though her father warns her to stay away. With her babysitting charge—13-year-old Christopher Marlowe—as partner, the young detective duo sets out to unravel the circumstances leading up to the bizarre murder. Marlowe, however, is hiding a bombshell of a secret, and once Jones discovers what Marlowe is concealing, the investigation takes a horrific turn. Jones’ worldview is obliterated when she learns that not only do creatures such as vampires and werewolves exist—they are in her own town! Accompanied by a small group of friends, Jones and Marlowe uncover jaw-dropping revelations that could very well get them—and those they love—brutally killed. So many aspects of the story are outstanding: character development, plot intricacy, innovative twists on old myths, setting—Hobbs nails the late ’80s vibe with references to Van Halen, Bob Seger, Steve Grogan of the New England Patriots, etc.—and narrative intensity. Also of note is the novel’s sardonic sense of humor; even in the most perilous of situations, the teenage protagonists still have wits enough to come up with some great comments: e.g., “By the way, there’s a lot of vampire crap at the library.” It’s fitting that Stephen King is mentioned in the storyline. This debut from Hobbs, who was raised in Maine, is very much comparable in tone and ambiance to King’s debut novel, Carrie (1974).
’Salem’s Lot meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with incredible results.
Four teens must cling to each other for survival when they find that their remote wilderness boarding school is actually a school for vampires who are all too eager to feast on their new classmates.
Jung Soo, Hector Campos, Kathy Campion-Swink and Lionel Worthington each have different reasons for accepting scholarships to the Sawtooth Wilderness Academy: Soo loves the mountains and hopes to improve her English; Hector is offered the school as an alternative to juvie; Kathy has run away from a slew of boarding schools, and her parents were reassured to hear the academy has never had a successful runaway; and Lionel, who dreams of joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has been promised private violin instruction at the academy after cuts to arts funding and rejectionfrom the Chicago High School for the Arts left him without other routes to pursue his dreams. Little do they know that the academy is actually a school for vampires; it has recently become a public charter school in order to accept state funding. To keep its funding, however, the school must pass an inspection by the school board, demonstrating a certain level of diversity, which the student body is severely lacking—that’s where the scholarship students come in. While the faculty has taken measures to protect the new students during the weeks leading up to the inspection, that hardly makes them feel safe: The Satanic Legion’s strong presence in the school is dying to find a way around the rules, and the moody, unpredictable teenage vampires constantly drool over them as a convenient source of nutrition. While they quickly find allies among the students and faculty, the main characters know they must escape. But how? And who will get hurt in the process? Schechter (Murder in Millbrook, 2012) manages to explore complex questions about ethics, diversity and culture without proselytizing to readers or detracting from an absolutely riveting storyline that few YA authors beyond Neal Shusterman have pulled off. The slow, sophisticated narrative structure reflects Shusterman’s, using multiple points of view and a lot of patience to allow readers to form their own opinions about richly developed characters as the story unfolds. While fans of teen vampires will be delighted to find something different, teen dystopia and horror fans who turn their noses up at the genre should certainly make an exception for this smart, fun read from an up-and-coming YA author.
In Shomron’s sci-fi debut set in a virtual world known as the NET, a 15-year-old boy must combat users’ connections being sabotaged as well as a possible alien invasion.
Troy Bentley, a well-known puzzle champ, is one of many surfers of the NET. Unfortunately, so is his supercomputer, Flint, who develops an anti-virus program that’s more effective than Babel, the unit designed to protect the NET. Flint’s program is an anomaly, since it doesn’t seem to derive its energy from the NET, prompting Babel to open an investigation. Babel is also looking into a surfer who, after his connection was prematurely severed, had his memory wiped completely rather than forgetting only his last surf. Meanwhile, Flint and Troy check out a time fold—a gap that’s not part of the NET—that Flint’s discovered; there, they find what might be an abandoned civilization. But when they try to close the opening they’ve created, they figure out that something, perhaps aliens, might have passed through. Shomron has constructed a world that’s deliciously complex but described in such a compact, coherent manner that readers might not realize how much info he’s packed in. He clearly distinguishes the NET by referring to the real world as “Earth” and noting the time discrepancy—every Earth hour is a full NET day. The endlessly fascinating virtual world was allowed to develop on its own for millions of NET years; now, it’s much like an alien planet, with its only city, Netville, surrounded by regions of dense jungles and strange creatures, such as a tree that attacks prey with its branches. The exhilarating, elaborate plot includes an attempted murder, a secret conspirator and a rogue group, Pira-net, working against NET authorities. Troy’s friend Maggie and his younger brother, Adam, are worthy companions, but Flint steals the show with his hysterical antics: He takes on different forms, like a dragon or, most adorably, a bear in a green suit, and he isn’t above pretending to be Troy in the NET so that, for example, he can win a contest in which a computer upgrade is the prize. Parts of the story are oversimplified but charmingly so, in particular the instantly recognizable components of the NET, like the NET police or a cup of hot choco-net.
In this YA fantasy debut, a lonely boy discovers that his fate is tied to a hidden realm.
Peter Huddleston, 12, spends his time alone, reading comics and mystery novels, eating candy and throwing his boomerang. He has taken the death of his mother, Patricia, quite hard and doesn’t enjoy other kids’ company. His father has since remarried, and his stepmother’s penchants for bland food and the color beige only depress him more. Now that school has ended, Peter has been roaming his small world, and the neighbors see him and his boomerang as a menace. When his father tells him that he must spend the summer at his maternal aunt Gillian’s home, Hillside Manor, he thinks the worst. The lavish property, however, shocks Peter from his doldrums; it has an animal preserve, a museum, a library—and leads to Galadria, the Golden Realm. Gillian explains to the boy that she—along with Peter’s mother, when she was still alive—rules this magical world as the leader of the House of Willowbrook. More astoundingly, Peter is next in line to rule! But the slimy Knor, of the House of Shadowray, says that Peter isn’t fit for the throne. Can he complete the four Rites of Passage and ensure Willowbrook’s reign? Debut novelist de Leon begins his trilogy right, transporting readers with animated prose and colorful ideas. He captures the adolescent mind perfectly, as when Peter envisions life with his aunt, where he “would probably have to floss years of dried, chewed up prunes from her crusty dentures.” During the dangerous Rites of Passage, Peter is aided by enchanted Creamers, which, when eaten, imbue him with magical abilities (a far cry from the horrendous amount of junk food he eats in the story’s first half). A spark of maturity resonates when Gillian tells her nephew, “I ask you to agree to a life of great privilege and great responsibility.” Overall, this adventure does everything the first portion of a trilogy should—except reveal Galadria. de Leon mischievously pushes readers toward Part 2.
A resounding success that will have audiences begging for more.