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Best YA Fantasy and Science Fiction of 2019

A fierce and compelling breakout debut that should not be missed.

WE RULE THE NIGHT

Flight, friendship, and feminism collide in this fantasy that draws heavy inspiration from the Soviet female bomber pilots of World War II known as the Night Witches.

In this USSR influenced world, war seems eternal. Every Union resource is dedicated to the war; women use their spark magic to power the technology that shapes living metal into war machines while men and boys die on the front. Linné, the daughter of a general who dressed as a boy to join the war, and Revna, the disabled daughter of a convicted traitor, are each angry at a world that doesn’t have a place they belong, which brings them both to an experimental women’s flight regiment. The richly textured world, painted in snow and fire, filled with disparate, diverse people who all want to win the war, is background to a powerful, slow burning story that develops Linné and Revna’s reluctant friendship, their growing understanding of the world, and their emerging identities as soldiers who may not entirely trust the country they are willing to die for. Undercurrents of religion, hypocrisy, betrayal, and honor roil beneath the alternating third-person perspectives; hints of possible romances and likely bigger battles to come seem to promise a sequel or two. Linné is bronze-skinned and Revna is pale; descriptions assume a white default.

A fierce and compelling breakout debut that should not be missed. (author’s note) (Fantasy. 13-adult)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41727-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

A fast-paced, richly detailed feminist epic.

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A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY

From the Cursebreaker series , Vol. 1

A cursed prince and a high school dropout become unlikely allies in this ambitious “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation.

Harper’s life in Washington, D.C., hasn’t been easy: Her mother is dying of cancer, and her father’s only legacy is the loan sharks her brother Jake works for to pay off his debts. Harper, who has cerebral palsy, is standing lookout for Jake when she sees a man carrying an unconscious woman. Harper intervenes—and is magically transported to Emberfall, a kingdom abandoned by its rulers and beset by both a mysterious beast and attacks from a neighboring country. She meets blond Prince Rhen, who reveals that the beast killed his family. He believes falling in love is the only way to save his kingdom, and his guard commander travels to Harper’s universe to find matches for him. Harper doesn’t buy it. Rather than acquiesce to fate, she calls Rhen’s attention to more immediate, practical actions they can take to protect his kingdom. The book follows a white default for main characters, although Jake’s boyfriend is black and Harper’s best friend in Emberfall has brown skin. Refreshingly, Harper is the undisputed hero and also not the only significant character with a disability. Avoiding disability inspiration tropes, she is a fallible, well-rounded character who fights for the vulnerable and resists being labeled as such herself despite how others perceive her. 

A fast-paced, richly detailed feminist epic.   (author's note) (Fantasy. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68119-508-7

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

Wickedly funny and thrilling in turns; perfect for readers coming-of-age online.

CATFISHING ON CATNET

Dual narrators—a cat picture–loving AI and a teen with a dangerous past—develop a friendship.

Steph’s spent her whole life constantly on the move, never in one town or school long enough to make friends, as her mother keeps them carefully hidden from Steph’s abusive father. Her realest connections are her online friends from an internet community called CatNet. CatNet is secretly run by one of those friends—username CheshireCat—a powerful AI that uses the community for cat pictures and to counter loneliness. When Steph and her friends hack her new school’s sex ed–instructing robot (to give actual, correct answers to questions instead of “You’ll have to discuss that with your parents!”), the resulting hilarity and scandal attract unintended media attention, leading to worries that Steph’s father will be able to use the story to find them. Preemptive digging into her father reveals worrying inconsistencies in what Steph thinks she knows, kicking off a tense, fast-paced thriller storyline. The believably applied near-future technology grounds the wilder plot elements. The personhood elements of the AI narrator’s story complement identity themes among the cast at large—though the new town is nearly all white (with one biracial black/white character), the characters offer positive, realistic LGBTQIA+ representation—especially nonbinary identities and characters still exploring their identities. Refreshingly, the characters also feel like generally-woke-but-still-imperfect humans.

Wickedly funny and thrilling in turns; perfect for readers coming-of-age online. (Thriller. 13-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-16508-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tor Teen

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Extraordinarily drawn characters and plot twists will keep readers’ hearts racing.

A HOUSE OF RAGE AND SORROW

From the Celestial Trilogy series , Vol. 2

Princess Esmae started a war—but will she finish it?

Esmae always dreamed of reuniting with the family who abandoned her when she was a child. She originally wanted to return her brothers to their homeland after they were usurped by their Uncle Elvar. But when her twin, Alexi, tries to kill her—and instead kills her best friend—her trust is shaken. Esmae reluctantly plots to maintain the status quo in hopes that Elvar will allow her to inherit the throne. But when she learns the truth about the duel that was meant to end her life, her sense of self is completely shattered. Driven by ambition, jealousy, and a lifetime of powerlessness, Esmae grows increasingly bloodthirsty and power hungry, abandoning her former quest for peace and her family’s love. The plot is fast-paced and full of surprises, its intricate world carefully rendered. Where it really shines, however, is in its characters, particularly Esmae, who, throughout the story, is forced to confront painful truths. Mandanna (A Spark of White Fire, 2018) is an astute observer of human nature and a master of suspense, deftly unraveling Esmae’s defenses until her complex feelings about her family turn her from peacenik to warmonger while simultaneously making her villain of a brother more sympathetic. After substantial intermarrying, race does not exist in this fantasy world.

Extraordinarily drawn characters and plot twists will keep readers’ hearts racing. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5107-3379-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

All hail this worthier-than-ever, fresh, and affirming reincarnation of the legendary king and her round table of knights...

ONCE & FUTURE

From the Once & Future series , Vol. 1

A girl with a sword and an impulse problem embarks on a perilous quest to save her family and free the galaxy from the clutches of a power-hungry corporation.

When Ari, an on-the-run refugee from planet Ketch, pulls Excalibur from a tree on Old Earth, she sets a centuries-old cycle into motion. By claiming the sword, she unknowingly attracts the enchantress Morgana and awakens the backward-aging magician Merlin, both of whom are doomed to an eternity of reliving the same story of King Arthur’s rise and fall. Honest to the core and averse to pageantry, Ari rejects her destiny as “the one true king” until she discovers her connection to the Arthur cycle may help her raise a resistance against the Mercer Company, who imprisoned her mothers and are threatening everyone Ari loves. In this intergalactic reimagining of Arthurian legend, a racially diverse queer and trans ensemble of characters leads the battle against the tyranny of capitalism. Capetta (The Brilliant Death, 2018, etc.) and McCarthy (Now a Major Motion Picture, 2018, etc.) develop complex conflicts on multiple fronts, including a passionate, whirlwind romance between Ari and her Gweneviere. The women in the story grow together through their challenges with one another and learn from their differences.

All hail this worthier-than-ever, fresh, and affirming reincarnation of the legendary king and her round table of knights which dazzles with heroic flair, humor, and suspense. (Science Fiction/Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-44927-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

Thrilling and timely.

WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE

From the We Set the Dark on Fire series , Vol. 1

Power, truth, and lies intertwine dangerously in Mejia’s debut novel about oppression and resistance with a cunning Latinx teenage heroine.

Medio, an island nation divided by a wall, is literally in between extremes: “On one side there was the might of a nation. On the other, desperation.” Clear parallels to Mexico in imagery and themes abound. Born on the wrong side of the wall without legal papers, 17-year-old brown-skinned Daniela “Dani” Vargas graduates after 5 years of diligent training at an elite finishing school to join the powerful Garcia family as their son’s Primera. In this well-constructed world, an ancient mythology forms the basis for a practice in which husbands have two wives each: Primeras are quick-witted and emotionally restrained while Segundas are brave and passionate. When Dani’s Primera training falters in the face of her ruthless, power-hungry husband, her past overwhelms her present, and she is recruited to spy for the resistance. Excerpts from the Medio School for Girls rulebook precede each chapter, a juxtaposition that effectively reveals Dani’s conflicted self-awakening. An action-packed third-person narrative, smart dialogue, and lush descriptions offer readers a fresh and steely heroine in a contemporary coming-of-age story. This well-crafted fantasy offers a mirror that reflects themes in our own difficult world, namely privilege, immigration, and individualism versus the common good. A queer subplot with sensual tenderness adds rich complexity to the story.

Thrilling and timely. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269131-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

A well-crafted, surprising, and gripping start to a new trilogy

THERE WILL COME A DARKNESS

From the Age of Darkness series , Vol. 1

“The Age of Darkness is almost upon us.”

One hundred years ago the Seven Prophets disappeared from the world, leaving one last secret prophecy predicting an Age of Darkness, the end of the Graced, the destruction of all civilization, and a Last Prophet who will know how to prevent it all. The Order of the Last Light has been lying in wait ever since for the harbingers to appear: The rise of the Deceiver (the Hierophant, a man bent on destroying the Graced) and the murders committed by the Pale Hand signal that the time has finally come. And then the Last Prophet is found. Five young people who share the narrative—a prince, a murderer, a dying sister, a warrior, and a gambler—have roles to play as the Last Prophecy unfolds and the world starts to change. This epic fantasy novel revels in rich worldbuilding, deftly plays with genre expectations, and thoughtfully examines the power dynamics between those born with abilities and those without as well as the friction between free will and prophecy. A cast of fully developed, flawed, and endearing characters whose actions are genuinely unpredictable are present and accounted for in a world full of brown and queer people in this story that continually walks the fine line between darkness and hope.

A well-crafted, surprising, and gripping start to a new trilogy . (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-21175-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

An enthralling adventure replete with spellbinding characters, a slow-burning love story, and a world worth staying lost in.

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SORCERY OF THORNS

An apprentice librarian faces a magical threat against a Great Library.

Orphaned Elisabeth Scrivener was raised in Summershall, a Great Library of the kingdom of Austermeer. She hopes to train as a warden—a battle-ready librarian, guarding against sorcery. The grimoires within Summershall are dangerous and imbued with life by the spells within them; if damaged, they become uncontrollable Maleficts. A chance encounter introduces Elisabeth to the infamous sorcerer Magister Nathaniel Thorn, who is charmingly roguish—but she doesn’t trust sorcerers. One night, Elisabeth awakens to find the library’s Director slain and a Malefict on the loose. Wielding the Director’s sword to destroy the monster, by morning she’s painted as a traitor and questioned by the Magisterium. Over time, Thorn and his demon companion, Silas, prove to be less evil than clever and confounding. As more attacks befall the Great Libraries, Elisabeth decides to seek the evil that threatens them, but it requires challenging everything she believes in a world of complicated magic where things are never as they seem. Elisabeth’s journey is fraught with hard-won self-discovery, and Thorn and his demon make for delightful counterparts. The world lives and breathes as enchantingly as the grimoires, and readers will flip pages feverishly, led by the tip of Elisabeth’s sword. All major characters are white; two minor characters are brown-skinned, and Nathaniel is bisexual.

An enthralling adventure replete with spellbinding characters, a slow-burning love story, and a world worth staying lost in. (map) (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9761-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

A richly detailed coming-of-age fantasy epic that rewards the patient and contemplative reader.

THE BEAST PLAYER

Can humans bridge the gulf that separates them from beasts? Is it love that binds all sentient life—or fear?

In this translation of the first entry in international-award–winning Japanese author Uehashi’s (Moribito, 2014, etc.) hit series, 10-year-old Elin idolizes her mother, a skilled beast doctor for Toda, fearsome battle serpents. When some Toda die mysteriously, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death. Elin escapes and finds a kind beekeeper in the mountains who raises her as his own. As she grows into adulthood, she discovers her love for all living creatures and a unique gift for communicating with the magical Royal Beasts. But the nation’s political structure is fragile. Soon Elin is thrust into deadly civil conflict and must decide whether to use her beloved animal friends as tools of war. The author creates complex societies and fantastical creatures with imaginative, immersive detail. In a refreshing change for Western readers, the central issue hinges on neither individual power nor romantic love but kindness balanced against responsibility, and the narrative jumps among the perspectives of numerous characters in a more digressive style than they may be accustomed to. It’s lovely to watch Elin blossom from a quiet, curious child into a compassionate, thoughtful young woman with a steadfast moral compass—even if that compass sometimes leads her astray.

A richly detailed coming-of-age fantasy epic that rewards the patient and contemplative reader. (Fantasy. 13-adult)

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30746-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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