Seventeen-year-old Zélie and companions journey to a mythic island seeking a chance to bring back magic to the land of Orïsha, in a fantasy world infused with the textures of West Africa.
Dark-skinned Zélie is a divîner—someone with latent magical abilities indicated by the distinctive white hair that sets them apart from their countrymen. She saves Princess Amari, who is on the run from her father, King Saran, after stealing the scroll that can transform divîners into magic-wielding maji, and the two flee along with Zélie’s brother. The scroll vanished 11 years ago during the king’s maji genocide, and Prince Inan, Amari’s brother, is sent in hot pursuit. When the trio learns that the impending solstice offers the only chance of restoring magic through a connection to Nana Baruku, the maternal creator deity, they race against time—and Inan—to obtain the final artifact needed for their ritual. Over the course of the book allegiances shift and characters grow, change, and confront traumas culminating in a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next installment. Well-drawn characters, an intense plot, and deft writing make this a strong story. That it is also a timely study on race, colorism, power, and injustice makes it great.
Powerful, captivating, and raw—Adeyemi is a talent to watch. Exceptional
. (Fantasy. 14-adult)
A ferocious young woman is drawn into her grandmother’s sinister fairy-tale realm in this pitch-black fantasy debut.
Once upon a time, Althea Proserpine achieved a cult celebrity with Tales from the Hinterland, a slim volume of dark, feminist fairy tales, but Alice has never met her reclusive grandmother nor visited her eponymous estate. Instead, she has spent her entire 17 years on the run from persistent bad luck, relying only on her mother, Ella. Now Althea is dead and Ella has been kidnapped, and the Hinterland seems determined to claim Alice as well. The Hinterland—and the Stories that animate it—appear as simultaneously wondrous and horrific, dreamlike and bloody, lyrical and creepy, exquisitely haunting and casually, brutally cruel. White, petite, and princess-pretty Alice is a difficult heroine to like in her stormy (and frequently profane) narration, larded with pop-culture and children’s-literature references and sprinkled with wry humor; her deceptive fragility conceals a scary toughness, icy hostility, and simmering rage. Despite her tentative friendship (and maybe more) with Ellery Finch, a wealthy biracial, brown-skinned geek for all things Althea Proserpine, any hints of romance are negligible compared to the powerful relationships among women: mothers and daughters, sisters and strangers, spinner and stories; ties of support and exploitation and love and liberation.
Not everybody lives, and certainly not “happily ever after”—but within all the grisly darkness, Alice’s fierce integrity and hard-won self-knowledge shine unquenched.
In this trilogy closer, Sefia struggles to help Archer escape his destiny, written in the Book that records Kelanna’s history, past and future. Archer has been severely traumatized by his time as a candidate, when he was shaped by the secretive Guard into a human killing machine who would lead their unstoppable army to victory in the Red War, so it’s Sefia who doggedly works to “rewrit[e] the future.” Their doomed—maybe—love story plays out: against the backdrop of the Red War, as the Alliance engineered by the Guard grows ever closer to its goal; in tandem with outlaw Capt. Reed’s quest for immortality; alongside Eduoar’s escape from his former life as Lonely King of Deliene. Chee (The Speaker, 2017, etc.) keeps all her stories in balance, adding additional characters as they all converge toward a bloody, heartbreaking end. With an assurance that equals her sorcerer protagonist’s, Chee constantly interrogates her central question: “who controls the story.” At one point hers reaches the high-fantasy equivalent of The Monster at the End of This Book (though with significantly more elegance). Kelanna has racial diversity, but it is not racialized. Race is as unremarkable and nonlimiting as gender and sexuality, with brown, trans, nonbinary, queer, and cis female characters enjoying equal access to power and capacity for violence.
In Tiny Pretty Things co-author Clayton’s solo debut, beauty comes at a price.
On their joint 16th birthday, Camellia and her five sisters are sent out to restore beauty to Orléans, where everybody is born gray and ugly. They’ve been training for this their whole lives. As Belles, the sisters can use their magic to transform the citizens of Orléans from their original states. For the right price, Belles can grant any desired look. When Camellia secures the coveted spot of Her Majesty’s favorite, it seems as if her dreams have come true. As the most powerful, sought-out Belle, she is in charge of the royal family’s looks. However, the princess is insatiable in her quest for beauty and will do anything to get it—even if it means endangering the Belles and the kingdom—and Camellia may be the only one who can stop her. Not only that, but Camellia finds herself slowly uncovering the secrets of the Belles’ origin, and it’s not as pretty as she was taught. With wonderfully descriptive language, Clayton builds a grand and lavish world, carefully chipping away at the veneer to reveal its dark, sinister interior. In a world where anyone can change their skin color as often as they can change their hair color, race is fluid. Camellia is brown, and her sisters are various shades of brown and pale.
With a refreshingly original concept, this substantial fantasy, the first in a duology, is an undeniable page-turner
. (Fantasy. 14-adult)
Exiled from the “land of fairy tales,” a melancholy youth seeks to find his way back.
In this richly textured, multilayered story, a prince named Iliån and a fairy named Oliå fall in love in the Kingdoms. Oliå renounces her magical powers to be with Iliån, but a malevolent genie banishes them with the condition Oliå never allow Iliån to see her. Arriving in Paris in 1936, Iliån remembers nothing. Sheltered by the proprietors of the Maison Pearl, Iliån’s an amiable, mysterious youth plagued by “frenzies.” A book of fairy tales unlocks his memories, triggering Iliån’s quest to return to the Kingdoms and to Oliå; he’s unaware she’s secretly with him. Enlisting in the war, Iliån is captured by the Nazis and then escapes from a German prison camp, fights in the Resistance, and continues his quest, eventually retiring in seclusion with his collection of fairy-tale “tokens of proof.” When a boy with a camera invades Iliån’s privacy, Iliån sends him away, but 25 years later, the boy, now an adult writer, becomes the teller of this tale. Alternating storylines and narrators challenge and beguile, eventually merging into a masterfully interconnected tale in which compelling themes of revenge, love, and devotion transcend both the fairy world’s fantasy and the realism of wartime Paris.
A luminous, haunting, intriguingly intricate modern fairy tale.
Hartman returns to Goredd with the tale of another young woman who breaks the rules in search of herself.
There are three Dombegh sisters: naughty Tess, perfect twin Jeanne, and famous, talented older sister Seraphina (of Seraphina, 2012, and Shadow Scale, 2015). Now 17, haunted by past mistakes, immersed in self-denial and the need to follow “proper” behavior, white Tess—who once befriended lizardlike Quigutl and secretly attended lectures—is miserable. After drunkenly punching her new brother-in-law at Jeanne’s wedding, Tess dresses as a boy and takes off. She travels across Goredd and Ninys in search of a Quigutl prophecy and her own purpose in a sometimes-episodic tale narrated in descriptive, sharply observant third-person prose. Angry, bitter Tess has reason for her feelings but is not always easy to walk with, and the slow reveal of her past makes for a compelling read on the ways in which girls—in the quasi-Renaissance Goredd and also in the real world—are taught to take blame on themselves even when others are culpable. Fortunately, the Road has answers (“walk on”), and by the end Tess has faced her past and can look forward to another volume of adventure, discovery, and changing her world.
Like Tess’ journey, surprising, rewarding, and enlightening, both a fantasy adventure and a meta discourse on consent, shame, and female empowerment.
(dramatis personae, glossary; not seen)
Falcons are the new dragons in this engrossing fantasy series opener.
In the Six Villages, the Uztari use birds of prey for hunting, fighting, and companionship. But “war is on the wing” as they say: The Kartami, nomadic religious extremists, are set on purging the Six Villages of their sins. Twins Kylee and Brysen, who have “the same elk-brown skin as their mother, the same ice-blue eyes as their father,” soon find themselves at the conflict’s center. Kylee has a “once-in-a-generation gift” for falconry, yet all she wants is to be free of it forever. All Brysen wants is to be with his boyfriend and trainer, Dymian. By selling birds at market, the twins almost earn enough to pay off their late, abusive father’s gambling debts and fulfill both their hearts’ desires. But lovelorn Brysen gets swept up in Dymian’s debts and agrees to capture the dangerous, elusive ghost eagle in order to save Dymian’s life. Kylee secretly follows. The story, told through multiple third-person perspectives, soon reveals that more than just Dymian’s life rests on the twins’ shoulders. With political intrigue, epic battle sequences, jolts of romance, and strong female and queer characters, there’s a lot to pique readers’ interests here. But it’s the unique worldbuilding and beautifully complex sibling relationship that make this a must-read.
Readers will be swept away in this book’s talons.
Sisters Blanca and Roja attempt to escape their family curse in this mashup of “Snow-White and Rose-Red” and Swan Lake.
As long as anyone in the Latinx del Cisne (“of the swans”) family can remember, there have always been two daughters: One is destined to be transformed into a swan shortly after the younger sister’s 15th birthday, while the other is left behind to live as a human. Fiery, darker-skinned, redheaded 15-year-old Roja has always believed she’s the one the swans will claim, while kind, fair-skinned, golden-haired, 17-year-old Blanca has always promised Roja they would do everything to fight the curse. Despite being considered opposites, the sisters share a seemingly unbreakable bond that’s tested when two missing local high school boys reappear in the woods near their home as a cygnet and a bear. White best friends Yearling, a boy from a rich but toxic family, and Page, a trans boy whose family are apple farmers, hide in the del Cisne home after returning to their human bodies. As love blossoms between the sisters and the best friends, they attempt to avoid a heartbreaking destiny. As with her other stories, McLemore (Wild Beauty, 2017, etc.) weaves in powerful themes of identity, family, and first love, but there are also much-needed messages about overcoming hurtful stereotypes and expectations.
McLemore’s poignant retelling is a must-read for fans of fantasy and fairy tales.