Adult readers may be put off by the “young adult” label placed on some books. That’s too bad, because genre labels are just marketing tools. While labels can be helpful, they can also be obstacles standing between you and your next great read. Start breaking down reading barriers with this roundup of worthwhile science fiction and fantasy books—all featuring young characters—that should be on your radar no matter how old you are.

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender (Orbit)

Set in a richly detailed Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression, this first book in the Islands of Blood and Storm series is a story of vengeance—specifically, a young woman’s revenge against the royals who murdered her family. Sigourney Rose is far from being powerless against her colonial oppressors, however. She possesses the ability to read and control minds, a power she uses to manipulate her way onto the royal island and into the ranks of the ruling colonizers. That also makes her a target for whoever is killing off the ruling families to clear a path to the throne.

 

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A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff (Tor, Jan. 21)

For readers craving a series binge-read, check out Kozloff’s epic fantasy series The Nine Realms. It consists of four books (A Queen in Hiding, The Queen of Raiders, A Broken Queen, and The Cerulean Queen) released in four consecutive months, beginning in late January. This cinematic series depicts a young ruler, “princella” Cerúlia of Weirandale, who is exiled and fighting for a return to the throne that is her birthright. In A Queen in Hiding, as Cerúlia is learning to master her mighty magic, she assembles an improbable group of rebels to accompany her on her journey. To help win the fight against the corrupt aristocracy now in control, she must win the favor of the spirits who play in the affairs of mortals.

Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse (Tor Teen, Jan. 14)

Imagine you are living in a postapocalyptic dystopia and someone tells you that what you are experiencing isn’t real, but is instead a hyperrealistic simulation. Would you believe it? That’s the challenge facing Lake, a 17-year-old who knows the truth about the world: She and everyone she meets are living within a simulated reality aboard a spaceship that’s been orbiting the Earth since a disastrous nuclear event. The simulation is meant to prepare them for their new life, but there’s a catch: They can’t leave the ship until the simulation ends, and that won’t happen until they are convinced their world isn’t real. Time is running out for everyone on the ship. The simulation is starting to fail, so Lake and fellow passenger Taren are at odds as they determine the best way to escape. Do they save everyone by warning them or sacrifice their lives for the greater good?

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford (Scribner, Jan. 21)

Ada and her father are not quite human, but they do possess the remarkable ability to heal illness in others by “cracking open their damaged bodies” or temporarily burying them in a mystical reviving ground. They live in the woods just outside a village where the sick, known as “Cures,” come to them for help. Although they help the Cures, Ada and her father don’t really care about them. Then Ada falls for a local Cure named Samson. Their forbidden relationship is scorned by Ada’s father and Samson’s widowed, pregnant sister. Now, Ada must choose between her old way of life and a new one—a decision that will forever change the town and the healing ground.

Body Tourists by Jane Rogers (Sceptre)

In a near-future London, a process has been developed that allows the minds of the recently deceased to be digitally preserved and placed into a living person. This expensive process is mostly used by older rich people while the hosts are predominantly young, poor teenagers who give up the use of their bodies for two weeks at a time in exchange for cash. It sounds like a great way for people to see the future, or visit grandchildren they haven’t met yet, but like most things, there is a cost. Body Tourists examines the way in which this technology affects the lives of those who come back and those who give themselves over to the minds of the dead.

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski (47North, Jan. 28)

Sosnowski takes on artificial intelligence and social media in this satire about Pandora Lynch, a self-taught hacker who lives in Alaska with her father, an online therapist for a tech company in Silicon Valley. Her father’s company has just hired George Jedson, a hacker who broke into their computer system. When Pandora and George meet in an online forum, they decide to create Buzz, an artificial intelligence that is about to become more than either of them could have imagined.

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White (Delacorte)

This modern reimagining of the Arthurian legend, the first book in the Camelot Rising trilogy, offers readers a fresh take on the popular myth. Here, as the forces of magic claw at Camelot’s borders trying to reclaim the land, the great wizard Merlin comes up with a plan to keep King Arthur safe: Send Princess Guinevere to Camelot to wed the king. But Guinevere has a secret. She is a changeling who is hiding her true identity. Guinevere must navigate a court where the new guard and the old guard, including Arthur’s own family, fight for a better way of life.

Science Fiction/Fantasy correspondent John DeNardo is the founding editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning blog. Follow him on Twitter @sfsignal.