Twelve Young Adult Fantasy Novels to Read as an Adult

Young Adult Fantasy Novels to Read as an Adult — Write Right

Some books fail to transcend the young adult fantasy genre. Others differ. Because of that — or maybe because I simply desire a good story, language, and imagery — I try to not to pay too much attention to whether I’m reading “young adult” or “adult” novels.

I like how Neil Gaiman puts it in his book The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction. To him, genre gives people “places not to look.” He says it creates “a set of assumptions, a loose contract between the creator and the audience.” He adds:

If the plot is a machine that allows you to get from set piece to set piece, and the set pieces are that thing without which the reader or the viewer would feel cheated, then, whatever it is, it’s genre.

Gaiman then contrasts genre with story.

When every event is part of the plot, if the whole thing is important, if there aren’t any scenes that exist to allow you to take your audience to the next moment that the reader or the viewer feels is the thing that he or she has paid for, then it’s a story, and the genre is irrelevant.

I think story is what I pursue when combing the shelves at the library. I may circle the fantasy and science fiction sections frequently, in either the young adult or adult areas, but only because I find some — not all! — of the best stories there. A few of my top picks, twelve to be exact, follow below.

1. The Rithmatist

Brandon Sanderson

While The Rithmatist employs a common-enough conceit — the coming of age story — it presents it through the lens of a sympathetic hero. The magic bears some similarities to that found in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, but it’s translated into mathematical drawings and beings known as “chalklings.”

2. The Archived

V.E. Schwab

Anything by V.E. Schwab delights, making a single book hard to choose. The Archived is part of a growing series, and it follows protagonist Mackenzie Bishop as she learns how to manage the Archive, a sort of library, and the dead (or not-so-dead) that escape it.

3. Strange the Dreamer

Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor achieved some notice with her Karou series, and Strange the Dreamer builds upon that foundation. Her books always feature otherworldly, yet relatable characters. Lazlo Strange — the dreamer — is no exception. The book is part of a duology, but the conclusion isn’t available yet.

4. Vassa in the Night

Sarah Porter

Sarah Porter possesses a gift for retelling fairytales. Vassa in the Night recasts a Russian folktale about Baba Yaga, perhaps the worst witch ever, and Vasilisa, the girl who beats her. Porter’s Lost Voices trilogy, which concerns mermaids, is an intriguing read, too.

5. Flamecaster

Cinda Williams Chima

Chima claims a talent for creating rich characters. Her newest series, Shattered Realms, depicts the generation following the one found in the Seven Realms series. Readers can start Flamecaster without reading the preceding series, although the previous books are worth as much of a read as the new Shattered Realms.

6. Six of Crows

Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows, part of a duology, continues the world started in the The Grisha Trilogy. The two books focus on six characters, almost all of them street-bred and street-smart, brought together to “steal” a scientist only to discover a much larger threat in need of foiling. Bardugo’s books blend fantasy and science fiction.

7. The Naming

Alison Croggon

Croggon’s The Naming begins the Pellinor series. Reasons to read the books: exquisite scenery in the vein of Tolkien, a quest akin to Terry Brooks’ early Shannara novels, and a strong female lead. A moody Bard, recalling Brooks’ Allanon, also features in the fantasy novels.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis

Lewis’ work inspired at least one author on this list, Gaiman, to become a writer. Most people know The Chronicles of Narnia for Aslan, Tumnus, the children, and the wardrobe.

9. The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit follows Bilbo’s story, explaining where and how he found the ring that sets the world of Lord of the Rings in motion. According to common lore, Tolkien created the story with his sons in mind.

10. Pathfinder

Orson Scott Card

Technically, Pathfinder falls under the science fiction umbrella. It’s the first book of a trilogy by the same name, and it will probably feel like a recasting of Ender’s Game. It’s still a fun read, particularly for the reader who enjoys Card’s writing and figuring out how time travel works..

11. The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book retells Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book via Gaiman’s inimitable panache. The book features ghosts, witches, and other odd characters.

12. The Wee Free Men

Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men hail from Pratchett’s Discworld universe, albeit translated through the perspective of young Tiffany Aching. Basically, the wee free men are miniature Gaelic warriors with a love for fighting, thieving, and drinking. The book also features a talking toad that used to be a human lawyer before a contract went sideways.

What young adult fantasy or science fiction novels are your favorites? Share them in the comments.

Image: Jan Kraus (Creative Commons)