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Young adult fantasy has evolved over the years. Though it’s always been good soil for creativity and pushing the boundaries of what we consider traditional fantasy, that’s never been more true than today.
This year has seen dozens of new novels from talented authors, both new and old. The following list is a good representation of YA fantasy these days: it’s unflinchingly diverse, largely driven by women authors and strong female protagonists, and they all explore topics important to young readers today through the lens of fantasy and magic.
These YA novels are some of the best 2019 has to offer, ranging from historical fiction, retellings of popular legends, and wholly original fantasy worlds. Some are standalone, but many represent the start to exciting new YA fantasy series. As none of them are sequels or part of an ongoing series, each is a book you don’t need previous experience with to understand.
Here are some of the best YA fantasy novels of 2019.
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen
Set in a kingdom with twelve castles, each named after a different bird and representing a different caste with their own distinct abilities, Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow follows a trio of characters—Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir—as they embark on a harrowing adventure.
Fie is a 17-year-old Crow Chief, part of a clan of mercy killers who end the suffering of those dying from the plague. She meets prince Jasimir and his bodyguard, the Hawk warrior Tavin, when they fake their own deaths and she’s commissioned to burn their “corpses.”
From there, the three set off on a story of survival and adventure. Excellent world-building, interesting magic and a diverse cast of characters make this a must-read.
Crown Of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
Nicki Pau Preto’s debut fantasy novel, Crown Of Feathers, takes place in a world torn apart by war and centers around a lost order of phoenix riders, deemed rebels by the new empire.
The story centers on Veronyka, a young mage whose only dream is to become a phoenix rider herself. She sets off to find them, disguised as a boy hoping to join their ranks, but things get messy when her sister, Val, shows up.
Fantastic, lyrical prose and terrific world-building make this one of the best YA fantasy novels of 2019.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
This is the whimsical story of Alice, a young girl born into a world of bright colors without any pigment of her own.
In the world of Furthermore, the more vivid and colorful you are, the more magical. During the Surrender ceremony, 12-year-old girls show off their magical abilities and are set with a task to improve the world. Alice is given her own quest on off she goes.
A light-hearted read full of magic and color, it’s a fairy tale that’s been likened to the works of Neil Gaiman, The Never Ending Story and A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Tahereh Mafi’s novel may be a bit on the younger side of YA, but it should appeal to readers of all ages.
Sherwood by Meagan Spooner
What if Robin of Locksley died in the crusades and Maid Marian took up his mantle?
Meagan Spooner’s Sherwood is a retelling of the classic Robin Hood story with a twist: Marian becomes the outlaw hero, fighting against injustice, tyranny and pernicious social norms. When Guy of Gisborne sweeps in to take Robin’s place—and Marian’s hand in marriage—she knows she has to take action.
Expect lots of Robin Hood-style action and adventure, but also plenty of food for thought in this modern interpretation of one of our most beloved legends.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
Joan He’s debut novel spins a tale of magic and political intrigue in the fictional land of Yan (based on China).
Princess Hesina of Yan has no desire to wear a crown, but, upon her father’s assassination, finds herself ruling over a kingdom on the brink, surrounded by people she can’t trust. In Yan, the use of magic is punishable by death, but Princess Hesina nevertheless enlists the help of a soothsayer in order to find her father’s killer. She also teams up with a mysterious investigator, Akira, to help uncover the secrets of her father’s death, the future of Yan, and her own family.
If you like political fantasy filled with deception, or if you’re tired of European fantasy and have your sights set on something a little farther East, Descendant of the Crane is the perfect read.
There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool
Katy Rose Pool’s debut fantasy novel There Will Come a Darkness has a plot as great as its title, a terrific new fantasy that kicks off what promises to be a truly epic new series.
Since time immemorial, the Seven Prophets have guided humanity, aiding humankind along in relative peace and harmony. Then, suddenly, a hundred years ago the Prophets vanished, leaving one final prophecy foretelling a coming of a new Prophet who would either be the world’s salvation or the harbinger of its destruction.
We follow five characters—an exiled prince, a ruthless killer, a leader torn between love and duty, a gambler with special powers who can track down anything, and a dying girl—through a wild new adventure with rich world-building and prose that’s been liked to Guy Gavriel Kay.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
In The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi creates a richly detailed version of 1889 Paris. The Exposition Universelle is underway, filling the city’s streets with life, vibrancy—and mystery.
The story follows treasure hunter and hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie, on a quest from the secretive Order of Babel: to find an ancient artifact and his true inheritance. Accompanied by an unlikely group of adventurers, he sets off to explore the gilded city of Paris and its dark underbelly.
Part-adventure, part-heist story, part-examination of colonialism and cultural appropriation, The Gilded Wolves is brimming with creativity and history. If you enjoy steampunk, magic and puzzle-solving, give it a read.