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  • Karen Frost

A Few Gems of YA Fantasy

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

I'll read almost anything. I'll read about the extra-sensory perception trials conducted at Duke University. I'll read Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl. I'll read Nathaniel Hawthorne and Homer. I'll read about Roman history or the Civil War. I even have an entire shelf full of books of languages I tried to teach myself (Welsh, anyone?). But for quiet days on the couch, I like fantasy best. Why read about the ugly, discouraging parts of humanity when you can read about dragons, fairies, and knights? If reading is escapism, why not escape to a world of magic, where good triumphs consistently over evil?

As the popular ABC showrunner Shonda Rimes pointed out, "strong female protagonist" shouldn't be a distinct trope. After all, no one calls Hercules a "strong male protagonist." Why is a strong woman something so unusual that it needs to be flagged? And yet Rimes is right in pointing out that our society has generally viewed these characters as exceptions to the rule. Historically, fantasy fiction has been deficit in strong female protagonists. Hermione Granger is a fantastic character . . . but even she plays second fiddle to Harry Potter, "The Boy who Lived." If I had to pick, my absolute favorite genre is YA fantasy with a strong female protagonist. I think there's nothing better than to have these sorts of books on shelves so that young women can have role models to inspire them. For us, by us, if you will. So to that end, here are some of my favorite books that fit into that genre:

-- Anything by Tamora Pierce. Pierce owns this genre as its undisputed queen. All her books put plucky, resourceful and strong heroines front and center. Out of all her books, my favorites are The Song of the Lioness Quartet and The Immortals Quartet. I, personally, found The Protector of the Small Quartet to be derivative of The Lioness Quartet, but the Beka Cooper books weren't bad. For anyone who hasn't dipped their toes into this genre, Pierce is the place to start.

-- Anything by Kristin Cashore. Cashore is a really exciting author who strikes me as the next generation of writer in Pierce's mold, should she stick with fantasy. Of the three books in the Graceling realm, I like "Fire" best of all, followed by "Bitterblue." The former is the first book in a long time that really caught my attention and kept me thinking about it long after I'd read it.

-- Sam Farren's three-book Dragonoak series. Farren's world and character building are top notch. They build three-dimensional characters that encounter scenarios unlike any I've seen before. Farren's works are self-published, so they're not particularly well-known, but they deserve a read.

-- Rachel Hartman's Seraphina series. A half-dragon, half-human must find the others of her kind. This is a classic fantasy book that reads smoothly and is very imaginative.

-- Patricia A. McKillip's "The Forgotten Beasts of Eld." This is one of my all time favorite books. I find it extremely clever and thought provoking.

Later, I'll post some more YA fantasy books that I like, but these are the best of the best for me!

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