I know there’s a lot of hemming and hawing over whether or not grown ups should read YA or if it’s good for them. To that I say, “Eh.” Frankly, I find the conversation a little boring. People should mind their own business more. That being said, instead of harkening back to my childhood for my next two February Faves posts, I want to talk about some awesome YA I’ve read recently.
I love adventure stories with lady-leads and I’m a sucker for magic. I’ve found that the YA genre seems to house a ton of great stories like this and they don’t all have a sappy love triangle at their core (though I’m a sucker for all manner of love triangle — I like a lot of stuff, ok?). These are my picks for recent YA series that focus on adventure, rather than a love story.
Here were my qualifiers for what made it in and what you’ll find in common in each series:
- Adventure is the primary focus. There might be romance involved, but that romance isn’t a crucial aspect for the adventure storyline, it’s just something that happens along the way. So for instance, I adore the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books by Laini Taylor and they are all sorts of adventurous, but a love story is central to the adventure, so they don’t qualify. Same goes for Leigh Bardugo’s excellent Grisha series.
- The lead character is a lady and she’s either got magical powers or lives in a world where they exist and are central to the story.
- It’s YA. It’s not that I don’t think there are books that fit into these qualifications in adult lit, it’s that I think they’re harder to find.
Here’s my first pick for my February Favorites: YA Adventure:
Throne of Glass, by Sarah J Maas. When I picked up the eponymous first book in this series, I liked it enough to read the next book, Crown of Midnight, which is where I think Maas’ characterization and story-building begin to meet up with her world-building. In the Throne of Glass series, much of the world has been stripped of magic, the Fae have retreated and an objectively evil dictator is busy enslaving as much of the world as possible. Maas’ main character, is the world’s best assassin, and a drop-dead gorgeous one at that. Throne of Glass sets the stage for the series, but I’ll admit, I didn’t care for Celaena Sardothien all the much until Crown of Midnight.
Here’s why: Celaena is a character that genuinely grows as a person, which means she’s kind of a jerk in the first book. If you get put off by her vanity and arrogance in Throne of Glass you’ll miss all the good stuff. In Throne of Glass and even somewhat into Crown of Midnight, she’s spoiled, arrogant, self-centered, a coward and hiding some nasty secrets. There are times when she’s genuinely unlikeable. Then at the end of Crown of Midnight and in Heir of Fire, she begins to grow and it’s honestly a really gratifying character arc because it’s so hard-won.
Plus, the supporting characters are completely amazing. Even if you never like Celaena, I promise you’re going to love Nehemia, Celaena’s best friend and Prince Dorian (I’m a little iffy on Chaol, so I’m not making you any promises). Heir of Fire introduces two of my favorite fantasy characters of all time: Manon Blackbeak, a truly terrifying witch and Rowan Whitethorn a Fae soldier-prince. One of the best things about Maas’ work is that she focuses so much on relationships. Celaena’s friendships and familial ties are just as important to the story as her romances.
The adventure itself is great stuff, full of twists and turns as Celaena unwinds the secrets of her childhood and figures out how she fits into the world. There’s never any doubt that Celaena is a kick-ass lady, but whether or not she can be brave enough to face the past is another thing altogether. Maas makes it clear that until she faces up to all she’s done as Adarlan’s Assassin and the depths of her early years that she can’t be the hero Erliea needs, so it’s a race against time.
My advice is to pick up Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight at the same time and read them like they’re one book. There’s a series of shorts called Assassin’s Blade, which flesh out just how Celaena became Adarlan’s Assassin and I think I’d recommend reading that right after Crown of Midnight. Then you can move on to Heir of Fire and I’ll let you sit by me and weep when you realize there are three more books coming in this series and you’re gonna have to wait.
Next Monday, I’ll talk about Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, another series with a bad-girl lead.
Allison Carr Waechter is a writer, a tea drinker and a secret Blackbeak witch. Rowan Whitethorn is her book-boyfriend and she’ll totally punch you if you try to get in the way of their love. If you want to bring Allison back to reality, hit her up on Twitter or check in on her website.