I personally do not have any time for the “should adults read YA” debate. It’s a ridiculous and generally a backhanded way to slam women and girls for liking and writing certain kinds of stuff. Lots of people have made really excellent arguments for why the extremely boring claims that adults should read “adult” books are illogical, if you need to be convinced. This is not that kind of post. This is a post for those of you out there who have a sneaking suspicion that that YA is probably really fun to read, but you don’t know where to start your YA TBR pile.
This series of posts is for sci-fi and fantasy readers who are looking for fresh reads. There is a growing contingent of books in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that are simply fun, well-paced, well-written fiction with younger characters. This series of posts will recommend books that are classified as YA that I feel adults can easily get into without feeling “too old.”
To narrow things down a little I have a few criteria:
- As I mentioned before, the sci-fi and fantasy genre has some especially great YA reads that will appeal to adults, so all of these books will fall somewhere on that spectrum.
- The books are all in a series because it’s fun to have more than one book to read when you’re getting into something new.
- The books will be in series that are finished or close to being finished, so you won’t have to agonize over waiting for the next books. I have an awful habit of trying to drag you into my tortured world of waiting for new books to come out, so call this my peace offering.
Let’s get started…
Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is one of those series that goes so far out there into fantasy-land that it’s utterly original. Sure, it’s a portal fantasy, it’s urban fantasy at its best and eventually, when the human world fades away, you forget you’re not exactly reading high fantasy. Sometimes, I feel that when urban fantasies step through a portal, the story weakens; what was plausible and well-built in our “real” world somehow doesn’t quite seem as real on the other side of the portal. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone books actually spend a good deal of time in a kind of liminal narrative space with creatures from the portal world traveling to the human world and vice versa.
In the series’ eponymous first novel, Karou, our blue-haired heroine is a student at a special art school in Prague. She’s just broken up with a major jerk and her best friend is falling in love. Fairly normal stuff. Karou is the ultimate cool girl. She’s smart, artistic, mysterious, funny and would almost be a Mary Sue if it weren’t for the fact that her secret life is more complex than even she knows.
Karou isn’t the orphan child she appears to be to her close circle of human friends, she has a hidden family and they’re really not human. The closest thing Karou has to a father is Brimstone, a creature with a ram’s head and human body, with a wicked penchant for teeth. Brimstone and his crew sell wishes on the black market in the human world and Karou’s job is to be his errand girl and enforcer. That would be interesting enough, in my opinion but this story takes a big leap off the crazy deep end when a gorgeous stranger shows up and all hell breaks loose.
Karou is left questioning her family, her role in Brimstone’s world, her life in the human world and eventually who she actually is. This is the core of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series that is so appealing. Who is Karou? It’s a little spoiler to say that she’s more than a teenage girl, but it’s also what makes these books perfect for adults who are a little wary of YA.
For those that like portal fantasies, there’s a well developed story of cruelty and war going on across a rip in space-time/parallel universe. The high fantasy aspects of this book get better and better as the series wears on. The last book takes place almost fully in the alternate world, Eretz, letting the war between angels and chimera (the creatures from the “other side”) take center stage. Taylor doesn’t shy away from the realities of colonization and war. She takes on racism, slavery, torture and some of the darkest depths we’re willing to go to when we’re oppressed and oppressors. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone books do what great fantasy so often does: tells deeper truths about humanity by telling a story that’s not about humans.
I adore the way Taylor plays with the idea of monstrosity. I love the way she lets Karou’s choices get really, really big in a way that is so intimate that you literally ache for her. On the surface, this series is about a girl tasked with saving the world — two worlds, actually, but the narrative sticks so close to Karou that it often feels like it’s a much smaller story that boils down to star-crossed lovers and what you’d do for family.
Allison Carr Waechter is a writer, teacher and mother of dragons. Say hi on Twitter.