Coven Chat: A Gathering of Shadows

A Darker Shade final for IreneA Gathering of Shadows FinalToday is our Coven Chat about V.E. Schwab’s newest book in the Shades of Magic series, A Gathering of Shadows (AGOS). As a reminder, in Coven Chats we assume that our readers have already read the book, so if you’re avoiding spoilers, don’t read on!

If you haven’t read any of the series yet, read Allison’s rec. If you’re looking for our chat about the first book in the series, A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM), read Allison and Alyssa’s fangirl ode to Lila Bard. 

The three of us agree that the Shades of Magic books are some of the most exciting books in adult fantasy right now, so please join us in the comments for further chatting about this awesome series. Brew some tea, pull up a cat and let’s get started…

Nicola: My biggest quibble with ADSOM was that I never really felt connected to the characters; I enjoyed the plot and the worldbuilding, but I was missing that intimacy with the characters that makes me truly fall in love with a story. AGOS solves that and I felt that strong personal connection to the main characters. Unsurprisingly, Lila is my favourite character, and I loved the scenes with her on the ship, particularly the opening chapters, but I also really enjoyed Kell and Rhys’ character development and their relationship with each other and their parents.

Alyssa: Lila is still my favorite character, even though I love Kell and Rhys too. I also loved those opening chapters with Lila and her shipmates, especially Alucard.

Allison: I still love Lila most, though I thought she lost her edge a bit this time around, but I think it’s a necessary character arc. I don’t want to see her bravado keep her from having relationships with people. She felt a little lost this book — like she’s looking for purpose, and I’m guessing that’s her overall arc: finding out who and what she is and where she belongs.

Nicola: Yeah, Lila’s arc features much more heavily in this book compared to ADSOM, to the point where the first 50-odd pages are entirely from her POV. I thought this was a good narrative choice, because until the tournament gets started Lila’s story is discrete from those of Kell and Rhys, so it gave a chance for the reader to get grounded in the individual storylines rather than jumping around between the ship and Red London.

Allison: I completely agree. I love that this book felt like “Lila’s” from the beginning, which made me really happy. I also thought AGOS moved a bit slower than ADSOM, which I thought was great. I talked in my recommendation about the fact that it feels like Schwab spent a good amount of time fleshing the characters out this time around and it was completely necessary.

My only “quibble” with it was that the tournament felt a little forced. I understand how it functioned as a narrative device and I’m interested in the fact that Schwab didn’t allow Kell or Lila to win, but if there’s some kind of significance to Alucard winning, it got lost in the big ending.

Alyssa: I agree that the tournament felt a bit forced. Mainly because including a (magical) game/competition is very popular and somewhat cliche. But AGOS treats magical dueling differently. Perhaps because the multiple worlds and magicians in this series are so unique, this tournament doesn’t seem trite. I love that it introduced us to characters from the other empires, so that now we have a better understanding of the geopolitical world of Arnes/Red London. I wish we had an even better understanding of Faro and Veska.

I also found it very interesting that Lila or Kell didn’t win, and I thought that was a clever way of avoiding being cliche. And I am curious to see what happens to Alucard, as well as his complicated relationships with Rhy, Kell and Lila.

Nicola: I think my favourite part of the tournament is Lila’s involvement, not so much because I adore Lila (though I do), but because of how it plays into her character development; she didn’t even know magic existed until a few months ago, she has almost no experience, she shouldn’t even be able to do magic at all, and she’s entering into a tournament against people to whom magic comes as easily as breathing. I’m glad she didn’t win, because that would have felt incredibly contrived, but it was interesting to see her enter and compete in the first place.

Alyssa: Yes, definitely. And I love how Schwab uses Lila’s inexperience with her abilities to emphasize the importance of magical balance. Like Kell, she struggles with the darker side of magic, when it becomes dangerous and chaotic; but, unlike Kell, she’s just starting to understand her own powers. I really like that Lila discovers she’s more powerful than she could have ever imagined, but that she’s still defeated in the tournament and realizes that she has limitations.

Allison: I completely agree with everything you both have said. The tournament itself is a great way for us to understand more about the series’ system of magic and its added bonus is that we get to understand all of the new characters better, as well as the way Red London is situated in the rest of its world. The set-up is great, it just seemed a little rushed to me at the beginning and Lila’s decision to participate felt very impulsive, even for her. Don’t get me wrong, I love how it all works out!

Alyssa: Yes, although the tournament is a bit rushed and abrupt in its execution, it’s an excellent way to introduce us to Arnes’s surrounding empires and a fabulous new cast of characters. Alucard is my favorite new character, and I’m glad that we can fall in love with him first, in those opening scenes with Lila, before we find out that Kell strongly dislikes him because he broke Rhys’s heart. But Kell’s negative feelings towards Alucard didn’t lessen my love for him. Now I find the lord-turned-pirate even more intriguing.

Allison: I love Alucard. I think he’s a fantastic character and there’s nothing I love more than a sexy pirate with a heart of gold. I can’t wait to know all his secrets. Or not know them… Just more Alucard, please!!

Alyssa: Yes, please. I love the scenes with him and Lila. They are some of my favorite parts of AGOS. Even though I love Lila and Kell, I also love Lila and Alucard.

Nicola: Okay, I confess, I’m totally shipping Lila and Alucard. I’m also shipping Lila and Kell, and Rhy and Alucard, admittedly, but I think Lila and Alucard have a lot in common, even though Lila grew up in poverty and Alucard comes from wealth; they both hide behind a mask of bravado and general badassery and pretend not to feel when they do in fact feel rather deeply, and I think for them to be themselves around each other requires more courage and personal growth than with other people, because it would be so easy for them both to hide and keep up the light-hearted banter.

Allison: I’m actually shipping Lila and Lila… I’m not altogether that interested in her having a romantic attachment. For me, the best endgame scenario would be that she gets her pirate ship and Kell gets his freedom, with perhaps the hint of promise that in the future they might have a future. Of course the next book will reveal a lot.

I think there’s so much between Rhy and Alucard that seems fraught and angsty, so I like that a lot. I do love a tortured love story. I’m also sort of hoping that Holland is going to somehow be a contender for Rhy’s love. Not sure why, but I feel like those crazy kids could make things work.

Alyssa: I’m shipping Lila and Kell, Rhy and Alucard. But, as much as I’m rooting for romance, I agree with Allison that I’d rather have Lila fulfill her own dreams of adventure and freedom aboard her own pirate ship than settle into a relationship by the end of this series. I don’t think it will bother me if the series ends without the love stories being resolved at the end.

However, I do want to know more about Lila’s and Kell’s pasts. When Kell asks the queen “Who’s my mother?” is an interesting moment and a substantial hint that the queen knows about his parentage and his past. We better learn more about Kell’s past in the next book. (Lila’s past, too.) What are you hoping for next?

Nicola: Yeah, I agree with both of you that the ending I want most for Lila is for her to get her pirate ship and to be honest, even though I’m shipping her with Alucard/Kell I don’t really see her settling into a solid relationship anytime soon. She’s got other priorities.

As for the rest of the story, I’m glad that Kell’s relationship with the king and queen is finally a bit more honest in AGOS. I had hoped a little that we’d get to know a bit more about his parentage, but his moment with the queen indicated that the subject hasn’t been dropped, so I expect we’ll get to learn more in the next book.

Allison: I agree, this book put us on the right track to understanding who these characters are in the moment, but I’m looking forward to understanding why they are who they are.  

Alyssa: Me, too. And I want to understand the worlds better. MAPS, PLEASE!

Nicola: OMG yes! I got really confused by some of the geography because I assumed these were parallel worlds, not just parallel Londons, so I expected Red London to be in the southeast of an island. It isn’t.

Allison: Oh yes. I’m needing a bit of clarification on how the “Londons” fit together, as well as how they’re situated in the four separate worlds. It was a bit of a game changer to realize that they aren’t parallel universes. Really, for me, just more about the four worlds altogether. That’s one of my favorite things about this series.

Nicola: Me too. And knowing that these are four separate worlds opens up a whole new slew of questions. Are there other cities in any of these worlds that exist in yet other worlds? Or is London an anomaly? And just wh
at is the rest of the world outside Black London like? I don’t expect to get answers to all these
questions, but I admit, I’m intrigued.

Allison
: Oh yes. I think there’s so much more to know and I know I speak for all of us when I say the wait feels too long until the204432352044320716069030 next book! If you’re looking for a series you can read start to finish right now, our next Coven Chat is about a series that’s winding down: The Winner’s Trilogy, by Marie Rutkoski. See you next week, book witches!


Pirates and Magicians: V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series

A year ago, AlysA Gathering of Shadows Finalsa and I fell so in love with Victoria Schwab’s book A Darker Shade of Magic that we teamed up to discuss it with each other, rather than writing individual recommendations. Looking back, it was probably one of our first Coven Chats. This year, the second book in Schwab’s series, A Gathering of Shadows is out and Nicola will join our conversation later in the week. For now, I want to recommend the series to you (Warning: very minor spoilers for ADSOM ahead).

Schwab’s series is set in four different Londons. You could think of them as parallel universes, but that hasn’t really been explained just yet. All we know is that Black, White, Grey and Red London are all very different, with certain geographical touch points that allow someone like Kell, an unusually skilled magician, to travel between them. In our last chat about the series we described the Londons as such:

In Red London magic exists harmoniously with the mundane. Most readers will recognize Regency era Grey London, where magic has died out. White London is ruled by tyrannical siblings who savagely abuse magic. And Black London is a mystery; Schwab only lets us know that its citizens were destroyed by magic and that the doors in and out have been sealed.

In AGOS, the big difference is that we know more about all four Londons. Though Black London still remains the biggest mystery, we do get a peek inside, and a trickle of its mystery makes its way into the three most active Londons. Schwab’s worldbuilding is consistently amazing. The Londons all feel very real, which seems to me a difficult feat to achieve. They are so different, yet Schwab makes them easy to understand and imagine. Which is completely fantastic, because they are the backdrop A Darker Shade final for Irenefor some of fantasy’s best characters.

The series centers itself primarily around Lila Bard, a citizen of Grey London who ends up staying in Red London after the end of the first book and Kell an extremely talented practitioner of magic. Kell is what is known as an Antari, he can wield all elemental magic (air, fire, water and earth), as well as blood magic. This ability makes it possible for him to pass between Londons, carrying messages between the royalty there. He is the adopted son of the royal family in Red London, though he often feels used by his family for his magical abilities.

When Kell and Lila meeting in ADSOM they discover that she also seems to be able to cross between worlds. The “tell” that a magician is an Antari is that one eye is completely black, both Kell and his counterpart from White London, Holland, have this obvious physical marker. We are led to believe that there is a possibility that Lila is also an Antari, by virtue of the fact that she can travel between worlds and one of her eyes is missing.

In A Darker Shade of Magic, Kell finds himself in possession of a dark object from Black London that is leaking toxic magic between worlds. When he meets Lila, she insists on inserting herself into his adventure and their partnership begins. Though they share a kiss in ADSOM, there is not much focus on a possible romantic relationship, as Lila’s main goal in life is to have adventures. At the end of ADSOM, she leaves Kell to seek danger on the high seas and Kell returns to palace life.

Lila Bard returns in AGOS with more depth and her characteristic sass. She continues to bend gender norms, comfortably cross dress and her tongue is as sharp as ever. We do get to see a little of Lila’s softer side in this book, as her character develops. We get to see her struggle with her growing attachment to several different people, including Alucard Emery (a privateer) and her desire to sabotage those relationships to protect herself. Of course, Kell is one of those characters.

Like Lila, we get to understand more about Kell’s motivations in AGOS, though many of the mysteries set up in ADSOM about Kell’s origins and how he became a member of the royal family are still murky. Instead, we get the chance to understand Kell’s attachment to his adoptive family and the depth of his duty to Red London. Near the end, we begin to see his trust in his adoptive parents unravel as Kell is once again set upon the path to adventure between worlds.

One thing that differs a lot in AGOS from ADSOM is that the pace of the adventure slows a bit, though the pace of the writing moves quickly. There’s still a lot of action, but Schwab uses a magical contest in Red London to bring her characters together and  to slow things down a bit so we can get to know Lila, Kell and the other characters better. The other benefit to this is that we get to know more about the world Red London is apart of. In ADSOM we learned a lot about the different Londons, but not a lot about how they are situated in their own home worlds.

For me, this was a great move. I do love an adventure story, but only if I care about the characters. Kell and Lila were so engaging in the first novel that it was easy to enjoy the intense journey they were on together, especially with Schwab’s talent for worldbuilding, but to stay invested I need to know characters well enough to care, and I think that really happens in AGOS.

I recommend these books to folks who enjoy YA fantasy adventures, but are perhaps looking for something a bit more adult. The series is definitely dark in a way more characteristic to adult fantasy and the characters are a bit older. If you love pirates, gender bending, and fresh worldbuilding, I think these are for you.

Allison Carr Waechter is struck with severe seasonal allergies. Luckily she has a Kindle full of books to keep her company while her anti-histamines get to work. 

 


Liminal Space: When the Lines Between YA and Adult Get Blurry

22698568Allison: Recently, after finishing The Invasion of the Tearling, I shouted at Alyssa (via the internet) “THIS IS NOT YA!” and she gently reminded me that, no, it’s not. This launched a discussion between me, Nicola and Alyssa about the recent blurring of lines between YA and adult novels in a certain subset of the sci-fi/fantasy world. Today, we’d like to share some of that discussion with you.

What is YA, anyway?

Nicola: Part of the issue with the blurred lines between adult fantasy and YA is that it is so difficult to pin down a definition of what YA is. It generally features teenage protagonists, who usually grapple with some kind of coming-of-age theme. It’s often told in a close POV, frequently first-person. You see I’m using lots of generalisations, because YA The Shattered Courtis a very varied category, even if we just restrict ourselves to fantasy, or even fantasy set in a secondary world.

But if we look at my list of characteristics above, we see that something like Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses has more in common with much of YA fantasy than something like Lord of the Rings, which, in spite of its age, is still what many lay people think of as characteristic fantasy. Maas’ Feyre is a young woman (19), who tells the story in first-person and who discovers that the world is not as black-and-white as she imagined, with the Fae not being the utter monsters of her imagination.

Allison: I think that one of the definitions I would add to “YA” is that it’s often more quickly paced than “adult” fantasy (such as LOTR). I think that’s why ACOTAR, the Tearling books and A Darker Shade of Magic and The Shattered Court are all enjoyable for people who like the subject matter and pace of YA fantasy, but with more adult subject matter.

A Darker Shade final for Irene Alyssa: I agree with everything you’re both saying. YA in general is in a very liminal space between children’s and adult books. In the bookstore where I worked, the YA section used to be in the children’s area. Then Twilight happened. YA (ages 12 & up), now re-categorized as Teen, moved to the adult fiction area and the old YA section in the children’s area became Middle Grade (ages 8-11).

Also, the line between YA and adult is even blurrier for fantasy than for contemporary because their teen protagonists (whether 15 or 19 yrs old) are not typical teens, dealing with what we think of as typical teen issues. The conflicts in fantasy are usually more extreme and demand much greater heroics. To become a hero, teen protagonists must “grow up” and demonstrate physical an16096824d mental strength more quickly because there’s usually a greater sense of urgency and emergency. They usually face multiple life-or-death situations and must undergo a more significant self-transformation to not only stay alive but defeat their enemies. Often teens in fantasy (I’m thinking of Celaena) seem more adult than real world teens.

Nicola: That’s a good point, Alyssa, about how the teen protagonists in fantasy tend to be facing much more severe situations than the teens in contemporary novels and the teenage audience. I’d also argue that epic fantasy themes have a lot of crossover with YA themes in general. Kelsea in The Queen of the Tearling and Sophie in The Shattered Court are 19 and 21 respectively; like so many YA protagonists, they’re young women coming to terms with who they are and their place in the world.

Alyssa: Yes. And we experience that intimately and usually from a close (often first-person) POV. Like you mentioned earlier, YA is usually very personable and immediate. Adult fantasy, however, can depict main characters at more of a distance. For example, one of the reasons the Tearling books are adult rather than YA fantasy is that we as readers are distanced from Kelsea as a main POV character and we sometimes have a better grasp of the other characters’ feelings and thoughts than we do Kelsea’s. Also, YA is usually more hopeful than adult fiction–with a trajectory towards a happy ending, a “love conquers all” romance, and a positive message about self-resilience and humanity in general despite all the ways we humans have messed up and perpetuate violence.

Maas’ books, especially ACOTAR, are perfect examples of this blurry line between YA and adult. They are categorized as juvenile fiction for older readers (ages 14 & up), so they are really in that liminal space between most YA (12 & up) and adult fantasy. ACOTAR is for a more mature audience than her Throne of Glass series and has more explicit sex and violence. (See our ACOTAR discussion post where we go into more detail about these series’ differences). ACOTAR has also been considered New Adult, but that label is tricky too, especially for books that are not contemporary romance.

We also can’t ignore how sales and marketing affect how a book is categorized. Will it sell better as YA or adult? Will as many people buy it if it’s say $25 rather than $18? Will it sell better on a YA or adult fantasy/new fiction shelf? Let’s consider Maas’ books again. What later became her Throne of Glass series was not originally written as YA and these books have a lot of crossover appeal. It seems that if ToG had been published as adult fantasy instead, ACOTAR would be considered adult fantasy. But since ToG is such a popular YA series, ACOTAR is also YA.

Nicola: I’m reminded of an article Nicola Morgan wrote a while back on tips for writing for teens. In it she talks about the importance of ‘teenage interest’:

“If teenagers are interested, you can write about it. If they aren’t, you can’t. Things they are not interested in include: menopause, pensions and midlife angst.”

The flip-side to this, of course, is that teenagers are interested in a lot of the same things adults are interested in: romance, friendship, social justice, politics, magic, scientific endeavour, the list goes on.

Allison: I agree. Here’s my concern: in a book like The Invasion of the Tearling, which I know lots of teenagers will read, things like graphic marital rape aren’t (in my opinion) really “YA” topics. While it might not be something that’s such a big deal (as far as appropriateness) for a 17-19 year old to read, it’s a pretty big deal for a 14 year old. I mean, I’m 33 and I kind of freaked out about that aspect of the book because I had misclassified it as YA and really wasn’t expecting that kind of subject matter. I think that both adults and teenagers can be interested in lots of the same kinds of stuff, but when it comes to more sensitive topics like violence or even consensual sex, there’s different levels of interest and I feel like narrative elements should address the audience the book is “meant” for. That gets a little messy in the kinds of liminal books we’re discussing.

Female authors/protags in adult fantasy classed as YA

Nicola: I think, in a way, the success of women in YA has worked against us, in that I find that fantasy, a traditionally male genre that women have carved out a place for ourselves in in YA, when it’s written by and about women, even when it has explicit sex and adult protagonists, is more likely to be classed as YA than the male counterpart.

I think there’s some unconscious sexism going on here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that librarians and booksellers, who in my experience are lovely people, are part of some vast conspiracy to discredit female authors. Rather, I think that a lot of people have this unconscious association in their minds, that when they see a fantasy book cover/title and a woman’s name, the default assumption is YA, where that same assumption does not apply with male authors.

Allison: I agree. I think that the “confusion” about whether the books we’re talking about are YA or not (even when they clearly are not YA) has to do with who’s authoring the books. It’s sad that it seems like a slam to YA at the same time, because as we’ve established countless times in the past, the three of us firmly believe there’s nothing “low-quality” about YA, any more than there is in any other genre of fiction.

In the case of Victoria Schwab and Sarah J Maas’s work, both have written YA in the past, so I think it’s tempting to say “Well they write YA too and the subject matter is similar, so it’s a natural confusion!” However, I think in the case of Erika Johansen, we see that even debut authors are being lumped into this blurry category, without much thought. For me, it’s hard not to think that there’s a nasty kind of sexism at work here. It reeks of internalized misogyny.

Alyssa: So true. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful that women writers have contributed so much to YA’s success and that the majority of YA authors are women, but it also means that YA is often debased due to sexism.

Success in YA leads to similar work in adult

Allison: At the same time, I think this is a step forward for fantasy, which has been led by predominantly male authors for a long time. I don’t read YA because I identify with teenagers, I read YA mostly because I like female-led fantasy adventures, so I would love it if the success in the YA market leads to more similarly themed adult fantasy novels being published.

Nicola: Yes! In fact, YA has gotten SO MUCH better for female-led fantasy even in the past decade. I remember being annoyed when I was a teenager at the dearth of female protagonists in high fantasy books aimed at people my age. I’m sure it was being written, but it was getting lost somewhere between agent querying and my public library, where the only female-led high fantasy books I remember reading were Tamora Pierce’s. In contrast, the vast majority of the books I’ve read so far this year either have a female protagonist or joint/female protagonists. I’d love for the increased popularity of female-led YA fantasy to lead to greater recognition of the women already writing fantasy aimed at adults.

Alyssa: I agree. YA’s success has had a generally positive influence on adult fantasy–especially in terms of the rise in female protagonists. I think women and men are now more likely to read female-authored and female-led fantasy than ten, or even five, years ago.

I think this Guardian article, by Sarah Hughes, is relevant to our discussion. Even though I’m older than the Harry Potter generation, my passion for such fantasy and dystopian series as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games sparked my interest in YA after decades of reading mostly adult fiction that was rarely fantasy and often male-centric. Probably just as many adults as young adults have read Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games series. And these days more adults than youth are reading YA.

Nicola: I would consider myself part of the Harry Potter generation, but when I was growing up most of my peers, male and female, weren’t all that interested in fantasy. Harry Potter was popular, as were the Lord of the Rings movies, but most of my peers weren’t interested in fantasy beyond that.

It’s really only in the past eight years or so that the popularity of SF/F in YA has really picked up, and for today’s teens fantasy is normal in a way it wasn’t when I was their age. I think the knock-on effect of YA SF/F isn’t so much that the adults raised on it are now expecting more female-led SF/F (I was in university by the time The Hunger Games and Divergent, two of the examples given, were released) as it is that these female-led books were so popular that adult women started picking them up and expect more female-led fantasy, this time about people our own age.

Allison: I have always been a fantasy reader, though I think I’m something of an anomaly in that I never got into most of the male-authored fantasy “canon.” I was 30 when I read my first Neil Gaiman book and authors like Terry Brooks that I’m sure I’d love still elude me. I loved Madeline L’Engle, Tamora Pierce, Meredith Ann Pierce, Susan Cooper, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Monica Furlong, Mary Stewart, Patricia C Wrede, etc. I think that was largely because I was a kid who loved to play pretend and it was hard for me to get into any books that wouldn’t allow me to supplant myself as the main character at a later date.

I read The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter while I was in college, but not much else in terms of SF/F. College and grad school killed most of my desire to read for fun, so I was thrilled to return to the world as an adult reader and find it rich with new SF/F. I remember the day I got my Kindle I downloaded all of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling novels and was immediately itching for more. It wasn’t ’til I got my hands on Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches that I really understood that I’d like to read fantasy with adult protagonists that read a bit like the YA books I liked so well. I think we’re just at the beginning of an awesome trend in SF/F, which makes me really happy.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that I hope that all the success in YA fantasy (and SF) recently will lead to more well-written, female-led books for adults! Thanks for joining us today. We’ll be talking about some of these “liminal” books in the upcoming weeks when we discuss Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling series.

Until next time,

Nicola, Alyssa and Allison


Winter 2015 YA Wrap-up: January – March Books

Now that winter is officially coming to an end, it’s a perfect time to highlight my favorite Winter 2015 YA releases, along with a few titles that are still on my TBR list.

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Marissa Meyer’s Fairest is the latest book (following Cress) in The Lunar Chronicles: a science-fiction retelling of Cinderella (Cinder, 2011), Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet, 2012), Rapunzel (Cress, 2012), and Snow White (Winter, Nov 2015). The series’ overarching plot involves the main characters trying to stop the Lunar queen (who can control minds with her powerful glamour) from threatening the humans, androids, cyborgs, and Lunar refugees that live on Earth. If Prince Kai won’t marry Levana, she’ll attack Earth!

Fairest (2015) tells Levana’s story of how she became the villain we love to hate. While the other books depict her as rather one-dimensionally evil, Fairest reveals the underlying reasons for her villainy. It does not justify her evil behavior but portrays her as a surprisingly complex and sympathetic character.

Jodi Meadows’ The Orphan Queen is an engrossing YA fantasy about a tough princess, Wil, who wants desperately to take back her conquered kingdom. Nearly ten years ago, the Indigo army attacked her homeland Aecor and killed every noble adult, putting their children in an orphanage (from which Wil and her orphan “family,” called Ospreys, escaped).

The Ospreys are stealthy thieves who have been plotting for years to infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom. To spy on the Indigo Court, Wil and her best friend, Melanie, impersonate refugee nobles who have fled a fallen kingdom for the safety of Skyvale Palace. Not only must Wil hide her true identity from Crown Prince Tobiah (whom she fears might recognize her from ten years ago), but she must keep her magical abilities secret. Magic is banned from the Indigo Kingdom to prevent the toxic by-product of magic (called wraith) from spreading. Wil must also avoid another confrontation with Black Knife, a vigilante who is really good at catching magic-users (besides herself). Full of risky adventure, magic, and romance, The Orphan Queen is a great choice for fans of Graceling and Throne of Glass.

I love modern retellings of fairy tales and myths involving magic, curses, and physical transformations. Cat Hellison’s Beastkeeper is influenced by “Beauty and the Beast,” yet thirteen-year-old Sarah’s struggles to understand and cope with her family’s curse is its own unique and lyrical fairy tale.

Why did Cody’s best friend Meg kill herself? Gayle Forman’s I Was Here explores this difficult question with emotional complexity and resonance. Whether you’re a fan of If I Stay, or just want to read something profoundly heartbreaking and heartwarming (along the lines of All the Bright Places), I recommend this book.

If you have read Lauren Oliver’s previous books (Delirium, Panic, etc), then you know she’s an excellent writer who realistically portrays what it’s like to be a teen. With its surprising plot twists and turns, Vanishing Girls is an emotionally turbulent account of how sisters Dara and Nick went from being inseparable to estranged after a terrible car accident pushed them apart.

Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky, which just came out yesterday, takes place in 1849 during the California Gold Rush, but it’s not a typical American frontier myth featuring stereotypical cowboys and cowgirls. The “cowgirl” narrator, fifteen-year-old Sammy, is Chinese, and what she struggles to overcome on the American frontier is racism. When her father’s death and another horrible incident force Sammy to flee Missouri, she and a runaway slave, disguised as male, join a group of guys heading for California on the Oregon Trail. Click here to read what Stacey Lee had to say about creating Under a Painted Sky.

SEQUELS: Since you may not have read the first books in these series (The Winner’s Curse and Seraphina), I’m not going to discuss the plots of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Crime and Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale. Overall, The Winner’s Curse trilogy is about the very complicated romance between a general’s daughter and her slave that takes place in a world similar to the Roman Empire’s conquering of Greece. (Read Nicola’s recommendation here). Seraphina is also about prejudice, political struggles, complicated romance, and war, that is set in an alternative-medieval world where dragons coexist uneasily with humans.

A RECAP

Here’s a recap of what I’ve recommended for Coven Book Club already (with links to those posts): All the Bright Places, Red Queen, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, MonstrousNightbirdEchoA Darker Shade of MagicBones & All and Bone Gap.

MY TBR PILE

Here’s what’s still in my Winter 2015 TBR pile: The Mime Order (read Allison’s recommendation here), A Wicked Thing (read Nicola’s recommendation here), The Darkest Part of the ForestThe Wrong Side of RightEverything That Makes YouWhen Reason BreaksMy Heart and Other Black Holes, and The Last Time We Say Goodbye.

I’ll be back tomorrow to share with you my favorite YA books coming out this spring!

Alyssa Raymond recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult) for Coven Book Club and its newly-launched sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, Netgalley, and the publishers for sending her ARCs and DRCs for review purposes. Please follow her on Twitter.