Young adult fantasy fiction recommendations
I grew up devouring the Harry Potter books. I loved them so much; I had whole passages memorised and was ready to fight with anyone who so much as bad-mouthed the fandom.
However, as an adult, this childhood love of mine has conflicted with who I identify as a person. I don’t want to start a political debate, but some of J K Rowling’s tweets have been heart-breaking for me as a loyal reader. While she is a talented storyteller, I believe there are so many unexplored gems in the fantasy universe that young readers and adults alike can enjoy.
In this article, I have listed five of the most magical books you are sure to love if you enjoyed Harry Potter. Some books on this list are pretty underrated, some have queer representation, and all of them are powerful and moving enough to stay with you for long.
Read on. You might find your next favourite book among these.
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Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
What if you could bring the characters from your favourite books to life just by reading about them aloud?
We love reading fantasy, about brave characters fighting their way out of impossible situations. But, have you ever wondered what it might cost to actually become one? A simple act that might take more bravery than you would have imagined.
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke is the story of the father-daughter pair of Mo and Meggie, who are as ardent lovers of books as I am. Mo works as a book-binder, and Meggie is a full-time reader — she ready every single moment she’s not in school.
“Books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.”
Life has darker secrets in store for the duo, and things take a drastic turn when Meggie finds out the reason her mother doesn’t live with them anymore. When she realises this reason is connected with her father’s love for books and the unique talent he has of bringing the adventures on the pages to life, everything falls apart.
Why you should read it
There is something inexplicable about the way the author weaves magic into her words. I first read this book when I was in school, but even now, after all these years, leafing through its pages brings back those memories of innocence.
There are some heart-warming quotes about reading and the love for books strewn throughout the novel, but the one that struck closest to my heart is this:
“If you take a book with you on a journey,” Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, “an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it… yes, books are like flypaper — memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
A young-adult fantasy set in modern-day London, this book traces the story of young and ambitious Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice, who is slighted by his master at every instance. Belittled and under-appreciated, young Nathaniel vows revenge and starts devouring ancient magical text to bring his plans to fruition. He learns the complex ritual to summon a powerful 5000-year-old djinn, Bartimaeus of Uruk, and that is when everything comes tumbling down.
The plot is multi-layered and explores some truly dark themes. A powerful djinn bound to the whims of a human master with no free will of its own — that barely scratches the surface of the darkness this books promises.
“Freedom is an illusion. It comes with a price.”
In spite of that, what makes this book delightful are the characters. My favourite among them is Bartimaeus, the protagonist and part-narrator of the trilogy. Bart is a middle-level djinni with (in his own words) ‘more resourcefulness and guile (Not to mention mindless optimism) in his toenails than all other porridge-brained spirits together.’
Why you should read it
The best part about these books is that the story does not take place in a separate world/planet, as is the case in other fantasies. The events that happen to our djinn influence the real world as well and the consequences make the story even more fun to read. A well-thought-out plot with a sarcastic demon for a narrator — would any reader want to miss out on such awesomeness?
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The story begins as a Chronicler stumbles upon the legendary Kvothe (now Kote) who has disguised himself and taken residence at a village under a false name. The Chronicler insists that Kvothe’s story is worth recording for posterity and gets the man to talk about his life. And thus begins one of the most fast-paced and entertaining book series ever. The story traces the adventures of young Kvothe as he learns the tricks of ancient magic, makes powerful friends (and enemies) and enrols in the University that brings out the best in him.
I am sure the back blurb is enough to capture anyone’s attention —
My name is Kvothe.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
Why you should read it
A character-driven story with some fantastic twists and edge-of-the-seat action to keep you hooked. The prose flows like honey, almost resembling poetry at times. The world-building is tremendous and intricately-crafted, with a very complex system of magic that will take your breath away.
The narrative is original and delightful. I would easily recommend this to any lover of fantasy, but also to people who enjoy reading great stories told wonderfully well.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
There is magic, there is mystery, there is love, and there is the dynamic lead pair of Simon and Baz who stand out in their quirkiness and how uniquely their storylines are written. For Harry Potter fans, this book will bring in the nostalgia in waves.
The main characters are students at a school for wizards in the English countryside. The twist that makes the story even more heartwarming is that the two bitter rivals (Harry and Draco?), Simon and Baz are roommates. On, and also, they have secret crushes on each other.
Could the premise be any more delightful?
Rowell managed to infuse gay teen romance smartly and engagingly into an adventure full of magic, dragons, spells and mortal danger.
“Sharing a room with the person you want most is like sharing a room with an open fire.
He’s constantly drawing you in. And you’re constantly stepping too close. And you know it’s not good — that there is no good — that there’s absolutely nothing that can ever come of it.
But you do it anyway.
Well. Then you burn.”
Why you should read it
The author herself has commented on this connection to Harry Potter in various interviews. In an interview with Pop Sugar, she states,
“The references to Harry Potter and other stories are really intentional in this book […] I want you to feel like, oh this is familiar.”
In another interview with Vanity Fair, Rowell goes on to suggest that she knows Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy as characters because she invested in them as a fan and took joy out of referencing them through Baz and Simon.
Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker
When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix — now thirteen — won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together.
So, a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead. This book is what Felix Yz writes in his blog, documenting the last 30 days before he is to undergo the Procedure that will determine his future.
“And then for a while I’m not sure if I am inside the universe or the universe is inside me. The only thing that seems for sure is that somewhere in all the dancing around of whatever it is that dances, there’s a human-shape of me, with either everything inside of it or it is inside of everything, or somehow — don’t ask me how — both at the same time.”
The characters are amazing. Felix is unforgettable and his blog is filled with humour and generosity of spirit. The whole Yz family is quirky and broadly accepting. The most interesting character is probably Felix’s non-binary grandparent who is a woman three days a week, a man for three other days (and spends one day alone in their room, naked).
Why you should read it
This is an underrated book you won’t find easily on most fantasy recommendation lists, but I want you to read this for the delightful world-building that is both realistic and bizarre. The characters are delightful. The conversations between them are so poignant and charming, you would often find yourself wondering if Felix is actually a metaphor for something bigger, something that all of us have inside our hearts.
This is a perfect book for teenagers looking for stories about identity without all the angst.
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