I was starting to believe the saying that “print is dead” until I took a visit to the YA section of my local bookstore. So. Many. Books. A little research revealed that the YA genre is more popular than ever. I have never been so happy to be wrong, and 20 books or so later, I am ready to give some recommendations. First and foremost, though, let’s get into the nitty gritty of modern trends and influences in the YA Fantasy genre.

The Modern Young Adult (Novel)

YA Fantasy has changed a lot since the days of Harry Potter and Eragon. Popular titles like The Name of the Wind and The Summoner series have brought pure inventive genius to the world of Fantasy. The most noticeable change, however, is how dark some YA Fiction has become. Dystopian novels are a dime a dozen in the YA section, and they’re breeding quickly.

The Age Of Dystopia

The past decade has seen a tide of dystopian novels. It is hard to say when the trend started, but it gained steam with the rise of The Hunger Games. Divergent followed hot on Mockingjay‘s heels, and Red Rising is the hottest dystopia on the shelves lately. At least one dystopian novel has made a splash nearly every year for the past decade. It seems that millennials are fascinated by the possibility of a not-so-distant bleak future.

Maybe it is because millennials love realism. Maybe we love the idea of sparking a revolution to overthrow unjust authoritarian entities that make our lives difficult. Either way, there is a pervasive sense of helplessness that main characters of dystopian novels always seem to experience. They have been battered and bruised, but not quite broken, by some mercenary authority. That’s something this generation empathizes with.

Empathy has a powerful influence on pop culture. The mood of a generation is, more often than not, reflected in the music and literature that they produce. The pop culture of any given generation has two major influences — the generation itself, and relevant historical works of culture.

Dystopian Influences

Millennials are not the only ones who have had a grim fascination with dystopian futures. 1984 and Brave New World have influenced all of today’s dystopian novels with a heavy hand. The most persistent theme from Brave New World is the contrast between a poor working class and a decadent “1%” that enjoys the fruits of everyone else’s labor. 1984 introduced the ever watchful eye of Big Brother, which is clearly apparent in the Capital’s robotic animals that watch over the Districts in The Hunger Games. Unlike the classics, modern YA dystopian novels have one unique, common trope: revolution.

In spite of their bleak stories, the heroes of today’s dystopian fiction end up better off than when they started. More importantly, the world is a better place when the story ends than it was when the tale began. Even the darker genre of today’s YA fiction holds an irrepressible element of hope. This generation honestly believes in a brighter future for the world. It shows in the stories that we read and the stories that we write. Personally, I am a fan of that bright side. It is why I love adventurous fantasies so much.

A Fantastic Adventure

In all of history, there have never been so many ways to run away from Earth. Since interstellar travel has not been invented yet, I settle for books. Books, unlike spaceflight, are more accessible than ever (and a lot cheaper). E-readers and digital libraries are quite literally bringing millions of books to our fingertips. These days, there is no excuse for not taking a trip to Hogwarts…or someplace even better.

READ: Harry Potter has touched all of our lives, some more than others.

Fantasy has come a long way from Harry Potter and Eragon. Well, maybe not Eragon. Eragon is about as classic as fantasy gets, even if it was cliche. The point is, authors are crafting some creative fantasy worlds these days. Hogwarts may have met its match in Rothfuss’s University for the Arcanum. Alagaësia is tame compared to Funke’s Mirrorworld, where fairy tales are dangerously real, and magical solutions are never too hard to find. That is, if you are willing to take the risk — or pay the price.

Characters to Believe In

Magic is an amazing part of fantasy novels, but it is not my personal favorite. For me, the best part of YA Fantasy novels is the characters. YA Fantasies feature characters who embody the best that humans can be. The heroes of YA Fantasy novels are brave, stand up for what they believe in, and do not let failures defeat them. They may not be the most realistic of characters, but they make darn good role models. The world desperately needs more of those.

At the end of the day, a good YA Fantasy novel whisks the reader away to another world. It leaves them cheering for the good guys, and maybe even inspires them to try a little harder in their life to be a hero. Dystopian novels have their place, but I think fantasy novels are the ones with the real potential to change people’s hearts for the better. Now, without further ado, here are five YA Fantasy series you need to read this summer.

READ: Some books will forever be nostalgic. Others turned out to be sexist on the second read.

Top 5 YA Fantasy Novels To Read This Summer

5. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (Rebel of the Sands Trilogy)

Rebel of the Sands is a gunslinging western novel that has been tastefully blended with a Middle Eastern mythos. The main character, Amani, is a girl who has lived her life in a town of gunpowder and lead. Her uncle and caretaker plans to marry her off to the richest suitor who passes through, or marry her himself if a suitable candidate does not show up soon. Amani has other plans. With a dead eye and an itchy trigger finger, she disguises herself as a boy and signs up for a cutthroat shooting competition. It’s the perfect plan, until a dangerous bright-eyed man storms into her life.

Rebel of the Sands YA Fantasy
Arabian Nights meets Clint Eastwood.

Arabian mythology paints an exotic setting for a fantasy novel. The magic of the Middle East is a relatively unexplored genre in modern fantasy, making it exciting to dive into. I’ve been bored to death seeing Sphinxes and Cyclops in every other story, so reading about Buraq and Rocs was an exotic treat. But Hamilton does not just rely on Arabian mythology to keep the story interesting.

On top of the myths and magic is an action-packed Western plot complete with gunslinging and train robberies. She’s obviously a new author, which shows in a few awkwardly written scenes. Luckily, it is not jarring enough to take away the book’s charm. Rebel of the Sands is a refreshing perspective on Middle Eastern culture that will leave you parched for more.

4. The Novice by Taran Matharu (Summoner Series)

If you were ever a POKEMON fan, then you should start reading The Novice yesterday. The book is set in a world where people with magical potential can summon demons from an alternate realm. Summoners form a symbiotic bond with the demons, allowing them to wield their mana to weave magic. Demons and mages fight alongside each other in humanity’s great war against the orc invasion. The Novice begins in a small mountain villagen with a boy who’s life is about to change forever.

The Novice Taran Matharu YA Fantasy
SO EDGY

The Summoner Series borrows elements from every genre of modern fantasy and creates an intoxicating fantasy cocktail. It’s an epic mash-up of elements from Harry Potter, POKEMON, and sword-and-sorcery RPG game like DUNGEONS AND DRAGONSDungeons and Dragons. The Novice has everything that a good story needs: an underdog rising in the world, magic, demons, dwarves, elves, and an academy for the gifted. Matharu’s The Novice is a fantasy joyride from start to finish.

3. Reckless, by Cornelia Funke (Mirrorworld Series)

Some readers might remember Funke’s first book, Inkheart. They may be less familiar with her more recent project, Mirrorworld.

In the real world, Jacob is an ordinary man who is very difficult to find. In the other world, he is the famous treasure hunter, Jacob Reckless. Every fairy tale you’ve ever heard is real inside the Mirrorworld… and so is every curse and monster. Any problem can be solved with the right magic, but magic is dangerous, and hunting for it is a dangerous occupation.

Reckless Mirrorworld Funke YA Fantasy
There’s more than just classic fairy tales on the other side of the mirror.

Darkly twisted fairy tales are nothing new, but Mirrorworld gives them a unique depth. Instead of focusing on one tale in particular, Reckless mashes them all up into one story. Make no mistake though; this isn’t ONCE UPON A TIME. Reckless is the world where Grimm’s fairy tales come to life, not Disney’s. And, unlike ONCE UPON A TIME, Reckless isn’t a story about the magic of fairy tales. Reckless is a story about how magic corrupts ordinary people, and the stains it leaves on their hearts. Mirrorworld showcases Funke’s twisted storytelling, where happy endings are nothing but a dream.

READ: We’ve got another flipped fairy tale for you.

2. Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (Witchlands Series)

Truthwitch is fast, fierce, and feminist. Two sharp-tongued women with even sharper blades lead this epic fantasy. They introduce themselves to the reader by robbing a merchant caravan and fighting their way past a squad of armed guards and an unkillable warrior monk. That’s just the first chapter.

Truthwitch is a whirlwind of action that never slows down. It jumps from highway robbery to court politics, to horseback pursuits, and right into pirate battles. This is YA Fantasy squeezes every awesome kind of adventure you can imagine into its pages. The action is not all there is to Truthwitch though.

Truthwitch YA Fantasy
Just a couple of badass women saving the world.

Beyond the battles, Truthwitch is a progressive novel for a modern reader. More than half the cast are dominant females, and unlike many “feminist” characters, they are not treated like unicorns. This isn’t a great novel because it’s feminist. It is a great novel that handles compelling female characters like a good story should — like they are normal.

1. FlameCaster by Cinda Williams Chima (Shattered Realms Series)

Cinda Williams Chima is an old hand at YA Fantasy. She has an impressive portfolio of series and has entirely outdone herself with Flamecaster. Flamecaster opens with a vengeance by assassinating one of Chima’s beloved characters.

Their murder sends our main character, Adrian, on a grim quest for vengeance by any means necessary. His thirst for revenge turns the healer-trained mage into an assassin wielding poisons as his weapon of choice. His path leads him into the heart of his enemy’s kingdom and forces him to weigh the value of a saving a life against the value of ending another.

Flamecaster YA Fantasy Shattered Realms Chima
Magic, characters, and plot. Flamecaster has it all.

I am absolutely in love with Chima’s characters in this book. Adrian is a believably motivated character — heartbreakingly so if you’ve read the preceding Seven Realms series. He’s also committed, willing to swallow his pride and even aid the enemy to get what he wants. Chima presents his conflicts masterfully so that they hinge on his growth and choices as a character rather than magical plot twists.

Do not take the plot lightly, though. Chima has thrown her characters into a web of politics, conflict, and romance. A small queendom in the north holds against annihilation as a spurned, half-mad king wages war. Chima uses her characters to drive the plot until just the right moments when she raises the stakes in dramatic flourishes of storytelling. Chima shows off what a seasoned writer is capable of, and Flamecaster goes down like a smoothly aged whiskey.

The YA Fiction/Fantasy Summer Reads

If you are in the mood to spend your summer brooding over the pallid future of the human race, then this list might not be for you. However, if you want your summer to be filled with adventures in far away fantasy worlds, then hit the bookstore ASAP. These are my best picks from over 20 fantasy novels that I have read so far this summer.

The hottest of the latest YA Fantasy releases are right here. Enjoy!

P.S. I could not, in good conscience, include The Kingkiller Chronicles on this list, due to the fact that Rothfuss has not released a new book for five years. If ever there was an author who deserves to be heir to George R.R. Martin’s infamous legacy of procrastination, it is Rothfuss. A particular Morty quote comes to mind.

Morty, Rick and Morty
Get it together, Rothfuss!
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