Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Professional UK book editor and fantasy lover lists 20 of the best YA fantasy novels to read in 2021!
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1. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a slightly gothic fantasy tale that creates a link between the dark tales of 17-year-old Alice's grandmother and our own dangerous reality. As Alice searches for her mum after her disappearance, she's wrapped up in the grim stories her grandmother created...but they're more real than Alice every imagined.
A book based around fairy tales and the magical world as you're transported to the mysterious hazel wood.
2. Half Bad by Sally Green is a gripping fantasy story about 14-year-old Nathan, who's the unlawful son of the world's most dangerous witch, but in a world where humans and witches live as enemies, Nathan has to escape the ones who capture him and find his father before it's too late! Can he do it and survive at the same time?
3. Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian is a page-turning fantasy full of vengeance and revenge. Theodosia's kingdom was invaded when she was six and her mother met her fate before her eyes, but now - ten years later - she's forced to survive under the invader's rule. However, Theodosia is vengeful and bitter, so she plots the murder of the warriors now in charge, but she unexpectedly develops feelings for the Prinz.
Theodosia has to decide how far she will go to save her people and how much of herself she's willing to sacrifice to become queen. Can she ignore her feelings for the Prinz to achieve her goals?
4. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is an emotional fantasy story about Laia, who lives with her grandparents and older brother under the strict rules of the Martial Empire. Laia's family have learned to survive under strict rules, but when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia has to risk her life to rescue him. Can she do it without getting captured and killed herself?
5. To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is a lethal fantasy tale about two killers: Lira the Siren princess and Elian the pirate prince. Every year, Lira steals the hearts of princes and keeps them in a collection, and Elian & his crew search the seas to kill sirens like her due to all the murders. But one day, Lira angers her mother, who punishes her by turning her into a human, and to her surprise, she's rescued by Elian. Will Lira abandon her Siren ways or join Elian as a pirate?
6. Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini is about Lily Proctor, who can't enjoy a normal life due to her allergies, and after a humiliating incident at her first high-school party, she wishes she can just disappear. She suddenly finds herself in a new Salem that's ruled by women called Crucibles. The most powerful Crucible is Lily's alternate self, Lillian. Lily is thrown into a world she doesn't understand, but he has to decide between responsibilities and a love she never expected. Can she be the saviour of this new world?
7. Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh is about the daughter of a prominent samurai whose future is out of her hands due to being a girl, not a boy. Instead of pursuing a life as an accomplished alchemist, Mariko is expected to marry the son of the emperor's favourite consort at just 17-years-old. However, on her way to the palace, she narrowly escapes an ambush by bandits who have been hired to kill her.
Mariko dresses as a peasant boy and sets out to destroy the bandit clan who ambushed her on the way to the palace. But can she do it when she falls in love with someone who makes her question everything she's ever known?
8. The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke is a genderbent retelling of Beowulf that follows a group of female warriors who hunt down mythical beasts and creatures. When they hear that a monster unbeknown to them is killing men, women and children, the group use this chance to change their fate and move up in society....but glory always comes with a heavy price.
9. Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz is about Natasha Kestal, a blackjack dealer who's looking for a way out of her city that's now covered in snow and ice. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land where the sun shines and the waters are turquoise. But more importantly, it's a place where Nat won't be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light. However, getting to the Blue is incredibly dangerous, and her only way there is with the cocky Ryan Wesson. Natasha and Ryan find develop intense feelings for each other, but can true love win against the lies?
10. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is about a mortal girl called Jude who ends up in a Faerie world with her sisters after her parents were murdered before them. Jude is forced to be part of the royal court, but she's bullied and tormented for being mortal. She's mocked most of all by Cardan, but as she grows older, she learns that she will have to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to truly belong in the faerie world, and she discovered that Cardan isn't as bad as he seems when feelings develop between the two of them.
11. The Novice by Taran Matharu follows the story of Fletcher, a blacksmith's apprentice, who discovers that he has the rare ability to summon demons from another world. However, as cool as that sounds, one day, he's chased from his village for a crime he didn't commit, so he's forced to travel with his demon to an academy that teaches the gifted the art of summoning.
Fletcher endures gruelling lessons that will prepare him to serve as a Battlemage in the Empire's war, but sinister forces infect new friendships and rivalries grow. Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie as the fate of the Empire lays in his hands.
12. Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon follows the slightly gothic tale of Renee Winters, who is forced from her home in California after her parents are murdered to Gottfried Academy, a gothic boarding school with an ancient curriculum and the study of Latin - the language of the dead. Renee will do anything to go back home and investigate her parents' murder, but when she meets Dante, an intelligent but elusive guy, she decides to stay. When Renee is around Dante, she feels alive, but can Dante say the same?
My favourite novel of the list!!
13. The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull is about two outcast girls whose lives are twisted by an ancient prophecy...one of them will be the Queen of Witches, but which one?
The first girl, Poppy Hooper, has managed to deceive her father into believing that there is nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. But the second girl, Ember Hawkweed, is a pitiful excuse for a witch.
But when the two girls meet, Poppy discovers Ember's powers and finds out the truth. Bound by their unlikely friendship and the boy they both love, the girls try to find their place in the world as the time of the prophecy draws nearer.
14. FrostFire by Aanda Hocking follows the tale of Bryn, a half-blood who's determined to gain status amongst the Kanin, the most powerful of the hidden tribes. But Bryn's human community distrusts people, and those from other tribes are always a suspect.
However, Bryn has vowed that nothing will stand in her way, not even a forbidden romance with her boss, Ridley Dresden.
But her plans are put on hold when fallen hero Konstantin starts acting dangerously. Bryn loved him once, but now he's kidnapping Kanin children - stealing them from hidden placements within human families. She's sent to help stop him, but will she lose her heart in the process?
15. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher is half set in a hidden, futuristic prison where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. The story follows two main characters - Finn and Claudia.
Finn, a young prisoner, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born in Incarceron and lived there his entire life.
Claudia, who lives on the outside world, is trapped in her own prison - a futuristic world constructed to look like a past era, and an imminent marriage she dreads.
Both characters simultaneously find a device - a crystal key - that allows them to communicate and Finn's escape plan is born.
16. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi is a fantasy survival tale about Aria who's been exiled from her home and is forced to survive in the outer wastelands beyond the city.
Aria meets an outsider named Perry who's her only hope of staying alive. Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile, but he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption.
In alternating chapters told by both characters, Under the Never Sky powerfully captures the relationship between the pair and will sweep you away to a harsh but beautiful world.
17. Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean is a little like The Hunger Games - in each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace's enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, and you can marry the prince. All are eligible to compete - all except yokai, which are supernatural monsters and spirits the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.
Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress, but she's a yokai and has the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari's fate collides with Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yokai outcast.
18. The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli follows the tale of Asha, a dragon-slayer who's hated by the very people she's meant to protect. Asha kills to atone for the terrible deed she committed as a child, one that almost destroyed her city and left her with a terrible scar.
She wears her scar with pride, but to others, her skin tells a story of devastation, of fiery deaths, of Asha's irredeemable wickedness.
Only the death of Kozu, the First Dragon, will bring Asha true redemption and unite her father's fractured kingdom. But no one battles Kozu and lives, so Asha will have to do some very wicked things to defeat him.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao is about eighteen-year-old Xifeng who is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she embraces the darkness within her.
Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfil her destiny, but is the price of the throne too high? To achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins.
20. The Young Elites by Marie Lu follows the story of Adelina, a survivor of the blood fever, the deadly illness that swept through her nation a decade ago.
Her cruel father believes she is an abomination, ruining their family's good name and standing in the way of their fortune, but some of the fever's survivors are rumoured to possess mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
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