What fantasy fan worth her salt doesn’t love a good dragon or witch story? There’s no shortage of them; but these YA novels are wholly original offerings that focus on the development of complex main characters and the subversion of traditional notions of good and evil.
Teenager Nathan is a prisoner in a cage in Sally Green’s Half Bad. Flashbacks reveal his early life in England living with his grandmother and half-siblings among “good” White Witches who ostracize and persecute him for being the son of “evil” Marcus, the “most wanted Black Witch.” The White Witches take him captive to train Nathan to kill his father — though he swears he never will. Nathan is a sympathetic main character who endures brutal dehumanization before escaping from captivity. His journey is a compelling one, with plenty yet to resolve in future installments. (Viking, 12–16 years)
As a child, Clementine, star of Brenna Yovanoff‘s haunting Fiendish, escaped a torch-bearing mob thanks to a magical coma that kept her hidden in her cellar for years. After she’s awakened by a boy named Fisher (her future love interest), the eerie happenings that led to the mob attack begin to resurge, prompting her to sift through the mysteries of her childhood to figure out what is causing the wild magic. Yovanoff’s powerful, evocative prose brings to life a world close to overflowing with old magic, seething prejudice, and base fear. (Penguin/Razorbill, 12–16 years)
Marni, the daughter of a princess and a powerful dragon, was raised in relative obscurity by her grandfather, the former king. A Creature of Moonlight is Marni’s journey of self-discovery as she travels to court to seek vengeance on her uncle (the current king) for her mother’s murder, then flees to her dragon father’s domain, the magicked woods. Rebecca Hahn’s poetic, multi-layered novel features vividly rendered settings and sophisticatedly complex characters. (Houghton, 12–16 years)
In Joshua McCune’s Talker 25, Mel Callahan learns that dragons are not all vicious, mindless beasts — and that she can communicate telepathically with them. When the military captures Mel and the dragon she has named Baby, they haul Mel off to an Arctic work camp, rename her Talker 25, and force her to mentally contact dragons to trick them into betraying their locations, as well as interrogate captured dragons being tortured to death. An absolutely gripping and horrifying fantasy about the stripping away of humanity under extreme duress. (Greenwillow, 14–17 years)
From the July 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.