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Bad blood

All teens grapple with family dynamics as they define their individual identities. But the protagonists of these YA fantasy novels must also contend with magic, secrets, and misdeeds in their bloodlines.

In Frances Hardinge‘s A Skinful of Shadows, orphan Makepeace (an illegitimate relation) becomes a servant to the aristocratic Fellmotte family. She soon realizes that she shares the family’s ability to house the spirits of the dead — which the Fellmottes use to extend the lives and power of their Elders. Makepeace has already unwittingly absorbed the ghost of a young bear, and on her fraught-with-perils journey to defeat the wicked Elders, she collects several more “passenger” ghost companions. Makepeace is a resourceful, brave, and intelligent protagonist, and readers will root for her to triumph over the Fellmottes. (Abrams/Amulet, 12–16 years)

In Leora’s society, only “worthy” citizens, after their deaths, are remembered with books made from their skin and given to their families; unworthy candidates’ books are burned and the family members “forgotten.” Leora is anxious to receive her late father’s book. Then she witnesses a criminal being tattooed with a crow, signifying that he is to be forgotten — and remembers seeing the same mark on her father. Amid a swirl of original myths, tattoo imagery, and magic, Ink by Alice Broadway offers readers thought-provoking commentary on commemoration, belonging, and oppression. (Scholastic, 14 years and up)

At the start of Isle of Blood and Stone, two heirs to the throne are abducted along with their tutor Lord Antoni, the Royal Navigator and mapmaker. Now eighteen years later, Lord Antoni’s son Elias is summoned by the king to examine a pair of maps, the details of which raise the possibility that Antoni and the king’s brothers — long presumed dead — are still alive. As Elias looks into the maps’ origins, author Makiia Lucier deftly employs suspense and mystery, bolstered by tantalizing details about geographical fascinations, to build to a startling conclusion. (Houghton, 14 years and up)

The descendants of infamous witch Rona Blackburn all have gifts; Nor’s is the ability to hear the thoughts of plants and animals. A high-school dropout whose only ambition is to be as unlike her mother as possible, Nor lives with her grandmother on Anathema Island, a community that both benefits from its ties to the Blackburns and lives in fear of them. Then all the animals flee the island, the plants begin to act strangely, and Nor starts having horrific nightmares — all harbingers of her wicked mother’s return. Leslye Walton’s horror tale The Price Guide to the Occult features a vivid setting, lyrical prose, and engaging characters. (Candlewick, 14 years and up)

From the April 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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