Life is complicated and messy and rarely (if ever) easy, especially in the best fantasy novels. I love it when a book’s magic system is just as difficult and full of consequences as the rest of its world, instead of functioning as a simple, easily manipulated gift. Want to curse your enemies? Fine, but be prepared to deal with the side effects. Dying to look into the future? Only if you’re willing to sacrifice a few fingers (or a friend). Here are five YA novels in which every action has an equal but opposite reaction—especially magic.
The Cost of All Things, by Maggie Lehrman
Ari’s boyfriend, Win, has died, and dealing with the grief is too much to bear. So, rather than living with the pain, she invests in a spell to erase her memories of him—the same spell she bought when her parents died years ago. But spells have a mind of their own, and they can do dangerous and powerful things to prevent themselves from being broken. As Ari experiences the consequences of her own spells and her friends’, she begins to more about the secrets they’ve all been hiding, and to understand why she was warned never to combine spells.
Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst hero ever. He’s just beginning his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and he should be focused on figuring out how to get his powers to stabilize so he can finally defeat the Humdrum. Unfortunately, all he can think about is his roommate/nemesis, Baz, who hasn’t bothered to show up for school. and is probably a vampire. But in between breaking up with his girlfriend and obsessing over Baz, Simon has to stop magic from disappearing from the world—and come to terms with the fact that the problem seems to get worse every time he tries to do something about it.
Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake
Mirabella, Katharine, and Arisonoe are triplets, and one day, one of them will be queen of the island of Fennbirn. But in order to be crowned, the queen must kill her sisters. Each girl is armed with one of the island’s three powers: control of the elements, poison, or nature. Or, rather, Mirabella is. Katharine and Arsinoe have yet to develop their abilities, and with their sixteenth birthday (when the battle for the throne begins) fast approaching, they’re desperate to do something about it. As Mirabella struggles to find her inner blood thirst, Katharine pushes her body to its limits and Arsinoe delves into the island’s blood magic, a dangerous alternative with rippling, unpredictable side effects. But contradicting the island’s rules has consequences, and the girls are only just beginning to discover how deep the deadly tradition runs.
The Cure for Dreaming, by Cat Winters
It’s the year 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s feminist leanings have destined her for trouble, starting with her father. Eager for a docile daughter, he hires a hypnotist to subdue Olivia. But rather than turning into a prim and proper young lady, Olivia gains the power to see the world the way it really is—complete with terrifying visions. As her world is divided into good and evil, Olivia is determined to use her knowledge of peoples’ true natures (and, occasionally, the future) to keep fighting for women’s suffrage.
The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman
With a traitor for a mother, the orphaned Helen Wrexhall can’t afford to be anything other than the perfect Regency lady her aunt and uncle have raised her to be. Unfortunately, she has developed some inexplicable powers that are beginning to get in the way. Uncovering the truth behind her newfound abilities (and the disappearance of one of her house’s maids) lead her to Lord Carlston, a disreputable earl who introduces her to a London that’s full of demons—a London she can fight to defend, like her mother before her. But there’s one major drawback: saving the world from monsters takes a terrible toll, and there’s no guarantee it won’t slowly turn Helen into a monster herself.