Since abandoning the genre for contemporary during high school, I haven’t been much of a fantasy reader. It was hard to find someone like me in the pages of fantasy novels then, and I couldn’t pronounce half the names, so what was the point? But YA fantasy and sci-fi has truly taken off in recent years, becoming far more diverse. And these five novels? Well, they might just get you out of a fantasy reading slump—they certainly did for me.
Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis
Corinne Duyvis’s debut remains one of the most unique fantasy books I’ve read. Amara and Nolan live in two separate worlds—Nolan in ours, Amara in a far-off fantasy realm—but every time Nolan closes his eyes, he slips into Amara’s body. Amara is bound to protect Princess Cilla, absorbing the curse that could kill her any time Cilla spills a drop of blood. At first she’s unaware of Nolan observing her life through her body—and he’s unaware she’s even real. But as their connection grows, they realize he may be key to saving Amara’s world—and possibly Nolan’s as well. Amara has a relationship with the male slave she works beside, she also loves the princess she’s bound to serve.
Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova
Bruja Alex just wants to be normal, to rid herself of the great power the rest of her magical family expects her to come into and embrace. During her Deathday celebration, when she’s supposed to receive her ancestors’ blessings, Alex instead attempts to perform a spell to rid herself of her power—but that spell goes awry, sending her family into the deadly magical realm of Los Lagos. The only way she can save them is by teaming up with Nova, a brujo who claims he can help her—and with Rishi, her best girl friend who might be more, who follows Alex straight into bruja hell. It’s a beautiful, richly imagined fantasy world that’s pretty impossible to look away from.
A Darkly Beating Heart, by Lindsay Smith
Oh man, was this book one of my favorites of 2016. If you like angry, troubled girls (yes!), richly written culture (yes!), and time-travel (yes!), pick it up immediately. Reiko is consumed by vengeance and hatred after a bad breakup with her girlfriend, determined to get revenge on those who wronged her. Her bewildered parents send her to Japan to live with family, where she wanders off and is transported back to feudal Japan. There she experiences life through the eyes of Miyu, a girl as angry as Reiko. Miyu is also bent on revenge against her enemies, and her hatred fuels Reiko’s. But as Reiko gets pulled further and further into Miyu’s world, she has to decide whether vengeance is path she really wants to follow.
The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow
Bow’s book is an immensely wonderful sci-fi read, particularly if you ever have nightmares about technology ruling our lives. Greta is a child of the leaders of the Pan Polar Confederacy, held hostage alongside other world leaders’ children by an all-powerful AI known as Talis, as a means of keeping the peace. Greta has always known her place—she’ll survive unless her family decides to start a war, at which point her life will be forfeit. Greta accepts this fate with dignity, and always has—until Elián arrives and shakes up her worldview. Elián has no plans to become a willing hostage, and his resistance opens Greta’s eyes to the fact that she doesn’t have to live like this. But when Elián’s country declares war on Greta’s, they both have to figure out an escape or die in the process. Though Greta feels a kinship with Elián, it’s her roommate, the Princess Xie, with whom she shares a powerful romantic bond.
Proxy, by Alex London
In order to pay off his debts, tech genius and gay teen Syd becomes a Proxy, absorbing the punishments for his Patron Knox’s crimes. Knox is wealthy and privileged and only cares about causing trouble to anger his father. Syd bears the brunt of this, suffering from electroshock every time Knox misbehaves. But that becomes too much to bear when Knox is involved in a car accident that kills a girl, and Syd is sentenced to years of hard labor. Realizing he’ll have to escape in order to avoid this brutal punishment, Syd does so—and along the way runs into Knox, who realizes he may owe Syd for more than taking his blows for him.