The wide, weird world of teen fantasy
Since the first Harry Potter book burst onto the literary scene more than a decade ago, there’s been an explosion of fantasy literature for young people. Many of today’s teens grew up with Harry Potter and, along the way, have become avid fans of the genre. These discriminating fantasy readers have a lot to choose from these days, and this season brings some wonderful new titles from around the world.
Unlocking a mystery
First published in England, Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron is a thought-provoking, original tale about a secret prison unlike any other: Not only is the gate sealed, but the prison itself is alive. The world inside the prison is dark, violent and terrifying, especially for Finn, who cannot remember how he came to be there. From time to time Finn has shadowy memories of a time before he was inside Incarceron, yet he can never quite piece his past together. All he knows is that he has to try to escape, even though legend has it that only one man has ever reached the outside world.
And in that outside world lives Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. While she lives Outside, Claudia is trapped in other ways: by an arranged marriage to a prince she despises, by her tense relationship with her harsh father and by her entire society, which has been virtually frozen in a past era. When Claudia and Finn both find a crystal key, they discover the ability to communicate. Claudia suspects that she has uncovered something else as well: the secret of Finn’s true identity. With Incarceron, Fisher creates a world of danger and suspense that will keep readers ensnared.
Faeries, vampires and lunatics
Holly Black, the talented and best-selling author of Tithe and Valiant, is releasing her first collection of short stories, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Some of the stories have been anthologized in other collections or echo the author’s other works. There is an amazing range here, in both the stories and the settings, which take readers from castles to cities to a boarding school. “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” is a chilling tale about vampires, while “In Vodka Veritas” tells the story of a boy at a boarding school coming to terms with his sexuality.
Black has a gift for creating the kind of edgy, original stories teens love. She describes this collection as “rather like a lunatic cocktail party: a poisonous girl, who spends most of her undeath arguing with her ghostly sisters, a costume designer still mourning a childhood lover stolen by faeries, a wolf who might also be a prince, and a teenager who needs to drink herself into oblivion to keep from craving human blood.”
A classic quest story
Australian author Melina Marchetta, winner of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award for Jellicoe Road, now tackles fantasy in Finnikin of the Rock, which won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel in Australia. Finnikin was just a boy when the kingdom of Lumatere was overthrown and its royal family murdered. Some citizens of Lumatere, including Finnikin, were sentenced to exile, while others have been confined in horrible conditions in refugee camps where fever reigns. Without a true heir to the throne, it seems impossible to break through the curse that binds all those who remain inside the walls of Lumatere and overturn the imposter king.
But then, 10 years after these terrible events, Finnikin and his mentor Sir Topher are summoned to escort a young novice named Evanjalin, who claims she can walk in her sleep through the dreams of the people of Lumatere. Has she seen the lost prince, who may yet live? Can the curse be broken and justice restored? Finnikin is not sure, and moreover, he finds Evanjalin’s often unpredictable behavior challenging—and sometimes just plain annoying. Yet together with Sir Topher, they set out on a quest through the Land of Skuldenore with the hope of restoring justice and healing the suffering of the people of Lumatere.
This is a wonderful, engrossing reading experience with strong characterizations and a rich, fully realized setting. Marchetta is a marvelous storyteller, and the many fans of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy will find this to be not only a book with echoes in our contemporary world, but an engrossing page-turner that begs to be read in one sitting—and then read again. Finnikin of the Rock has all the makings of a classic.
Deborah Hopkinson’s newest book for young readers is The Humblebee Hunter.