Thursday, July 30, 2015

YA Historical Fantasy, Part Four: Upcoming debuts!

One of the best parts of being a debut author is getting to meet lots of other new authors. I'm much more attuned to the new books coming out than I have been in the past, and I have to say that the next year or so promises to be a banner year for books in general, and particularly for YA historical fantasy.

Here are some books that I'm particularly excited for:

Mackenzi Lee, This Monstrous Thing (September 22, 2015)

This Monstrous Thing Mackenzie's upcoming Frankenstein retelling looks creepy and awesome all at once, and it's getting rave reviews. Here's the Goodreads description:

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere (February 16, 2016)

The Hawaiian setting alone has me intrigued.
The Girl from Everywhere (From Goodreads) Heidi Heilig’s debut teen fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City to nineteenth-century Hawaii to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Everywhere, the first of two books, will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir, Rae Carson, and Rachel Hartman.

Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

In The Girl from Everywhere, Heidi Heilig blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility with witty, fast-paced dialogue, breathless adventure, and enchanting romance.

Kathryn Purdie, Burning Glass (March 1, 2016)

 Katie's book has all the elements I love in a story: romance, fantasy, high society intrigue, set in a Russian-esque world. Plus, I've known Katie since before her book sold, and I can't wait to read this!

Burning Glass(From Goodreads):
Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer.

Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. One mistake, one small failure, will cost her own life and the lives of the few people left in the world who still trust her.

But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, her feelings easily usurped, and she sometimes can’t decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself.

As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.

BURNING GLASS is debut author Kathryn Purdie’s stunning tale of dangerous magic, heart-rending romance, and the hard-won courage it takes to let go.

Janet Taylor, Into the Dim (March 1, 2016)

Into the Dim (From Goodreads): “Her future is a thousand years in the past.”

Being “the home-schooled girl” in a small town, Hope Walton’s crippling phobias and photographic memory don’t endear her to her dad's perfectly blond, very Southern family. When her mother is killed in a natural disaster thousands of miles from home, Hope’s secluded world implodes. After being shipped off to an aunt she's never met, Hope learns there's more to her mother's "death" than she ever dreamed. At her aunt's manor, high in the Scottish Highlands, Hope begins to unravel the shocking truth about her family. Her mom isn't just a brilliant academic. She’s a member of a secret society of time travelers, and is currently trapped in the twelfth century in the age of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. To stage a rescue, the sheltered teen must join the Indiana Jones-wannabe team of time-jumpers, before her mother is lost for good. In a brutal, medieval world, Hope will discover more family secrets, and a mysterious boy who could be vital to setting her mother free…or the very key to Hope’s undoing.

Addictive and rich with historical detail, INTO THE DIM (Coming Spring 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is an unlikely heroine's story of adventure, sacrifice, and first love, in a high stakes race against time itself.

The others are far enough out that they don't have covers, but they all sound amazing. 


Julie Eshbaugh, Ivory and Bone (May 2016)

Julie's new book has been pitched as a YA Clan of the Cave Bear, which sounds awesome. Here's the description:

The only life seventeen-year-old Kol knows is hunting at the foot of the Great Ice with his brothers. But food is becoming scarce, and without another clan to align with, Kol, his family, and their entire group are facing an uncertain future.

Traveling from the south, Mya and her family arrive at Kol’s camp with a trail of hurt and loss behind them, and hope for a new beginning. When Kol meets Mya, her strength, independence, and beauty instantly captivate him, igniting a desire for much more than survival.

Then on a hunt, Kol makes a grave mistake that jeopardizes the relationship that he and Mya have only just started to build. Mya was guarded to begin with—and for good reason—but no apology or gesture is enough for her to forgive him. Soon after, another clan arrives on their shores. And when Mya spots Lo, a daughter of this new clan, her anger intensifies, adding to the already simmering tension between families. After befriending Lo, Kol learns of a dark history between Lo and Mya that is rooted in a tangle of their pasts.

When violence erupts, Kol is forced to choose between fighting alongside Mya or trusting Lo’s claims. And when things quickly turn deadly, it becomes clear that this was a war that one of them had been planning all along.

Jessica Cluess, A Shadow Bright and Burning (August 30, 2016)

I've wanted to read this one since I found it was set in an alternate Victorian England (one of my very favorite eras!). And her pinterest board makes me want to read this even more.

A Shadow Bright and Burning is set in the early Victorian era, an alternate history in which sorcerers are advisors to the crown and magic is very much out in the open. 

England has been at war with the Ancients, a group of seven hideous monsters, for over a decade. Henrietta Howel, a sixteen-year-old schoolteacher in Yorkshire, is found to have active sorcerer powers. She shouldn't have them--women can't do magic--but is believed to be the sorcerers' long-awaited Chosen One. 

Brought to London to train, Henrietta enters a world of power and privilege she never could have imagined. In addition to mastering the elemental abilities of a sorcerer, she has to contend with the handsome and frustrating young men who are her fellow students. Despite the pressures of London society and the looming threat of war, Henrietta is determined to succeed.

But there's one great problem: she might not be the Chosen One after all.

Henrietta's ball gown
Found at

Roshani Chokshi, The Star Touched Queen (Summer 2016)

Roshani's upcoming fantasy draws on both Indian and Greek mythology, a premise that already shoots it to the top of my to-read lists.

Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, 16-year-old Maya has only earned the contempt of her father’s kingdom. But when the ceremony for her arranged marriage takes a fatal turn, she becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth.

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, mirrors that don’t reflect the viewer and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s lush magic, she begins to suspect a sinister shadow that may be the key to understanding the horoscope that has shadowed her whole life. But to dig into Akaran’s secrets means betraying Amar’s trust. How far will she go to know herself? And what will happen when she finds out?

THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN reinterprets the Greek myths of Hades and Persephone and Cupid and Psyche with the rich mythology and folklore of India.


Sarah Glenn Marsh, Fear the Drowning Deep (September 2016)

The description of Sarah's book reminds me of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, which I loved. 

Witch's apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.
Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island's witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water—stealing her heart in the process. 

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle's eccentric witch and the boy she isn't sure she can trust—because if she can't uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return

Evelyn Skye, The Crown's Game (2016)

Set in an alternate 1825 Tsarist Russia--this one has so much promise!(And while you're at it, check out her cool website).

Sixteen-year-old Vika Andreyev can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Eighteen-year-old Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters, and with the Ottoman Empire and other enemies threatening Russia, the Tsar wants an enchanter by his side.

Two enchanters in the same generation, however, are a rarity. And a problem. There is only so much magic in Russia, and it cannot be diluted. So the Crown’s Game was invented, a duel of magical skill. The victor becomes the Royal Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected advisor. The defeated is sentenced to death.

The Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Of course, they both want to win. Until now, Vika’s magic has been confined to her tiny island home, and she’s eager to showcase her skill in the capital city of St. Petersburg. It also doesn’t hurt that the competition allows her to express her mischievous streak. Nikolai, on the other hand, is a study in seriousness. As an orphan with not a drop of noble blood in his veins, becoming the Royal Enchanter is an opportunity he could, until now, only dream of. But when Vika and Nikolai begin to fall for each other, the stakes change.

And then, the stakes change again, as secrets from both their pasts threaten to upset the balance of the Tsar’s—and the Russian Empire’s—power.

The Game is so much more complicated than it looks.


Tara Sim, Timekeeper (Fall 2016)

Tara's book promises romance, intrigue, clocks, time-magic, and a fascinating alternate Victorian world. (I haven't read this one, but I've read another of Tara's books and she's definitely an author to watch).

(From Goodreads): Every city in the world is run by a clock tower. If one breaks, time stops. It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old Danny knows well; his father has been trapped in a town east of London for three years. Despite being a clock mechanic prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but time itself, Danny has been unable to free his father.

Danny’s assigned to a damaged clock tower in the small town of Enfield. The boy he mistakes for his apprentice is odd, but that’s to be expected when he’s the clock spirit who controls Enfield’s time. Although Danny and the spirit are drawn to each other’s loneliness, falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, no matter how cute his smiles are.

But when someone plants bombs in nearby towers, cities are in danger of becoming trapped in time—and Enfield is one of them.

Danny must discover who’s stopping time and prevent it from happening to Enfield, or else he’ll lose not only his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

And last, the one I'm most looking forward to--only because it's mine, and it's still hard to believe it's going to be a real book some day:

Rosalyn Eves, The Blood Rose Rebellion (Fall 2016) 

In an alternate Victorian England where social prestige stems from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, sixteen-year old Anna Arden is barred from the society she yearns for by a defect of blood. She believes herself Barren, unable to perform the most rudimentary spells. Anna would do anything to belong, but after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spells, Anna finds herself exiled with her aging grandmother to her grandmother’s native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

But in Hungary, Anna finds that nothing about her world or her own lack of magic is quite as it seems. Fissures in the Binding that holds her world’s magic are expanding, and the ancient creatures bound by that spell beg Anna to release them. As rebellion sweeps across Hungary, Anna’s unique ability to break spells becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and gypsies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted—or embrace her ability, destroy the Binding, spark a revolution, and change the face of magic itself.

What books--historical fantasy or not--are you most excited for?

Sunday, July 26, 2015


After seeing Naomi Novik's newest, UPROOTED, recommended a couple of different places, by people whose judgment I trust, I promptly ordered it. And I'm so glad I did! It was a wonderful novel: rich, warm, deeply-rooted in the best kind of folklore. It felt familiar and new all at once, set in a world vaguely recognizable as Poland (here: Polnya) with magic.

UprootedAgnieszka has grown up in the shadow of the Dragon, the reclusive wizard that protects her valley from the Wood. Every ten years, he selects a village girl from the valley to come back to his tower. No one knows exactly what he wants them for (though of course there's gossip), but after ten years when he releases the girls, they never come home again. Oh, they might visit, but they're unalterably changed. Agnieszka belongs to the cohort of girls from whom the Dragon will chose his next girl, but everyone knows he's going to choose her best friend, the best and brightest and prettiest of the girls. Imagine her surprise, then, when the Dragon chooses her.

Her surprise deepens when she discovers, in the Dragon's tower, a latent talent for magic. A talent that might just be called upon to save not only her beloved valley but the kingdom itself from the encroaching evil of the Wood.

I think one of the things I loved about the story is that the hook here isn't huge: it's not some end of the world, wizards pitted to the death kind of scenario. But it's no less compelling and fast-paced for all that. The wood is a very real menace: the kind of thing nightmares are made of. (And the ultimate secret of the wood is startling and wonderful).

I loved Agnieszka. I loved the Dragon. (And I'm nerd enough to feel chuffed that I figured out the source for the Dragon's name: he goes by Sarkan, a variation of sarkany, a Hungarian shape-shifting dragon--a minor bit of trivia I would not have known except I've recently been immersed in Hungarian folklore for bookish purposes. Novik graciously confirmed my guess on Twitter). Their unfolding relationship is sweet and spiky and charming.

This book isn't for everyone--there are a couple of adultish scenes that make it inappropriate for young teens. But I loved it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

YA Historical Fantasy, Part Three: European

I'm not sure what it is about the shift in setting, but most of the historical fantasy books I've read with European settings are darker and more deeply rooted in folklore than their proper British counterparts (Clare Dunkel's Hollow Kingdom is a good exception to this). Personally, I adore both kinds, but for different reasons. I love the manners and courtly society--but I also love the earthier, almost fey approach of the latter.

Some of my favorites include:


Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)My very favorite 12 Dancing Princesses retelling (and TDP is one of my favorite fairy tales, so that says a lot). Marillier sets her retelling in Romania, so in addition to the enchanting otherworld beneath the castle, there's a lovely cultural setting. In this case, the culture and the story mesh perfectly. The story is told primarily through the point of view of Jena, second of five daughters, whose world is upset when her father goes south to recover from a mysterious illness and her cousin Cezar arrives, bringing with him dark secrets.

Elizabeth Bunce, CURSE DARK AS GOLD

A Curse Dark as GoldThis was a wonderful adaptation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Charlotte Miller, as the miller's daughter, inherits her father's mill after his death and struggles to keep the mill going despite what she insists is mere bad luck, but may in fact be something much darker . . . The author has created a plausible world here, peopled with interesting and believable characters. Well worth the read. I'd recommend this particularly to readers who enjoyed Shannon Hale's Goose Girl--this has a similar feel. 


Jessica Day George, SILVER IN THE BLOOD

Silver in the Blood (Silver in the Blood, #1)From the moment I heard George was setting her newest book in 19th century Romania, I was intrigued. I loved WILDWOOD DANCING, and I've been looking for something like that for some time. And while this isn't quite that book--it was a different kind of enchanting (more in line with SORCERY AND CECILIA). Lou and Dacia are wealthy American heiresses with Romanian mothers. When they turn sixteen, they return to Romania to visit their extended family--and find, instead, that their family hides a dangerous secret and magic, and are sworn to protect the ancient Dracula family--including the handsome, charismatic (possibly unstable) prince Mihai. Lou and Dacia must defy almost every convention they've learned to stay true to themselves and save their kingdom. I thought Lou and Dacia were charming, and there was just enough grit and darkness to ground the story. Oh, and romance! The girl's suitors were equally adorable, but the romance was just a nice addition, not the main plot. 

Sun and Moon, Ice and SnowJessica Day George, SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW

Another of George's novels, this Beauty and the Beast style story is a twist on a Norwegian fairy tale. The heroine, Lass, agrees to live with an isbjorn (ice bear) to save her family and finds, instead, that she must save the bear from his own curse.

Scott Westerfield, LEVIATHAN (series)

Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)(from Goodreads): Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

While this is technically more steam-punk than fantasy, Westerfield's concept is a fascinating alternate-history that envisions World War I as a conflict between the British Darwinists (who have bred fascinating air-borne creatures) and the German Clankers. The European world in the books is vividly imagined and fun to read. 


Still on my TBR list:
Naomi Novik, UPROOTED 
Robin LeFevers, HIS FAIR ASSASSIN series
Laura Whitcomb, THE FETCH

What other European historical fantasy books should I add to my TBR list? 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

YA Historical Fantasy, Part Two: American

Most of the time, when I think of historical fantasy, I think of European (particularly English) settings--after all, a great deal of epic fantasy is loosely based on medieval Europe.

But some of the most interesting and refreshing young adult historical fantasy I've read has been set in the Americas. The following are some of my favorites (though I'd love to hear yours!)

Libba Bray, The Diviners

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)In The Diviners, Bray creates an intricate and creepy historical environment (it kept me up late several nights running). It's the 1920s, and New York City is the hottest place in the world. Evie O'Neill longs to be there more than anything, and when her exasperated parents send her away from Ohio to live with her Uncle Will, the owner of a museum on the occult, she thinks this is the best thing that could have happened to her. But things aren't entirely what they seem in the city. Someone has roused the ghost of long-dead "Naughty John" and he's doing his best to fulfill his role in prophecy to rouse "the Beast" who will bring on the end of the world. And when people start dying, Evie comes to realize that her unique gift of knowing things about a person from touching something they own might help the police solve a particularly evil killer. One of the things I loved about this book was how the character's lives intersected in interesting ways, all set against the backdrop of 1920s NYC--the speakeasies, the booze, the jazz, even the quaint lingo. More than just period details, though, Bray smartly weaves in occult mysticism, various religious strains, philosophy (including Nietzsche) and so much more. With all that historical detail, it would be easy to bog the plot down, but Bray creates a strong plot as well.

Kiersten White, In the Shadows

In the ShadowsI loved this little gem of a book. In an unusual combination of text and gorgeous illustrations by Di Bartolo (husband of the fabulous Laini Taylor), this story follows a handful of teenagers in turn of the century Maine. Sisters Cora and Minnie have had an idyllic childhood, but a chance encounter with the local witch and the death of their father have changed all that. When Arthur shows up at their mother's boarding house, their mother claims him as a long-lost relative. But Arthur hides dangerous secrets about his past. Brothers Charlie and Thomas are sent to Maine for Charlie's health, and fall quickly for the sisters. Charlie is dying and Thomas overheard a strange conversation of his father's that suggests a darker purpose for their visit. When strangers start converging on the town, dangerous secrets begin emerging. I'll admit I didn't understand the art at the beginning, though I was intrigued. As I read, the graphic novel added a layer of depth and intensity to the story, because it made it clear that something big, something supernatural was happening. And White's prose was a lovely addition. Romantic, gothic, eerily beautiful--I read most of this in one sitting.

Kendall Kulper, Salt and Storm 
Salt & Storm Kulper's debut, Salt and Storm, is a freshly different, evocative story set in a mid-to-late 19th century New England whaling town. Kulper has clearly done her research on the whaling aspect: the setting felt real to me. The main character, Avery Roe, is the last of the Roe witches. She wants nothing more than to learn the family craft from her grandmother, but her mother forbids it. When the Roe magic starts failing, Avery's inexperience may spell ruin for everyone on the island. I liked Avery, despite her occasional prickliness and naivety. I loved that the story didn't always go where I expected it to. I didn't love the ending, but I'll forgive that for the historical atmosphere.

Renee Collins, Relic

Relic Collins' debut, Relic, takes place in 19th century Colorado, after Maggie Davis loses nearly everything in a fire on her family homestead. Maggie takes a job at a local saloon to provide for her younger sister, and encounters a variety of odd and entertaining characters. When Maggie discovers a latent talent for relics--in her world, the bones and fossils of extinct supernatural animals (griffins, dragons, etc.) hold residual magical talent--everything starts to change. She's drawn into the circle of the enigmatic Álvar Castilla, the wealthy young relic baron who runs Burning Mesa, who trains her in the use of relics. But when more fires like the one that killed her family spring up, Maggie starts to realize that the world of relics might be more powerful--and dangerous--than she knows. The world-building here was fascinating, and I liked the hint of Spanish-American culture that Castilla brought to the story. Mostly, though, I just want my own relic. Maybe griffin. 

Patricia Wrede, Frontier Magic trilogy

Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, #1)Wrede's Frontier Magic trilogy starts with Thirteenth Child. Eff (short for Francine) has grown up on the American frontier, not far from the Great Barrier spell running down the Mammoth River (the Mississippi, I think, though it might be the Missouri), which keeps dragons and other destructive magic-wielding animals on the far side of civilization. As her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son, it's not surprising that Eff is often overlooked, particularly as she is the unlucky thirteenth child in a large family. The story is primarily a coming-of-age story, of Eff learning to understand and appreciate her talents even if her community mostly shuns her. Eff is a delightful character, and the world-building is impressive. Although the magical aspects make Wrede's frontier a very different place from the one we read about in history, she still delves into some interesting politics concerning settlement allocation. I also appreciated how well-conceived her magical world is. (I should note, the book came out to a fair amount of controversy because there are no Native Americans in Wrede's west. It's a fair criticism. I still enjoyed the story, and I think Wrede deals sensitively with a lot of other complex racial and sexist issues in her world, so I don't think the omission is entirely one of racial insensitivity as claimed.)
And of course, there's Orson Scott Card's fascinating Alvin Maker books--not YA, but worth a read all the same. The first book, Seventh Son, starts when Alvin is quite young. (The series is loosely based on the life of Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet).

On my TBR list:

Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch series (an alternate 1890s New England)

Suzanne Weyn, The Distant Waves (set on the Titanic)

Heidi Heilig's forthcoming The Girl from Everywhere (about a time traveler who ends up in 19th century Hawaii).

Are there any fantastic American-set historical fantasies I've missed?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

YA historical fantasy, part one: nineteenth-century British

I think it's a pretty open secret that I love historical fantasy, particularly in YA. After all, my book, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is historical fantasy.

Though there is a little bit of disagreement on the definition (some maintain historical fantasy is anything that seems as if it could have happened in our world), most of the time, historical fantasy is set firmly in our historical world, with magic. What I particularly love is that it combines the kind of historical detail I adore, with creative glimpses at what our world might look like if things were different.

Especially if, say, there was magic.

As a writer, I love historical fantasy because some of the world-building has been done for me (and I enjoy the rabbit hole that is historical research: I'm currently reading the correspondence between the British ambassador in Vienna in 1848 and Prime Minister Palmerston. Sounds boring, but there are some fascinating tid-bits about how the British viewed the Hungarian conflict I'm writing about). But I also love the freedom to explore "what ifs"--what if social prestige depended on magic? And what if that magic were controlled by a strict society? What if minority groups contravened those rules? And so on.

I'm currently making a list of historical fantasy--as a genre, I'd love to better understand its history. I'm not  ready to write the history of the genre, but I thought I'd share some of my favorite YA historical fantasy, set in nineteenth-century Britain.


A Matter of Magic (Mairelon, #1-2) Patricia Wrede's books were some of my first exposure to historical fantasy. I think I read Mairelon the Magician, about a regency-era wizard who adopts a young thief, so many times that the cover nearly came off.

 Sorcery and Cecilia is equally delightful (co-written with Caroline Stevermer): a series of letters between cousins Kate, in London for her season, and Cecilia, sequestered at home. Quite accidentally, they stumble into a heinous magical plot, and hijinks ensue.

Kat, Incorrigible (Kat, Incorrigible, #1)Stephanie Burgis, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE

Stephanie Burgis' delightful middle grade series isn't technically YA, but they have the signature combination of wit, warmth, Regency era and magic that I love. Kat is a fledgling magician who has to use her powers to save her family from magical plots and ne'er-do-wells. The book has magic, romance, highwayman, and sinister villains. What more could you want?


Illusions of Fate While it's not technically "historical," it's set in a world clearly reminiscent to ours, with Albion standing in for England. The heroine, Jessamin, is the daughter of an Albion by way of the colonies, come to Albion to study.

But she quickly gets embroiled with the delightful Finn, drawn first to his sparkling hair, and later to his wit. He's being threatened by the enigmatic Lord Downpike, and soon Jessamin finds herself under attack as well, using her wits to save herself and the boy she's rapidly coming to love. Charming, atmospheric, and a quick read, this is great book to dip your toes in historical fantasy.


A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, #1) I admit it: I bought this book initially because of it's cover. Luckily, it was much more than that. Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty is exactly what the title implies: beautiful and perilous at the same time. Following her mother's death, Gemma Doyle is sent to boarding school in England at Spence Academy, a strict school with a mysterious burnt wing. There, Gemma is drawn into a set of girls with some dark secrets. The girls find their way into a dark, magical world through Gemma's visions, and set out on a path of destruction none of them could have foreseen. The book is much darker than the others on the list, the characters are often not likeable, but there's something powerful in that combination.


Newt's Emerald This romp of a book--on the eve of her debut into society, Truthful Newington's emerald necklace, a powerful family heirloom, is stolen. To find the emerald, Truthful assumes the identity of a boy and faces off against unexpectedly powerful opponents. The book reminded me a lot of Sorcery and Cecilia (light, frothy, fun take on Regency-era England). It was more-or-less self-published originally, but Harper Collins has picked it up and it will be re-released this fall.

[Edited to add] Franny Billingsly, CHIME

ChimeChime was a National Book Award finalist in 2011 (you may recall the whole mix-up where it was announced and then recanted that Lauren Myr's Shine was a finalist, instead of Billingsly). Set in an alternate nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century English countryside, Chime is a lyrical, atmospheric story of two sisters. Briony has a secret: she's a witch, in a community that still hangs witches if the Chime Child judges them guilty of witchcraft. Briony knows she's a witch because she feels herself implicated in the death of her stepmother, and in her twin sister Rose's strange, child-like condition. Briony is mostly okay with being an outsider in her village, her sister's permanent care-taker, and her father's responsible daughter--that is, until a young man named Eldric takes up residence in the parsonage with them, and suddenly Briony finds herself wanting things she's never wanted before. At the same time, she finds herself negotiating with the inhabitants of the swamp, like the Boggy Man, to try and cure her sister Rose of the swamp sickness that has killed so many of the village children. 

The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, #1)[Edited to add] Clare Dunkel, THE HOLLOW KINGDOM

I don't know how I forgot this one: this dark, charming, goblin-filled story about two girls drawn in by a goblin king in search of a bride to save his kingdom captures a wonderful fairy-tale quality. The romance was heart-wrenching and lovely and if the story meandered for a little in the middle, I adored the characters enough to make the journey worthwhile.

What are some of your favorite historical fantasy books? (I've got Elizabeth May's The Falconer and Robin LeFevers' Dark Assassin books on my TBR list . . .).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

p.s. I still love you

Jenny Han is a genius at writing character: Shug is one of the best middle-grade books I've read, and To All the Boys I've Loved Before was simply darling. I didn't mind the "cliff-hanger" ending some people objected to--to me it was less cliff-hanger and more real-world messy. But I loved Lara Jean's sweetness (and yes, naivety. Some girls are naive at sixteen. I was one of them).
P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #2)
Luckily, there is a sequel that picks up Lara Jean and Peter Kravinsky's relationship almost exactly where book one ended. Of course, there are complications--namely, the fact that Peter keeps being seen with his ex-girlfriend Gen, who he claims is going through hard times (though Lara Jean has seen nothing to prove that). And the not-insignificant fact that the only boy who didn't return her letter from book one starts writing back to her--and they might have more of a connection than Lara Jean realized.

I know love triangles get a bad rap (and sometimes deservedly so), but I think there's a place for them. I remember that feeling of having multiple possibilities, of not being quite sure where my heart really belonged. And both of the boys here are charming for very different reasons--they're not just in the story to increase the drama.

Another thing I really appreciated about the book was it's take on sex: so many YA books seem to either not really address it, or the main characters are all over it. Which, I get: some teens are like that. But there are a lot of teenagers who aren't sure, or even ready for sex. And I loved that Han addressed that openly in Lara Jean's own conflicted feelings (dating someone who's much more experienced while still realizing she may not be ready yet). 

I also loved the perfectly evoked bitter-sweet feel of childhood relationships evolving.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The novelist as tourist: visiting the sites of my book!

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the first part of may in Hungary, retracing some of the sites that figure in my upcoming debut, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION.

One of the most thrilling things for me, aside from simply being back in a land that I love, was finding missing pieces in my research--like realizing the current Buda castle is three times the size of the castle that would have stood there in 1848. (This block, below, is essentially the only part of the castle that existed then--not the gaudy dome that everyone knows from pictures of the city).

But there were other discoveries that thrilled me because most tourists had no idea of their significance.

Like finding the Karolyi palace, where Karolina Karolyi (an ardent patriot who makes a cameo appearance in my book) lives.

Or Cafe Pilvax, where the young men of March planned their revolution (though the current incarnation looks nothing like the pictures I've seen). It was just around the corner from our apartment.

Or this: this lovely building is the Vigado, some kind of music hall. But it was significant to me because it was one of those aha! research moments. I'd been trying to find out where the Redoute was, a public ballroom used frequently in 19th century Budapest. In a local guidebook our host left in the apartment, I discovered why I couldn't find the ballroom. The original building had been destroyed by canon fire during the 1849 siege of Budapest: this was built on the site.

 Probably my favorite discovery, though, was this little street not far from Buda castle. There are some lovely baroque palaces there: this is one of them, though in the 19th century it was used as a prison to house political prisoners, and I use it in my story as the prison that my heroine has to fight her way to get to. So imagine, if you will, this seemingly pedestrian street filled with soldiers (and maybe a dragon or griffin or two).