5 YA Fantasy Picks For The Holidays (Or Whenever)

Hopefully these high fantasy picks will get you excited, whether you're buying presents for yourself or other people.

Dec 20, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

Speaking of the war on Christmas, it has come to my attention that some people are in need of present purchasing recommendations, and when it comes to books, I am always happy to oblige. (So is your local independent bookstore, which will be more than happy to offer personalized recommendations!)

In keeping with my informal title of YA Books Editor (seriously, who do I petition about making that my real job title?) here at xoJane, I've got five fantasy books/series that I am hardcore in love with, and want everyone to read posthaste. 

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My dad's granola is better than your dad's granola.

The Graceling Realm Series, Kristin Cashore ("Graceling," "Fire," and "Bitterblue")

Do you like your fantasy dark, complicated, and at times deeply depressing? Does the person you're buying books for share your tastes? This series is definitely a must-have, because these books are amazing. Cashore's Graceling Realm Series is richly imagined, complicated, and impeccably built. It's also dark and depressing as all get-out, with characters you are going to love (and really, really hate, in some cases). 

When it comes to YA high fantasy, this series is definitely my jam. It's unafraid to go to some seriously dark places, and it explores some complex stuff. If you want your reader to start out light, go with "Graceling." The series gets progressively darker and richer as it goes.

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The Girl of Fire and Thorns Series, Rae Carson ("The Girl of Fire and Thorns," "The Crown of Embers," and "The Bitter Kingdom")

This is not your average little princess in a terrible mess series. Elisa is a sorceress, a queen, and a total badass, surrounded by amazing characters in an amazingly lush and detailed world that just keeps unfurling as you read deeper into the series. There are revolutionaries, magicians, mysteries, romances, and more going on between these pages. Watch Elisa try to hold down a kingdom fighting to tear itself apart while navigating the revelation that the world isn't at all what it seemed, and fall in love with her and her friends. 

This series blew up in a major way, and I can see why. If your lucky recipient hasn't already read it, it's definitely time. 

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Joe's O's FTW.

"The Kingdom of Little Wounds," Susann Cokal

This book is so messed up, y'all. Seriously, you are going to love it. In the afterword, the author refers to it as a "syphilis love story" and that's definitely...one way to describe it. "The Kingdom of Little Wounds" is a series of interconnected narratives all weaving together, drabbling off, and picking up again, creating a lush tapestry of, well, horror, honestly. It's a twisted, dark, delicious fantasy where terrible things happen and monsters stalk the hallways of castles. 

Cokal notes that traditional fairytales often had open endings, allowing narrators to create their own or bridge seamlessly into the next story, and she's integrated that technique really well into this book about a kingdom festering at the heart. More than that, though, she's captured the macabre nature of historic fairytales for a chillingly wonderful book. 

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The Grisha Trilogy, Leigh Bardugo ("Shadow and Bone," "Siege and Storm," and "Ruin and Rising")

Bardugo drew upon Russian folklore and tradition for this amazing series (the third title won't be published until next year), which sets our heroine Alina in a fantasy world filled with magicians, shadows, and, of course, princes. I'm intrigued by the care Bardugo took with building the complex system of magic in the Grisha Trilogy, and the way she uses it to further the plot. For that alone, the series is worth reading, but it's also just a fantastic group of books with a great mixture of high seas adventure (yes, really!), magical training, wars against darkness, and so much more. 

I'm really excited for book three, because I desperately need to know what happens next. 

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The Assassin's Blade Series, Sarah J. Maas ("Throne of Glass" and more to come)

Give me a hardened teenage assassin in a very well-constructed fantasy world and I am already there. Raise the stakes by having her hauled out of slavery in the mines and forced to perform in a competition to become the next champion of a king she despises, and I'm staying up at late frantically reading to see what happens next. Add in a mysterious plot to draw upon forbidden magic to take out the competition and I'm a total goner. 

"Throne of Glass" has weapons, badass ladies giving dudes the stinkeye, badass ladies kicking dudes' butts, badass ladies wearing amazing frocks while also being badass, and...well, you get the picture. This book is all lady, all the time, and it's ferociously amazing. Definitely a good choice for the little hellion in your life!

Hopefully these high fantasy picks will get you excited, whether you're buying presents for yourself or other people. And if you really want to give the gift of joyous reading this winter, consider becoming a book angel.

Chances are that your local indie has some kind of program for getting books into the hands of low-income kids, but in case you want some recommendations, I always donate to Gallery Bookshop's program as well as Oblong's. You can donate a flat sum the staff will use to shop for books, or you can pick out specific books you want to give this year, or you can pick a kid and go shopping!