Top Ten Tuesday: Young Adult and Fantasy books.

[This post is done as part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish]

The “Top Ten Books in the X Genre” topic is the one I’ve been most excited to start on. I mean, who doesn’t like talking about their favourite books?! In fact, because I had so many on my list (and even more that I’m sure I’ll remember belatedly in a few weeks and regret not putting  in), I’ll be doing two separate posts on this, featuring two categories each. As usual, to keep this list from getting wayyyyy too long, I’ll be doing five in each category. This week: my Top Ten young adult and fantasy books.

As is oft-debated, the definition of what a young adult title entails is somewhat nebulous. If you ask me, the Harry Potter series is as much a fantasy series as a young adult one, and I’d rank it up there with the “hardcore” fantasy classics like Tolkien’s works. For the purposes of this post, young adult fiction shall refer to series that star predominantly teenage casts or protagonists. In addition, I’ll also be including some books meant for even younger audiences because I’m too lazy to do a separate kiddies’ book list that I think are too amazing not to include here. Oh, and because several of these books are parts of series, I’ll just lump them together because it’s too painful to choose a particular one to feature.

1. The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

I’m pretty sure this will be on almost everyone’s list, and with good reason. Rowling’s books are not only packed with interesting, multi-dimensional characters, effortless banter, fast-paced action and more spells than you can reasonably fathom, but also feature a distinctive, addictive narrative voice and some of the most detailed world-building I’ve seen (especially for a series meant to cater to slightly younger audiences). Although some books are better than others (I still sometimes cringe at the fanfiction-but-not Half Blood Prince), the series as a whole makes for some incredible reading and is and will always be on my must-read lists.

2. The Animorphs series (K. A. Applegate)

Ah, my very first love (well, other than the Enid Blytons and Roald Dahls of my really young childhood). This was my first long-running series (I mean, the story ran on for 52 books, and that’s not including all the special editions, which are almost uniformly awesome). While other kids my age were devouring Goosebumps, I thought this was the better series by far. I even started a fanclub in my school after shoving the books in everyone’s faces till they liked it. The premise isn’t all that original but Applegate executed it perfectly (I love the fact that the first 45 or so books were written in such a way that they could be happening in our world right now).

She assembled a fantastic cast of characters who developed and grew (some for the better, some for the worse) as the series continued, a compelling main story arc that nonetheless was perfectly readable in bite-sized chunks (with the occasional awesome filler) and some of the snazziest banter I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Sure, some of the references in the series (like an entire book set around who is clearly a Jonathan Taylor Thomas spoof) are a little dated and the quality of the series flagged a little near the end as the ghostwriters took over, but this remains one of my favourite series of all time. Plus, all the extra books (Megamorphs and all the Chronicles) were so awesome!

3. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

This is the book I always recommend to critics of the young adult genre who complain that YA books are fluffy, brainless romantic romps with vapid characters, paper-thin plots and thinking-free writing. The Book Thief is written in an interesting (if initially disorienting) format and features some of the best writing I’ve ever come across. Zusak plays with the emotions of the reader just like the World War played with the millions of innocent lives involved. He creates a compelling, believable cast and the immersive writing gets us to invest ourselves totally in the story and in the characters, even though we all know how the story has to end, as such stories often do. One of the best books I’ve read in recent years, and that’s coming from someone who usually stays far away from war novels.

4. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

The other favourite that I’m sure will feature on several lists, the HG trilogy isn’t actually perfect, to me. I felt like the all-stars potential in Catching Fire is kinda wasted and Mockingjay is actually rather boring and oddly paced but the original book is great and, as with several of the rest, the worldbuilding here is impressive (especially when compared to the slew of dystopian clones this series ignited). The characters are interestingly written (if a little one-dimensional) and the premise of the whole thing, while not original, is really all sorts of awesome. It is often compared to Battle Royale and, although I think there are some really obvious differences, they’re quite different when it comes to quality in the media. The Battle Royale movie beats the HG ones flat (and ranks as one of my favourite films of all time) but I think the Hunger Games books are way better than the scattered, meandering mess that is Battle Royale: the Novel.

5. The Pendragon Adventure series (D. J. MacHale)

Criminally underrated and, I think, the most unheard of series on this half of the list, the Pendragon series has worldbuilding as incredible as any of the above entries. The premise, again, is really interesting (there are ten different space-time realities, or territories, in this universe and a selected protector from each, the Traveler, has to guide his/her home territory through a crucial “turning point” in its history) and MacHale has created a huge cast of endearing characters. The writing is fast-paced and makes for some crazy-speed page-turning. Plus, I love that the story has obviously been planned way in advance and everything kinda slowly adds up to its big finale. Definitely on par with Harry Potter as my favourite YA series ever and definitely worth a (re)read.

1. The (first) Mistborn series (Brandon Sanderson)

Brandon Sanderson is one of the most popular (and prolific – seriously, guy churns out like five novels a day) fantasy authors at the moment and deservedly so. With every book, he creates immensely interesting (and original) magic systems and constructs watertight worlds and great (if kinda one-patterned) stories with great pacing, engaging dialogue, and likeable characters. The Mistborn series was my entry into Sanderson’s works and while I think some of his other solo efforts (Elantris, The Rithmatist etc.) easily equal the books in this trilogy, as a whole the series is really strong and his best work to date (even if I hated the ending). Plus, it’s just awesome to be a Sanderson fan because there’s pretty much something new of his to read at all times.

2. The Discworld series (Terry Pratchett)

Ok, I know lumping this entire 50000-book series into one entry is reeeeeaaaaally stretching it but I just can’t choose! It’s like choosing a favourite ice cream flavour. Terry Pratchett is, bar none, my favourite writer of all time and I aggressively zealously promote his novels to anyone who might even have just an inkling toward comedy and/or fantasy. Pratchett has written the most affable and genuinely lovable ensemble of characters in all history of characters, I think. I used to be a big Rincewind (and the Unseen University) fan but now I’m pretty excited to read a new book from him no matter who it stars. Unlike many other comedy writers who often go for big punchlines, Pratchett eschews building up jokes and instead inserts little witticisms (sometimes rather subtly) all over the place, transforming random sentences into sheer gems of delight. I cannot remember any other books making me laugh out loud on public transport like his have.

Alas, some of his more recent efforts haven’t been all that funny but hey, with 768 different titles to try, I’m sure there’s something for everyone.

3. The Blending series (Sharon Green)

Unlike several others on the list, the Blending series (and its succeeding trilogy, the Blending Enthroned series) has many faults. The dialogue is often stiff, the characters a bit too perfect (especially near the end), conflicts are solved almost immediately (something I like but which reduces dramatic tension) and the sex scenes are rather gratuitous. Still, there’s just something about the books that draw me in. It could be the orderly (and sometimes rather scientific) way that the magic system is done, or that the characters do show some growth through the books, or that the writing is just easy, breezy and, yes, sometimes beautiful. They may not be perfect for everyone, but I’ve reread the series three times and still love it.

4. The Lon Tobyn Chronicle series (David B. Coe)

Probably the most unknown of all the books here (judging by how hard it is to find the series even in used bookshops and libraries, much less in mega chains or online), I don’t actually remember all that much about the series (see: how hard it is to find copies of it) but I remember really loving the addictive story, the quick-paced language and the concept, which I dub Extreme Familiars. Plus, it’s kinda cool to see birds get their turn in the limelight as magical beings (do remember that this was way before Hedwig first enchanted his [her?] way into everyone’s heart in Harry Potter). Some of the Familiar concepts (that I can remember) have actually influenced my own writing and I so wish I could get my (digital) hands on the ebooks for this trilogy.

5. The Black Magician trilogy (Trudi Canavan)

As with #4, I don’t actually remember much of this trilogy because I read it so long ago (although I’m pretty sure this one is much easier to find). All I remember is that it was well-written and that I must have really loved it, given how it floated to mind so quickly when I was trying to think of entries for this post. If I remember correctly, this was one of those trilogies which I, never the fastest readers even in the best of times, would spent sleepness nights staying up to devour – and everyone knows that’s the mark of a good book.

As you can see, when it comes to fantasy(ish) titles, worldbuilding is always one of my key criteria, that and interesting premises. And, of course, great writing etc etc.  This is not the end of it, though! As mentioned, I’ll be doing two posts on this topic. Next week, look forward to my Top Ten books comedy and non-fiction books!

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