How I Fell in Love With YA Fantasy
I have always been an avid reader of YA novels and proud of it. Ever since I was a teen growing up in Puerto Rico, I devoured books. In middle school and high school, I would sneak away to the library during lunch and any free time that I had to collect a stack of books for the week or upcoming weekend. And while some of my favorites at the time included Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High and anything by R.L. Stine such as the Fear Street series, I admit I was a bit afraid of diving into fantasy novels that weren’t horror. For some reason, the novels that fit the bill for me were contemporary ones, and the only fantasy I seemed to like was the occasional ghostly happening or other slightly otherworldly element that came with some horror stories.
But all that changed in about 2008. I still remember to this day how one of my close friends tossed me a copy of Twilight when I was a newsroom editor and reporter at The Miami Herald. While this story is more of a romantic paranormal fantasy without things like intense world building, it still had some fantasy elements, such as powerful vampires and superpowered characters, with out of this world attitudes and abilities. And yes, Bella and Edward’s love story does have quite a controversial background, with some people either loving or hating the series, but I do credit digging into that first novel and thinking it was time to branch out and try something other than just the usual romantic and realistic contemporary reads.
In addition to Twilight, reading a certain series with a magical wizard when I was in college further changed my life in regards to the fantasy world. But those books were a bit more middle grade and I was still not as convinced on YA fantasy overall. It did warm me up to the genre, and my liking of those boy wizard books, as well as all the horror books and Twilight, made me eventually pick up authors like Sarah J. Maas and Brigid Kemmerer. What I adore about Brigid Kemmerer, for example, is that I discovered her as a contemporary writer, and recently she has taken on the task of tackling fantasy stories like no one else.
While I am a huge fan of her A Curse So Dark and Lonely trilogy, it was her most recent fantasy story Defy the Night that really impressed me and became a favorite of mine in late 2021. I devoured the story following characters in the kingdom of Kandala — where the sectors are going through a battle due to a sickness taking over their land — in a few days. What I loved most about this story was the lush world and fast pacing, as well as the characters and their constant emotional adventures. Tessa Cade is an apothecary expert and worker, trying to produce a cure alongside her sidekick, and mysterious crush, Wes. Meanwhile, in the Royal Palace, King Harristan is dealing with his new sweeping power after his parent’s death. Full of romance, intrigue and twists and turns like no other, there were many great surprises in this novel. I loved the real-life emotions and characters I could relate to, as well as the intriguing worlds, that this fantasy had.
It was through reading about the other worlds and world building in their books that converted me to the genre fully. I remember chatting with my friends in the newsroom about the other books in the series during lunch and deciding it was time to try more YA fantasy. So, I kept going and I kept reading and branching out. One thing that made me want to read more YA fantasy is the escape from everyday stressors it provides. And, even with the escapism provided by the magical and otherworldly elements, YA fantasy still manages to have characters that I can look up to, who are in relatable situations. While authors like Sarah J. Maas and her Throne of Glass series definitely got me into YA fantasy with powerful female characters and epic worlds, I love how now, in 2022, there are so many diverse and magical reads that a Puerto Rican girl can look up to as well.
One of those YA fantasy series that I adore from a Puerto Rican writer is the Blazewrath Games series by Amparo Ortiz. I remember receiving the galley of the first and then second book, and I was completely hooked. Amparo weaves a great tale with unique elements, telling a story full of magic and fun. The first novel tells the story of main character Lana Torres, whose main passion and love has always been dragons rather than people. Torres is Puerto Rican and lives on the island. Her biggest dream is representing the island in the Blazewrath World Cup, which is a magical tournament in which 16 countries participate. Competitors ride dragons, Lana’s passion, while competing in epic games. In the book, Lana’s dream becomes true for her when Puerto Rico’s own Runner is kicked off the team, and she sees this as an opportunity to get in and participate. What I loved about this novel and its sequel, is the fact that we follow a strong main character and we can vividly experience the games as if we were there. The world that Amparo builds is perfectly crafted and makes us feel like it could be a reality in some other dimension. Not to mention, there are some pretty cool references to Puerto Rico as an island that made me giddy to read about. This is one that I highly recommend as a great YA fantasy, full of heart, fun and, of course, dragons!
Another YA fantasy that mixes elements from the author’s imagination as well as culture is Romina Garber’s Lobizona duology, which includes the first book and the second one released in 2021, Cazadora. What I love about these novels is the fact that it mixes Argentine culture and history, alongside the backdrop of Miami, Florida. (I live in South Florida, in Hollywood, and went to college for my masters at FIU in Miami!) The story follows main character Manuela Azul, known as Manu, who resides in a small apartment with her mother in Miami, where they live in an effort to escape from her father’s crime-ridden family. One day, Manu’s mom is taken by ICE and her life is forever changed. During her desperate search for her mother, she discovers she has ethereal powers. Not only does the book follow this strong and brave character, but it mixes in folklore and culture, as well as some serious mystical-like vibes. It also has unique magical elements and characters towards the end (no spoilers!) as Manu finds out something about herself that leads her somewhere that she truly seems to belong. It’s a beautiful ride and a great world with realistic elements mixed in. It is definitely worth the read for diehard fantasy fans and newcomers to fantasy alike if you’re looking for something unique to explore.
I could go on for days about how much I love YA fantasy novels and authors, and I am honestly so happy I dove in and gave them a try. Now, they are honestly my go-to type of books when I need a comfortable escape with a book, and I cannot wait for the upcoming YA fantasy releases of 2022. I hope you all, also, find solace in these type of novels and decide to give them a shot if you have not given them one yet.
What are some of your favorite YA fantasy novels? Are there any you are looking forward to reading in 2022? Let me know on Twitter @AuroraMiami and let us know @BookRiot. Have a great fantastical escape into a magical bookish world!