Sarah Beth Durst is the hidden gem of the fantasy world. She is an expert at crafting beautifully sincere characters, with compelling backstories and relationships, who work to make their world a bit better. You want to spend more time with them than you are given just so you can marvel at it all. It helps that her worldbuilding is stunning, and she has the wit to make her books effortlessly funny.
Her credentials are impressive. Sarah Beth Durst has written over 20 books for kids, teens, and adults since her 2007 YA debut, Into the Wild. She won the American Library Association Alex Award for her adult fantasy novel, The Queen of Blood. She also won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for her YA fantasy novel, Vessel. Finally, while this last bit isn’t much of a credential, I really enjoy her books, especially her adult fantasy work.
I have been a Sarah Beth Durst stan since 2016. I have also waited just as long for the day that one of her books takes the world by storm. For some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, she has never had a breakout hit. While I don’t claim Goodreads is a complete account of total readership, it is notable that even her most popular book, The Queen of Blood, has only 10,720 ratings as of January 2023. Maybe it’s just that her books haven’t received the marketing love they deserve from her publisher. Maybe it’s a result of her publishing so widely across age groups. Maybe it’s just the publishing classic: no book has had a lucky break so far.
I Love Sarah Beth Durst and You Should Too
Nevertheless, I love the way her books center fantasy protagonists who are parents, mentors, best friends, and steadfast partners. Oftentimes, characters find strength from having others who support them no matter what. A villain may want to destroy the world. Someone may have taken power they should not possess. A magical force might even need to find balance before it destroys everything. No matter the scenario, there is no manufactured interpersonal conflict to distract from the fantastical core of her novels. Sarah Beth Durst questions what it means to have strength, what makes a character a good person, and what we owe to each other in worlds that insist on competition over collaboration. Her books are just sincere and fun and lovely. So, let’s get into these novels of Sarah Beth Durst’s that I keep talking about.
Standalone Adult Fantasy Novel
“Patience, she decided, is for people unaware of their own mortality.”
There are a lot of places you can start with Sarah Beth Durst’s adult fantasy novels, but to see if you enjoy her work, I would recommend starting with one of her newest standalone adult fantasy novels. If you love books that ask what happens after a group of intrepid heroes save the world, this is the book for you. These five heroes defeated the bone maker and his inhuman bone army 25 years ago, but when signs of the bone maker’s return continue to trouble them, they realize they must come together once more and save the day. Mind you, the leader of the group, Kreya, starts the book as a recluse who has been resurrecting her thief-turned-hero husband from the dead for the last 25 years, who is also involved in re-saving the world. I promise you the other aging heroes are just as lovely.
Standalone YA Fantasy Novel
“In now, there’s no guilt or regret or worry or fear. There’s only the doing.”
While you could start in a lot of different places for her YA work, might I recommend her standalone urban fantasy heist? Sky comes from a society of dragon shifters who hold a child’s first heist in high esteem. Even though her family has been shunned by the dragon shifter community after her mother never returned from her last heist, she is still determined to execute her heist and find her mother. She might just be able to find out what happened to her ex-boyfriend in the process. What more could you want from a campy YA heist book that leans into the fun of genre with all the dragons, gold, and secrets to back it up?
Standalone Middle Grade Fantasy Novel
“You’re only a failure if you quit. Until then you’re just someone who hasn’t succeeded yet.”
If you are looking for a big adventure from the perspective of forgotten, seemingly powerless animal companions, this is the middle grade fantasy book for you. A group of rejected wizards’ familiars team up to stop a villain from stealing their magic. With overly specific powers like conjuring only pastries, they know they will not be selected for magical quests. Their stay at the Shelter for Rejected Familiars is disrupted when they are told they can cure their magic if they collect the right ingredients. But the offer is not all it seems, and when they decide to fight back, they realize their powers might not be so useless after all.
Now You Know All About Durst, What’s Next?
Although Sarah Beth Durst has a lot more to offer, you now have a few places to start reading. I know a range of readers will love her smart, funny and fun fantasy worlds. She really is a hidden gem with a lovely backlist and even more to come. I cannot wait for her next YA thriller, The Lake House, set to come out on April 25, 2023. If you are looking for more fantasy authors, check out the Brigid Kemmerer, Holly Black, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and V.E. Schwab reading pathways.