I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a bit of a book slut. I love books. I own roughly six hundred physical book-shaped things, and many more digitally on my iPad. These numbers don’t count my comic book collection. Sadly, I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d like this year with work obligations and writing commitments, but the bright side is that having a limited amount of time to be curled up on the couch means I try to make the most of it. I try to consume the books that turn me into an obsessive nerd — that takes a special type of story, with especially special characters.
I’ve never book blogged before, so bear with me. It’s important for me not to spoil anyone, but also difficult to determine the depth of spoilage since I’m sure everyone has a different measure of what that entails. I’ve chosen my five favourite young adult titles of the year that have fallen into my lap as worthy sacrifices for consumption. I gobbled them up. I lost sleep so I could read them. I shirked all other tasks (including house cleaning and sometimes eating balanced meals) so I could finish them.
I should note that they were not all published this year; I tend to be rather distrustful of titles earning too much hype, so I let them mature a bit before I take a peek. Sometimes I lose myself, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
So, without further ado:
The Most Kick Ass Young Adult Titles in Horror & Dark Urban Fantasy of 2013
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor[one_third] [/one_third] [two_thirds_last]
Despite recommendations, I was initially put off by the cover. Something about the feather mask seemed to place it into a younger more frivolous mindset than what the book actually embraces. I was won over by the mention of a dwindling number human teeth in a jar that sat in a little workshop in Prague.
The scope of Daughter of Smoke and Bone is ambitious, dealing with a story that spans lifetimes and mingles in a mythology that is bigger and more beautiful than I initially thought. It’s ambitious, and it surpassed all my expectations for a little story about a little girl who lives half in our world and half out of it. The reality is that Karou is a compelling, fascinating character with a delicately woven backstory that throws the reader into a fantasy world that is so surprising, so epic, that I can hardly imagine how Taylor managed to cram it all in without making the writing seem crowded.
It’s elegantly written, and Taylor’s prose is downright stunning in places. I’m determined to visit Prague in the next year as a result — as in the tradition of gothic fiction, the city itself is a character in the story. Amazing. The sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, is equally impressive, and I’m thrilled that the first book was optioned for film. I can barely stand waiting any longer for the conclusion of the series.[/two_thirds_last] [toggles] [toggle title=”Goodreads Summary: Daughter of Smoke and Bone” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″] “Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.
The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things.
When Brimstone called, she always came.”
In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.
Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought. [/toggle] [/toggles]
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff[one_third] [/one_third][two_thirds_last]
I’m usually very reluctant when it comes to books about fairies. Some of my first experiences with the Gentry that recalibrated my understanding of the creatures in fictions came from Melissa Marr and Holly Black, and I’m glad for that: if you’ve ever been reluctant, let me assure you, The Replacement is a great example that plays in the dark side of fairy without ever once using the “f” word.
It’s a dark, tightly-compacted tale about a boy who’s grown up different — he understands from the get go that he’s misfit to the human world, and while he still has the support of his friends and family, they know too that it’s just a matter of time until the creatures that swapped him at birth are going to come back for him. Add the complication of a complacent town who allows their children to be stolen from their cribs as sacrifices to these creatures once every seven years, and Mackie is called back to the dark place from which he came to right the wrongs of two warring otherworldly houses.
Beautifully written, it’s a standalone story with characters who don’t fit into the normative herd of super-powered young adult protagonists. They’re reluctant, they’re flawed, and you sincerely feel their struggle. [/two_thirds_last] [toggles] [toggle title=”Goodreads Summary: The Replacement” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″]
Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.
Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.[/toggle] [/toggles]
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black[one_third] [/one_third][two_thirds_last]
I’ve spoken about my love of Holly Black’s books before, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. She’s one of my favourite young adult authors, and often I feel that she can do no wrong. (Ask me about The Curseworkers series. I dare you. I will fill your ears with delighted babble.)
Coldest Girl opens with the protagonist, Tana, passed out in a bathtub the morning after a house party with friends. As per usual, Black offers no illusions about late adolescence — booze, drugs, sex. These are the kids I grew up with; a scenario I’m familiar with… that is, until Tana realizes that her slumbering friends are the victims of a vampire massacre. She tiptoes through their blood, realizing that the killers may still be in the house. Indeed, one vamp remains chained to the bed with her recently bit ex-boyfriend who’d gladly turn her into a snack. She saves him, and as they say: shit gets real, real fast.
Excellent pacing, believable characters, a diverse cast set in a dystopian post-plague world where vampires and humans coexist within special boundaries, and an unlikely heroine thrust into a task that demands more than a normal person would be willing to offer make for an intense read that dips its fingers into a little bit of that good old gory lust.[/two_thirds_last] [toggles] [toggle title=”Goodreads Summary: The Coldest Girl and Coldtown” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″]
Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.
One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.[/toggle] [/toggles]
Scowler by Daniel Kraus[one_third] [/one_third][two_thirds_last]
Once in a while, I leave supernatural horror behind for a trusted author. Daniel Kraus wins every time at offering up characters who are believable, flawed, and equipped to suffer. Their hardships cut to the bone, and the true horror of his stories oftentimes deals with the relationships they find themselves in. Ry is no different. Ry endures despite an abusive family situation by retreating into a fantasy-type scenario where three of his toys can speak to him. What they tell him, well — if I was a kid, and I heard a thing like Scowler talking to me, I’d flip my shit. Hell, the Rat King in the Nutcracker scared me when I was five. I had dolls whose eyes used to watch me when I took them into the basement.
Scowler is a gristly read; unsettling and dark, it turned my stomach a few times. The characters that live in this book stand in three dimensions, and I won’t lie: it’s a difficult read for the emotional component. If you’re accustomed to happy endings, I assure you, it’s going to be a deep, dark ride into the annals of a twisted psyche before you even see a pinprick of that golden glow at the end of the tunnel.
Wonderful, honest, and horrible all at once. I highly recommend it to any horror fan who isn’t squeamish.[/two_thirds_last] [toggles] [toggle title=”Goodreads Summary: Scowler” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″]
Nineteen-year-old Ry Burke, his mother, and little sister scrape by for a living on their dying family farm. Ry wishes for anything to distract him from the grim memories of his father’s physical and emotional abuse. Then a meteorite falls from the sky, bringing with it not only a fragment from another world but also the arrival of a ruthless man intent on destroying the entire family. Soon Ry is forced to defend himself by resurrecting a trio of imaginary childhood protectors: kindly Mr. Furrington, wise Jesus, and the bloodthirsty Scowler. [/toggle] [/toggles]
Rotters by Daniel Kraus[one_third] [/one_third][two_thirds_last]
On that note about being squeamish: I hope you’re not. Daniel Kraus set my standards bar in horror fiction for twenty thirteen with good reason — his characters are beyond fiction. They stand up and speak and bleed and ache for you in a way that is rare in young adult fiction. Rotters is more than a book about digging up dead bodies; its so much more: it’s about a relationship between a father and son and his dead mother and a tribe of men who practice the ancient art of graverobbing. It’s a history lesson and an anatomy lesson and a confrontation with what it means to die and to die well.
It’s gory. It’s explicit. It hurts at times. It’s scary because death is something that comes for us all, and most people don’t take the time to consider what that means for the body when the contemplation is usually fixed on something else that needs less sanitization.
The book touches on legacy and inheritance as well — not in the monetary sense, but in the upkeep of a tradition when passed from father to son. It’s a story that will get under your skin and linger for a long time afterwards, and for that, it’s dark and beautiful and singularly exceptional.[/two_thirds_last] [toggles] [toggle title=”Goodreads Summary: Rotters” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″]
Grave-robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.
Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.
Daniel Kraus’s masterful plotting and unforgettable characters makeRotters a moving, terrifying, and unconventional epic about fathers and sons, complex family ties, taboos, and the ever-present specter of mortality. [/toggle] [/toggles]
Did you have favourite reads this year? Give me some recommendations! I’m always on the lookout for new books.
See what else I’ve read this year on Goodreads.