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Updated by Jen Blair on Dec 07, 2021
Headline for Best Fantasy 2021
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Best Fantasy 2021

When I was a kid, you couldn’t tear me away from books about pioneer girls in long dresses, but none of these girls were ever in charge of their own story. This is why I love current YA fantasy books so much, the girls are still in long dresses, but they clearly own their story and they can FIGHT.

Curses by Lish McBride

Curses - Lish McBride

I love everything about this book. It’s a retelling of_ Beauty and the Beast_. It has hilarious, witty dialogue. Plus the most pitch-perfect, perfectly-paced friends to lovers romance. Yes, please.

From the publisher:
Forced to live as a beast forever unless she agrees to marry a man of her mother's choosing before her 18th birthday, Merit Cravan joins forces with a con artist who is her only hope in finding the best match.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor - Shaenon Garrity; illustrated by Christopher Baldwin

This book is the oddest mix of fantasy, classic retelling, good vs. evil showdown... with a girl who can FIGHT [see my earlier note about fantasy books]. It all adds up to one of the best graphic novels I've read in years.

From the publisher:
After she saves a man from drowning, Haley wakes up in a pocket universe that appears as a gothic estate and helps three brothers whose job it is to protect her world against a penultimate evil.

Gilded (Gilded, #1) by Marissa Meyer

Gilded - Marissa Meyer

It’s by Marissa Meyer. That’s all you really need to know.
But it’s also a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin that takes the story in places you never see coming. A tale of ghosts and legends and truly scary stuff. A tale about the importance of storytelling and the people who weave those stories. You need this book.

From the publisher:
The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her for a price. Love isn't meant to be part of the bargain. Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever

Little Thieves (Little Thieves, #1) by Margaret Owen

Little Thieves - Margaret Owen

A retelling of The Goose Girl, but told from the perspective of one of the meanest, most selfish, witty protagonists you have ever met. And probably the best book I read this year. I wept several times. I laughed at almost every page. I just want to read it again and again.

From the publisher:
Posing as a royal to rob the nobles blind, seventeen-year-old Vanja Schmidt is thrilled by her luck until she crosses the wrong god and is cursed to turn into the jewels she covets unless she can pay back her debts--quickly.

The Other Merlin (Emry Merlin, #1) by Robyn Schneider

The Other Merlin - Robyn Schneider

The Authurian remix you didn’t know you needed. Merlin is a girl. The most talented wizard in her family, but discounted because she’s a girl. But Camelot won’t survive without her, so buckle up. Just thinking about this book makes me want to read it all over again.

From the publisher:
Emry, the daughter of the famed wizard Merlin, must disguise herself as her twin brother to learn magic in Prince Arthur's court, where she finds scandal, danger, and romance.

Roxy by Neal Shusterman

Roxy - Neal Shusterman

Oxycontin, Marijuana, Alcohol, and many other drugs are characters portrayed as god-like creatures who want to help humans, but also like controlling lives. You might guess the ending, but you won’t see any of the twists and turns that the story takes you on the way there.

From the publisher:
Ramey, I. The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager--a contest to see who can bring their mark to "the Party" first--is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer--tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful...and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys--Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy's orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy. Which one are you?

The Theft of Sunlight (Dauntless Path, #2) by Intisar Khanani

The Theft of Sunlight - Intisar Khanani

In a sequel to Thorn, but with an entirely different protagonist, Rae is a brave and gutsy heroine whose choices are questioned because of her gender and her disability. But she is one of my favorite book characters ever. Warning: Huge cliffhanger. Book three doesn’t come out until July 2022. Plan accordingly.

From the publisher:
Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend's sister is snatched, Rae knows she can't look away any longer - even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule. Yet the court holds its share of surprises. There she discovers an ally in the foreign princess, who recruits her as an attendant. Armed with the princess's support, Rae seeks answers in the dark city streets, finding unexpected help in a rough-around-the-edges street thief with secrets of his own. But treachery runs deep, and the more Rae uncovers, the more she endangers the kingdom itself.

Vespertine (Vespertine, #1) by Margaret Rogerson

Vespertine - Margaret Rogerson

Artemesia is intelligent, brave, and compassionate. She is also sarcastic and anti-social. #mood This is one of my favorite books of the year for keeping those pages turning and making me laugh out loud many times, even when Artemesia was in gravest peril.

From the publisher:
When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends the Gray Sisters by awakening the revenant bound to a saint's relic, even though she runs the risk of being possessed permanently by the powerful ancient spirit.

Winterkeep (Graceling Realm, #4) by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep - Kristin Cashore

When you have written a novel as iconic as Graceling, maybe you shouldn’t mess with your legacy, but Cashore continues to write sequels to this fantasy that are filled with tales of power, evil, struggle, friendship, and romance that are jaw-droppingly good. This novel exceeded all my expectations. Thank goodness.

From the publisher:
Queen Bitterblue of Monsea must head to the nation of Winterkeep after her envoys drown in suspicious circumstances, and somewhere there, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches while tragedy with devastating political and personal ramification strikes.

Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier

Year of the Reaper - Makiia Lucier

Royal intrigue, slow-burn romance, a mystery with a head-snapping plot twist - this is the perfect read. I think Makiia Lucier is about to become one of my favorite writers.

From the publisher:
Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer's apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas' title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what here members. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret--one that could threaten the kingdom's newfound peace and plunge it back into war.