The best teen fantasy books that mash up old and new

Simon Ilincev Author Of The Fictional War
By Simon Ilincev

Who am I?

With nearly a thousand novels under my belt (or time-worn Kindle, more accurately), I was itching to make my own mark in the world of literature as I entered my teenage years. Having all but one of the books I read be, puzzlingly, written by those definitively into their adulthood only strengthened that desire. Over 850 pages of my own story, drawing from all that I’d read and heard, finally satisfied it three years later — and placed me in a position to share with other readers my age, one teen to another, those tales that most influenced and inspired me.

I wrote...

The Fictional War

By Simon Ilincev,

Book cover of The Fictional War

What is my book about?

Upon receiving a mysterious letter, run-of-the-mill Emmanuel is thrust into a complicated battle encompassing all three worlds of Earth, Destroyia, and Fantasia. The latter two are fairy-tale worlds, filled with the classic fictional characters whose lives Emmanuel has loved to escape into. However, they come with a twist—despite the beauty fairy tales suggest, its villains, Destroyians, had the upper hand, dominating all in their once-united land of Destasia, and even going so far as to enslave their kind-hearted counterparts.

After decades of oppression, the Fantasians' only option was to flee to a whole new world. But united under one fearsome leader of suspicious origins, the Destroyians are once more coming for them, despite their powerful magical barrier… and don’t plan on stopping there.

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The books I picked & why

The Wishing Spell

By Chris Colfer, Brandon Dorman (illustrator),

Book cover of The Wishing Spell

Why did I love this book?

This novel is the first of a 5-book series that served as the primary inspiration for my own, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If the idea of reading about fairy tales that aren’t quite like the ones you heard when younger sounds intriguing, then this book will serve as an excellent introduction.

What’s more, The Wishing Spell has excellent artwork and a very detailed map, something rather rare in all but the most traditional of fantasy books. Having these to consult while reading truly made the story come alive!

By Chris Colfer, Brandon Dorman (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Wishing Spell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change...Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, twins Alex and Connor leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

Story Thieves

By James Riley,

Book cover of Story Thieves

Why did I love this book?

Most novels, fantasy or otherwise, use portals to travel between worlds—but why stop there? Story Thieves certainly doesn’t! It takes the whole concept of fictional worlds and brings it one step further—characters can physically step in and out of books, and even influence their contents.

Sounds interesting? I certainly found it to be, and read through each novel in this series within days of its release, not to mention several times later throughout the years. Should you be looking for a bit of fresh air in your library, this is certainly one choice worth considering.

By James Riley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Story Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A hilarious, action-packed series launches with a story-within-a-story, from the bestselling author of the Half Upon a Time trilogy.

Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.

But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.

Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret,…

Coiling Dragon

By Wo Chi Xi Hong Shi, Ren Woxing (translator),

Book cover of Coiling Dragon

Why did I love this book?

An epic in every sense of the word, it’s taken me a few months to get through this behemoth of a novel. Originally Chinese and serialized on the web (though with an English translation), it didn’t immediately jump out to me as an item for this list.

But Coiling Dragon deserves a spot here, being very well received from both its English and Chinese audiences. Its author takes familiar elements of Western mythology, such as schools of darkness and light or the four basic elements, and places them against the backdrop of an Eastern-inspired world. Within, one youth’s heart-warming journey to immortality is vividly described—in such an enthralling manner that I can’t put the book down despite reading it in my non-native Chinese.

By Wo Chi Xi Hong Shi, Ren Woxing (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coiling Dragon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At one time the Baruch dominated…

…but with time that glory was forgotten.

Can Linley restore the clan’s honor?

In a small town of Wushan, life was hard. His father lived in the past. Linley never knew his mother, but he thought of her often. To become the warrior that could restore the glory of the clan, he must qualify for the Ernst Institute. They don’t take just anyone. Linley must study to gain entry.

Who will teach him?

When he discovered the ring, everything changed. He sensed a great power but wasn’t sure where it would lead. Does he…


By Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (translator),

Book cover of Inkheart

Why did I love this book?

This is one of the ‘twisted fairy tale’-esque books that I’ve read most recently, and I honestly didn’t think I’d be seeing anything new. Add the fact that it was published before I was born, and I was seriously doubting whether this was worth using a precious spot in my alas never-large-enough library withdrawal limit on.

But, Inkheart proved me wrong from the start with its concept of a character being able to literally read books to life. When seeing those read to life start to make demands, the novel made for a hilarious way to idle away a few summer days—though it also left me with more than a couple of thoughts about my own naivety and the dangers of unchecked power.

By Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Inkheart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in Cornelia Funke's internationally celebrated
trilogy - magical, thrilling and mesmerising.

don't think I've ever read anything that conveys so well the
joys, terrors and pitfalls of reading' Diana Wynne Jones

loves books. So does her father, Mo, a bookbinder,
although he has never read aloud to her since her mother mysteriously
disappeared. They live quietly until the night a stranger
knocks at their door. He has come with a warning that forces
Mo to reveal an extraordinary secret - a storytelling secret that
will change their lives for ever.

Also a major film starring…

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Why did I love this book?

Better than the original, I daresay. This fan-fic explores an alternate world where Harry Potter, a household name amongst people of my generation, is not his classic self but rather a young genius who applies science to his wizarding powers whenever possible.

What I especially appreciate about this novel is how thoughtfully its plot was developed—while perhaps a stretch for me to call it explicitly cerebral, it certainly borders on the genre. This world’s Harry faces his challenges in such a methodical way (sometimes overly so!) that I was actively making guesses or getting surprised on an almost chapterly basis.

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