The best YA fantasies for when you’re craving a journey or quest

Hanna Howard Author Of Ignite the Sun
By Hanna Howard

The Books I Picked & Why

The Naming: Book One of Pellinor

By Alison Croggon

Book cover of The Naming: Book One of Pellinor

Why this book?

The Naming, which is the first in The Books of Pellinor quartet, was the first true YA quest novel I ever read. As a Tolkien nerd who was greatly inspired in high school by the Lord of the Rings—almost certainly the series which made me a fantasy writer myself—I had never encountered anything in YA that came close to the depth of landscape worldbuilding that Tolkien so masterfully executes in his books. And in The Naming I felt like I had finally entered a world as intricate and well-developed as Middle-earth—or as close as the faster pace of YA narrative would allow. What was more, our reluctant quester turned out to be a young woman, and I was both thrilled and relieved to see myself in Maerad as I joined her on her journey. 

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By Kristin Cashore

Book cover of Graceling

Why this book?

When I first read Graceling, I was a young bookseller at Barnes & Noble, fresh out of college and writing in every scrap of spare time I had. Graceling showed me a new vista of what YA fantasy could be: daring, creative, completely magical. In Katsa, our hardened heroine, I saw a protagonist who starts out with both room and a desperate need for growth, and I loved watching her change as she journeyed both literally and emotionally. But I also learned something new: fantasy journey narratives could go at a breakneck pace! Graceling is a book I have devoured more than once, as both the characters and the plot are impossible to step away from until the story gallops to a close.

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By Garth Nix

Book cover of Sabriel

Why this book?

I have still never read anything else like Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books. Sabriel, the phenomenal introduction to Nix’s world of necromancers and seers, talking animals, and gated rivers flowing down into Death, follows the daughter of the current Abhorsen—the bell-wielding, good necromancer who keeps the dead dead—as she learns about her heritage and inheritance and gets swept up in her father’s old conflicts. Featuring the most catlike cat fiction has ever seen, a kingdom-sweeping, perilous journey, and one of the coolest magic systems I’ve read. Every time I enter the Old Kingdom, I am incredibly reluctant to leave.

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Echo North

By Joanna Ruth Meyer

Book cover of Echo North

Why this book?

Based on East of the Sun, West of the Moon—possibly the most journey-centered fairy tale of all—this lyrical, gorgeous book takes place in a fantasy version of Siberia that is as atmospheric as it is magical. I was privileged to read a very early version of this story, and I was frustrated I couldn’t immediately go out and buy a copy for everyone I knew. (Now I can—and have!) Our heroine, Echo, is one of the most tenacious gals I’ve met on the page, and she will totally blow you away with her selfless depth of love for the (not always lovable) hero. Also, magic mirrors that are books you can literally walk into? Enchanted houses that need magical sewing back together? Journeys that defy both time and space? Get thee to a bookshop.

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The Beholder

By Anna Bright

Book cover of The Beholder

Why this book?

This book is certainly a journey book, but it deviates from the classic trope by putting that journey on a ship and giving the mishaps and adventures mostly to moments in-between the actual travelling. I was initially a little fooled by the cover and the blurb for this one, expecting a sugar-sweet romance and a Cinderella-worthy heroine; but she is Cinderella with far more depth and character than I’ve seen her before, and her romance is authentic and surprising. I was constantly blown away by the clever interweaving of fairy tale and myth in this story, all tied into a setting that is both familiar and new. When the book was over, I reached immediately for the sequel. Selah was a kindred spirit, and her story delighted me over and over again.

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