The best YA books featuring magical competitions

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love the first time I ever picked up a fantasy novel. Suddenly a whole world of imagination and magic opened up in my head and I’ve been an avid reader and writer ever since. Competitions show up time and again in YA novels (from The Hunger Games to Red Rising), and I think it’s because they provide a good frame for stories about growing up, progress, or ambition. There are high stakes baked in and that makes for an exciting read. I hope you enjoy these books!

I wrote...

The Moonlight Blade

By Tessa Barbosa,

Book cover of The Moonlight Blade

What is my book about?

Every ten years Tigang selects a new ruler. Anyone may enter, but only the desperate and the foolish ever join, because no one leaves unbroken.

Narra is not a fool: she is cursed. When her mother is arrested, she enters the competition to save her, but within the magic-suffused walls of the glass fortress, she comes face to face with a disarming immortal enemy, and strange past life memories. Narra must unravel the mystery of who she truly is, and discover the true nature of her curse, before the competition breaks her, or she breaks the world - again.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Magic Steeped in Poison

Tessa Barbosa Why did I love this book?

A steaming hot cup of tea is one of my favourite things in the world, and Judy’s book features a magical tea master’s competition. The tea magic was utterly captivating and inventive.

This isn’t a cosy fantasy though. Ning runs away from home to enter the competition, to save her sister from a mysterious illness, but she quickly encounters sabotage, jealousy, and a mysterious stranger who may or may not be on her side. I also have a soft spot for stories about sisters, so this one really had me invested.

By Judy I. Lin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Magic Steeped in Poison as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A #1 New York Times Bestseller!
A 2022 PEOPLE Magazine Best Book of Summer!

Judy I. Lin's sweeping debut A Magic Steeped in Poison, first in a duology, is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, "These are the hands that buried my mother."

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take…

Book cover of An Ember in the Ashes

Tessa Barbosa Why did I love this book?

This is the first book in one of my favourite series of all time. It catches you by the throat right from the start and keeps its relentless pace to the end.

Laia of Serra infiltrates a military school in exchange for help to save her brother from prison. Elias is one of the star students at the military school, and he is thrown into the vicious trials to decide the next emperor, even though all he wants is to be free of the Empire.

This book is packed with danger, secrets, a love triangle, and magic. You never know who will live or die and I couldn’t put it down. Is the entire series worth reading? Absolutely. Sabaa Tahir sticks the conclusion in a way that was super satisfying.

By Sabaa Tahir,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked An Ember in the Ashes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

'Keeps one reading long after the lights should have been out' - Robin Hobb

Read the explosive New York Times bestselling debut that's captivated readers worldwide. Set to be a major motion picture, An Ember in the Ashes is the book everyone is talking about.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.

When Laia's grandparents are brutally murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels.

But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant…

Book cover of A Crown of Wishes

Tessa Barbosa Why did I love this book?

Experiencing Roshani Chokshi’s prose is like biting into the most satisfyingly decadent piece of cake. This is a story where you can feel the magic seeping through the words.

A Crown of Wishes is the second in a series, but you don’t need to read the first book to understand it. It’s a fairy tale. Gauri is a princess held captive in her own home. She escapes with help from Vikram, the prince of a neighbouring country. He requires her help to win The Tournament of Wishes, where they must use all their wits to survive poison, dangerous magical creatures, and riddles to come through alive.

This book is beautiful and so much fun.  

By Roshani Chokshi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Crown of Wishes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom's enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighbouring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they'll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes-a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord…

Book cover of Legendborn

Tessa Barbosa Why did I love this book?

Bree starts college and encounters a secret organization comprised of the heirs to King Arthur’s Round Table (the Legendborn). Thing is, they may be responsible for her mother’s death.

She has to hide the magic she’s inherited from her maternal line, because the Legendborn sees it as a threat. She goes through the trials to become a page in the organization to find out the secrets her mother was hiding about her lineage and her magic. Bree goes through a difficult time during the trials, not only because she’s the only Black member of the society, but because she doesn’t know how to control her own powers.

Compelling, fast-paced, with a mystery that includes King Arthur? I was in from the jump and Bree absolutely has my heart.  

By Tracy Deonn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
Winner of the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award

Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy reinvents the King Arthur legend and “braids together Southern folk traditions and Black Girl Magic into a searing modern tale of grief, power, and self-discovery” (Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Belles).

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill…

Book cover of Where Dreams Descend

Tessa Barbosa Why did I love this book?

Calling all Phantom of the Opera fans!

Kallia wants to be the most famous magician in the world, but she’s been kept hostage all of her life. She escapes her prison to join the competition to become the headliner for the Conquering Circus. She’s got talent, but there is magic woven into the city streets, and it’s hard to know who to trust, because her long-time mentor and captor, isn’t what he seems. He may not even be human.

Kalia is ruthlessly ambitious and I love that about her. This story is dark, decadent, and took me places I didn’t expect.

By Janella Angeles,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Where Dreams Descend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she's the best no matter the cost.

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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