Young Adult Fantasy Series: Worth Reading?

YA Series, Worth Reading? Covers of Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Red Rising by Pierce Brown and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Since I started watching BookTube and picking up the hyped books I developed this love-hate relationship with young adult fantasy series. I love them as they are easy and fast reads. I picked them up every once in a while but if I read too many I end up feeling guilty and a bit sick of them. Reading too many of them in a row makes their flaws indigestible. It’s kind of similar to the relationship I have with chocolate…it’s amazing in small quantities but as soon as I gorge down a whole bar I end up feeling sick…

Lately, I started too many young adult fantasy series and I decided to look at them a little bit closer, putting on my ‘critical reader’ glasses, to decide whether I should continue with these series or not…

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

The first young adult fantasy series I want to talk about is Scythe by Neal Shusterman. Everyone and their grandmas were ooohhing and aaahhing on about this book on BookTube and I succumbed to the hype and read the book.

Scythe is a blend of fantasy, dystopia, and SF. In a future world, humanity conquered disease thus death, making people immortal. A benevolent, omnipotent and all-seeing AI called the Thunderhead is watching over the world, making sure everything runs smoothly. The only problem this world seems to have which the Thunderhead cannot interfere with is overpopulation. Thus the scythedom is created which is an organization of chosen and trained people who can kill people in order to control the size of the population.

Sounds grotesque and it is but it also sounds intriguing. My mind reeled at the opportunities and excitement a book with such a premise promised but did it deliver?

When I read it the second book in the series, the Thunderhead, was already out and the reviewers kept saying how much better the second book is. Hearing this I automatically predicted disaster and I was right.

Despite the unique world, Shusterman created I felt this book a bit too boring. I cannot pinpoint the reason behind it, but overall I did not connect to the characters and for the majority of it nothing happened.

In a nutshell, Citra and Rowan get picked to be apprentices to a scythe, and as a scythe cannot have two apprentices, the scythedom decides that only one of them can become a scythe. Then the scythedom decides that one of them has to glean (kill) the other to become a scythe.

What I think would have made this book much better is a more detailed world building and more focus on the characters. Why were they chosen to be scythes? How do they train? What do they struggle with? I am not saying these topics were not mentioned, but they were kind of glossed over quickly, leaving me craving some more. Ultimately, I gelled with neither of them and the introduction of a romance thread between them was the final straw. I feel that the book would have been much better with a strong friendship at its center.

Red Rising bt Pierce Brown

Next, let’s talk about another over-hyped young adult fantasy series. Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a blend of fantasy, SF and dystopia to be more exact.

In a futuristic color-coded society, the Reds work 24/7 in the belly of Mars to make the surface of the planet habitable for future generations. Their lives are not easy and the conditions are less than fair but they put up with them because they know that their children and children’s children will have a better life.

Darrow is one of the Reds working the mines of Mars. Things kick off when Darrow’s wife is killed and he is unwillingly recruited by the revolutionary group who fight against their oppressors. Darrow finds out that all his existence is based on a lie because the surface of Mars is actually a habitable place and has been for a while now. The Reds are not heroes and pioneers, they are just slaves.

This is an intense and action-packed Roman-inspired novel narrated by Darrow. Darrow will infiltrate the enemy by becoming one of them and fighting his way up among their ranks.

This book is a blend of The Hunger Games and the Lord of the Flies. Darrow and his fellow classmates have to fight each other to prove their strength and supremacy, and the battle is a savage one.

Ultimately, this too felt flat for me, mostly because of the recycled plot and the main character. Others have been chosen to infiltrate the enemy but none succeeded until him. Here’s why…Darrow is THE ONE. I mean from the start he is just too perfect. What we get is not showing how the Reds are oppressed but how Darrow is better than everyone.

So the book felt too long and because we have our perfect main character we kind of know how it will end from the moment the plot is laid out.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The last book on my list is the one that disappointed me the most, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, a paranormal fantasy romance in which there is parallel world accessible by hidden doors.

I didn’t know this one was basically a romance novel when I started reading it, but soon enough it became obvious. Karou is the generic heroine we’ve seen too many times. She’s beautiful, funny, talented and mysterious. She has an equally beautiful but arrogant and a bit stupid ex-boyfriend which makes her desirable too. Yet, another too perfect heroine. The only characteristic that sets her apart is her blue hair. I should have counted the times the color of her hair was mentioned…

Karou leads a mysterious life in Prague. She has a normal teenage life on the surface as an art student but the magical creatures she draws are actually real. She is raised by the chimaera (magical demons) and she does errands for them, gathering teeth from all over the world using the magical doors.

Then suddenly strange markings appear on the doors she uses for her errands and to communicate with her family.

The love interest is a beautiful angel, Akiva, who despite the fact that he is Karou’s enemy, cannot help himself but feel suddenly attracted to her. From one second to the next, he begins stalking her and falling in love with her.

Clichés, exaggerated characters, insta-love, weak plot…

‘Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx. Beyond merely pretty, her face was vibrantly alive, her gaze always sparking and luminous, and she had a birdlike way of cocking her head, her lips pressed together while her dark eyes danced, that hinted at secrets and mysteries.’

This was page 18. Should have stopped then and there. Then we meet Akiva.

‘Certainly, they couldn’t see him as he truly was. His fiery wings were glamoured invisible, and he should have been able to pass as a human, but he wasn’t quite pulling it off. What people saw was a tall young man, beautiful – truly, breath-stealingly beautiful, in a way one rarely beholds in real life – who moved among them with predatory grace, seeming no more mindful of them than if they were statuary in a garden of gods. On his back a pair of crossed swords were sheathed, and his sleeves were pushed up over forearms tanned and corded with muscle.’

‘His dark hair was cropped close to his skull, with a hairline that dipped into a widow’s peak. His golden skin was bronzed darker across the planes of his face – high ridges of cheekbones, brow, bridge of the nose – as if he lived his life in drenching rich honey light.’

‘What people fixed on, stopping to watch him pass, were his eyes.

They were amber like a tiger’s, and like a tiger’s they were rimmed in black – the black both of heavy lashes and of kohl, which focused the gold of his irises like beams of light. They were pure and luminous, mesmerizing and achingly beautiful…’

Conclusions

Which of the discussed young adult fantasy series should I continue reading? I might give a change to the first two as I see some potential in world building and expanding in them which might make them better reads. Even though the same potential is there for the Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the romance is just too cringe.

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