You want action and adventure? Forget Avengers: Infinity War. Okay, maybe don’t forget Infinity War, but you might want to read these books when you get home from the movies. This week’s book club features all-new YA lit starring badass female heroines, ready to inspire your imagination and dazzle your warrior heart. Who knows, maybe we’ll see them on the big screen sometime soon. They might be perfect for the young reader in your life, but they’re not just for kids!
1. Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian ($19): “The last person who called me by my true name was my mother, with her dying breath. When I was six years old, my hand was still small enough that hers covered it completely. She squeezed it so painfully tight that I hardly noticed anything else. So tight that I hardly noticed the silver of the knife pressing against her throat or the fear in her eyes. ‘You know who you are,’ she said to me. Her voice didn’t waver, even as drops of blood bloomed where the blade cut her skin. ‘You are our people’s only hope, Theodosia.’ And then they cut her throat and they took my name.”
Theodosia, who has been Thora for the past 10 years, is the Ash Princess, a captured girl from a captured land. Astrea was the land of spiritgems, gems found in caves devoted to the gods which took on magical powers. They were worn by the devout who were called to serve the gods as Guardians. Even then, Guardians were at risk of going mad and dying, but since Astrea was conquered by the Kalovaxians, nobody is called. Now, thousands of Astreans are forced to mine gems. It’s a job with heavy turnover, as, having no special calling, most of the conscripted miners quickly lose their sanity and lives. The chosen Astreans could use the gems to create great magic; their rulers merely use them as adornment.
Theodosia, daughter of the murdered Fire Queen is the rightful heir to the throne of Astrea. Now she’s trapped in the household of the Kaiser, leader of the Kalovaxians and the man who killed her mother. When there are whispers of igniting the embers of long-cold rebellion. Thora is initially afraid, as whenever there’s a riot, she’s whipped publicly as an example to the rest, “always alone.” When the Kaiser recovers her long-lost father and demands she execute him, though, Theodosia decides it’s about time to stop serving and to reclaim her name, her position, and your undivided attention.
2. Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young ($18): The warrior-hero of Young’s book, 17-year-old Eelyn was always going to be a fighter. It’s the way of the Aska clan. After all, you have to be tough and ready to defend yourself, or you’ll be easy prey for Aska’s rival clan, the Riki. Eelyn’s brother Iri went missing, presumed dead, five years ago. It stays that way until Eelyn’s life is saved on the battlefield, by Iri… who is fighting for the other side.
“The enemies of our god ran toward us in a swarm of fur and iron. Hair tangled in the wind. Sun glinting off blades. I picked up speed at the sight of them, tightening my fingers around my sword as I pushed forward, ahead of the others. I let the growl crawl up the inside of me, from that deep place that comes alive in battle. I screamed…As we neared them, I turned to the side and counted my steps, plotting my path to the moment when the space between us was eaten up by the sound of heavy bodies crashing into one another. I bit down hard as I reached him, my teeth bared.” Eelyn’s a warrior, through and through, and the book doesn’t shy away from visceral, unsparing, and gory fight scenes. The Aska, based loosely on Vikings are devoted to the concept of Vegr yfir fior: honor above life.
Eelyn is convinced that she saw Iri, though others assume his appearance was a manifestation of a spirit. Later, captured by the Riki and forced into slavery, she must live among the people she barely considers human. However, when attacks start coming from a mysterious third clan, the two warring tribes may have to unite to survive. Her brother’s friend, Fiske, might be the one to help Eelyn do just that. But can you ever trust outsiders when you were raised on a diet of hatred?
3. The Seer’s Curse by J.J. Faulks ($13): Orleigh’s first day is her mother’s last. Rejected from all but the most begrudging care from a grieving and distracted father, she grows up considered cursed after her naming ceremony offering puts out the sacred fire of blessing (after turning it green). Voices in the community blame the child for the increasingly poor harvests as the years go by, though she finds support in her surrogate mother figure, Meila, and Meila’s son Piprin. Steeped in myths and religious lore (much of which is recounted in the novel), their society believes that everyone has a hand in writing the great Script in a seemingly preordained fashion.
“‘But what happens if fate goes wrong? What happens if the Script isn’t completed?’ ‘Fate can’t go wrong: it’s fate!’ Meila exclaimed. ‘But what if something happens that stops fate from following the Script?’ Piprin asked. ‘Fate always finds a way of working itself out,’ Meila said.” The titular Seer tells us that Orleigh does have an important destiny, but something did go wrong; she wasn’t supposed to grow up without a mother. However, she still represents an important beginning.
When Orleigh is still young, a villager asks the Seer what to do about her; the Seer suggests she be sacrificed to Teymos the earth god. Orleigh disappears, and most assume she’s dead. But 10 years later, Piprin hears a promising rumor and sets out to find her. Why is Orleigh so important? Only the Script can tell. And whether you’re a young adult or a fully grown person who still loves a good fantasy, you can probably appreciate this book’s valuable lesson: “There are enough people in this world who are willing to blame you for things beyond your control, you needn’t blame yourself.”
What books make your warrior heart sing? Tag us in your next worldbuilding read @BritandCo.