I Ranked Every YA Fantasy I Read in 2021
1. Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo
This novel is the sequel to King of Scars. Like its predecessor it follows King Nikolai, general Zoya, and spy Nina as well as a few new POV characters. There is war, blight, a heist, romantic pining, and character cameos. It's epic, glorious, and my favorite Grishaverse book to date. You do need to have read the previous Grishaverse books before this one to fully comprehend what's happening. If you haven't checked out Bardugo's books yet I cannot recommend them enough.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, the Grishaverse is ever expanding and with each book you can see Bardugo's growth as a writer.
2. Broken Web by Lori M. Lee
This is the sequel to Forest of Souls and picks up right where that book left off. The character dynamics and writing style remain the same so if you enjoyed them in the first book you'll like them here too. Rather than focusing on the ghoulish elements of the first book, this novel has more emphasis on Thiy's (the land where the characters live) politics. We also travel to more parts of Thiy in the novel and get to see more of the series' antagonist. This novel is truly a perfect sequel.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes. This is one of the few series where the sequel is just as good as the first book.
3. Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
This one is technically a magical realism but I decided to include it on this list because it is the close cousin of fantasy. This novel is about a family cursed to never be able to leave their garden home. Also, all the men they love vanish. I honestly have no other author I can compare McLemore's writing style to. It's ethereal, soft, and delicate. This novel reads like a fairy tale.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, especially if you like flowery/poetic writing.
4. Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Poston
This novel follows a gardener's daughter (Cerys). She must save her kingdom from a cursed woods by traveling to a mythical city deep in the wood's heart and appealing to the Lady of the Woods. The story is enchanting and dark and sure to conjure nightmares. I recommend fans of books like Lori M. Lee's Forest of Souls and Melissa Bashardoust's Girl, Serpent, Thorn check this one out. It's a standalone which is a rare gem in fantasy.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, especially if you like books about magical forests (like me) or flower magic.
5 .The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis
In the dust filled land on Arketta there are girls who live in welcome houses, forced to pleasure men. When one of them (Clementine) kills a patron she, her sister (Aster) and their friends (Mallow, Violet, and Tansy) flee in the night. I liked the uniqueness of the world (which is wild west inspired), the characterization (particularly of Aster), and the fast paced, gun totting adventures.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, especially if you're looking for a world unlike anything you've read before.
6. Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez
Following the events of Woven In Moonlight, Catalina (the Illustrian's would be queen) is banished to the deadly Yanu Jungle. There she attempts to find the illusive Illari people in the hopes they'll aid her in her quest to reclaim the throne. This had everything I wanted including: character development for Catalina, adventure, magic, and an expansion upon already existing world building. You don't necessarily need to have read Moonlight as this is a companion not a sequel, but it helps give context if you do read it beforehand.
Would I Recommend it?: Yep. Again, another fun jungle adventure.
7. Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
Tamsin (a witch cursed to be unable to love) and Wren (a source or person made of magic) team up to take down a dark witch. My favorite part of this novel was the world building. The way that Tamsin's curse works and how Wren's power works were unlike anything I've seen before (and I've read many YA fantasies). The relationship between Tamsin and Wren was sweet if cheesy. This is another stellar standalone.
Would I Recommend it?: Coming from someone who doesn't typically like witch books this one still blew me away with its magic system.
8. This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
Briseis Greene's touch can grow plants and bring life back to those that have died. When she inherits a house with a secret garden from her birth aunt she learns more about her birth family's legacy. I loved the concept here and it was well executed. It was great to see such a loving family and especially one with lots of representation. The magic is similar to that of Among the Beasts and Briars though this one has a contemporary setting.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, especially if you like stories with flower magic and big houses full of secrets.
9. Lobizona by Romina Garber
Manuela 'Manu' is an undocumented immigrant from Argentina. The novel follows her discovery of the secret, magical half of her identity as she is thrust into the world of witches and werewolves. This is own voices and has a whimsical, magical world that was very accessible to readers. There is also a solid friend group and the novel tackles serious and pertinent issues
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, especially for the werewolf lover.
10. Serpentine by Cindy Pon
Skybright is a maid to the daughter of a wealthy merchant family who discovers she is the daughter of a serpent demon. The novel is own voices mythology (Chinese), has a sweet female friendship, and an adorable romance. There is a sequel but this can be read as a standalone.
Would I Recommend it?: It's good, but hardcore YA fantasy readers may be disappointed by how rushed the world building feels.
11. Legendborn by Tracey Deonn
Bree attends an early college program in Carolina after the untimely death of her mother. After discovering an underground, magical world full of demons and those who hunt them she begins to believe that her mother's death was no accident. This book takes the legend of King Arthur and transplants it into a modern day college setting while adding themes of grief, race, and generational trauma (all of which were well integrated). The world building was well done and despite its length it never felt boring because the stakes felt perpetually high.
Would I Recommend it?: Yes, if you like King Arthur stories.
12. A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir
This is the much anticipated conclusion to the Ember in the Ashes quartet. It follows three characters; Elias, Laia, and Helen; who, despite living in enemy nations, find themselves brought together to fight an evil fey king. While it's the weakest link in the quartet it was still a (mostly) satisfying conclusion. By far the best part was the final battle that the entire series had been building towards and the wrapping up of threads afterwards. I'm glad that I read this series and I encourage you to check it out if you're interested in the premise.
Would I Recommend it?: This series is well worth the investment.
13. How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black
This functions as both a prequel and sequel to the Folk of Air trilogy and follows Cardan, who is a faerie prince of the land of Elfhame (as opposed to Jude, the protagonist of the main series). This was a nice if unnecessary addition to the series. It doesn't add a lot of new information, but that's unsurprising given its short length. I liked the story telling aspect of the story because at my core I'm a fairy tale lover. I also liked the cyclical nature of the book.
Would I Recommend it?: If you want a reunion with Jude and Cardan then yes. Fun as it was, though, it's not a must read.
14. Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani
This short story collection re-imagines 12 fairy tales. Among the standouts are Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Mermaid. Besides those I also really enjoyed Peter Pan. The best ones were the ones which felt the most like Chainani had left his personal mark on them. Some read as a little too close to the original to warrant their placement in the book.
Would I Recommend it?: Only for people not super familiar with the original fairy tales since too many felt like just rehashes.
15. Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko
This is the sequel to Raybearer. Tarisai is a newly crowned empress who must anoint a council of the twelve rulers of her realm in order to appease demonic creatures from the underworld. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this conclusion to the duology. Ifueko introduced a lot of new world, characters, and plot in this book. I liked all of them and wanted them to be explored more in depth. There simply wasn't time for that, however.
Would I Recommend it?: If you're okay with some rushed storytelling then there's still a lot to love about this duology.
16. Six Crimson Cranes by Elisabeth Lim
Princess Shiori is rendered mute with a bowl on her head and her brothers are transformed into cranes by her stepmother. Without her name and without resources, Shiori must rely on her own wits, the betrothed she resents, a dragon and a paper bird to break the curse. The best parts of this novel were Shiori and her betrothed relationship and the twist regarding one character. It was bogged down by broken world building and plot.
Would I Recommend it?: I'd suggest reading Lim's Blood of Stars duology instead.
17. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
This is about a school for magical teens which is crawling with monsters and in which alliances must be formed in order to survive to graduation. I enjoyed the nontraditional protagonist (a sort of anti-chosen one) and the vast feeling world. The writing style grated on me and read as unrefined. There was far too much info dumping and being told rather than shown.
Would I Recommend it?: No, there are plenty of magic school stories that you could read instead.
18. Bone Crier's Grace by Kathryn Purdie
This is the sequel to Bone Crier's Moon and picks up immediately following the events of the first novel. Compared to the first one, which I thoroughly enjoyed, this sequel was a major let down. The issues I had with Purdie's writing of relationships was exacerbated, the first half of the plot felt like a clone of the first novel, and the author contradicted her own world building.
Would I Recommend it?: No. Don't even read the first book because you'll probably like it and then be let down with this sequel.