The year may be steamrolling toward its conclusion but two months remain to check off a few more books on your 2021 TBR list. November’s Book Corner is comprised of five novels where young women are thrust into different power dynamics. Included are a few of 2021s most anticipated YA fantasy titles about women with extraordinary abilities. Authors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Tiffany D. Jackson both released new books this year. I’ve been reading their entire oeuvres, so this list also features two of their previous works. All books below are ones you will feel compelled to read in one sitting. Carve out time instead of turkeys this November to read these propulsive novels.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Page Count: 392
(CW: Violence, Torture, Gore, Murder, Rape, Sex, Misogyny, Femicide)
Epic sci-fi meets East Asian historical fantasy in the striking debut novel from Xiran Jay Zhao. Their book, Iron Widow, shines a fictional light on China’s only female empress. Set in the future, Huaxia, Cina faces threats from alien attackers. To battle the aliens, the Chinese people created mecha suits called Chrysalises. While the Chrysalises can transform into powerful legendary creatures, they can only be piloted through a psychic link between a male pilot and a chosen woman who will most likely die as a result. Zetian lost her sister after a devastating battle inside a Chrysalis with a popular male fighter. Now, Zetian lusts for revenge. She plans to murder the co-pilot who sacrificed her sister by signing up for battle herself. Although her plan succeeds, Zetian discovers her unheard-of, female psychic link power can murder male Chrysalis co-pilots. Xetian becomes the Iron Widow and makes stunning discoveries about the truth behind the Chrysalis piloting system.
Iron Widow bears similarities to the incredible Pacific Rim (2013) film, so readers can expect a dynamic and high-stakes novel. Xiran Jay Zhao’s comprehensively imagined sci-fi world with glaring subtexts about gender dynamics shapes Iron Widow into one of those books you start and can’t pull your eyes away from until the cliffhanger conclusion. Zhao offers a narrative packed with discussions about sociopolitical issues, gender roles, and fluid sexuality, filtered through the voice of their intelligent, brash, ruthless protagonist. If there’s one book you want to read before the year ends, strap yourself into the Chrysalis cockpit along with Zetian in Iron Widow.
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical Fiction / Romance / Fantasy / Magical Realism
Page Count: 297
(CW: Misogyny, Sex, Abuse, Emotional Distress)
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s beautiful writing style breathes glamour and magic into the pages of her historical fantasy novel, The Beautiful Ones. Socialites and Victorian-era erudite women account for the citizenry in the marbled city of Loisail. Raised in the rural valley, Nina clashes with her Loisail cousin’s scheming wife, Valérie Beaulieu. Nina possesses the rare ability of telekinesis, already making her an outsider in Valérie’s high-brow realm of the beautiful ones. When the talented telekinetic performer returns to Loisail in hopes of reconnecting with his long-lost love Valérie, he attracts the attention of Nina instead. Scandal, jealous romances, and Nina’s resisting compliance upends the sterilized world Valérie holds in high esteem.
In The Beautiful Ones, the world is infused with magical realism. A heightened sense of reality permeates each page, weaving together gossamer threads of history and enchantment. All of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s oeuvre, beyond the extraordinary Mexican Gothic, deserves acclaim. Slowly bleeding secrets stain the folded napkins placed delicately on the laps of the high class in The Beautiful Ones.
Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Count: 492
(CW: Physical/Verbal Abuse, Blood, Death, Drug Use, Murder, Misogyny, Sex, Slavery, Violence)
A YA fantasy destined for a big-screen adaptation, Ayana Gray’s Beasts of Prey ensnares its characters and readers alike in a jungle writhing with danger. Sixteen-year-old Kofi and her mother tend to the mythical beasts inside the infamous Night Zoo. One night, chaos erupts inside the zoo, and Kofi exhibits a strange display of magical powers that tames the most legendary creature in the jungle. She strikes a deal with her barbaric master at the Night Zoo: Capture the notorious beast, the Shetani, return it to him, and he will resolve her remaining debts. Kofi’s hunt entwines her with warrior hunter Ekon when they realize their interests align. The two ally as they embark into the Greater Jungle where beasts of prey await them.
Ayana Gray artfully incorporates Pan-African folklore in this series opener where a young girl indentured to a zoo and a rising warrior unite against threats and peril both inside and beyond the physical realm. This debut vibrates with intricate worldbuilding without sacrificing the crucial main character development. Gray balances the dual POVs of two characters whose traits and flaws clearly establish their motivations. Beasts of Prey is a visceral and gorgeously written narrative. Readers will want to hunt down information about the next book in the series as soon as they finish reading this debut.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Genre: YA Fiction / Crime
Page Count: 394
(CW: Prison, Abuse, Murder, Death of an Infant, Violence, Burning, Sex, Teen Pregnancy)
The goddess of beauty and words, Tiffany D. Jackson, continually pens bestseller after bestseller. Jackson’s debut novel, Allegedly, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, proves she has always been a brilliant wordsmith. Allegedly is a YA crime novel sprinkled with elements out of a psychological thriller. Opening on a discussion about the mentally disturbed little girl from the eerie 1956 horror film The Bad Seed, a researcher evaluates the mindset of the alleged baby killer, Mary B. Addison. Now 16, the Black teen lives in a group home seven years after serving juvenile time for the murder of a white baby. But a conviction doesn’t necessarily mean Mary was at fault. Or was she? When Mary herself becomes pregnant, she must try to mend her relationship with the only witness to her alleged crime if she wants to keep her baby: her own mother.
Tiffany D. Jackson books are known for ripping your heart open with a knife without any needle and thread to sew yourself back together. I have now read all of Jackson’s body of work, and she fired emotional bullets from day one with this debut. Allegedly combines fictional written interviews, journalistic articles, and an unreliable narrative POV that leaves your head spinning until the staggering conclusion.
The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley
Genre: YA Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Page Count: 478
(CW: Violence, Gore, Torture, Exploitation, Murder, Abuse of Power)
The Bones of Ruin may not be marketed as horror, but teeth-chattering moments definitely chew their way into Sarah Raughley’s newest supernatural novel. Set in Victorian London in the 19th century, African tightrope dancer Iris performs her high-wire act for ogling colonial spectators. But Iris has a secret: She cannot physically die. When she falls off the tightrope one night, her body crashes to the ground in front of dozens of onlookers. Her body pieces itself back together, but memories of a past Iris has all but forgotten still cloud her brain. Then, she meets Adam Temple. With Adam’s help, Iris extricates paranormal secrets about her lost memories. A member of the Enlightenment Committee, Adam also informs Iris how she may provide assistance to the defensive force to combat the other Committee members who believe the world is ending — who want to handpick who lives and who dies.
Mystique achieved through Sarah Raughley’s rhythmic prose carries this book forward along the tightrope of intrigue. Readers will be enthralled by the lived-in setting of 1800s London and the magic throbbing through Iris’s veins. As Ruaghley steadily lifts the curtain of mystery behind Iris’s origins, the Committee’s threat of world devastation broils like a bubbling cauldron in the background. Experience the wonder The Bones of Ruin holds within its astounding pages.
Young Adult literature keeps reeling me back into reading, five and a half years out of high school. I remember the thrill I felt knowing a few days off of school in the month of November would be spent speed-reading as many YA fantasy or V.E. Schwab novels as possible. That nostalgia itches my brain this time of year. This is my first holiday season without school or college courses. You know how I’ll be spending my free time! I encourage you to also escape the chaos of this season with one of these mind-transporting novels.