YA Fantasy and Skeleton Plots

I’ve been reading a lot of YA fantasy lately, as I am in the process of plotting a trilogy of my own. Hmmmm….if according to Virginia Woolf,’a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,’ I wonder what a woman needs to write a YA Fantasy trilogy? Gold and a castle turret of one’s own – complete with draw-bridge and rabid dragon to scare off all intruders? (Would that keep out my kids?)

So this week I read: THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas and WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

What I loved about THRONE OF GLASS (I read the galley): the heroine’s sparky (and a little snarky…) attitude, her relationship with Nehemia and the two men in her life (though I do think that both men could have been a bit more fleshed out as characters – I didn’t really leave the book with any sense of what they looked like), the castle and was extremely well described and the plot was convincing and had depth. The biggest compliment I can pay the book is that when it was over I was sad. I missed the characters and wanted to keep being a part of their lives – and that has happened very seldom in all my many years of reading experience and in all the hundreds of books I have read over the years. Like, if there had been a second book I would have bought it right away so I could keep reading. People are calling it a “Game of Thrones” for YA – which I can see, except, more of the characters would have to be fleshed out in their own right in order for it to really be that. It also reminded me of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series – which is perhaps a bigger compliment as I think that series is far superior to “Game of Thrones” (shh….don’t tell).

What I loved about WITHER: you can’t read WITHER without comparing it to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, but having said that, I loved the way DeStefano made the tale current and more accessible to today’s teens (and adults…). I found all three brides to be fully formed characters, I found her descriptions of the house and all the characters in it to be rich and vivid and full. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale – and I loved Wither too and neither one took away from the other in any way. I did want to know a little more about any of the children that were born to other wives in other houses – what their lives were like and how they lived. In general I found the concept fascinating – a world where everyone dies by the age of 20-24 and how that affects society, the way we perceive ourselves – a world where everyone is “forever young” but everyone dies. I will definitely read book two.

In terms of YA fantasy in general – it does feel like there is a sort of formula to it: main character/heroine is unsatisfied with life, she is spunky and strong and won’t accept the world she is in – she wants to fight and find a way out of her cage, there seems to always be some kind of overlord/evil character, an ambivalent second character in a position of power who you don’t know if you should hate or love (who is in his/her situation as a victim of circumstance too) and of course, there is a love interest. Usually a good female friend pops in there along the way – and a sister/brother who makes everything worth living for. I’m not trying to reduce it all to that – I mean, it’s a formula that works (just like the vampire romance / urban paranormal fantasy formula doesn’t stop me from loving and reading those books) and what makes each series unique is the incredible way that each author decorates her skeleton plot – and might I say that some of the decorations are pretty fucking incredible.


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