One element of fantasy is good vs. evil. In dark fantasy, I am categorizing the books that have really dark overtones. If books could be described as colors, these would be the dark black books, magic would be purple, and adventures would be green.
Cinda Williams Chima – The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir
Jack learns that he is not a normal teenager. Like it or not, he is a key player in the war between two houses, the White Rose and the Red Rose, a secretive society of wizards. He learns he has to fight a duel to the death. The second book focuses on a different teen with newly discovered and untrained wizard power. Seth finally gets the training he needs, but at the hands of the evil Leicester. Seth discovers his training comes at a steep price, the price of his soul. The wizard war comes to a head in the third book. This is a hugely popular series. The plot is well conceived. Each book is quite long ~ 500 pages and goes into great detail. It can be daunting for some but well worth the time. I liked this series, but favor her Seven Realms series, perhaps because Seven Realms is more political fantasy.
Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Sequence: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising (Newbery Honor), Greenwitch, The Grey King (Newbery), Silver on the Tree
There is a reason this series has won literary awards. Read it. I read this back in the 1990s when I was raising my young daughters and rediscovered YA Literature. The first book was published in 1965 and the final book in 1977. Please do NOT judge these books on the movie version. Book 1 features the three Drew children on a quest for the grail. Book 2 introduces Will, who learns he is destined to fight the growing power of the Dark. Book 3 unites the Drew children and Will to retrieve the stolen grail. In Book 4, Will helps a new character, Bran, understand the ways of the Old Ones. The finale, book 5, is the final battle between Dark and Light. This series is the basis or foundation of many current fantasy series. You’ll see elements of this series repeated with other author’s books and that is okay. Good vs. evil is the basic theme of all fantasy.
D.M. Cornish – The Foundling’s Tale series (aka Monster Blood Tattoo): Foundling, Lamplighter, Factotum
Weird and clever and . . . ? These books are so unique – what an odd world the author has conceived. I put Foundling on my school reading list one year – very popular. Rossamund was raised in an orphanage. He comes of age and has been assigned the job of lamplighter in the remote wilderness. Monsters plague the world and the roads must be lit to help protect travelers. Monster hunters abound. Their goal in life is to kill the wide variety, all shapes and sizes, of monsters. With each kill, the hunters tattoo themselves with the monster’s blood. Poor timid Rossamund starts his journey to the lamplighter outpost by getting on the wrong boat. Then he get gets mixed up with monster hunters, specifically Europe, who is the best and bravest monster hunter of all. When Rossamund sees his first monster kill, he feels deep sympathy for the monster. Hmmm – a monster lover? Any summary of book 2 and book 3 would give the plot away. These books are long because the author excels in world building. What is up with these Australian authors – such brilliantly unique world building and clever dialog! Keep this thought in mind while reading – who is the hero, Rossamund or Europe?
Catherine Fisher – Incarceron, Sapphique
I have read many books by Catherine Fisher, all good. This series is unique and gaining popularity. The chapters alternate between two characters, so you just know they’ll meet up eventually. Finn lives inside Incarceron, a prison unlike any prison. There are no bars or cells, but Incarceron is a prison world. I can’t say too much or everything would be given away. Finn has no memory of his life before Incarceron but he believes he came from the Outside. He is determined to escape from Incarceron. The second main character is Claudia. She is the privileged daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She is also looking to escape, escape an arranged marriage. Looks like the two are going to help each other escape. What a brilliant mind the author has. Sapphique is the second book and every bit as good, perhaps better. http://www.catherine-fisher.com/
Garth Nix – Old Kingdom Chronicles: Sabriel, Lireal, The Abhorsen
Garth Nix is an Australian writer. I have read so many unique books by Australian writers. The Old Kingdom Chronicles is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series. Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, the one person who has the power to keep the Dead dead. The Abhorsen wears a bandolier of bells that are used to charm the spirits. Each bell has a specific purpose in controlling the spirits. This is extremely important because it keeps the evil spirits from invading the Old Kingdom and beyond the Wall. Sabriel knows something is terribly wrong when the bandolier of bells shows up at her school. She sets out to rescue her father. If she fails, she will become the new Abhorsen. Sabriel was published in the US in 1995. Lireal came out 6 years later – 6 years! I eagerly read the book wanting to know what happened to Sabriel, but no, the story did not pick up where Sabriel left off. Nix introduced a new character, Lireal, and I begrudgingly came to like her as much or more than Sabriel. The Abhorsen quickly followed Lireal, then a collection of short stories, Across the Wall. I am eagerly waiting for the next in the series – Clariel set 300 years before Sabriel, to be published in September 2014.
Fantastic cover art by Leo and Diane Dillon . I’d love to have a full sized poster of Sabriel.
Michael Scott – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, The Warlock.
The end of the world is near with giant forces of evil set to descend on humankind. But it’ll be okay because there is a secret weapon in super special twins that simply need a bit of training from characters straight out of history. Then again, could one of the twins turn to the side of evil? Good golly – just how much can these kids handle? Apparently quite a lot and that is good since our survival depends upon it.