Villains, Mazes, and Darkness

After consulting my followers on Facebook, I have decided to write a collection of blogs over the next few weeks discussing my favorite books and authors. In future weeks I’ll be looking at classic fiction, nonfiction, philosophy, biblical books, and my favorite series, but for now I’ll discuss my three favorite fictional books in the YA genre. The following books are not necessarily ranked in order of favorites; among these three, I would be hard pressed to choose an all-time favorite book. If you’re looking for a good read I would recommend any of these books or authors!

Each of the synopses of these books will be spoiler-free. Let’s take a look!

Steelheart

Steelheart-Cover
Image from Barnes and Noble

Background

We’ll start off by looking at Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Imagine a dystopian superhero world with one catch: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s right, the more powerful you are the more evil you are. That leaves the world in a fine mess. Super-powered individuals – called “Epics” – are all evil and most are power-hungry, taking over various cities and ruling them as miniature kingdoms.

Synopsis

In the city of Newcago (formerly Chicago, Illinois) a powerful Epic named Steelheart has taken over, ruling the city with a fist of… you guessed it… steel. David Charleston, a young college-aged man, is determined to bring down Steelheart, who killed David’s father when he was only a young boy. To do so, he seeks out a shadowy group of assassins: the Reckoners, a band of humans that fight against the Epics. David struggles both with earning the Reckoners’ trust and with trying to figure out how to bring down Steelheart, who seems invincible.

David’s plan to take down Steelheart hinges on figuring out Steelheart’s weakness. Every Epic has a weakness, something that negates their powers and renders them vulnerable. If David is able to figure out how to activate Steelheart’s weakness then he stands a chance at bringing down the tyrant.

Why it’s a Favorite

I absolutely love this book for a number of reasons. The style of writing and the narrative voice are very strong throughout. Sanderson has a knack for writing in an engaging and thought-provoking voice, which in and of itself makes the book enjoyable. Furthermore, Steelheart deals with deep philosophical issues, but in such a way that a reader does not have to engage with the book on a philosophical level if they do not want to. If you want a fun, fast-paced adventure book about superheroes with some interesting twists on the classic tropes, then this book is gold. However, in addition to that if you want to be left with some thoughts to chew on – some concepts to wrestle with – then this book will truly shine. As a reader that loves superhero stories, interesting plot twists, and philosophy, this book was right up my alley.

Final Thoughts

Steelheart is actually the first book of the Reckoners Trilogy. I have read the entire trilogy and books 2 and 3 do not disappoint. The entire overarching storyline is powerful and engaging, and unlike so many trilogies books 2 and 3 remain well-written and enjoyable to the end. Even so, my personal favorite book of the trilogy remains Steelheart, and in my opinion it is the strongest book of the trilogy, firmly standing out as an inspired work of genius.

The synopsis I provided left out any spoilers, of course, but suffice it to say that Steelheart has some truly astonishing plot twists. The writing is fast-paced, engaging, and profound all at once, and a thoroughly enjoyable read to anyone that is interested in superheroes or in dystopian fiction.

Maze Runner

The_Maze_Runner_cover
Image from Wikipedia

Background

This popular YA dystopian book by James Dashner really does deserve more popularity than it got. With a style and premise that I personally view as much stronger than the Hunger Games and other similar YA dystopian books, Maze Runner holds its place among my favorite books for its unique premise, intriguing mystery, and excellent character development.

Synopsis

Thomas wakes up with no memories of his prior life other than basic education. He finds himself in an expanse enclosed on all four sides by enormous walls. The expanse is home to a couple dozen teenage boys that work the land to keep each other alive, running a small farm of produce and livestock. Thomas gradually learns more of this world: it’s an enormous maze full of walls that move during the night, resulting in a new maze the next day. The boys have spent months trying to chart a path out of the maze, but as of yet have not been able to find one despite detailed cartography of the maze.

To avoid spoilers I’ll have to leave the details vague, but Thomas and Theresa – the first girl to appear in the Maze – bring a fresh perspective to the group, and together the teenagers try to find a way out of their prison.

Why it’s a Favorite

Given that 99% of the book takes place in a maze with a small central area, one might expect that there is little room for creativity and would anticipate the story stagnating. Dashner puts any such thoughts to rest, providing an engaging story that I found near impossible to put down. Somehow he brings an endless maze to life, delivering a fast-paced and visionary story unlike any I’ve seen before. Dashner also delves into linguistics in a very interesting way: the dialogue at the beginning of the book is jarring, harsh, and hard to understand as the reader is unfamiliar with the colloquialisms used by the teens in the book, but over the course of the story the reader becomes fluent in these teens’ slang and feels as if they are part of the story themselves.

Final Thoughts

As with Steelheart, Maze Runner is the first book of a trilogy (and also has a prequel). I have not read the remainder of the series, but stopped after the first book, so I can’t speak for the series as a whole; regardless, Maze Runner will always be one of my all-time favorite books. The puzzles and mysteries woven throughout the story; the subtle and well-timed foreshadowing; and the strong characters are just a few of the reasons I love this book. Decidedly unique and wonderfully paced, Maze Runner is certainly worth a read.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

edge of the dark sea of darkness
Image from http://www.mikalatos.com

Background

The genre of comedy fantasy is one that I think hasn’t been explored enough, and Andrew Peterson leaps into the deep end. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a riveting and well-written tale that stands out from other fantasy books in its ability to keep the reader laughing aloud throughout the entire story.

Synopsis

Janner, Tink, and Lili Igiby are three children aged (approximately) fourteen, eleven, and eight. They live in a small cottage outside the town of Glipwood and live an ordinary life until they accidentally cross paths with a soldier: one of the Fangs of Dang, snakelike and monstrous villains that have taken over their country. Although purely accidental, they get on the Fang’s bad side, which leads to trouble when the armies of Dang move to punish them. Together with their mother and their uncle Podo Helmer, the three children try to evade the Fangs and the ominous Black Carriage in an adventure that takes them all over the small town of Glipwood and into the Glipwood Forest: an adventure in which they also uncover surprising revelations about what the kingdom was like before the Fangs.

Why it’s a Favorite

To this day I don’t know how Peterson did it. Every single time I read this book (it is relatively short and easy to get through quickly), I still find more genius puns and plot elements that leave me laughing and thinking. The story somehow balances a lighthearted, joking style with a relatively dark plot. The characters are beautifully realistic: narrated from Janner’s perspective, he perfectly describes the awkward feeling of being a teenager who sees himself both as a child and as a young man and doesn’t know how to strike the balance. The book breathes life into the simultaneously hilarious and profound world of Aerwiar in what is probably my favorite YA fantasy book of all time.

Final Thoughts

As with the previous two books, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is the first book of a four-volume series. I have not read the remainder of the series yet and as such can’t speak for the series as a whole, but on its own, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a beautifully unique and inspiring book, sure to draw a wide range of emotion from any reader.

 

Well, there are three of my favorite YA books! Have you read any of these titles or authors? What are your opinions on them? What are your favorite YA books? Comment below and let me know!

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