The Makings of a Great Young Adult Fantasy Novel | Learning from ‘Six of Crows’

Author Leigh Bardugo

This post is spoiler free.

Bardugo’s writing is original and fresh with fast paced plots, sharp dialogue, dynamic characters and an abundance of conflict. Boy, can she can write! By studying her work, I can only hope that my writing will improve. Even if it doesn’t, I’ve still found an awesome fantasy author.

Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

Back of the Book Quote


The Ice Court had been built to withstand an onslaught of armies, assassins, Grisha, and spies. When Inej said as much to Kaz, he simply replied, “But it hasn’t been built to keep us out.”

His confidence unnerved her, “What makes you think we can do this? There will be other teams out there, trained soldiers and spies, people with years of experience.”

“This isn’t a job for trained soldiers and spies. It’s a job for thugs and thieves.”

This selection sets the tone for the book. You are told that the protagonists are up against impossible odds, and have the added disadvantage of belonging to the underbelly of society. But Kaz is the type of guy who can use these perceived deficits to their advantage by having the attitude, the right skills, and the element of surprise to succeed. Continue reading

Learning From the Book Blurb and First Chapter of ‘Cinder: The Lunar Chronicles’

Author Marissa Meyer

The role of the book blurb is to get the reader interested enough to want to read the book. Book blurbs can be a challenge for writers since they often contain spoilers that the author would rather be revealed as the story progresses. However, the spoilers are usually what makes the book interesting in the first place. If you cannot get the reader interested in the book enough to read it, the spoilers will never be revealed so it is best to give it up in the blurb.

Genre – Young Adult Science Fiction, Dystopian

I love the cover, very eye-catching and beautiful. The red heel is striking, while the mechanical parts, shown under the skin, alludes to science fiction. Next, most potential readers will go to the book blurb.

Book Blurb


Cinder Book Cover

Humans and androids crowded the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…

Sixteen-year old Cinder, gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second class citizen with a mysterious past and is reviled by her stepmother. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. Because there is something unusual about Cinder, something that others would kill for…

The first paragraph of the blurb does a great job of describing the precariousness of life in the future city of New Beijing: ‘raucous streets’, ‘plague ravages’ and ‘ruthless lunar people watch, waiting’. The people of Earth are weakened and on the brink of war. This future Earth sounds like a very scary place and the short sentences accentuate it.

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Learning from the Book Blurb and First Line of ‘Throne of Glass’

Author Sarah J. Maas

This post does not contain any spoilers.

Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

The book has a kick-ass cover. Apparently, the American version is not the same as this one? Why the publishers would do that when this cover is so dramatic, I will never know.

Book Blurb

Thone of Glass Cover




In a world without magic, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the viscous king who rules from his throne of glass but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she will be released from prison to serve as the King’s Champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. And a princess from a faraway land with befriend her. But something evil dwells in teh castle–and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival–and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

This is a great blurb. The first three sentences, centered at the top, set the tone. This is a serious book with serious consequences for failure: a romance within a dangerous setting. Not only are lives at risk but so are hearts. In the first paragraph, we learn about the protagonist, her circumstances and the setting.

The second paragraph increases the tension with effective phrasing: ‘fight for survival’, ‘desperate quest’ and ‘root out the evil’. The situation seems untenable. The question the reader ends up asking is: Why is she the only one who can save everyone? Will she succeed?

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Learning from the Humour in’The Sword of Summer – Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard’

Author: Rick Riordan

These posts do not contain spoilers. In fact, I’d be surprised if you understood what the book was about from anything I write.

Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

The_Sword_of_SummerBook Blurb – Too long to write here and to tell you the truth, it didn’t grab me…at all. The blurb didn’t do this book justice. If you are looking at how to write a book blurb, do not use this book as an example. I don’t think I can say enough bad things about it.

First Lines – “Yeah, I know. You guys are going to read about how I died in agony, and you’re going be like, ‘Wow! That sounds cool, Magnus! Can I die in agony too?'”

This is an awesome book! I really enjoyed it and looked forward to reading subsequent chapters after I got too sleepy to keep going.

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Learning from ‘Steelheart: The Reckoners Book One’

Author Brandon Sanderson

No spoilers.

Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

00_steelheart_usThe best way to learn your craft is to study others who excel at the genre. What better book to review and learn from than a YA fantasy by Brandon Sanderson, a master of fantasy?

Steelheart is the first book in a trilogy. Since I hope my first novel will be the first in a series, I like to see how authors introduce their characters, how much backstory and world building is revealed and when.

Book Blurb –  How far would you go for revenge if someone killed your father? If someone destroyed your city? If everything you ever loved was taken from you?

I find the book blurb effective in generating interest. It brings the reader directly into the story because you imagine what you would do in the situation.  It also creates sympathy for the main character, David, a young man of 18.

First line – I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.

The first line is taken from the Prologue.  I like the line because it made me ask, ‘What is so special about Steelheart bleeding? Everyone bleeds, don’t they?’ This made me want to read on. So far, so good.

I found the prologue and the last 5 chapters of the book to be worthwhile reading. The last 5 chapters were excellent. Everything came together and a few great twists were revealed, one of a which I did see coming, the others I didn’t.

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WFNS Competition Review of My Debut YA Fantasy Novel!

I’m flying a little high right now.

I submitted my debut young adult fantasy novel to the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia for their Atlantic Writing Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts at the beginning of January. Don’t get too excited for me. I didn’t win or anything and I don’t expect to. They have announced the shortlist for all of the categories except the young adult competition (not enough applicants). The winners, including the one for the young adult category, will be announced in May. [Update: I didn’t win.]

One of the reasons I entered was because they provide an assessment of your writing based on the first 80 pages of your work.

The person who assessed my writing found plenty of things that I need to fix, which were not a surprise since I’ve had similar comments from my critiquers on Scribophile. (You can read about my amazing experience on that site here.) So I’ve been working on fixing those things the reviewer mentioned since I submitted my manuscript in January.

But I wanted to share the reason that I am flying high. The reviewers are only required to read the first 80 pages of the novel. Here is what my reviewer wrote at the end of the assessment:

The story hangs together well and is a fun adventure to read. I couldn’t stop reading it, and really enjoyed the twists and turns. I can see a series of these stories – Reviewer for the Atlantic Writing Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts


Woohoo! I am doing something right!  The other beautiful things the reviewer said:

A well-plotted and involving adventure story, with endearing and well-drawn characters and an exciting story arc.

*I drop the mike and walk off the stage*

Middle Grade or Young Adult?

What is the difference between a middle grade book and a young adult book? I researched several websites, one of which surveyed editors and agents who work with both Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) writers to find the answers.

I summarized the findings and compared it to my novel to see where my fantasy novel would fit.


Middle Grade

Young Adult

My Book

Age of Reader 8 to 12 13+ Not entirely sure…
Word Count Up to 60,000 60,000+ Currently 82,000 but still editing
Age of Protagonist 10 to 13 14 to 18 13
Point of View Third First Third
Protagonist’s Concerns Own experience Others as well as themselves Others as well as herself
Inciting Element Single inciting element that throws their world into chaos Find out world is more complex than they thought Finds out world is more complex than she thought
Romance Does not play a large part in the plot; first kiss Takes up much more of the story; can involve sex Plays a small part in the story; first kiss

There is some overlap in the readers ages since some novels with milder plots and a 14 year-old main character could appeal to middle grade reader even though it would be classified as YA in the chart above.

The story line of middle grade protagonists tend to focus on what happens to them than with internal growth. Young adult story lines are more complex and generally have a character arc that shows how the events in the novel changed their attitudes and thinking.

AmyMessere Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Amy Messere Flickr Creative Commons

Taboo Content?

Most of the editors and agents surveyed agreed that no topic is taboo, whether it is sex, drugs, violence, domestic abuse or any other risque subjects.

What is important is how the subject matter is handled. A middle grade novel should not contain any graphic descriptions, but shouldn’t avoid difficult material either.

In fact, young people can use books as a safe way to explore these sensitive or edgy subjects.

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Learning from Using a Strong Female Lead in ‘Uprooted’

Author Naomi Novik

Uprooted header short

My book reviews contain no spoilers are not your typical book review — mainly made up of mindless ramblings of an avid reader.

Genre – Young adult fantasy

Book Blurb – The book blurb is different from most of the one’s I’ve read because it doesn’t provide much indication of what the book is about. Instead, the blurb gives backstory describing the society in which the protagonist is raised.  It describes the odd ritual that her and her friends are forced to take part in; a choosing that will change one of their lives forever.

First Line“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”

After I’ve finished a book, I love going back to reread the first line to see if it sets the tone for the book. And this one does. Misconceptions and misunderstandings, both natural and evilly induced, are the reasons for almost everything that occurs in this novel.

The story is written in first person point of view (POV) of the main character, Agnieszka (quite the mouthful), a seventeen year old girl. We get no insight into the thoughts of anyone else. This works well in a novel where she is thrust into a world that she knows nothing about, and the reader learns along with her. It keeps the interest of the reader up.

This is not a typical young adult fantasy; the romance does not take centre stage or dominate the protagonist’s thoughts. I enjoyed this aspect since it shows that boys and relationships are not the be all and end all of young women’s lives. She had more important and pressing things to worry about than someone she might have feelings for. I also loved that Agnieszka had a mind of her own and followed it, the hell with anyone’s disapproval.

As far as the fantasy aspect, I found the character’s solutions to challenges repetitive. I enjoy fantasy novels that challenge the characters to learn new ways of solving more and more complex puzzles.

Novik also uses an inordinate amount of colons — you know :  — in her writing. It took me out of the story several times because I was trying to figure out how she could have written the sentence differently. I don’t even know how to use a colon unless it is with a list. I never notice punctuation. Actually, you aren’t supposed to.

Overall, Uprooted is a solid book and I looked forward to reading it. As a stand alone novel, the ending was very satisfying. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy.


Learning about Forecasting from ‘The 5th Wave’

Author Rick Yancey

This post contains no spoilers and you probably won’t learn what the book is about either.

Genre – Young Adult Dystopian

The 5th Wave is not a lighthearted read.  If you are looking for something more uplifting, maybe check out the obituaries in your local paper and go to a random funeral.  Yes, this book is oozing despair, longing and fear; it has some humour, albeit dark.

The contrast of the tone and humor is best illustrated by the following two quotes:

First line –

‘Aliens are stupid.’

Best line –

‘And it occurs to me that there’s no real difference between us, the living and the dead; it’s just a matter of tense: past-dead and future-dead.’

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