It’s winter here in the Northeast U.S. At the time of this writing, I’m about two weeks into the cold, dark season and staring down at least another three months. Who knows, maybe you love winter! Maybe, wherever you are, it’s your favorite season. But for me, winter is an invitation to curl up with a blanket and read until the sun comes back. And for my winter reading I always turn to dark fiction, since nothing seems to better complement the long winter nights. I adore YA dark fantasy in particular! Though I’m not opposed to reading adult dark fantasy, I find that a YA dark fantasy novel usually features the perfect blend of dark elements, fantasy world building, and romance. Thankfully there is a growing trend of dark fantasy in the YA market, so I have plenty of titles to choose from!
It’s black as pitch outside my window, and there’s an eerie wind howling across the harbor, but even creepy winter nights can’t hold a candle to the dark you’ll find in these books. So settle in with a mug of something hot and enjoy!
(This list is split between current titles, to keep you reading throughout the winter, and some exciting Spring 2019 new releases for you to add to your to-buy list.)
YA Dark Fantasy Novels Out Now
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Alina Starkov, unsuspecting mapmaker in the army, suddenly finds herself burdened with a power that could change the fate of her world. To one side of her is her best friend, who mistrusts her power and only wants to protect her. On the other side is the mysterious, charismatic Darkling, who promises her that her gift could save them all. But in the end only Alina can decide how she will use her gifts, and how much she is willing to sacrifice.
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Playing on the story of the Erlkönig, Wintersong is a dark, twisting fantasy about a kingdom underground full of terrifying goblin creatures who hunger for life. This book was dizzying, bewitching, and I loved it. Leisl has lived her whole life believing that her musical talent was something to be sacrificed for the sake of her young brothers career, so she keeps her abilities secret. But when the Goblin King takes her sister she has no choice but to follow, even though the king is demanding the one thing she can’t make herself give up: her music.
Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria
Four friends —Alys, Evander, Newt, and protagonist Cassa—find themselves facing off with the sinister High Council who have been ruling the city of Eldra for centuries. But a rebellion has been playing out for more than a decade, and Cass, the daughter of rebels, is determined to follow in her parents’ footstep, despite her fear that it might be more than she is capable of. Mysterious prophecies, a fight against oppressive leaders, and a city on the brink of destruction—this book is every bit as dark and magical as that oh so creepy cover would imply!
Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Written in two juxtaposed narratives set 1000 years apart, Furyborn tells the story of two young women: Rielle, who knows herself to be one of two prophesied queens, one of blood and one of light, and is determined to prove she’s the latter; and Eliana, a bounty hunter in search of her missing mother who finds herself entangled in a story bigger than she ever imagined. Also: look I could slap the label “frighteningly attractive and charismatic evil boyfriend” on most of these books and it would be accurate, but this guy? If you love villain boys, you need to meet this one.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Alice and her mother have been living on the road for years, being trailed by an inexplicable but stubborn streak of bad luck. When Alice’s grandmother suddenly dies, leaving behind only her legacy of dark fairytales about a cruel world call the Hinterland, and Alice’s mother disappears, things take a frightening turn. And though her mother warned her to stay away from her grandmother’s estate, Hazel Wood, Alice is more and more certain that is exactly where she needs to go. Teaming up with one of her grandmother’s (somewhat rabid) fans, Alice sets off in search of her mother, and the truth of the Hazel Wood.
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Elizabeth was brought into the Frankenstein home as a child to be the friend of their eldest son Victor, and the two quickly formed an unbreakable attachment. But Elizabeth’s warm, safe life has always depended on her ability to “manage” Victor, who is prone to terrifying rages and violence. So when Victor goes off to college, then disappears altogether, Elizabeth finds her comfortable life in Danger. And, along with her fears for herself, she can’t shake the feeling that something has gone very, very wrong with Victor. This book blew my mind! It’s gorgeous, unexpected, and feels like White somehow summoned up Shelley herself to be her writing partner.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Hodge has a true gift for spinning fairytales into dark, twisting adaptations. Like Jae-Jones’s Wintersong, this is the sort of book that I have to read over and over to feel like I’ve really caught everything. Nyx has spent her whole life in the shadow of her betrothal to her kingdom’s evil ruler, Ignifex. Unable to stop the wedding, she makes a promise to herself to celebrate her marriage by killing her future husband and freeing the kingdom. But in a magical castle that constantly shifts around her, most things are not as they seem, and even as she tries to defeat him Nyx finds herself growing closer to the mysterious Ignifex.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Power always comes with a price, and sometimes reaching your destiny means making an unspeakable sacrifice. Xifeng’s destiny is to become the Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she gives into the dark magic inside her. Worse still, to access the magic that could shape her future she would have to feed it with the hearts of the dead. A horrifying price. But when you grew up as nothing, only to be promised everything, is any price too high?
Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis
Nedra is a talented alchemist, and longs to study medicinal alchemy at the renowned Yugen Academy so that she can find a cure for the mysterious wasting disease preying on her people. When she finds herself an outsider at the school because of her scholarship status, it only gives her more time to pursue her research. Greggori (Grey), who shares an advisor with Nedra, can see her dedication and true talent where his classmates cannot, but even as the two grow closer the deadly disease continues to spread, more and more people are dying, and Nedra is becoming desperate. Desperate enough to reach for the darkest and most forbidden of alchemical practices: necromancy.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie is living in a land without magic. But it wasn’t always that way. Once magic was everywhere in Orïsha. Now the land languishes under a cruel tyrant, all the maji were killed for their gifts, and there doesn’t seem to be anything left to hope for. With the crown prince of the land determined to stamp out any lingering magic in the land, Zélie pairs up with a rogue princess and finds herself with one last chance to save Orïsha and the magic.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Holly Black has been in the dark fantasy game for ages, preceding the wave of new dark fantasy that was touched off in recent years, and her newest book, The Cruel Prince, definitely fits the mold. Jude never wanted to live among the fae. She was seven when her parents were killed and she and her sisters were carried off to Faerie. Now 17, she just wants to belong, but the deeper she gets into the intrigues of the high court the more dangerous things get. And when betrayal turns the court upside down her worst enemy, Prince Cardan, might end up being her only ally in the chaos that ensues.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Laia lives under the shadow of the powerful, brutal Marital Empire, and she is not free. She does her best to stay alive, helping her grandparents and brother scrape out a pitiful but safely subservient existence that will keep them out of the eye of the Empire. At least until Laia’s brother is arrested for treason and she has no choice but to trade his freedom for her own. Set up as a spy in the Empire’s elite military academy, she meets Elias, a soldier and the school’s top student, who craves freedom as much as she does.
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
Inspired by Beowulf, The Boneless Mercies tells the story of a band of four mercenary girls—Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa—who are renowned for their ability to do their work quickly, mercifully, and effectively. For the right price. But when word reaches them of a vicious monster roaming the land Frey finally sees her chance to trade in mercenary work for something more heroic. Something that promises glory, and a better future for all the Mercies.
Upcoming YA Dark Fantasy Releases
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (Release Date: January 15, 2019)
The Gilded Wolves is a highly anticipated dark fantasy title coming out in the new year, being described as decadent, evocative, and thrilling. Plus I’ll absolutely devour anything set in 19th century Paris. Set in 1889 the book follows a band of characters searching for a mysterious artifact through the dark streets of the city. Their leader, Séverin, must obtain the object and trade it to the powerful Order of Babel if he wants to claim his true inheritance. But first he and his questionable crew have to survive their search for this ancient artifact that, once found, might change everything.
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan (Release Date: April 2, 2019)
This book is right at the top of my 2019 TBR list. Though details are scant thus far, but I read an except on Barnes & Noble’s BNTeen blog and I am obsessed. In a kingdom ravaged by a long and bloody war three protagonists—a girl who talks to gods, a prince with no one to trust, and a boy with a dark secret—have to work together to stop the war and save their world. If you love dark fantasy this book promises to be a brutal, enchanting gem, full of terrifying blood-magic.
White Stag by Kara Barbieri (Release Date: January 8, 2019)
Like Furyborn, White Stag promises to be a gorgeous example of a protagonist struggling to be a hero, and slowly becoming a monster. The last survivor of her village, Janneke is taken captive and sold into service in a court of monsters. When the Goblin King suddenly dies, touching off a power vacuum in the court, Janneke finds herself struggling against her master Soren’s attempts to drag her further into his world, even as she fights at his side. But the more her loyalty to him grows, the weaker her ties to the human world become.
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (Release Date: May 14, 2019)
When two legends meet, amazing things can happen. Unless, of course, one of them was sent to kill the other. Zafira is known as the Hunter, Nasir as the Prince of Death. One dresses in disguise to enter a curse forest and feed her people. The other is an assassin, taking out those who threaten his father, the king. When they find themselves searching for the same lost artifact they have a choice, Nasir can follow his orders and kill the Hunter, or he and Zafira can work together to try and save their world. We Hunt the Flame, set in a world inspired by ancient Arabia, is being lauded as a lush, beautiful debut novel.
Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer (Release Date: January 15, 2019)
Reminiscent of the folktale “East of Sun and West of Moon,” Meyer’s Echo North is being praised as a lush new fairytale retelling. Six months after she believes him dead, Echo finds her father half-frozen in the forest, guarded by a talking wolf. The same wolf that attacked her when she was a child. The wolf offers her a deal: one year in his house in return for her father’s life. Once inside his house beneath the mountain (complete with magical library!) Echo has a year to solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before it’s too late.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He (Release Date: April 2, 2019)
Joan He’s Chinese-inspired debut is the gorgeous story of a brave young queen trying to do the best she can for her people while surrounded by secrets and deception. In Yan, magic is outlawed. But when Princess Hesina of Yan’s father is suddenly murdered and she finds herself queen of a kingdom falling to pieces, and still desperate to find her father’s killer, she breaks the law by seeking the aid of a soothsayer. Unable to hunt for the killer herself, or to trust even her own family, Hesina has no choice but to take the information about the murder to Akira, a brilliant investigator with a host of secrets and a criminal past.
If you find yourself looking for more dark fantasy for your winter, make sure you check out this fabulous list! Vernieda Vergara begins by discussing the definition of dark fantasy, and how it differs from general fantasy and the grimdark sub-genre.