We Recommend: Suspicious Hero Request Edition or Fantasy Fans, We Need You NOW

It's time for We Recommend, in which  readers ask for suggestions, and we try our very hardest to come up with the perfect book in answer (and then you guys come up with even more amazing choices in the comments). Looking for a recommendation? E-mail us! We're very agreeable.

This surprising e-mail showed up in my in-box last week:

My daughter needs a book, it should (according to her) have vampires, female heroines, magic, cats, wolves,owls, puns, and NO CHARACTERS WITH TOO MANY POWERS, because those can be a total drag. She really hates it when a character overshadows other characters so much that other characters barely are in the story. she also loves manga and graphic novels.

I will tell you what I know: this is not the e-mail of someone's mother. It is the e-mail of someone masquerading as someone's mother. I will tell you what else I know: the most important part of this e-mail is its request that no one character be all-powerful (the all-caps bit helped tip me off). One more thing I know? Or at least surmise? That the longing for characters with a more reasonable slate of powers is in some ways tied to the growing empathy of the person writing, her hunger for a more human story.

That said, what the heck am I going to recommend? Vampires AND heroines AND magic AND cats AND wolves…not to mention puns and the aforementioned character issue? I am, as is all too common lately, flummoxed. I mean, she's read The Golden Compass (I happen to know). And for a rich multiplicity of characters, there's The Lord of the Rings, but forget your heroines there. But really what this person seems to long for is: a complex fantasy book with a believable flawed heroine and a hell of a lot going on. Here's my weak pick:

Watership_down

I've tried this before. It won't get chosen. But I think she would love it!

O, fantasy people, your move! And yes, she has read Terry Pratchett.

 

UPDATE: The girl is 12. She has read—many, many things, yes Percy Jackson.

40 thoughts on “We Recommend: Suspicious Hero Request Edition or Fantasy Fans, We Need You NOW

  1. I’d like an age… That said, I will recommend the trio of “The Giver,” “Gathering Blue,” and “Messenger.” and also, “The Forrest of Hands and Teeth,” trilogy. Both of these no one has powers, but I think she’ll like them based on what she requested anyway.
    “Sunshine,” by Robin McKinley is very good, but I’d say she should be oohhh, 14 or 15 for that. (There’s sex, but only in a sort of mentioned way, not in a torrid details kind of way.)
    I also think that at that age, I would have loved the Aunt Dimity mysteries by Nancy Atherton, which are short sweet and not brain surgery, but so very, very comforting.
    I’ll be back. I’m drawing a blank, but I know a wander around my bookshelves will yield more.

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  2. The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire is what instantly jumps to mind:
    – Complex, courageous, flawed, half-human, half-fae heroine
    – Cats (Tybalt, the King of Cats, specifically, but also others)
    – Magic
    – Fantastic integration of Shakespeare, rhymes, fairy tales
    – While the books focus on Toby Daye, they are really ensemble pieces in a lot of ways.
    The first book in the series is Rosemary and Rue. There are four out currently, with another due in September. The second book is the weakest (but still good), while the third gets scary. I can’t recommend them enough – they are awesome.

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  3. I’ve suggested this for other kids here before, but Kiki Strike! It doesn’t really have a lot of what she asked for, but it has heroines– more than one who all share the stage. They have powers but not super magical, but they are super powerful in their own rights — they master things like disguise and stop kidnapping. I think there are some creatures, but they are generally not kind creatures. Still, I think that this girl would love these books.
    For the wolves portion, is it too easy to suggest Julie of the Wolves?
    Has she read Percy Jackson? There are certainly main characters, but they all need help from each other, and there are powers and (Greek mythology) animals.

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  4. Anything by Tamora Pierce – lots of series to keep you occupied there, although I’m not sure I remember any puns.
    And with respect to the graphic novels, I have a strange hunch you might like How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch.

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  5. Cynthia Voigt has some fantasy-type books. No vampires, but she’s always good for female characters. There’s also the ever-trusty Madeleine L’Engle. Not so much on the superpowers, but some magical/mysterious stuff and good females.
    Other than that, I got nuthin.

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  6. I second the Alanna Pierce recommendation with the suggestion of beginning *not* with the initial series (in which there are several people with TOO MANY POWERS) but maybe with the First Test books about Keladry. Or the Circle Opens books.
    And what about (not really related to any of the requests, just a hunch) House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. It’s smart and kinda creepy and very engaging.

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  7. Robin McKinley — The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown.
    Searching for Dragons, Dealing with Dragons, and the others in this series. Author?

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  8. It’s mostly short stories, but she might like the Bordertown shared-world series. No vampires, but there are wolves, cats, PLENTY of magic, female heroines (though the three novels in the series have male protagonists), and puns. Lots of characters have powers, but nobody has so many that it throws things out of balance, especially because magic (as well as technology) is unreliable and likely to go on the fritz at any time– the setup is that it’s a city right on the edge of Faerie, so there are lots of urban-setting things and punk elves and stuff. Most of it’s out of print, but one of the anthologies, THE ESSENTIAL BORDERTOWN, is still in print, and there’s a brand-new one, WELCOME TO BORDERTOWN, coming out next week. It’s definitely YA rather than kids’, so some 12-year-olds (and their parents) might be up for it; others, not.
    Full disclosure: I’m related to one of the editors of the new one, who also has several stories in the other collections. But I really truly wouldn’t just go and recommend this randomly if I didn’t think it matched a lot of what this questioner (or, er, her mom) is looking for.
    Oh, what the heck; here’s a link to more information about the series: http://bordertownseries.com/?page_id=109

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  9. Also: How about Diana Wynne Jones? 12 isn’t too old for Witch Week, Charmed Life, and the other Chrestomanci books. Though if female heroines are most important, I’d recommend Howl’s Moving Castle to start with.

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  10. What about Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books? While there is a predominant hero, there are some pretty awesome young women in the later novels. There are animals and shape-shifitng wizards, people in the dark that are pretty vampirish, and the characters are very human, in that filled-out, yet magical sort of way.

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  11. I’m going to second Diana Wynne Jones – Dark Lord of Derkholm. And I have another suggestion that is nibbling at the back edge of my brain but I can’t quite conjure it up… I’ll be back later.
    P.B. Kerr’s genii books? That’s not what I’m trying to think of but another good possibility.

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  12. Hah, got it.
    I know that you have recommended Patricia Wrede’s dragon series in the past but what about her Regency/magic books? Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward. Funny and good adventure. But I’d still go with Dark Lord of Derkholm first – smart but also Pratchettesque.

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  13. Another thought:
    On the cat front, there is a fantasy series called the Gandalara Cycle by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron. The hero shares a telepathic bond with his giant cat, which he also rides. Well written and pretty adolescent friendly. The first book in the series is The Steel of Raithskar.

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  14. On the vampire front, (just out last week) – Jane Jones. Worst. Vampire. Ever.
    (Full disclosure – written by a friend, but that does not diminish its awesomeness.)

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  15. There’s a new Patricia Wrede book out — Thirteenth Child. It looks fabulous, and she can read the first seven chapters online at the Scholastic book site as a kind of taste, to see if she likes it. It has a heroine, and magic, and unexpected problems that come along with magic (you can major in magic at the university, and it’s clearly a lot of work — not a whizz bang superpower).
    And I second the Dragonsong/Dragonsinger suggestion — fabulous!

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  16. Yes to Madeline Le’Engle, although if she is a prolific reader, she’s probably already covered a lot of that ground.
    Also, what about Neil Gaiman – I’m thinking specifically of Stardust and The Graveyard Book – although TGB has almost no female characters, but still a very, VERY nice book. And Stardust just rocks. Also, Neverwhere, which is written for adults, but I can’t think of a reason why an older, well-read kid would have issue with it. The “main character” is a man, but the heroine is a girl named Door.
    And as for Terry Pratchett, has she stuck with the YA ones? Because if she’s ready to branch out, I would suggest the ones that center on Death, Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather…
    It’s so hard finding genre books at this age with a female protagonist…

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  17. My daughter loves the Gilda Joyce books, no ‘powers’ but the reality of ghosts.. always leaves you thinking the ‘what if’. Very well written and easy to enjoy.
    If she likes mysteries…again with no powers beyond liking school and music, the Red Blazer girls are also very enjoyable. The intended audience is 12-13 yoa girls.

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  18. The Larklight books by Phillip Reeve, Flora Segunda by Ysebeau Wilcie, anything by Frances Hardinge, The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby, the Sisters Eight series by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, The Cronus Chronicles by Anne
    Ursu, Foiled by Jane Yolen, Runaways by Brian Vaughan, Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, The Gideon Trilogy by Linda Buckley-Archer, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers.

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  19. Sabriel series by Garth Nix. It’s got everything in the original request except the puns and it does still have some humour. Strong female lead character, but with properly fleshed out other characters; magic but more based on acquired skill than godlike powers; a cat, witches, no actual vampires but a selection of other creatures returned from death who feed on the lives of others to stay in life; and is well written and really enjoyable.
    Ruby in the Smoke series by Philip Pullman. Sally is an excellent heroine, even if it isn’t set in a fantasy world.
    Windsinger series by William Nicholson. Dark, fantastical, ensemble piece.
    Mortal Engines series (Philip Reeve) – complex characters of both genders, power, moral ambiguity, and oh the puns. Extra humour if you know some of the cities in their current form, but I don’t think it loses out if you don’t.
    Tom Holt and Jasper Fforde are both enjoyably Pratchetesque. Jasper Fforde is heavier on the puns and the Thursday Next series may benefit from greater familiarity with a wide range of books. Tom Holt is more grounded in fantasy.
    12 may be too old to start on the Chrestomanci series, but she’s written plenty of other stuff for slightly older readers – I’ll third Dark Lord of Derkhelm, plus Hexwood, Time of the Ghost, Fire and Hemlock, Power of Three. And if focussing on humour, Archer’s Goon.
    For me, Earthsea is great, but very lacking in female characters. In the edition I have, Ursula LeGuin herself laments this before the 4th book which is deliberately female-centric, but in a way which wouldn’t necessarily have appealed at 12. At that point I wanted a kick ass female hero, whereas now I really enjoy a feminist rethinking of the meanings and use of power.
    I loved Dragonsong around that age too, probably more than the Dragonflight ones. But I had a profoundly anti-feminist mother, and so really benefited from anything that explcitly said no roles are closed to you by your gender. In a more enlightened world, (and in my dreams at least) this may feel like it doesn’t need saying, or at least not so explicitly or repeatedly.
    Hoorah for Gaiman generally. Maybe Coraline for female lead?
    Good to see that fantasy has moved on so much in terms of gender since I was a teenager. I shall be excitedly checking out other people’s recommendations.

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  20. Though it doesn’t meet most of the very specific criteria (cats, vampires, etc.), she might like the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins. There are 2 good female figures (though the hero is a male, the females play a pretty strong role), roaches, bats, and rats.

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  21. Magic and puns, I immediately think of the Xanth books by Piers Anthony. I think I started reading them (more like devouring) as a tween, so the age should be right. Some of his other stuff has more adult themes, but Xanth is a fun series. In the first book, everyone has a magic power, some better than others, except the main character. Funny, adventure, puns, and lots of magic.

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  22. Thirding Diana Wynne Jones, Madeleine L’Engle, Philip Reeve… and suggesting The Thief? Has she read that series? Fantasy, no magical powers at all… though Gen is certainly the main character, the others get some due. No animals though, and I seem to remember that this reader likes animals from a previous mention.
    Oh, one more! Has she read Amulet? The graphic novel series? Slightly on the younger end for 12 yo, but really good.

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  23. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but maybe this girl could find a buddy and take a stab at Midsummer Night’s Dream (maybe with a movie, or first reading a summary?) Shakespeare certainly has word play and magic, and read out loud I think a smart 12 year old could tackle it. This suggesting is out there, so please don’t let it discount my other suggestions which are way less tough.

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  24. I totally think Tamora Pierce series would be awesome for this young reader, though I don’t know if she’ll find all the elements in one series. The original Alanna series has a cat, but much of the focus is on Alanna. The Circle series (Circle of Magic series and Circle Opens series) have multiple characters, though each book focuses on one of them. They all have a very specific power, though they can manipulate their powers in many ways. Many of the series have very strong female heroines.

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  25. How about Un Lun Dun by China Mieville? It has two heroines and a pet milk carton solving mysteries in a kind of warped parallel London.
    Alan Garner’s The Owl Service has heroines, magic and OWLS! I found this book utterly spooky and compelling as a teenager.
    And Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. There’s a girl, magic, mystery…

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  26. If you’re looking for puns, Xanth is great fun. Dealing with Dragons series is a great book about a world of magic that is kind of frustrating for a smart girl. I really enjoy the Tamora Pierce Winding Circle and Circle Opens books (two series, related and sharing characters). I’m not too up on the vampire part, sorry. I really enjoyed the Thirteenth Child, which has a strong female character dealing with family relationships, frustrating magic, and life on the frontier.
    And I know it’s not exactly what she was asking for, but I cannot say enough good things about Watership Down. When I came across it, bored to tears, in the school library one day, the cover had no illustration, just the title. So I had no idea what I was dealing with and fully expected a shipwreck story (“ship” going “down”). What followed was one of the most engaging, haunting literary surprises of my life. A giant recommendation for just jumping in sometimes!

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  27. I feel certain this comment is not just a day late, but also a dollar short, but just in case the female protagonist requirement becomes less crucial than humor, I’d also add Hitchhiker’s Guide & the How to Train Your Dragon books to the above wonderful suggestions.
    Tom Holt, like Patricia Wrede, does a great riff on fairy tales & mythologies, but some of the characters’ dating lives can read as quite bitter commentary, at least if a number of titles are read all in a row. I like Expecting Someone Taller the best, though it might just be because I read it first.
    Also, if she’s reading Jane Eyre & getting past the school stuff (which I still skim through most times, myself) she might be interested in the admittedly non-magical-powers-y Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees–though maybe that’s still a couple of years away.
    I’d also recommend a book called The Gate of Ivory by Doris Egan, but I suspect it is extremely out of print. Nicely realistic heroine, though–with fun scholarly background jokes, too.
    Finally, has she read Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare? I was glad to have read those before the plays, frankly, so that I knew what to expect during the scary bits. But I’m sort of a wimpy reader, so your mileage may vary, of course.
    What a pleasure to read all those comments. How nice to know of all these great books out there waiting to be read, or reread!

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  28. One more, after a month? What about the Faeries of Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor? They were great! The first one is Blackbringer and the next one is Silksinger. Let me know if she likes them!

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  29. This is a bit late, but what about Margaret Mahy’s YA books? Maddigan’s Fantasia is great, or the Magicians of Hoad or The Changeover. Kaitangata Twitch is another good one, although I’m not sure how confusing it would be if she doesn’t know much about the Maori culture. Although could be a great way to learn! I’ve never read ALchemy by her, but it looks interesting too.

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