The Alien’s Daughter
Teens often feel alienated from their parents. But what if your parent was an alien? The Alien’s Daughter by JC Morrows explores that question, opening with a single significant event: blue-haired Zoe’s discovery that her dad is an extraterrestrial. This not only explains her strange and recently developed powers, but also helps her understand why her dad wavers between friendliness and hostility. Although this development may not match some readers’ normal experience, The Alien’s Daughter presents an intriguing take on how an alien could blend in with earthlings. This novel-length tale is more of an extended short story about discovery, and values emotion over action. Subsequent installments in the series are sure to uncover more half-alien predicaments for Zoe to confront.
Best for: Teens looking for an emotional ride.
Discern: A Christian worldview is neither clearly seen nor ruled out.
Going Back Cold
Coldness can numb every hurt except heartache, as seen in Kelley Rose Waller’s Going Back Cold, which sets a mother’s bitter struggle with stillbirth against the backdrop of cutting-edge scientific research in Antarctica. When Dr. Jane Whyse’s experimentation with faster-than-light technology discloses the possibility of time travel, her grief forces her to grapple with the implications of altering the past. If she can go back, should she? Though this novel’s prose plods at times, its story is driven by both inner and interpersonal conflict. Jane’s cramped and isolated environment forces her to confront opposing opinions, deal with antagonistic personalities, and contrast her loss with a fellow crew member’s prior abortion. But is her real adversary the God who allowed death to freeze her soul?
Best for: Adults; fans of hard science fiction.
Discern: Traumatic depictions of miscarriage and postpartum depression; some vulgarity; frequent sexual innuendo.
Music may have the power to move us metaphorically, but in Prelude and Abduction: in A Minor music also has the power to move people literally, as well as to do other magical things. Keith A. Robinson’s sci-fi/fantasy gives Maestros, from various races across the galaxy, the musical ability to create portals from one place to another, change the form of matter, and control wind and other elements. The story uniquely features no human characters and depicts unfallen races interacting with people from fallen races. The main character, Khalen, is believably imperfect: he struggles to control his temper and deals poorly with his own past. Prelude and Abduction strikes up a distinctive melody in the key of Star Wars by providing music-based powers to alien races in conflict.
Best for: Young adults and adults, sci-fi fans.
Discern: Some fantasy concepts, such as an enormous flow of continuous musical energy connecting every solar system, and musical skills allowing someone to manipulate that energy.
Like a Russian nesting doll, Nadine Brandes’s Romanov contains layers of unexpected meaning. Cased in history, Romanov tells the story of Anastasia Romanov, or Nastya, exiled with her family after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. With her spell master gone and magic outlawed under the Bolsheviks, Nastya can do little to ease her brother Alexei’s secret hemophilia. Complicating matters further, Nastya begins to develop an attachment for one of the soldiers imprisoning her family. When the ultimate betrayal falls upon them, Nastya must put her wits, her faith, and her heart to the test. Can she follow her father’s admonition to forgive her enemies? Or will her heart become as hard and empty as a Matryoshka doll? Wrapping history in layers of humanity and magic, Romanov brings the captivating story of Anastasia to life in a new and vivid way.
Best for: Fans of Nadine Brandes and historical fiction as well as slow-burning, character-driven stories.
Discern: Some romantic tension and rumors of adultery; multiple scenes of violence and references to assassination, execution, and murder; one character is shown drinking heavily in most of his appearances; references to Jesus, the Bible, and prayer throughout.
A shield is good to have, especially if it prevents an alien race from infiltrating your world and wreaking death and destruction. It is also highly inconvenient to lose. But when people are forced to wield new weapons, sometimes they surprise themselves. Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Shard & Shield pursues classic fantasy visions of magic, alien creatures, and troublesome royalty. Its alien Ryuven are well-crafted, and similar enough to humans for empathy and dissimilar enough to be interesting. The story explores a variety of relationships. Romance has its place, but so do friendship and familial bonds. Due to such loves, two heroes commit a crime that irrevocably harms innocents, but the story never reckons with this severe offense and engineers a deception to help them escape punishment. Still, Shard & Shield will intrigue readers with its world-building and complex relationships.
Best for: Fans of fantasy and character-driven fiction.
Discern: Several fights, all on a limited scale; abuse and cruel punishment is inflicted on slaves, prisoners, and an adolescent boy; one scene depicts a character deliberately arousing another; someone attempts to pressure an unwilling subordinate into sexual relations; some language, mostly mild.
In this brilliant sequel to The Story Peddler, Lindsay Franklin spins the tale of Tanwen and the Corsyth Weavers as they travel the world in search of a cure to the curse that’s slowly killing a member of their company. But Tanwen has a secret—the curse has begun to afflict her as well. Meanwhile, Queen Braith attempts to restore order to Tir, but the puppet master who helped Braith’s father rise to power has a plan to regain control that includes hunting Tanwen and the Weavers and inciting riots amongst the Tirian peasants, putting everyone Tanwen loves at risk. More adventure, higher stakes, and betrayal at every turn make The Story Raider a sequel that exceeds expectations and will leave readers begging for the final story.
Best for: Anyone who enjoys adventure and intrigue in a compelling fantasy.
Discern: Violence and some references to sexual assault.
The Treasure of Capric
When a sacred treasure goes missing from its vault on Capric Hill, the monks sworn to protect it mount a recovery mission. But as they venture farther from home, they’re faced with the fact that their brotherhood shares culpability for the land’s barrenness. With The Treasure of Capric, first installment in the King of the Caves series, Brandon M. Wilborn blends Brother Cadfael with Prince Caspian to conjure a complex, lived-in world populated by fully realized characters. Novices Kurian, Rhys, and Tobin must fight, sneak, and negotiate their way across a derelict and usurped kingdom. But is the outlaw they pursue a dire threat or their only hope of restoration? Biblical allusions flourish without intruding, and, though the plot may grow too convenient toward the end, the story manages to capture a precious treasure indeed: a fantastical feeling of genuine awe.
Best for: Older teens and adults seeking traditional fantasy with vivid worlds and thematic depth.
Discern: Strong bloody violence, mild profanity, some sexual situations involving witches and sirens.
Dieon wanted two things: a home and peace. It proved difficult to build a home, and harder yet to stay there. Peace was even more elusive, especially after the Twisted Idzihar—the traitorous lord of spirits—broke into time and then into Dieon’s body. With To Ashes We Run, Just B. Jordan spins a vibrant and complex story. Commerce, culture, and climate add shades of realism to this fantasy world, while ancient lore and otherworldly creatures strike mystic notes. A deep sense of the goodness, follies, and suffering of the characters pulses through the narrative. The timespan of the novel is measured in years, and the needless repetition of known facts occasionally slows the pace. Still, To Ashes We Run is a rich and heartfelt fantasy, crafted with imagination and care.
Best for: Adult readers and fantasy fans.
Discern: Violence, including murder and one gladiator fight; several characters die gruesomely; two incidents of mass slaughter, mostly non-explicit; two instances of self-mutilation; a small child dies from animal venom.