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Review: New YA fiction from Erin Bow, Kendare Blake and Traci Chee

The Swan Riders

By Erin Bow

Margaret K. McElderry Books, 384 pages, $17.99

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In the follow-up to last year's The Scorpion Rules (one of The Globe 100's Best Books of 2015), Canadian fantasy phenom Erin Bow dives head-first into sci-fi – and it's just as crazy smart and shocking as the first book. It's still 2563 AD and the world is still imploding. Greta, the main character, has become an AI – a frightening, invasive and torturous transformation that few survive. If she does, she'll be part of an elite group of human-robot hybrids that rule the planet. While The Scorpion Rules was a dystopia focusing on global upheaval and world politics, The Swan Riders is an examination of the upheaval of the self. Can AI and humanity co-exist, not just in the same world, but in the same body? Profound, unnerving and filled with tension, Bow just keeps outdoing herself.

Three Dark Crowns

By Kendare Blake

HarperTeen, 416 pages, $21.99

Teen triplet queens with magic powers try to kill each other off for monarchic supremacy in this opulent fantasy. Separated at age six, the queens were raised in different parts of the Land of Fennbirn with guardians helping them develop their powers; Katharine can ingest poison, Mirabella can control the elements and Arsinoe can control plants and animals. But only one can rule. The other two will die. While the competition propels the novel forward, watching each queen struggle with her power is painfully captivating. In the opening chapter, Katharine must sit down to a killer (literally) banquet of poisoned meats, candied scorpions and toxic mushrooms. It's stomach-churning, but impossible to stop reading. Royalty is hot stuff in YA right now (there are scores of titles with "crown" in them) but make time for this one: it's killer.

The Reader

By Traci Chee

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G.P. Putnam's Sons, 464 pages, $25.99

In Kelanna, reading is more than a privilege: It's a form of elite magic that people will kill for. In her YA debut, Traci Chee brings a fantasy thriller where written language barely exists. Young Sefia is blissfully unaware of the power of the strange, square object (a book) hidden in her home until her father is brutally murdered by mysterious people looking for it. Sefia must go on the run, book in tow, to save her own life. Years later, the now 16-year-old Sefia is bent on vengeance after another violent loss in her life. This is a bibliophile's dream plot and one of the few fantasies that will hold appeal for those that don't normally read the genre. Chee interweaves several other plots into Sefia's chase, creating a rich, layered world you won't want to escape.

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