Looking for books full of self-contained worlds with concise and poignant plot lines? Check out the 10 best standalone YA fantasy novels of 2019!
Here at Hypable we love all things YA fantasy, but there is something about standalone YA fantasy that gives off a certain powerful aura that is hard to ignore. Self-contained worlds where we get a mere glimpse at the universes created, where the plot is concise and poignant, where the character arcs are intense and a whirlwind of emotions, and where you more often than not the ending leaves us wanting more but satisfied with what we’ve been given.
While 2018 had some amazing standalone YA fantasy novels, 2019 was no different. There are not only dreams and books that come to life, but doors that lead into people’s souls, the disappearance of entire ship’s crews, and eerie tales galore.
These five star reads are perfect recs for those who wish to escape into the world of books for a short while, but will leave you thinking about them for months to come.
The 10 best standalone YA fantasy novels of 2019
‘Reverie’ by Ryan La Sala
As far as debuts go, Ryan La Sala’s Reverie stands out with it’s LGBT+ representation, unique magic, its concentration on friendships, and it’s morally grey villains. Terrifyingly stunning, the power of the mind’s imagination comes to life as teens try to stop their world from being consumed by dreams.
Not only does Reverie have one of my favorite villains of the year, but Ryan La Sala delves deep into the psyche of LGBT+ youth and their hopes and fears brought to life via dreams becoming reality.
‘Song of the Abyss’ by Makiia Lucier
Song of the Abyss is a nonstop adventure on the high seas. When entire crews vanish into thin air, Reyna, an explorer and cartographer, along with Levi, a rival prince and captain, have to put aside their differences if they are to work together to stop the mysterious raiders and bring their missing friends back.
A companion novel to Isle of Blood and Stone, Song of the Abyss takes place in the same universe, with a few cameos of characters we know and love, but Makiia Lucier wrote it in a way where it stands on its own, bringing the reader on a whirlwind of a ride as Reyna and Levi realize what truly happened to their friends.
‘Song of the Crimson Flower’ by Julie C. Dao
Song of the Crimson Flower follows Bao, a boy who has a curse placed upon him after being rejected by the girl he loves, and Lan, a girl whose regret over turning him down, leads her on a journey to find a cure.
From Bao’s curse to its fallout for both Bao and Lan, Julie C Dao manages to capture a distinct cadence in her writing that is both atmospheric and spellbinding, like a well-worn and loved folktale.
The romantic arc of Song of the Crimson Flower is something we so rarely see in YA fantasy, where the story starts with heartbreak and leads to romance was refreshing to read.
‘Beyond the Black Door’ by A.M. Strickland
In a world where your dreams are your soul and everyone has a door that leads into theirs, Kamai’s power to enter into dreams without having a dreamscape of her own is only the beginning of the world building within Beyond the Black Door.
Completely immersive and fast paced, A.M. Strickland delivers an amazing standalone YA fantasy that is filled with consequences of actions taken, lives being turned inside out within the blink of an eye, and the emotional resilience needed when all seems lost.
Not only that, but Beyond the Black Door has one of the best descriptions and explanations of sexual fluidity and normalization of LGBT+ representation I’ve read to date.
‘Winterwood’ by Shea Ernshaw
Shea Ernshaw does it again with her eerie sophomore standalone YA fantasy, Winterwood. Shea weaves a magical web of mystery surrounding a wood that only Nora Walker can enter, where she finds a boy who had gone missing.
Packed full of lore, spells the Walker witches have passed down through the ages, eerie death omens that follow the main character, and a side of romance, Winterwood is completely spellbinding and the perfect read for a snowy day, or any day really.
With the perfect amount of magic added into the real world, the atmosphere created completely transforms our world into an eerie, modern folktale.
‘Sorcery of Thorns’ by Margaret Rogerson
In a world where books can turn into monsters and libraries are a dangerous place to work, it’s up to Elisabeth, along with a sorcerer named Nathaniel and his demon, to stop the destruction of the Great Libraries as grimoires are released and havoc breaks loose.
Captivating and full of dynamic characters and world building, Margaret Rogerson’s sophomore standalone YA fantasy novel, Sorcery of Thorns , made it as my favorite book of the year.
‘Tarnished are the Stars’ by Rosiee Thor
Tarnished are the Stars not only has a sapphic storyline, but also has an asexual main character as well. Full of complicated relationship dynamics, enemies-to-lovers, arranged marriages, differences in class and the complicated interpersonal prejudices therein, Tarnished are the Stars has amazing and intricate world building within this standalone YA fantasy novel.
Though more sci-fi than fantasy, I wanted to include it in this list because of its impact of LGBT+ acceptance within the world building, the urgency it contains with it’s strong ties to personal beliefs, the pressures of familial obligations, and the harsh decisions that must be made in order for the characters to live as their true selves.
‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins
In a world where people fear books and what they contain: memories and not stories, The Binding is all about the slow build to the reveals within. A fantastical world with an early Victorian Era feel to it, Bridget Collins brings to life a world that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it early this year.
Not only are the plot lines completely enthralling, but within a single book, the characters feel as though they have the growth that we usually see in longer series, making the journey they go on even more heartfelt and epic despite it being a single novel.
‘Stronger than a Bronze Dragon’ by Mary Fan
Steampunk mixed with epic fantasy best describes Mary Fan’s Ancient Chinese-inspired Stronger than a Bronze Dragon. With mechanical dragons, spiritual beings, demons from hell, and cyborg soldiers there is never a dull moment in this action-packed standalone YA fantasy novel.
I loved the sense of duty, filial piety and obligation, and character growth weaved into this truly magical world that left me wondering what happens after the final page is turned. There is something about characters who grew up believing in one thing, in living the life their families wanted them to lead, but then finding their own path and becoming their own person that really makes a book stand out to me. Stronger than a Bronze Dragon is enthralling with its unique blend of cyborgs and magic, along with amazing character dynamics.
‘House of Salt and Sorrows’ by Erin A. Craig
Debut author Erin A. Craig brings the Brothers Grimm’s story of the 12 Dancing Princesses back to life in her eerie gothic romance retelling House of Salt and Sorrows. Hauntingly atmospheric, if you’re a fan of Crimson Peak, you definitely don’t want to miss this book.
As a reimagining, it has the bare bones of the famous Brothers Grimm tale, but Erin made it her own with twists, terrifying imagery, and the perfect blend of tell-tale gothic romance tropes while giving her heroine agency and autonomy.