Almost 20 years ago J.K. Rowling released her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone for all those people outside the U.S). What was so transcendental about Harry Potter was the book’s appeal to everyone. Boys, girls, young and old wanted to immerse themselves in the world of Harry Potter. Although the last book was published in 2009, Harry Potter and Hogwarts still enthrall new readers every day. However, Harry Potter is not the fantasy character to introduce readers to fantastical fantasy worlds.
Blurring the lines between reality and the unfathomable, fantasy fiction has a rich history dating centuries ago. From Homer’s Odyssey to J.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, fantasy books continue to captivate readers of all ages. Authors, publishers, teachers, and researchers have been fascinated in the continuing success of fantasy literature. A prevailing belief is, as said in author’s Tamora Pierce’s words, “Fantasy creates hope and optimism in readers. It is the pure stuff of wonder.” Fantasy fiction invites its readers into new worlds where almost anything can happen. These worlds not only appeal to the young but also adults.
In the recent years, more and more adults are gravitating to children and young adult fantasy books. Mike Cadden, a professor of English, along with Sandra Beckett, a professor of French, believe that children and young fantasy books are appealing to adults because they present a “traditional, well-wrought, and unified story” making them great cross-over books for multiple generations. Seeking these elements, I wanted to discover how well two books would cross-over for young adult and the adult crowd.
YOUNG ADULT BOOK
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Set in the mythical Kingdom of Goredd, Seraphina introduces an imaginative and intelligent world where dragons and humans live among one another. With the ability to transform into human form, dragons attempt to maintain a 40-year peace treaty by living within the stipulations imposed on them. Raised by the dragon, Orma, Seraphina has learned to balance her relationships between dragons and humans. Taught in the draconian ways, Seraphina lacks the prejudices of the dragon-kind that are held by the humans in Goredd. As the assistant to the royal music master, Seraphina quietly attempts to dispel any dangerous myths about the dragons with the young heirs of the kingdom. However, Seraphina has her own secret, a secret that may eventually cost her life. Yet, when member of the royal family is killed, Seraphina must not only try to help maintain peace but preserve her life.
This book was so delicious…at first. I wanted to absorb every word and the mere idea of skimming was unthinkable; the vocabulary was so rich and I would most likely miss an important element. Hartman’s Kingdom of Goredd is definitely not your traditional young adult fantasy world, where the reader only glimpses a small portion of the fantasy world. In Seraphina, Hartman reveals a world with multiple layers. Introducing several characters (note to future readers: there is a glossary to keep all of them straight), Hartman has created and spun a world so magical that readers can re-read this book several times and notice something new and exciting.
Alas, I am in the minority of those who didn’t love this book. Many people complained about the slow start, whereas I thought the beginning held the most excitement for me. When Hartman talks about the dragons parading through the streets of Goredd with their teeth bared as a sign of friendliness, I was sold. Then, the book became tedious for me. The rich vocabulary and the multiple characters made me feel like I was wading through mud. By the last 50 pages, I felt like my brain was just numb. However, I was interested to see how Warren-Newport’s Forever Young Adult Book Club thought of it.
Book Club Perspective
Seraphina was the first book that I read for a Forever Young Adult book club (FYA). To help me further grasp why and how adults are gravitating towards young adult books, I have decided to attend two different FYA book clubs. One FYA is at my current library, Zion-Benton Public Library, and the other, Warren-Newport Public Library, is about twenty-five minutes away from Zion.
For February, Warren-Newport decided to read Seraphina. Zion read the book back in 2013 and I was unable to attend, so I was excited to see what complete strangers had to say about the book.
Overwhelming consensus: LOVED IT. There was an adult male participant, who apparently had disliked every book the book club had read up to this point, until he started reading Seraphina. When he started reading Seraphina, he tracked down the book club leader and told her how much he was loving it. The book club also outlined the reasons why they loved this book:
- The world-building. The adults loved how they could read a paragraph and re-read it and find something new. Some mentioned that they could envision this world, not just from Seraphina’s viewpoint. Our book club leader mentioned that Hartman had originally taken the traditional route of a very focused view-point and her editor wanted to her to expand her world. It took her over 9 years to finish writing Seraphina. It definitely shows! For those anticipating her sequel, Shadow Scale, it comes out March 2015. Apparently, her publisher is willing to work with her writing style. Kudos to her!
- The one complaint was having to keep track of all the characters. Some participants likened it to the Game of Throne series, but they realized that this comes with a world-building fantasy world. One librarian, who had read the book first and then listened to it, mentioned that she preferred the audio, as the narrator did all the different voices, allowing her to keep all the characters straight. You also get some music with the audiobook.
- They loved the love theme. This is one of the few young adult books that does not have a vomit-inducing romance. Seraphina and her love-interest are realistic about their situation. Seraphina also does not “lose” herself in the romance and continues being a strong character. Hartman also introduces the great love concept of how do you react when the person you love is someone completely different. Can you ever really know the person you love? I believe we talked about this theme for a good 15 minutes.
- The adults also thought the book was relatable to the modern reader. Seraphina must deal with an appearance that she cannot change. When she attempts to change herself, it makes the reader cringe. Everyone agreed that we all have features we would like to change but cannot.
- However, almost everyone agreed that they thought the book was well written. There were a few, like me, who thought it became tedious, but the majority thought it was a winner. Take my viewpoint with a grain of salt.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
While Seraphina introduces readers to a high-fantasy world with dragons, Deborah Harkness introduces her readers to a fantasy that happens in modern times.
Double, double, boil and trouble, witches, wizards and a vampire, OH MY!
Noted historian, Diana Bishop is not your average scholar. Descended from a long line of powerful witches, Diana actively shuns her heritage and refuses to participate in the magical world. Until one day, she accidentally opens a bewitched and highly desired manuscript. Her world is soon spilling over with witches, wizards, vampires, and daemons seeking the manuscript. Trying to navigate this new territory, Diana soon gains a helping hand and an alliance with a 15,000 year old vampire, Matthew Clairmont, as she begins to learn about her own powers while battling evil forces.
This book was recommended to me by several librarians, so I thought it would be a fitting cross-over book for young adults. Touted as a sensual and contemporary Twilight series, A Discovery of Witches would definitely appeal to Twilight lovers. However, unlike Twilight, Harkness adds more depth to her characters.
Diana Bishop is descended from a strong bloodline of witches. I personally wanted to know where her story went. Matthew Clairmont is a 15,000 year-old vampire whose personal history and library will have historians drooling. Bishop’s aunts are a hoot and a half. However, the characters could also be very Twilight-esque.
Diana is a Yale professor. She is a strong and independent woman. Then, all of a sudden a 1500 year-old vampire turns her into a delicate flower. It doesn’t help matters that he entered into her apartment, without her permission, and she is completely cool with it! I don’t know how many woman would be like, “Oh, you were in my house without me! Awesome, let’s date!!!”
Matthew also has some very Edward tendencies. He is fiercely protective of Diana and forbids her from participating in certain activities. He is also the one that has sexual restraint while Diana is clamoring to get his clothes off. Of course, it doesn’t happen until he has marked her as his own.
While I bash these characteristics of the book, these are the traits that are going to appeal to the young adult Twilight fans. However, be forewarned that the love relationship in this book is much more steamy than Twilight.
Soulless by Gail Carriger
With the supernatural ability to steal someone’s soul with one touch, Alexia Tarabotti’s lack of soul is the least of her worries. With England’s vampires disappearing and the blame placed upon her, Alexia must not only solve the mystery with the devilish handsome werewolf, Lord Maccon, but fend off her mother’s constant banter of her doomed spinsterhood.
This is a completely fun read. Alexia Tarabotti is not your classical beautiful heroine, but her spunky nature will have readers’ laughing.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Graceling is a book that I read almost five years ago and I still recommend it to young adults and adults, alike. Katsa has a Grace, the Grace to kill a man with her bare-hands. Working for her Uncle, the King, Katsa is forced to use her skill for her Uncle’s whims until she meets Po and forces herself to understand her own identity while solving a kingdom’s mystery.
Graceling has a strong female character who shuns love. Some might say there is raging feminist theme, but I enjoyed a book that challenged the norm. This is a great book for discussion.
Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer
Finding a nonfiction book that deals with fantasy was like finding a needle in a haystack. I then put on my thinking brain on and thought about the Salem Witch Trials.
In Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem Rosaylyn Schanzer presents her reader with chronological facts that are normally ignored when discussing the trials. No longer in black and white, the trials are shown the many shades of gray. In the end Schanzer allows her reader to make up his/her mind.
Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris
The Girl of Fire and Thorn by Rae Carson
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
 Cart, Michael. “Carte Blanche: Suspending the Old Disbelief, by Michael Cart.” Booklist. http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=6140143&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1 (accessed March 10, 2014).
 Cadden, Mike. “All is Well: The Epilogue in Children’s Fantasy Fiction.” Narrative 20, no. 3 (October 2012): 343-356. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost(accessed February 15, 2014).