Jan 22, 2013

Guest Post by Laura Lam: Top Ten Settings I’d Like to See More of in YA Fiction

Guest Post by Laura Lam: Top Ten Settings I’d Like to See More of in YA Fiction
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I found this guest post very interesting to write, as settings in YA are something I've thought about but never fully articulated. Normally, I speak more about characters, but a setting brings a character to life. I’m enchanted by rich worldbuilding.

It also sparked some interesting Twitter discussions when I put out a call for what other people want to see more of in YA when I was stuck on the 10th setting.

  1. Asian-inspired fantasy. I recently read Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Mariott, which is a pseudo-medieval Japanese Cinderella and Count of Monte Cristo fantasy. Whew. But it was absolutely wonderful and one of my favourite reads of 2012. I also recently read Eon by Alison Goodman, which features dragons and a girl disguised as a boy, which I enjoyed. There’s Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, and the Tales of the Otori books by Lian Hearne, which I haven’t read. But there’s not all that much, and I’d like to see more as there’s such rich mythology in that corner of the world.
  2. African-inspired fantasy. I realized… I haven't read any except for Frostfire by Zoe Mariott, and though that had a wonderful cast of (diverse!) characters, didn't feel super African-inspired, perhaps because for that book the reader is in the isolated setting of the hill guard. I can't believe there aren't more. In adult fantasy, I've read Anansi Boys and there's Zoo City. I put out a call on Twitter and had a couple of recommendations: Akata Witch and Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor. So there’s a gap in the market. Any others out there?
  3. There’s a similar lack of Middle Eastern fantasy (following a Twitter discussion with @_ElizabethMay). But be sure to check out The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch when it’s out next June, which is a wonderful desert fantasy.
  4. Latin-inspired fantasy and sci fi, such as The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, which is a great dystopia that investigates cloning. I’d also love to read a YA Mayan fantasy.
  5. The settings that result from genre blending. I think there’s plenty of genre-blending in YA because it falls under the umbrella term of teen fiction so it’ll all be in the same section of the bookstore anyway. We have historical fantasy worlds (like Pantomime’s! *cough, cough*) and steampunk settings, or grimy future cities where mysteries must be solved. But we can always use more.
  6. More hard-sci fi off-world settings. We’ve had plenty of dystopia, but recently there’s been discussion of sci fi in YA. There was a post about it on Strange Chemistry’s site here which gives a good overview. I enjoyed Earth Girl by Janet Edwards, which falls into this, and Katya's World by Jonathan Howard and Across the Universe by Beth Revis are on my list.
  7. The unfamiliar-familiar. Where authors take a place that they know and make it a little dangerous, a little weird, and a little magical. The City's Son by Tom Pollock twists London into a place of railwraiths and creatures with glass skin and veins of light, for example. I haven't read it yet but I will soon.
  8. Contemporary YA set outside the US and the UK. One thing I really liked about Anna and the French Kiss was that it was set in France, even if the protagonist was American. But what about great, contemporary stories set other places in the world?
  9. What about cyberpunk settings? A world of hacking and wires, megacorporations, and robots. So much to explore. I had recs of forthcoming Coda by Emma Trevayne and Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. Any others?
  10. Underwater worlds. A few years ago I wrote a short story set in an underwater observation station on an alien planet, and I loved exploring that setting. While the premise of Renegade by J.A. Souders doesn't seem like my cup of tea, I like the sound of the underwater world of Elysium so I might give it a try. Credit for this setting goes to Maria (@fantasysink).

Honourable mentions: settings in the sky or the Ottoman Empire (again @fantasysink), alternate universes (@quadro2000), 17th/18th century France (@Leo_Cristea)

If you’ve read a book you loved that features any of these settings, please feel free to shout out in the comments! Any other settings you’d like to see more of in YA?

About Laura Lam:

Author Photo: Laura Lam

Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn't. At times she misses the sunshine.



  1. It feels like you read my mind, that's how much your list is similar to my wishes. :D And I didn't read any of the books you mentioned, but most of them are already on my tbr, just waiting for a little bit of my free time.
    Middle Eastern fantasy is popular in adult genre these last years. There is 'Throne of Crescent Moon' by Saladin Ahmed & 'Tower and Knife Trilogy' by Mazarkis Williams. Probably there is more, but those are the books I read.
    As for African inspired fantasy, there is 'Dreamblood' series by N.K.Jemisin, but none that I knew of in Ya genre... Thanks for the recs. :)
    YES to Latin inspired especially Mayan inspired fantasy - I would LOVE to read something about them.

    Thanks for writing a guest post for my blog, awesome list. :)

  2. Wow - great list! I am with you on the Asian-inspired fantasy and unfamiliar-familiar. I also love historical fantasy settings and would like to see more in the vein of Pantomime, which I loved btw :-).
    As for YA books with African settings – there is definitely a lack of these but I am currently in the midst of writing one!!

    My TTT

  3. Love this list Laura! And so excited to read Pantomime. My debut is inspired by all the cultures of the world, but I have plans too for future novels which are inspired more locally by Asian mythology. I love the Chinese side of my heritage as it's exposed me to some great oriental mythology. Yay for more diversity in YA! x


  4. Wow, this is an amazing list! I agree with all these, particularly the Asian-inspired fantasy and African settings. And underwater - yes! I think I've only read one, but it was very good and I'd love to read more like it.

  5. Okay - here are a few recs! You've already listed Nancy Farmer, but you did not list either "The Warm Place" (for younger children) or "The Ear, the Eye and the Arm". The "Body parts" (as a librarian friend called it when I recommended it for her sons) is SF, with some historical and fantasy elements, set in late 22d century Zimbabwe and featuring a 13-year-old Shona boy as protagonist. It's great!

    I also love Hilari Bell's "Farsala" trilogy - a fantasy epic with the feel of historical fiction, set in a fictional land very much like Persia. Farsala is being invaded by the Hrum (who are a lot like the Romans). Three young people find themselves, in their different ways and for different reasons, leading a rebellion against the invaders. They are inspired by the legend of Sorahb, and some of the character names and attributes come straight from the Book of Kings.

    Kara Dalkey's "Little Sister" and "The Heavenward Path" are fantasies set in Japan.

    Elizabeth Wein wrote Arthurian tie-ins set in Ethiopia.

    I'm not sure these count - perhaps not "non-European" enough, but Megan Whalen Turner's terrific "Queen's Thief" series is set in a sort of alternate/renaissance Greece/Byzantium.

    Hope these help! I'm just scratching the surface, I think. Oh, and "Akata Witch" is terrific!

  6. Yeah, I'll love to read more books set in the underwater worlds! (Mermaid books doesn't really count in this case.) Cyberpunk settings sound fantastic too!

    My TTT & check out my Most Anticipated 2013 Book Giveaway if you have time! (:

  7. Yes for all of the multicultural fantasy. I support this one hundred percent. I also LOVE genre-blending, like fairy tale sci fi.

    "Where authors take a place that they know and make it a little dangerous, a little weird, and a little magical." - Magical realism for the win!

  8. Oo, African-inspired sounds awesome, great choice!

  9. IIRC Nnedi Okorafor wrote a story that was sorta-kinda a companion novel to Zarah that was set on a future Earth in Africa called The Shadow Speaker.


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