Roll for Initiative: 6 YA Books for Dungeons & Dragons Fans
I have to admit, I am usually not a fan of trying new things. I know that “trying new stuff” is something we’re supposed to do in order to learn and grow and whatever, but I tend to order the same thing at my favorite restaurants (I already know it’s delicious!) and let’s not even talk about trying to find a new doctor. But this is something I want to actively work on getting better at, so when a coworker asked me to try something VERY new recently, I decided to dive right in. That new thing? Dungeons & Dragons.
For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is a tabletop role playing game where you and a group of other people design your own characters and go on a “quest" together, making decisions with the help dice rolls along the way. At first I was intimidated—there are so many moving parts to D&D! So many, many rules! A whole handbook if you want to get really hardcore! But I am lucky enough to have very patient and kind friends who are willing to answer my dumb questions and keep the game moving when I find myself struggling to figure out what to do. A few sessions into playing, it struck me why I was liking it so much: D&D is storytelling. This seems obvious, but since I’m so often on the editing end, rather than the writing end, it took me a while to realize that what I was doing was writing a collective and collaborative story with my friends. And that’s awesome! It’s fun (and humbling!) to be on the more creative side of things, and it truly gives me a new appreciation for the writers whose work I critique every day.
I suppose trying one new thing wasn’t a disaster... but I’m still ordering the same noodle dish at my local Thai restaurant that I always do. To celebrate trying new things, here are six YA books for the Dungeon Master in all of us.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
An oldie, but a goodie, and often credited with being the inspiration for the revamped version of D&D most people are playing nowadays, this trilogy is a must read. It’s a classic story—a young boy discovers he is a wizard, must train and hone his skills, which doesn’t go as planned, there are dark forces at work—that may remind you of that other boy wizard, but the scope of LeGuin’s world cannot be matched. There are epic battles, lots of traveling, cloaks, the works. For fantasy fans who love to sink deep into a world and not come out for hours, Earthsea is perfect. Also, the main character is a person of color, which is a refreshing change from the whiteness of many fantasy novels.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Listen, I know that I’m taking the “dragons” part of Dungeons & Dragons a bit literally here, but this is such a good book that I don’t care. In a world where dragons work side by side with humans and can even take human form, tensions between the two species still simmer just under the surface. Seraphina, a talented musician who has just come to the royal court, has an enormous secret that could destroy human-dragon relations even further, and it’s becoming harder and harder to keep it a secret as her relationship with the charming Prince Lucian develops. This book has, hand down, the most fascinating version of dragons I’ve ever read, and will perfectly appeal to D&D players who love the dozens of different magical creatures one can encounter in the game.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Perfect for the rogue in your life, the first in this long-running and wildly popular series is about a contest to see who will become the newest court assassin, which just has D&D written all over it. If you like your heroines beautiful and murderous (and really, who doesn’t?), Throne of Glass is perfect for you—and with seven books in the series so far, there’s plenty more to devour. Keep in mind that this series is definitely geared toward upper YA/NA readers!
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Although this graphic novel arguably skews a little more toward middle-grade than YA, I have no doubt that teen readers and D&D players would rip through it in one sitting. Stevenson has even stated that she was inspired by cosplay while writing Nimona (which was originally published as a webcomic). There is so much geeky goodness in the book, from characters with hilarious names like Sir Goldenloin to the titular character Nimona, a raucous but good-hearted shapeshifter who always manages to cause trouble. And just like a really good session of D&D, you’ve never quite sure what twists are coming up next!
The Soul Keepers by Devon Taylor
Okay, so this isn’t quite the same high fantasy genre as pretty much everything else on the list, but hear me out: Ferrying. The souls. Of the dead. Absolutely yes please, count me in! In the first book of Taylor's epic and smartly written duology, Rhett joins the crew of the Harbinger, bringing the souls of the dead... somewhere. No one’s quite sure where. The fantastically done monster fights will definitely bring in the D&D fans, but the heartfelt friendships and subtle exploration of loss will keep them there. Plus, the next book, The Ghost Seekers, is coming out soon!
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
This book is basically made of tropes that D&D fanatics love: an plucky orphan girl, a completely unfamiliar world with a whole new language, kidnapping, an enchanted sword, and a contest to win the king’s favor. Need I say more? Even though this book is a bit older, it holds up incredibly well, and I can’t wait for a new generation of fantasy lovers to discover it!