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As I’ve gotten more involved in the book community and read more adult fantasy, I’ve noticed a trend. A lot of adult fantasy novels get mislabeled as YA. There’s nothing wrong with YA— in fact, I love it! But there’s a marked difference between the kind of content in YA novels and adult ones. And some unknowing YA reader may pick up one of these books and get more than they bargained for.
That’s not to say younger readers can’t read adult fantasy. It’s just that some may not be ready for the themes and often graphic content. I firmly believe every reader should have a basic understanding of what they’re getting into when they pick up a book. And mislabeling books prevents that.
Today I thought I’d share with you a few books and series I’ve seen frequently mislabeled as YA, so my audience knows what to expect. I want to keep everyone as informed as possible, so I’ll also explain why each book is not YA. All of these are books and series I’ve read, but I’m sure there are more. Either way, these are some frequently mislabeled books that you should know are not YA.
Out of all the books on this list, this series is probably the least jarring in terms of mature content. That’s why it’s often recommended as an introduction to adult fantasy. But make no mistake— this is an adult fantasy series. There is some sexual content, as well as fairly graphic violence. It’s not as graphic as other books on this list, but worth noting. The third book in particular is very heavy and a lot darker than YA really ever gets.
Mia Corvere may be sixteen-years-old, but the audience for this book sure isn’t. This trilogy is filled with graphic violence, which is understandable seeing as the protagonist is an assassin. There’s also some graphic sex scenes. This is a series you absolutely have to be emotionally ready for.
Though Bardugo writes mainly YA, this book is emphatically not. While Six of Crows is pretty dark, Ninth House is darker. It deals much more openly with things like sexual assault and drug addiction. I’d also argue the violence is even more graphic. This is also a book with hella trigger warnings, so please look those up before you read.
When I saw this book referred to as YA, my eyes popped out of my skull. This series is not remotely close to YA. Hell, it’s extreme even for adult fantasy. The story is inspired by The Rape of Nanking, an utterly horrifying massacre of Chinese people by Imperial Japan. There is a chapter in the first book that is so graphic, I was shaking while reading it. It’s a really good book (and presumably a good series, but I haven’t read the sequel yet), but it is not meant for the faint of heart and certainly not a YA audience.
I’ve actually physically seen this shelved in the YA section and straight up moved it to where it belongs. First of all, these characters aren’t even the right age to be YA protagonists. Secondly, once again, the violence and more complex themes. Like Shades of Magic, this series is probably a good intro to adult fantasy. It’s not as intense as other books on this list, but more intense than YA gets. Just don’t get it twisted.
Why do these books commonly get mislabeled as YA? Simple: misogyny. If a woman writes a fantasy, it must be YA. Because women only write YA. But what about Jay Kristoff? He’s not a woman. No, but his protagonist is. Therefore, it is definitely YA. You can insist it’s not the case, but you’d be wrong.
If you ever see someone list or recommend any of these books as YA, please correct them. For the average book fan, it’s probably an honest mistake (and they likely haven’t read the book(s) yet). It’s important that readers know what they are getting into.
And, if you ever see them misshelved in a library or bookstore, please let the staff know. While it can be annoying to have to reshelve books, it’s better for them in the long run to keep their customers safe. Otherwise, they may be subject to complaints they don’t necessarily deserve.
Stay safe out there, readers! And make sure to help keep your fellow readers safe as well.
What are some books or series I missed? I’ve heard Jade City by Fonda Lee and The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern have been getting mislabeled as YA, but I haven’t read them yet. As such, I can’t give you accurate information as to why they are YA. If I had to guess, I’d say the reasons are similar to those listed above. I just can’t confirm that. If you can think of any more, please leave them in the comments!