Medieval YA

I’ve created this annotated bibliography of medieval-themed YA and middle-grade titles, which I’ll add to over time.  All of these books deal with the Middle Ages in a creative way, and they consider what it means to “come of age” in medieval surroundings.  Medievalist means adapting the Middle Ages for contemporary audiences, so all of these titles blend the historical with the contemporary.  Each title links to a review, where one is available.  I made this list because there isn’t really an established canon of teen medievalist fiction (though there’s a growing tradition of medievalist children’s literature), and the idea of medieval adolescence is less often explored.

For scholarly work on medieval children’s literature, see Clare Bradford’s The Middle Ages in Children’s Literature.

Bibliography of Medievalist YA

Alexander, Lloyd.  Taran Wanderer.  Square Fish, 2006 [reprint].

Taran gets real angsty and wanders around Prydain, growing as a teen, while Eilonwy is stuck in princess school. The Prydain series is basically adapting the Welsh Mabinogion and 80s kids were scarred by Arawn from The Black Cauldron.

Beagle, Peter S.  The Last Unicorn Ace, 1991 [reprint].

Not explicitly YA but often appears in the children’s section and the unicorn herself has a kind of YA focalizing perspective. Medievalist satire that’s beautiful, melancholy, and funny, all about various failures.

Black, Holly.  Tithe.  McElderry, 2019 [reprint].

First in an urban fantasy series about the fairy court. Marketed as a modern fairy tale (obv) but with a lot of medieval mythic overtones. Story is taut and well-crafted, with some supporting LGBTQ characters.

Callander, Don.  Pyromancer.  Mundania, 2017 [reprint].

Fun medievalist fantasy about a teen who leaves home to become an apprentice fire wizard. I remember it being light and a bit reminiscent of the Xanth novels, without being as silly. There are animal familiars, too, and a magic otter in the sequel.

Capetta, Amy Rose and Cori McCarthy.  Once and Future.  Jimmy Patterson, 2019.

Retelling of the Morte D’Arthur in space (through the lens of T.H. White). Queer and nonbinary characters, Ari/Arthur is a woman of color, Kay has 2 moms, Guinevere has a SPACE CASTLE. Please read it immediately.

Clare, Cassandra.  City of Bones McElderry, 2010 [reprint].

Urban fantasy.  Infused with medieval angel/demon mythologies. Also features runes, a bisexual wizard, and a villain called Valentine. The Alec/Magnus pairing has its own cute spinoff series. Yes Magnus is 1000 but that didn’t stop Buffy.

Cooper, Susan.  The Dark is Rising Sequence.  McElderry, 2013 [reprint].

The protgonist Will starts out as an eleven-year-old, but then matures (along with Jane in Greenwitch and other tween characters).  Medieval Welsh and Celtic myths abound in this well-crafted series that’s reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones (less humour, but the same kind of exquisite craftsmanship).

Crossley-Holland, Kevin.  At the Crossing-Places Orion, 2002 [reprint].

This series follows Arthur from boyhood, with Crossing-Places focusing on his experiences as a young squire.  Crossley-Holland is a medievalist and he brings a number of gritty medieval details to this series, though it’s ultimately hopeful and accessible for teens.

Duncan, Dave.  Magic Casement.  Open Road Media, 2017 [reprint].

First novel focuses on teen stableboy Rap who possesses a Magic Word–this system of words (felt rather than spoken) is brilliant and I wish I’d thought of it.  My tenth-grade English teacher recommended it to me.  The series is smart, slightly catty, and was under-appreciated (but still available!)

Eco, Umberto.  Baudolino.  Mariner, 2003.

Follows the adventures of the adopted son of Frederick Barbarossa in northern Medieval Italy (early 13thc).  Eco’s background in medieval history is evident as he weaves in all kinds of medieval elements, with an unreliable narrator.  Name of the Rose also has YA elements, since it focuses on a young monk learning from a master detective.

Eddings, David.  Pawn of Prophecy.  Del Rey, 1986 [reprint].

Not explicitly YA–the narrator is a bit distant–but it focuses on Garion as a tween/teen in a medievalist world that’s critical of both feudalism and other high fantasy texts. It has a “YA” feel even if the focalizing is ambiguous.

Feist, Raymond E.  Magician:  Apprentice.  Del Rey, 2019 [reprint].

Part of an adult fantasy series, but the first novel focuses on Pug, a teen who becomes the apprentice of crotchety Merlin figure. Pug is an aw-shucks Garion type but grows into a no-nonsense wizard.  His boyhood always felt real for me as a young reader.

Griffith, Nicola. Hild.  Farrar, 2013.

A re-telling of the life of Hilda of Whitby, with a thoroughly-researched look at Early Medieval society. Nice change from books set in the High Middle Ages. Features queer characters and a hero who totally defies conventions.

Grossman, Lev.  The Magicians.  Penguin, 2010.

New Adult. First book in the series is about a “darker Hogwarts,” most characters are 18-20. Lots of medieval and early modern magic connections, plus the medieval foundations of the school (Brakebills), though the TV series is more urban.

Huff, Tanya.  Long, Hot Summoning.  Daw, 2003.

(Canadian!) 3d book in an adult fantasy series, but this title focuses on queer teen witch Diana and features a few medievalist characters (including an anime-inspired King Arthur, IIRC). Diana is sharp and smart and very embodied.

Lackey, Mercedes.  Magic’s Pawn Daw, 1989.

Not explicitly marketed as YA, but the protagonist is a queer teen living in a fairly hostile medievalist world. It’s a deeply melancholy series (poor Vanyel), but it was one of the first times I ever read same-sex desire in YA-fantasy.

Lee, Tanith.  The Black Unicorn.  Ibooks, 2005 [reprint].

Focuses on the un-magical teen daughter of an enchantress, and her connection to the unicorn in question. Lee’s known for more adult fantasy but she also writes great young characters–funny, smart, and not afraid of dark themes.

L’Engle, Madeleine.  An Acceptable Time.  Farrar, 2007 [reprint].

Polly (granddaughter of L’Engle’s famous Murry family) time-travels to an Iron Age society with druids.  Pre-medieval, but you can see the early Celtic oral cultures that will inform later stories.  I read this in middle-school and enjoyed it.

Leguin, Ursula.  The Wizard of Earthsea.  HMH, 2012 [reprint].

Focuses on the adolescence of Ged as he negotiates a medieval magic school.  Main character is a POC, and there’s also a supporting character, Vetch, who’s a lovely example of soft masculinity.  Basically the unacknowledged precursor to Harry Potter.

—.  Tombs of Atuan.  Atheneum, 2012 [reprint].

One of the earliest YA fantasy books explicitly about girlhood, and a break from the boy-centric wizards of the Earthsea series (followed up by “Tehanu”). This is a dark and melancholy little book that I loved growing up–about a priestess coming of age.

McCaffrey, Anne.  Dragondrums. Aladdin, 2003 [reprint].

Technically SF, the Dragonriders of Pern series still has a number of medievalist beats (see what I did?) including towers, harpers, and young apprentice characters like Piemur and Menolly.  I remember these books being shelved in the fantasy section most often, and they could fit into Darko Suvin’s “science-fantasy” genre.

Montero, Rosa.  Historia del rey transparente.  Debolsillo, 2016 [reprint].

(Story of the Translucent King), by Rosa Montero. Features Leola, a medieval teen who disguises herself to become a knight. This novel has everything: troubadours, eunuchs, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and realistic depictions of knighthood.

Nix, Garth.  Sabriel.  HarperTeen, 2009.

Set in a medieval-ish world called the Old Kingdom.  The title character is a teen necromancer whose magic involves a set of bells.  In a neat reversal, she saves a prince (named Touchstone), and also has a familiar named Mogget who’s both a fire-demon and a sardonic cat.  The book has a light touch, while still disarming a number of fantasy tropes (and the sequel, Abhorsen, features an ace main character).

Pierce, Tamora.  Alanna:  The First Adventure.  Atheneum, 2010 [reprint].

Well-known middle-grade. Protagonist is AFAB & disguised as a boy to become a knight (though readers could just as easily connect with Alan as a trans boy). Protags are twins who are both GNC (brother wants to be a wizard).

Pratchett, Terry.  The Wee Free Men.  HarperCollins, 2015 [reprint].

Includes the whole Tiffany Aching series. Discworld is maybe just tacitly medievalist, but also celebrates medievalism’s flavor of varied adaptations. Delightful witch girl hero, fairy antagonist, fusion of witchcraft with medicine/midwifery, and Pictish myths.

Rees Brennan, Sarah.  In Other Lands.  Big Mouth, 2019 [reprint].

Snarky bisexual protagonist, medievalist portal fantasy, satire of high fantasy tropes in DWJ style, lovely artwork. Elliot is a charming, prickly, devastating character who captured my heart & the book asks tough questions about the genre.

Rees, David.  In the Tent.  Alyson, 1979.

Not strictly medieval in content, but this remarkable early gay coming-of-age novel features a history-loving protagonist who’s often talking about the medieval space of Exeter (and considering a long arc of English history).  The titular “tent” also feels a bit like a Biblical space, as the protagonist struggles with how to reconcile his sexuality with the medievalist elements of his Catholic faith.

Riordan, Rick.  The Sword of Summer Hyperion, 2017 [reprint].

Includes entire Magnus Chase. Retelling of Norse myths for YA/middle-grade audience. Unsurprisingly dark, given the mythic source material, but with some funny bits as well. Love the idea of Valhalla as a hotel.

Rowell, Rainbow.  Carry On St. Martin’s, 2015.

As an adaptation of Harry Potter, it’s actually more explicitly medievalist in how the school becomes a kind of medieval university (complete with catacombs, Latin lessons, towers, sword-fighting, and cloisters). Also includes neuroatypical protag.

Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Hobbit.  Houghton Mifflin, 2012 [reprint].

Perhaps not marketed as YA, but has a “YA feel,” as discussed on the #HKHS podcast.  Bilbo is a youthful character, who deals with central YA concerns like facing his fears, considering the needs of others, and battling greed/jealousy.

Ursu, Anne.  The Real Boy.  Walden Pond, 2013.

Middle-grade-ish. The protagonist is an autistic herbalist living in a medievalist city ruled by the guild system. It features cats, nature magic, friendship, a mystery, and an achingly real look at how difficult neurotypical society can be.

Weis, Margaret.  The Soulforge Wizards of the Coast, 1998.

Late Dragonlance title, adult fantasy but focuses on the youth of the dark wizard Raistlin. Interesting stand-alone work for Weis (not paired with Hickman). Dragonlance was “adult” but mostly consumed by teen readers at its height.

Wilde, Jen.  Queens of Geek.  Swoon, 2017.

New Adult. I classify this as medievalist because it centres on a convention fantasy space, and the protagonist’s medievalist fandom (Queen Firestone). Explores both sexuality and neurodivergence while adapting medieval queendom.

Wynne Jones, Diana.  Hexwood.  Greenwillow, 2002 [reprint].

Middle-grade retelling of Merlin’s story, set in a mixture of modern Earth and far-flung space. Like all books by DWJ, so subtle and sharp that when it does come together, it’s like a symphony (“Fire and Hemlock” also features Tam Lin)

—.  The Merlin Conspiracy.  Greenwillow, 2004.

Featuring Roddy as an enchantress who inherits her magical knowledge from a disabled Iron Age witch (through a system of flowers–it’s brilliant). Features a roaming court that is always going on “progress,” as well as a dyslexic character.

Yolen, Jane.  Young Merlin Trilogy Sandpiper, 2004.

Middle Grade.  Reimagines the childhood/youth of Merlin by drawing upon a number of medieval Arthurian sources (including De Boron’s Merlin and Malory’s Morte.)  The story ends when Merlin turns 12 and is basically on the cusp of becoming the adult enchanter that we’re all familiar with.

Zarins, Kim  Sometimes We Tell the Truth.  Simon Pulse, 2017.

Delightful read. Very sharp take on adapting Chaucerian stories, and great role for one of my favourite (often maligned) characters: The Pardoner.  Mirrors Chaucer’s frame-tale in a contemporary high-school setting.  Dr Zarins is a medievalist and she also has the best stickers for fans!