So far in this series, I haven’t reviewed a faith-based series. That isn’t for lack of content, however. There are plenty of Christian YA authors. However, to be honest, there aren’t many contemporary YA novels written by Christian authors that I would recommend. Now that I think of it, I don’t really have any YA series to recommend that don’t have an element of fantasy to them. If you think about it, Ally Carter’s teenage spies and thieves are more fantasy than reality. I haven’t given this much thought before, but I think I have avoided realistic YA lit because it tends to be so incredibly depressing, even faith-based content. I get that, believe me I do. Being a teenager isn’t easy, and these books address the struggles teens go through. They definitely have their place, but in this series of reviews I’m leaning more towards reading that’s fun. Call it an escape if you want, but at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that reading should be fun.
Having said all of that, the two faith-based YA series I will be reviewing are set in medieval times. I know, that isn’t fantasy, but the books are still a way to escape to another time and place. And because of the ancient ideas of chivalry and modesty, they are clean reads.
First up is Jody Hedlund’s Noble Knights series. There are five novels in the series: An Uncertain Choice, A Daring Sacrifice, For Love & Honor, A Loyal Heart, and A Worthy Rebel. There is also a prequel novella called The Vow, which I have not read (I’ll explain why in a bit).
These novels are written in first person going back and forth between the female lead and the male lead. I mention this right off the bat because it has come to my attention that some people don’t like to read books in first person. This floors me, to be honest, especially since first person narrative is extremely common in YA lit (Hunger Games and Percy Jackson, just to name two extremely popular ones). Ally Carter’s books are also written in first person, now that I think about it. Yet on Amazon, I noticed review after review pointing out Hedlund writing in first person and complaining about it. Maybe it's not as common in faith based lit? Maybe these books have more adult readers? At any rate, you have two characters in the Noble Knights series telling the story in their own voice. Two different fonts are used for each character. I actually liked this because it let you know right away what each character was thinking.
I actually didn’t know this was a series when I started, so I read For Love & Honor first. While it’s not confusing reading them out of order, characters do appear in multiple books, and I think you get more out of it if you read them in order. I also wouldn’t read the prequel first. It would just be depressing, in my opinion. I downloaded it on my e-reader because it was on sale for 99 cents, but then never read it. It’s about Rosemarie from book one, and since I already knew it would have an unhappy ending, I couldn’t bring myself to read it.
Speaking of the characters, that was my favorite thing about these books. Each one was so different from the last. You have traditionally handsome heroes like Sir Bennet and Cole Warwick, you have heroes who we are told aren’t obviously attractive like Sir Derrick and Sir Aldric, and then finally you have Sir Colin who uses humor and charm. The women are just as varied. There are the strong and courageous Julianna and Olivia, the intelligent Sabine, the devout Rosemarie, and then the tender-hearted Izzy. I especially loved that not all of these women were running around swinging swords and shooting arrows. I feel like our culture is so obsessed with - forgive my language - “bad-ass women,” that we women who are more quiet and reserved wonder if we are weak. There are so many ways to be strong, however, and I nearly wept as I read about Izzy’s insecurities. She thought her tender heart made her weak, but over the course of the story, she realized what kind of strength it actually gave her. For that reason, I related to her, Rosemarie, and Sabine the most.
Since I read Sabine and Sir Bennet’s story first, I want to take a minute to sing its praises. Lady Sabine was born with a skin blemish that she hides with long gloves. If this blemish is ever discovered, she would be branded as a witch, and her chances of marriage forever dashed. Lady Sabine is also unattractive. The entire premise of the story is so rare in fiction, that it moved me deeply. The belief that birthmarks were “marks of the devil” was also a real thing in the middle ages, so it was fascinating to read about Sabine’s struggles.
Speaking of the historical setting, Hedlund portrays it accurately with its arranged marriages, rigid social structures, and faith mixed with ancient superstition. As such, there is violence in these books that sort of reminded me of Kevin Costners’s version of Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves. You know that cage thing that they hung his dad in at the beginning of the movie? The little boy being sent to the gallows? Well, that kind of stuff happens in these books too. So if you’re considering these for a teen in your life, take into account their personality. If they're incredibly tender-hearted (like Izzy!) these books may not be right for them. On the other hand, it could be a wonderful way for your teen to learn more about this historical period.
And speaking of the middle ages, next time I’ll be reviewing an author who takes more of a fairy tale approach to things. Until then, happy reading!
Last week, I reviewed Ally Carter’s series Heist Society. I actually read this series of Carter’s first, otherwise I never would have even tried The Heist Society. My sister was the one who recommended it to me. The covers have changed a few times, but the ones above were the covers when I read them, and I like them best. However, you know what they say: “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” The Gallagher Girls would also say Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover (that’s book three).
The premise of these books is pretty straight forward: The Gallagher Academy for Girls is actually a cover for a school that trains teenage girl spies. After all, who would expect a teenage girl of covert ops? These girls aren’t just tough, however (as Cameron says, I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You - that’s book one). They are also genius level smart - able to hack into secret government agencies, speak dozens of languages, and use photographic memory to retrieve information. A ridiculous premise, you say? Maybe. But it’s so much fun to read, and it’s written so believably, you won’t care. The main character, Cameron “the Chameleon,” feels like she could be us. Unseen, uninteresting, able to blend into the crowd. Because of that, we buy into the fantasy completely. I also love how the Gallagher Girls support one another. There’s no catty competition here. As a matter of fact, having your sisters’ backs is a main theme of the series.
I have also never read a YA series that included so many well developed adult characters. Cameron’s mom, Rachel Morgan, who runs the academy, her Aunt Abby who is former CIA and in the secret service, and her drop dead gorgeous teacher Joe Solomon all have story lines that you’ll get invested in. Especially Joe Solomon - *swoon*. However, these books remain a clean read and completely appropriate for even younger teens.
This is a series I would love to see made into a movie or a TV show, and since it’s published by Hyperion, which is owned by Disney, I’ve got my figures crossed that it will happen. Come on, Disney+, get on this! Just don’t make these into cheesy Disney Channel movies. They deserve better (and we grown ups won’t be so embarrassed watching them, lol).
One other thing: the main plot of the series doesn’t really get started until book two (Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy). The first is really just an introduction to this spy school and the girls who attend there. The first one is mostly cute and funny, but things get more serious in each book. Carter never abandons the humor or the age appropriate tone, however. It’s just that the stakes get higher. I honestly couldn’t put these down.
There are six books total, but I've only included the link to the first three below.
Adults reading YA Lit has become common place these days, for better or worse. For better, adults no longer have to be embarrassed admitting they read it. For worse, the publishing industry has gotten wind of this and, unsurprisingly, destroyed much of what used to be so good about YA Lit. What I mean is the gratuitous sex and violence that is being dumped into YA simply for marketing reasons. I want to laugh at publishers for this because avoiding those very things is why so many of us turned to YA Lit to begin with. The second negative has been the oversaturation of the YA supernatural and dystopian genres. It seems like 99% of YA lit these days is yet another retread of Twilight or Hunger Games.
If you’ve been bemoaning these same things I have, then here’s a recommendation for you: Ally Carter. There are two series that I love by her, and the first one is the Heist Society series. Think Oceans 8 with teenagers. Is it escapist? Yes. Is it just plan fun? Yes. I for one prefer that to yet another supernatural angst filled orgy or a depressing drama about the world ending. (Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Hunger Games and Divergent, it’s just there’s only so much of that I can read before I get depressed. Not to mention the way I threw Mockingjay against the wall. Twice.)
In addition to escapist fun, these books have amazing characters that you want to root for. (Even though they’re - you know - criminals.) Just like Oceans 11 and 8, this is a heist crew with a code. I was also surprised how much I adored Hale. The poor little rich boy routine usually has me rolling my eyes, but Hale was different. It’s a testament to Carter’s superb tongue-in-cheek writing. She also does plot twists the right way. i.e. emotionally satisfying ones that fit the narrative rather than plot twists that yank the rug out from under you. (Did I mention how I threw Mockingjay against the wall?) Let’s just say the reader gets conned sometimes right along with the mark.
In addition to the above titles, there is also a Christmas novella called The Grift of the Magi that I just finished that I adored. It takes place after the third novel. There’s also a novella called Double Crossed which is like a fanfic mash up with my other favorite series by her, Gallagher Girls.
Gallagher Girls, oh how I love those … but that’s for next time.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.