Being a kid was tough but one thing made youth all worth it: we could read ourselves into a coma and adults would applaud. Unless it was those adults that wanted us to play outside in a thunderstorm. But generally, if we were in our rooms reading, we weren’t buying drugs or annoying our parents by asking for snacks. We’re bookworms. We already had a stash anyhoo.
At some point in our reading lives we came across books that shook us up and changed the way we looked at the world and everyone in it. As 90s kids on the cusp of falling into a goth phase, we had some dark books on our list. If you’ve read these, prepare for a trip down memory lane. If you haven’t, these books will give you a serious nostalgic trip and give you some epic new reads.
The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
This book was my first experience of corruption and dirty politics. In this magical world where every person has their own animal companion and the armoured polar bears have rich backstories, there is an undeniable sense of sinister wonder. A children vs. adults adventure, The Northern Lights tells an empowering tale about innocence and justice overpowering corruption and greed. In case you weren’t already sold, there are sequels coming out to this day!
Poison by Chris Wooding
The goths in us will really identify with the main character in this one. The self-named protagonist, Poison, is a moody teenage girl bored with her life, exasperated with her family and longing for escape. 14 year old me had found her book twin. The only difference between me and Poison is that she got to go on an epic adventure to save her little sister from magical creatures in sinister lands. That lucky duck.
While this one admittedly gave me nightmares from time to time, Poison gave the ultimate reassurance that even if we are despairing at a dead end in our lives, we will reach our destinies whether we like it or not. The dark, evil antagonists gave the goth girl in me a real kick. They really are twisted, and intriguing. Reading this one will send us back down memory lane with our black hair, leather bracelets and Evanescence playlists.
Raven’s Gate by Anthony Horowitz
This book gave me my first taste of YA urban fantasy and I couldn’t get enough. A 14 year old delinquent with powers he has yet to understand is put into a program for troubled teens, only to discover that he is being prepared as a sacrifice to open the magical Raven’s gate.
In another children vs. adults plots (didn’t we just love those back then?), Raven’s Gate empowered 90s kids to challenge the illusions we suspected were false and to find the strength within us to follow through. It feels as though a lot of the books us 90s kids read back then were designed to motivate us into creating the change we wanted to see, whether it meant survival or not. While we are getting our blast from the past, it feels like we could all use that reminder from time to time.
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
A tyrannical hierarchy. Yet more corruption and greed. Cities eating each other. Wait, what?
Mortal Engines is apart from the other books on this list because it’s a YA dystopian rather than an urban fantasy. But boy, is it one hell of a read. Starring two protagonists, one who is a compliant but curious young historian, the other a rage-fuelled teenager hell-bent on revenge, as a teenager I could see myself in both of them.
The moving city of London does well for itself, chasing and eating smaller cities to sustain itself. But London’s rich elite want more. Using salvaged, old technologies, they create a weapon that would make London the undisputed ruling city of the world. All other cities would be theirs for the taking.
Mortal Engines reiterates the message of innocence and justice conquering greed and corruption, but it does so while showing us that this brand of evil can lead to our own self-destruction.
Just writing about these books again gives me a nostalgic chill, and I really hope you’ve either read them or get a chance to. While YA books are typically for teens, sometimes we need reminding just how much we are capable of and why it’s important we believe in ourselves in the face of evil. Even if it’s just that mean boss at work.
Thank you for reading! I love to chat about books and magic – drop me a comment!