Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2024) Featured Review: This Dark Descent by Kalyn Josephson

  • This Dark Descent
  • by Kalyn Josephson
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Release date: September 26, 2023
  • ISBN: 9781250812360

Mikira Rusel’s family was once famous for breeding enchanted horses, but their ranch has fallen on hard times thanks to the spite of the Kelbras family, one of the Great Houses of Veradell. When Mikira’s father is discovered to be an unlicensed enchanter and arrested, Mikira makes a dangerous bargain with Rezek Kelbras: if she wins the Illinir, an infamously lucrative, but dangerous, horse race using an unenchanted horse, her father will be freed. To do this impossible task, she partners with an upstart nobleman, Damien, and a practitioner of forbidden magic, Arielle, who have their own reasons to hate the Kelbras. Yet Mikira wonders if, in pursuit of their own revenge, her allies will eventually become enemies as well.

This Dark Descent is compelling, fast-paced, and intricately plotted. Dual narrators Mikira and Arielle are strong, sympathetic characters, two women who are tired of being powerless in an unequal society, but who come to have vastly different, conflicting ideals when wresting power for themselves. The dynamics among this group of secret rebels is fascinating, as Mikira, Arielle, and Damien all have something precious to lose that brings them together while also putting them at cross-purposes. Josephson expertly balances each character’s desires, motives, secrets, and moral codes to craft a taut thriller filled with bargains, betrayals, sacrifices, and revenge. The four horse races that make up the Illinir are packed with action and danger, while the introspective character moments make it clear what is at stake. The enchantment-based magic system is unique and steeped heavily in Jewish lore of the golem. Josephson also includes bisexual and demiromantic characters and references other queer couples in the story to make a queer-inclusive fantasy world.

Teens who love morally gray characters, twisty political intrigue, and dark magics will find much to love here. Readers of other dark fantasies with epic stakes like A Door in the Dark by Scott Reintgen, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, and The Young Elites by Marie Lu will appreciate the worldbuilding and political intrigue. Those who enjoy the racing aspect may also enjoy The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin.

-Krista Hutley

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: January 24, 2023
Release Date: April 11, 2023

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination.

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.
The Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee appreciates teen feedback as members evaluate the nominated titles. Teen librarians are encouraged to share the List of Potential Nominees under consideration with their patrons and solicit feedback using the link: