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Hits and myths

The future looks frightening and challenging in the latest crop of teenage fiction, says Elaine Williams

Maybe it's to do with global warming, the violent anarchy of terrorism and the futuristic reach of science and technology, but there's definitely an apocalyptic current running through the latest batch of teenage fiction.

Joanne Harris, an author acclaimed for her adult novels, most notably Chocolat, makes her debut into children's fiction with Runemarks (Doubleday Pounds 14.99), a wholly absorbing rake through Norse myths. The epic struggles of the old gods form the backcloth to a society in which history has been rewritten and all is not as it seems. In this cleverly reconstructed tale, we follow the quest of Maddy Smith, a sombre, sometimes stubborn, but always outspoken heroine, who keeps strange company.

Maddy is born with a Rune, a "ruinmark" they call it in her village, a sign of magic for which she is shunned. As Maddy grows older, her magical powers grow, until she is sent on a quest to stop the End of Everything.

Although rooted in ancient myth, Runemarks is an inventive, moving and witty novel that is hard to put down. The twists and turn of the plot are ingenious and affirm Harris as a writer who can appeal to all age groups.

In Melissa Marr's debut novel Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins Children's Books pound;12.99), urban cool meets faery land in a quirky, edgy tale that will appeal to teenage girls aged 14-plus who like a story with a sting.

Aislinn is another girl with a gift: she can see the faeries that inhabit a parallel world, all around but invisible to most. They're definitely urban faeries, scaly and predatory rather than dainty and sparkly. The trouble is, they're beginning to move into Aislinn's world, particularly Keenan, the alluring but deadly summer king. Fantasy meets teenage romance in this inventive text.

The Inferior (David Fickling Books pound;12.99) by Peadar O Guilin is rooted in urban myth with definite boy appeal. This is the city of the future reduced to appalling savagery, where human beings are the hunted, forced to negotiate with flesh-traders who crave fresh human meat. We follow the fortune of Stopmouth, considered a slow-witted stammerer by his human tribe. His prospects look bleak until a strange and beautiful woman falls from the sky. This is a stark, dark tale, written with great energy and confidence and some arresting reflections on human nature.

Simon Morden, another first-time novelist, similarly creates a dark age where learning and culture are regarded as a threat. The Lost Art (David Fickling Books pound;12.99) is set a millennium after a great war has devoured entire civilisations. Scientific enquiry is discouraged and the Church regards technology as the enemy. Morden combines science fiction and fantasy in a novel with a cracking pace that pitches savagery and bigotry against reason. Suitable for 14-year-olds and above

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