Authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy teamed up to write their latest novel, Once & Future. One of our most-anticipated books of the season, this fantasy adventure is a genderbent Arthurian retelling following Ari and Merlin as they gather knights to help them break a curse. To celebrate the release of Once & Future, Capetta and McCarthy shared their favorite YA ensemble casts.
When we began reimagining King Arthur as a space fantasy, there were plenty of story elements we updated. King Arthur became a girl, Merlin (finally) became a teenager after aging backwards for centuries. The bad guy was no longer glorified violence; it turned into unchecked capitalism. One of the most fun elements to reimagine was the ensemble of knights who make up the legendary round table. We both love stories that focus on a strong central band, with plenty of opportunity for friendships, tension, banter, and kissing. The Knights of the Rainbow are no exception. Thus we headed to our shelves to recommend seven of our favorite books with ensemble casts!
Sierra is a shadowshaper, able to combine art with the magical power of her ancestors. But this isn’t an isolated “chosen one” narrative—Sierra’s old friends, family, and neighbors are all important, as well as the other shapers she meets. This book has a potent combination of two things we love in an ensemble story: banter and magical action (think Buffy but way more socially aware). And keep going after the first installment—Shadowhouse Fall has even more nonstop action.
Felicity, one of YA’s rare aroace protagonists, is a powerhouse, and we love seeing her interact with Johanna and Sim, respectively an estranged childhood friend and a pirate’s daughter looking to carve out her own destiny. Monty and Percy from Gentleman’s Guide give us a rare glimpse at a queer romance which is established, committed, and way too adorable. This is a group we could easily imagine having real-life adventures with… if we lived in the 1700s.
Vale Hall is a school for teenage con artists, and Brynn Hilder is already a pretty accomplished one when she’s invited to live there. But she’s thrown when she meets the other con artists, a fascinating crew who are basically made of secrets, and things get really interesting. There’s something about knowing that each of the characters has a complicated history and a morally gray compass that kept us eternally wanting to know more. We’re in for the long con!
High fantasy is a great place to find groups of lovable characters questing. Marchetta writes a standout ensemble because she keeps pushing the boundaries of who the reader cares about, invoking unexpected empathy for everyone from the so-called mad queen of the neighboring kingdom to the parental figures who usually play minor roles in YA. These books can be brutal at times, but the friendship and love in them shines with a fierce light.
This smart, sharply written book stars a drag queen heist crew and a teen girl who reminds us of a bi Veronica Mars. If you’re not sold at this point, we don’t know what else to say. This is one of the few all-queer YA ensembles we’ve found, and we delighted in every bit of their friendship and relationship dynamics.
The ultimate in contemporary YA nerd candy, Anderson’s retelling of Much Ado About Nothing set at a high school for high achievers is a banter-fest filled with pop culture references, ill-advised crushes, and the kind of friends who might rib you for your ranking of Doctor Who episodes but are always there for you when it counts.
Serendipity (or Pity) Jones is offered an unexpected way to survive in a lawless future: use her skills as a sharpshooter in a Wild West Las Vegas-styled show. Theater people plus Wild West plus dirty politics equals a fascinating mix of characters. What’s more, Ely’s story has a deeply feminist bent. Powerful women abound, and there’s a refreshingly sex-positive attitude. If you’re looking for a dystopian novel that practices more than it preaches, stuffing every page with complex characters and constant action, this is it.
Cori McCarthy is the author of four young adult books, including Breaking Sky, which received multiple starred reviews and is in development to become a film by Sony Pictures, and a forthcoming nonfiction picture book. Cori is an Irish-Lebanese American who, like many of their characters, is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. After earning a BA in Creative Writing from Ohio University, they completed UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting and earned an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cori lives in the mountains of Vermont with their partner and young son.
Amy Rose Capetta is the author of several YA novels, including punk rock Echo After Echo (starred review), and The Brilliant Death, which releases October 2018. Amy Rose holds a BA in Theater Arts from UC Santa Cruz and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. With Cori McCarthy, she is the co-founder of the Rainbow Boxes initiative which sent LGBTQIAP fiction to readers in all 50 states, and the Rainbow Writers Workshop, which helps find and develop exciting new voices. She lives in Vermont with her ONCE & FUTURE co-author and the champion of her heart, Cori.