Best YA Space Opera
YA science fiction makes me happier than nearly anything else. I first found my way to this genre when I picked up the Illuminae Files (epic, life-changing, masterpiece, etc). My standards were so high after that book that I was shocked when every found family heist adventure in space met the bar that Illuminae Files set. These are my top ten finds in YA space operas (so far).
1. Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
"Empress Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne. Fugitive Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he's forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life. Madman With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly must confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy."
2. Zodiac by Romina Russell
"At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain.... Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories. When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancrian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts. Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians. But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?"
3. Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan
"Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl. A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control. Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?"
4. Illuminae Files trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
"Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the worst thing she’d ever been through. That was before her planet was invaded. Now, with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating craft, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. But the warship could be the least of their problems. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their biggest threat; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking to get to the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: Ezra. Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes."
5. Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
"When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution humanity has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and their message leads to the planet Gaia, a treasure trove waiting to be explored. For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an ancient alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Despite their opposing reasons for smuggling themselves onto the alien planet's surface, they're both desperate to uncover the riches hidden in the Undying temples. Beset by rival scavenger gangs, Jules and Mia form a fragile alliance... but both are keeping secrets that make trust nearly impossible. As they race to decode the ancient messages, Jules and Mia must navigate the traps and trials within the Undying temples and stay one step ahead of the scavvers on their heels. They came to Gaia certain that they had far more to fear from their fellow humans than the ancient beings whose mysteries they're trying to unravel. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more Jules and Mia start to feel like their presence in the temple is part of a grand design—one that could spell the end of the human race..."
6. Shadow Run by Adrianne Strickland and Michael Miller
"Nev has just joined the crew of the starship Kaitan Heritage as the cargo loader. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person to command her own ship, but she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is an antique. As for Nev, he’s a prince, in hiding on the ship. He believes Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, and when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, Nev resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary.But before they know it, a rival royal family is after Qole too, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive. Nev’s mission to manipulate Qole becomes one to save her, and to survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. He may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew."
7. Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
"The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch . . . A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates A smart-ass tech whiz with the galaxy's biggest chip on his shoulder An alien warrior with anger-management issues A tomboy pilot who's totally not into him, in case you were wondering And Ty's squad isn't even his biggest problem—that'd be Aurora Jie-Lin O'Malley, the girl he's just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler's squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy. NOBODY PANIC."
8. Starflight by Melissa Landers
"Solara Brooks needs a fresh start, someplace where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. The outer realm may be lawless, but it's not like the law has ever been on her side. Still, off-world travel doesn't come cheap; Solara is left with no choice but to indenture herself in exchange for passage to the outer realm. She just wishes it could have been to anyone besides Doran Spaulding, the rich, pretty-boy quarterback who made her life miserable in school. The tables suddenly turn when Doran is framed for conspiracy on Earth, and Solara cons him into playing the role of her servant on board the Banshee, a ship manned by an eccentric crew with their own secrets. Given the price on both Doran and Solara's heads, it may just be the safest place in the universe.It's been a long time since Solara has believed in anyone, and Doran is the last person she expected to trust. But when the Banshee's dangerous enemies catch up with them, Solara and Doran must come together to protect the ship that has become their home-and the eccentric crew that feels like family."
9. Star-Crossed by Pintip Dunn
"Princess Vela's people are starving. Stranded on a planet that lacks food, Vela makes the ultimate sacrifice and becomes an Aegis for her people. Accepting a genetic modification that takes sixty years off her life, she can feed her colony via nutrition pills. But her best friend is still getting worse. And she's not the only one. Now the king is dying, too. When the boy she's had a crush on since childhood volunteers to give his life for her father's, Vela realizes her people need more than pills to survive. As tensions rise between Aegis and colonists, secrets and sabotage begin to threaten the future of the colony itself. Unless Vela is brave enough to save them all…"
10. Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine
"Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell. Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers. Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight."