Humans love to reimagine the familiar—if we didn’t, there wouldn’t be so many reboots. But some reimaginings are just a little extra sparkly. Here’s a lucky seven set that’s sure to please the classics-lover in you (or a friend) who’s in the mood for a sharp and compelling twist….
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
Hwaet! You’ve probably read Beowulf (or at least part of it) at some point during your school years. Maybe you enjoyed it, maybe you couldn’t get into it, maybe it produced a lifelong love affair with Old English, and you take every opportunity to school friends and family on the proper recitation. Whatever you think of the epic ballad, you owe it to yourself to entertain a different perspective on the story.
Headley’s novel recasts Herot Hall as a suburban gated community where two mothers—a housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—fight to protect those they love. For Willa Herot, the suburbs are a paradise—she flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. But just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren and his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.
Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett
Have you ever thought that Shakespeare’s work could use a little more queerness? The comedies in particular would be way more interesting if all the participants involved in romantic shenanigans weren’t assumed straight. (All those gender-flipping disguises in Twelfth Night pretty much proves this on principle…)
Well, here’s another possibility—what if, after the events of The Tempest, Miranda found herself not in Naples, happily wed to Ferdinand, but instead was dragged back to Milan by her father Prospero. Left in her father’s dark and foreboding castle, Miranda is surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost—until she meets Dorothea, who has a charismatic magic all her own. Together with her new companion, Miranda tests the confines of her world, which at times feels just as small as the lonely island where she was raised. Get your mask for the ball and dive right in for an engrossing tale that charms and chills by turns.
Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black by Karl Bollers
There have been countless reimaginings of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson over the ages, but that just makes it more fun when an author really pushes them outside their usual boundaries as characters.
One such take is Watson and Holmes by Karl Bollers, which envisions our sleuths as African American men living in modern day Harlem, New York City. Watson works at an inner city clinic, a vet of the Afghanistan war, and when a strange case comes up in his emergency room, he meets a local P.I. named Holmes and forms an unlikely partnership. With vibrant art from Rick Leonardi, and a story that deftly sets Holmes in a brand new city, this is a perfect new twist for Sherlockians everywhere…
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
Mary Shelley changed the world of storytelling forever when she wrote Frankenstein—a tale about a doctor, his creation, and the question of how far science may go in its pursuits to decipher the known universe. But as all great stories, it begs just as many questions as it entertains.
Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad considers the construction of a monster from the perspective of a scavenger living in an occupied Baghdad, Iraq. Hadi takes body parts he finds and stitches them together in the hope that the government will count a whole corpse as a person, and bury it properly. Instead, he creates a monster who needs human flesh to live, starting with the flesh of guilty. The monster cannot be killed by modern weaponry, and begins to terrorize the city in this terrifying tale full of dark humor and a glimpse into the life of modern-day Iraq.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
A good fairy tale retelling makes something staid and comforting and perhaps a little rote into a fresh and exciting new journey. With Cinderella, you always think you know what you’re getting into—mean stepmother and stepsisters, meeting the prince at the ball, and of course the glass slipper—but what happens when you inject a bit of science fiction into the story?
Marissa Meyer’s tale unfolds in New Beijing and introduces readers to Cinder, a cyborg who works as a mechanic to support her stepmother Adri and two stepsisters. Cinder’s relationship with her stepmother—strained at the best of times—falls apart completely after one of her sisters falls ill with “Blue Fever” after accompanying Cinder to a junkyard. In retaliation, Adri “volunteers” Cinder for plague research, kicking off a chain of events that entangles Cinder in an intergalactic mystery alongside Prince Kai—and yes, it includes a dramatic set piece at a fabulous ball. If you like your fairy tales sprinkled with a healthy heap of space opera goodness, you should definitely grab the Lunar Chronicles today.
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
While H.P. Lovecraft’s realm of cosmic, gothic horror and has fueled imaginations for over a century, it is often difficult to reconcile a love of Cthulhu with much of the racism present in his stories. Thankfully, there are many narratives popping up in recent years that are working to remedy these issues, combining Lovecraftian horror with characters and concepts that are voiceless in much of his work.
Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom rewrites Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook”, and it packs a punch that no one should miss. When Charles Thomas Tester is engaged to deliver an old occult book to a sorceress, he does what he must to get paid and continue on. But the Old Ones aren’t through with him just yet.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Those who know the mythological Circe probably remember her best from Homer’s The Odyssey, where she ensnares many of Osysseus’s men in her mansion that sits in the middle of a wood. The hero gets advice from Hermes on how best to evade her magical wiles, then stays for a year, gets some helpful advice, and leaves.
But the Circe of Madeline Miller’s eponymous novel is no pitstop for grander stories. Instead, the goddess is banished to her deserted island for developing her skills in witchcraft, a threat to Zeus and the other gods. From her island, she gains more power and crosses paths with many famous figures of mythology. Having incurred anger from men and gods alike, she must make a decision as to where she belongs and how she will live her life as a woman of singular power.
Originally published in March 2019.