Who doesn’t love a good myth? Retellings of ancient legends are wonderful ways to bring stories with long histories to new audiences or eras. Authors can reinterpret classic tropes or familiar heroes, bringing different aspects of their personalities to vivid, sparkling life. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the most exciting myth retellings that will be hitting shelves soon, as well as some recent favorites.
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury (Razorbill)
The Aladdin legend—though Chinese in origin, it has since become synonymous with the Middle East—got new life with Khoury’s novel. Aladdin is still a young man from the streets, but the jinni in question isn’t big and blue. Instead, he’s a young woman named Zahra, who must survive in a world where her very existence must be hidden. Romance and mystique intertwine beautifully to create an unforgettable tale full of fantasy and joy.
All of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil (Soho Teen)
This YA standout mixes ancient mythology with compelling coming-of-age drama. Seeking to put her past trauma behind her, teenage Xochi finds a home of sorts with rock-star scion Pallas. But when the pair accidentally summon a pair of fantastic creatures who will do anything to right the wrongs of Xochi’s past, Xochi must reckon with more than any teen could ever imagine. Beautifully-drawn internal conflicts make this story a timeless one.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
This New York Times bestseller captivated readers and introduced them to Bree Matthews, who’s grieving her mother’s death. But there’s more to her recent bereavement than she expects…and when Bree discovers she’s a member of the Legendborn, descendants of the Knights of the Round Table, she must take up her own powers. Bree is a compelling heroine whose emotions and conflicts are well-developed; the tinge of magic in her story makes Legendborn one of the best mythic YA reads of recent years. Plus, it recently was nominated for a 2021 Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book at the Hugo Awards!
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (Flatiron Books)
Building upon the success of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Saint offers up another retelling of a prominent heroine in Greek myth. This time, it’s the titular Ariadne. In stories, Ariadne was a princess of the isle of Crete who fell for rival prince Theseus; she then betrayed her family and helped Theseus slay her half-brother, the Minotaur, only to be abandoned by her prospective husband. Out in May, Ariadne will hopefully delve deep into the complicated dynamics of the Cretan royal family—in some versions of the story, dad Minos ejaculated scorpions. In most versions of the story, mother Pasiphae almost always fell in love with a bull to conceive the Minotaur. That must have made for one awkward family reunion…cattle and all!
Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian (Ace Books, July 6th 2021)
Rather than yet another iteration of Guinevere’s story, Half Sick of Shadows tackles a retelling of an Arthurian character lost in the mists of time: the Lady of Shalott, tragic heroine of an Alfred Tennyson poem. In that ballad, the Lady of Shalott (based on the mythical Elaine of Astolat) was a lovelorn woman who pined away for Sir Lancelot. But perhaps Sebastian will upend the tragic tale, giving a real glimpse into the flesh-and-blood Elaine.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor Books, July 20th 2021)
This book is a fantastic, queer retelling of the story of Zhu Chongba, founder of China’s Ming Dynasty. The tale explores questions of ambition, identity, and empire and is a must-read for fantasy and myth fans alike.
Sistersong by Lucy Holland (Redhook, October 19th 2021)
Holland channels the atmosphere of “Dark Age” Britain to interpret the traditional British murder ballad “The Twa Sisters.” In Holland’s world, Cador rules over the kingdom of Dumnonia in southwestern England, but he is no longer in touch with the magic of his realm the way he once was. The power calls to his three children, each of whom battles with secrets and dreams of their own, but will the oncoming Saxons bring an abrupt end to the world these youngsters know? Holland places Cador and his children in a richly-drawn mythohistorical world, peppering it with in familiar Arthurian figures like Tristan and Myrdhin (AKA Merlin). Familial angst and foreign invasions create compelling internal and external conflict for our protagonists.
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel (Redhook, April 2022)
This retelling of the epic Ramayana is particularly exciting, as it’s not just focused on the adventures and misadventures of the protagonists, Rama and Sita. In fact, Patel is reimagining the story of a chief villainess in the Ramayana, the conniving queen Kaikeyi. What made this wicked stepmother-type character the woman she became by the time we meet her as a queen of Ayodhya? We can find out when the book debuts in spring 2022.
Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane (William Morrow, June 2022)
This story was pitched as a Song of Achilles and Inheritance trilogy mash-up. Fans can expect an #OwnVoices trans women’s retelling of the Iliad. Athena enlists young trans heroine Achilles to battle powerful Helen and her Olympian protectors. No word yet on when this book will be out, but we cannot wait to dive on in and meet this Achilles.
Spin by Rebecca Caprara (Atheneum, 2023)
In Greek mythology, Arachne challenged Athena to a weaving contest and was transformed into a spider for her hubris. This compelling character truly deserves her own tale. Now, Ovid’s version of spidery Arachne’s tale is coming to life in spring 2023. Caprara composed the YA novel in verse, which should weave another layer of complexity to Arachne’s unique story.
Melanctha by Wayétu Moore (Viking, TBA)
Moore enthralled audiences with her bestseller She Would Be King; now, she turns her deft pen to the West African Vodun tale of Mami Wata. When a Liberian woman raised in America discovers she can breathe underwater, she struggles to find her new purpose—then an underwater witch urges her to destroy bad men with her powers. What’s better than learning about mythologies? Absolutely nothing! We can’t wait to dive in.
Originally published June 2021
A public historian, Carly Silver has written for BBC News, History Today, Smithsonian, Atlas Obscura, The Atlantic, Narratively, ThoughtCo/About.com (for which she served as the ancient/classical history expert), Biblical Archaeology, Eidolon, All That’s Interesting, and other publications. She works as an associate editor at HarperCollins and resides in Brooklyn, New York.