We love a good retelling—whether it’s a favorite fairy tale, ancient myth, or epic tale, it’s always great to see old things made new. Part of the reason we love these stories is because they’re so malleable; with themes that span the breadth of the human experience, tales of love, revenge, and adventure can find a home in any place and time, with characters that feel both familiar and fresh at the same time.
As we started thinking about of favorite retellings of classic stories, so many brilliant adaptations, updates, and re-workings came to mind. Here are just a few that we adore! Please feel free to add your own in the comments.
Special thanks to authors Kat Cho and Lilliam Rivera who mentioned a few of these titles on Twitter and sparked the idea for this list!
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
A retelling of: Frankenstein
In what may be the most timely and in-your-face update of a classic story, Ahmen Saadawi’s story takes place in U.S. occupied Iraq after the war, and forces readers to deal with the violence of invasion. Because, after all, you can’t build a monster (aptly named Whatsitsname, the amalgamation of all the nameless victims) without spare body parts, and where do those bodies come from? Frankenstein in Baghdad not only does Mary Shelley’s original tale justice, but raises the bar.
Destroyer by Victor LaValle
A retelling of: Frankenstein
If you’re interested in a Frankenstein that tackles the Black Lives Matter movement, do we have the update for you! Victor LaValle has spoken at length about his love for Frankenstein, and naturally his riff is amazing. Destroyer, his comic with artist Dietrich Smith, tells the story of Dr. Jo Baker, one of Victor Frankenstein’s last living descendants. She’s a doctor, certainly not a mad scientist, until her son Edward is shot by the police when he’s on his way home from a baseball game. When the cops responsible don’t face any consequences, she turns her genius to finding a way to bring her son back to life—and to seek vengeance by any means necessary.
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
A retelling of: “The Red Shoes”
Anna-Marie McLemore has made a spectacular career out of retelling fairy tales and myths through a queer Latinx lens (seriously, read all of them), and is absolutely at their best with this latest offering. Dark and Deepest Red is a twist on the Hans Christen Andersen tale “The Red Shoes”, set around the Strasbourg Dancing plague of 1518. McLemore touches on issues of race, gender, and what it means to be othered from society in a tale that is romantic in every sense of the word—just the right amount of tragic, feverishly passionate, and beautifully told.
Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
A retelling of: Orpheus/Eurydice
Einstein Intersection is Samuel R. Delany’s riff on the Orpheus myth. Except this is Delany, so things get weird quick. Lo Lobey, our Orpheus, lives in a wayyy post-apocalyptic future, probably descended from a race of people who crashed on Earth after what we know as “civilization” collapsed. He plays a flute that is also a machete, and when his love is killed he goes on a quest to rescue her from Kidd Death, who is Death, Billy the Kid, James Dean, and one of two other icons swirled into one lanky cowboy. Beatles lyrics are recited as examples of classical antiquity? There are herds of dragons? Just go read it.
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera (September 1, 2020)
A retelling of: Orpheus/Eurydice
When I tell you I DEVOURED Rivera’s previous gift of a novel Dealing in Dreams, I mean I wolfed that thing down in the 5 hour plane ride from Portland to New York, and I am hungry for this new one like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the Bronx, where Orpheus is recast as a sexy a bachata singer. Am I imagining Prince Royce and Emeraude Toubia? Absolutely yes. This novel really infuses Latinx culture into a story about love and fate that feels like nothing you’ve ever read before.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
A retelling of: Persephone/Hades
If you’d prefer a Persephone/Hades tale to Orpheus/Eurydice/Sexy Death, we recommend Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. Maya is born under a curse: her marriage will bring only Death and Destruction. But when her father arranges a political match despite the stars, she finds not only that Queendom suits her, but that her husband, Amar, is a loving and devoted partner, with no fear of curses. But bliss can only last so long, and Maya learns that her new home, Akaran hides forbidden doors, a Tree that brings memories forth rather than any fruit, and an eons-old mystery that could cost Maya not only her life, but her love and her queendom as well.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
A retelling of: Hansel and Gretel…sort of
I’ll call this a lightly-inspired retelling, because what Oyeyemi does is so absolutely original and unique that it’s less of an upcycling project and more of a phoenix-rising-from-the-dead-ashes situation. Gingerbread calls upon Hansel & Gretel, Cinderella, and other stories and involves a strange country, a very large shoe, a child found in a well, and, of course, plenty of baked goods. Gingerbread is spicy and sweet, nourishing and enticing, and absolutely a thing to be devoured.
A Blade So Black and A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney
A retelling of: Alice in Wonderland
Alice is Black and has a sword—do I need to tell you anything else about these books? Come on. In McKinney’s reimagining, Wonderland is a dream realm full of monsters, and Alice, a girl from Atlanta, is trained to battle them. This Alice is everything the original Alice wishes she could be—brave, smart, capable, and totally badass. Read the first two and then pre-order the third, which will be out later this year.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (May 12, 2020)
A retelling of: The Shahnameh
This upcoming novel pulls from the Persian epic The Shahnameh to tell a story about a princess with poison skin, doomed to be isolated from society and her family. This is a fantastic retelling that still feels very much like a fairy tale, touching upon conventions but ultimately becoming a story about empowerment and strength, about a girl who is overcoming circumstances and discovering who she truly is.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (June 30, 2020)
A retelling of: Every crumbling, haunted, Gothic house tale
For fans of The Turn of the Screw or Wuthering Heights, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has crafted a Gothic Funhouse of a novel that plays with beloved Victorian Gothic tropes. You’ve got a big old decaying mansion, a socialite in a big fancy dress, potential poisonings, screaming ghosts, dark secrets. What more could you ask for?
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang (September 29, 2020)
A retelling of: Red Riding Hood and the Hou Yi myth
I think S.L. Huang just loves us, honestly. Why else would she give us a story in which Red Riding Hood and Hou Yi the Archer team up to save the world? The mash-up of the two stories delights in weaving something new and exciting with characters from two mythological traditions. Set in a mythological landscape of fire demons, Burning Roses tackles age, identity, found family and lost relationships.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
A retelling of: One Thousand and One Nights
Renée Ahdieh takes the tales of One Thousand and One Nights and centers her story on the bravery of a single girl. The land of Khorasan lives under a horrific reality: each night their Caliph, a boy named Khalid, takes a different girl to his bed; each dawn the “bride” is executed. But when Shahrzad’s best friend is the latest victim, the girl vows to end the terrible cycle. She marries Khalid, and come morning, still lives. But she can’t rejoice just yet—she’s discovered that Khalid himself may be a prisoner to this cycle, and, what’s worse, she thinks she’s falling in love with him.
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
A retelling of: The Count of Monte Cristo
In Scavenge the Stars, Tara Sim gives us a swashbuckling Count of Monte Cristo riff that unfolds in a multicultural society where a variety of races and cultures work and love together, in all sorts of different arrangements. Since her teens, Amaya “Silverfish” Chandra has been a servant on a debtor’s prison ship, working herself most of the way to death to earn her freedom. But when she rescues a drowning man, the brutal Captain Zharo extends her debt. The rescued man, Boon, offers a way out: train to be a lady in order to ensnare Boon’s mortal enemy, Kamon Mercado, and if all goes well Silverfish will have wealth beyond her wildest dreams. But can a half-starved galley wretch ever become a convincing lady, let alone a spy?
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
A retelling of: Dark Norse myths
The Changeling centers on a clash of two very different worlds: Apollo Kagwe, a Black man raising a family in modern New York City, crashes right into a horrific changeling story, and some of the darkest aspects of Old Norse mythology. And of course it turns out that it’s much harder to be a mythic hero when cops, doctors, and colleagues are all part of a white supremacist nightmare that’s determined to destroy you.
Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A retelling of: Snow White
Boy is a young white girl who falls for a man named Arturo, who has a lovely blonde daughter named Snow. After she marries, she does her best to not become an evil stepmother, but then she gives birth to Arturo’s
daughter son, Bird, and Bird is Black. What follows is a quasi-Snow White retelling that also wrestles with the legacy of Nella Larsen’s classic, Passing, as Boy interrogates Arturo’s life as a Black man passing for white, and has to navigate the ways society judges her children on very different scales.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
A retelling of: Snow White
Or, if you’d like a Snow White retelling that focuses more on the Evil Queen and woodland treachery, Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns might be your cup of still-beating heart. Dao introduces us to Xifeng, a peasant girl born under a prophecy of an glittering future. But in order to earn her fate, she must leave her love, take to the woods, and embrace a path defined by the unforgiving magic of her ancestors. A path that includes murdering the innocent, eating their hearts, and submitting without question to a god mad with power.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
A retelling of: Pride and Prejudice
It’s not SFF, exactly, but we still want to spotlight Ibi Zoboi’s sharp update on Pride & Prejudice. Zuri Benitez is proud of her Afro-Latinx heritage, she’s proud of her family, and she’s proud of her home in Bushwick. But Bushwick seems less and less like home as her streets are trampled under gentrification, Starbucks, and Soulcycle. Then comes the Darcy family. The wealthy family moves in right across the street, bringing two handsome sons and a lot of complications. Can Zuri make room for her feelings for Darius Darcy, without losing space for herself?
Ash by Malinda Lo
A retelling of: Cinderella
Malindo Lo doesn’t just update “Cinderella”, she charges it with magic and infuses it with queerness for a whole new angle on the classic story. Ash is Aisling, the only daughter of a merchant and an apprentice witch. After Ash’s mother dies, her father remarries, to a woman suspicious of magic. Naturally when Father becomes ill, Stepmother packs him off to out-of-town doctors who kill him—just as the local Greenwitch said they would. Forced to be a servant in her own home, Ash tries to escape through an alliance with a faerie prince—but who would ever choose to be a faerie princess when the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, is so single, so strong, and so unbearably hot?
Of Curses and Kisses Sandhya Menon
A retelling of: Beauty and the Beast
His Lordship Grey Emerson is doomed. An ancient curse by a family named Rao guarantees that as soon as he turns eighteen, he’ll become a monster, and his life as he knows it will end. He hides away in his boarding school, hoarding minutes of freedom—until Princess Jaya Rao shows up. For the first time, he feels the love and attention so many of his schoolmates take for granted. But does Jaya really mean to love him? Could she free him from the family curse? And what’s the deal with the rose-shaped pendant she always wears?
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
A retelling of: The Wizard of Oz
Amy Gumm thought life was rough in Kansas, where the other kids bullied her, her teachers hated her, and her mom couldn’t manage to stay clean. But then a twister blows her and her mom’s pet rat to Oz, and before you can say “rainbow” she’s expected to overthrow a tyrant queen named Dorothy. She and the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked have to face a sadistic Tin Woodman and a rampaging Lion who eats fear—but that’s only the beginning, because it’s going to take a lot more than a bucket of water to defeat Dorothy.
The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas
A retelling of: Mulan
In 5th Century China, Mulan trains in secret to prevail in a duel that every generation of her family must fight. When she wins she won’t just earn her family the priceless swords that are rightfully theirs—she’ll avenger her father, paralyzed years before, during his turn at the duel. Her private quest is interrupted by a call from the Emperor: each family must send a soldier to fight the Rouran invasion on the empire’s northern border. With her father bedridden and her brother far too young, Mulan disguises herself as a man and joins an elite squad led by a princeling—who just happens to be the best-looking man she’s ever seen, and who just happens to have a secret of his own.
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
A retelling of: “The Horror of Red Hook”
The Ballad of Black Tom is a chilling, furious, must-read response to H.P. Lovecraft’s racist story, “The Horror of Red Hook”. Young Tommy knows just enough blues to scam clueless, cred-hungry white people during the depression. But when racist police attack his home and family, he realizes justice is off the table. He’s going to have to leave the comfort of Harlem for Brooklyn, and make a deal with some nefarious forces to get the next best thing: vengeance.
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
A retelling of: Korean Gumiho Tales
Modern Seoul is a vibrant city, a city of the FUTURE—which is why its citizens never notice the creature from the past who lurks beneath its light. Gu Miyoung isn’t a typical eighteen-year-old girl. She’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who feeds on the energy of men. Until one moonlit night when she sees a boy beset by goblins, and risks her own safety to rescue him. It costs her her soul, but gains her the tenuous friendship of the boy. You see, Jihoon knows what she is. He saw her tails, and he was raised on the old stories. But can a modern mortal boy undo a fairy tale curse?
Originally published in February 2020