I love old stories dressed in new skins, especially when they’re fantastical ones. The books below are some of the year’s most exciting fantasy retellings, from a feminist, genderbent Beowulf to a mystical The Tempest to an anthology of Asian myths and tales retold.
West, by Edith Pattou
A sequel to Pattou’s beloved retelling of classic fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”? Yes! East spun the tale of Rose, who saves her beloved, Charles, from the form of a white bear and imprisonment by the Troll Queen. In West she must rescue him once again, after his ship goes down in a supernatural storm and he’s presumed dead. The stakes are greater, and Rose’s devotion and Pattou’s lovely, mythic prose no less unwavering.
My Plain Jane, by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows
The second installment of the Lady Janies series finds its trio of authors revisiting the stories of both Jane Eyre and her famous creator, the brilliant, short-lived Charlotte Brontë. In the Janie crew’s alt England, Jane is a teacher who can see ghosts, and Charlotte is a budding writer who can’t see anything without her spectacles on a stick. The two friends live at the same miserable boarding school, until the unwanted attentions of a ghost hunter (he’s recruiting) send Jane fleeing to a governess gig at Thornfield Hall, where she stumbles unwittingly into the arms of the dastardly Mr. Rochester (or is he?). Ashton, Hand, and Meadows gleefully mash together history, fiction, magic, and their own brand of weird in this delightful hybrid.
The Boneless Mercies, by April Genevieve Tucholke
In this feminist, genderbent take on Beowulf, Frey is a boneless mercy, a death trader paid to end the suffering of the sick and the weary. Along with her companions—three other mercies and the boy they pulled out of a death-struck village—she seeks to abandon her bloody work and pursue another life. Their chance, and a shot at glory, comes with news of the Blue Vee Beast, a rampaging monster annihilating a distant jarldom. In a Norse-influenced fantasy land that pulses with history, magic, and mythology, Tucholke spins a haunting story of four girls seizing their fate, and living lives large enough to achieve the level of legend. The best part is the lived-in feel of the world: every page thrums with bits of lore, opening little windows onto tales we don’t get to fully see. You get the feeling Tucholke could set a whole series in this world, so thoroughly does she know its secrets.
Damsel, by Elana K. Arnold
There’s always a dragon, there’s always a prince, and there’s always a damsel. Generation after generation, the damsel is the prince’s reward for slaying the dragon, but Ama—so named by the prince who took her from the dragon’s lair, as she has no memories of her own—can’t make her new life fit. Arnold deconstructs one of our ur-myths, finding the darkness between the lines and the iron will within a meant-to-be-pliant princess. In the stifling rooms of a secretive palace in an eerie gray kingdom, Ama will uncover the true nature of her rescue and herself, in a book that interrogates and ultimately triumphs, exploring archetypes and tropes without ever flattening into allegory. This book doesn’t directly retell any one fairy tale, but it borrows and breaks the familiar form of many.
The Traitor Prince, by C.J. Redwine
Redwine takes inspiration from Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” as well as classic fairy tale “The False Prince,” in this companion book to the Ravenspire series. Crown prince Javan returns to his kingdom of Akram after a ten-year absence, only to find an impostor has taken his place. Jailed and friendless, Javan has one chance at freeing himself and reaching the ear of the king: fight in a brutal yearly tournament, and win. But he’ll have to survive prison first.
The Queens of Innis Lear, by Tessa Gratton
In this fantasy riff on King Lear—an adult novel by an author who often writes YA—the three daughters of a faltering king vie for his crown. Their father’s willful reliance on prophecies has destroyed their once-powerful magical kingdom, and whomever he names as heir—warlike Gaela, manipulative Regan, or goodhearted Cordelia stand-in Elia—will have to fix it. As the king awaits the prophecy night that will allow him to select Innis Lear’s next ruler, the women ready themselves for a brutal interfamily battle.
Storm-Wake, by Lucy Christopher
A complex, mystical take on The Tempest in which heroine Moss and her Pa—and her sole childhood playmate, Caliban stand-in Callan—are humanity’s last survivors, living on an island where Pa attempts to bring the world back to life through the power of the magical stormflowers. But his abilities go deeper and darker than Moss knows, and the shipwrecked arrival of a boy from the outside world will tip the delicate balance of their lonely realm.
A Thousand Beginnings & Endings, edited by Elsie Chapman and Ellen Oh
Chapman and Oh collect fifteen retellings of Asian myths and legends, from Lori M. Lee’s sci-fi revision of a Hmong folktale to a supernatural Filipino story of impossible love reimagined by Roshani Chokshi. The stories are told and retold by Asian writers, and their origins span the continent and encompass many speculative genres and eras. This is a treasure chest for anyone who loves a retelling and wants to dig into rarely trodden source material.
Sweet Black Waves, by Kristina Pérez
In this debut fantasy inspired by the legend of Tristan and Iseult, Branwen is the beloved lady-in-waiting to a princess whose kingdom is at bloody odds with the kingdom across the sea. Branwen’s steadfast service to her homeland is tested when she unwittingly saves an enemy’s life—and in doing so not only opens her mind to love, but unlocks her own healing magic. She’s inspired to dream of a detente between her people and those of the man she saved, even though the cost of pursuing peace might be both her best friend and her first love.
Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, by Lisa Jensen (July 10)
Like Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily, which kicks off in a pre-Wendy Darling Neverland, this twist on Beauty and the Beast opens long before Beauty arrives at the castle. Centering on a servant girl who grows to love her formerly monstrous master, whose beastly form belies the new kindness of his heart, it imagines Beauty as an interloper who threatens not to save the man, but to restore his cruel nature.
Endless Water, Starless Sky, by Rosamund Hodge
Hodge’s Bright Smoke, Cold Fire was an utterly transformed “Romeo and Juliet” set within the walled city of Viyara, where a sphere of magical protection stands between the Viyarans and a zombie-esque plague called the Ruining. Juliet was an assassin, Mahyanai Romeo the bastard son of a rival house whom she dares to love. And barely seen Rosalind became Runajo, a member of a magical religious order. In this sequel, Juliet has become the pawn of an enemy clan, Romeo is tormented by the damage he has done to his beloved’s people, and Runajo seeks out a new way to protect her city. But it may take a trip to the land of Death itself to turn the tide that threatens to swallow their city.
Sea Witch, by Sarah Henning
The villain of “The Little Mermaid” gets her due in Henning’s origin story, opening on a young outcast, Evie, grieving the loss of her best friend and hiding her magical abilities from the fishing town that doesn’t accept her. When she meets a girl who looks eerily like her best friend on the beach, and the two fall in with a promising pair of princes to boot, she believes her life has changed. But her new friend has dark secrets, and Evie may find herself giving up more than she bargained for in the effort to save them both.
The Forest Queen, by Betsy Cornwell
In Cornwell’s female-fronted take on Robin Hood, Sylvie is the hero fighting back against gross injustice—specifically, the power-hungry machinations of her older brother, John, their town’s new sheriff. Fed up with his abuses of the townspeople, and fleeing his attempts to marry her off to a groom she doesn’t want, Sylvie and her friends run away to the forest. Soon they’re joined by other villagers looking to escape embattled lives overseen by cruel men, in a retelling that explores the power of community, identity, and female strength.
A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan
The daughter of the infamous King Midas, Princess Kora still bears the legacy of her father’s “golden touch”—not just in her gold skin, but in the strange abilities she can no longer conceal. She lives a lonely life of luxurious exile within the palace walls, until a tentative courtship with a duke who doesn’t seem to fear her opens her heart and mind. Then a theft from her father’s kingdom sends Kora, with her ability to sense gold, on a quest to retrieve the stolen items and restore the treasury. Like her father, she’ll learn that all gifts exact a price.
A Blade So Black, by L.L. McKinney
In this remixed take on Alice in Wonderland, Alice is a Black teen in Atlanta balancing two very different lives: in one, she’s the daughter of a protective mother, focused on her dropping grades and needy BFF. In the other, she fights her way through the shadowy dream realm of Wonderland, fighting off the Nightmares that threaten to break through into our world. But when her mentor is poisoned, and saving him requires going all in on Wonderland, she’s in serious danger of losing both her lives.
Reflection (Twisted Tales #4), by Elizabeth Lim
Lim takes on Disney’s beloved story of Mulan—with a crucial twist. In this reimagining of the obedient daughter-turned-warrior’s tale, army captain Li Shang (and Mulan’s beloved) is wounded and on the verge of death, sending Mulan to the Underworld to fight for his life. Joined by Shang’s lion guardian, she must fight her way toward his spirit and out again before sunrise if she’s to save him from death—and herself from being trapped in the Underworld forever.
To Kill a Kingdom, by Alexandra Christo
Christo’s debut is a loose, atmospheric retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” centered on a bloodthirsty siren royal who collects human hearts and a siren-hunting prince who make an unlikely alliance. Lira has collected the hearts of seventeen princes and is revered for her ruthlessness, until she commits a crime so great her mother banishes her and, far worse, turns her into a human. When Prince Elian rescues her from drowning, it’s the beginning of a dangerous deal that could turn deadly on either side.