There were two sisters, one dark and one fair. There is a beast in the woods. There is a witch in the deepest part of the forest, or the ocean, or high in the mountains. Seven brothers have been turned to swans. Fairytale tropes are timeless and authors love to subvert and play with new versions. Here a handful of the best modern retellings and adaptations.
The Mythic Dream edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe
Editors Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe have a remarkable knack for collecting luminous fantasy short stories by some of today’s top authors, including the reigning queen of fairytale retellings, Naomi Novik. With a lineup that includes Rebecca Roanhorse, sci-fi powerhouse Ann Leckie, and Seanan McGuire, these stories should offer a sneak peek into what fantasy will look like for upcoming years.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A young woman, mistreated by her cousins and stuck cleaning her wealthy grandfather’s house opens a strange wooden box – accidentally freeing Hun-Kame, the Mayan god of death, from his imprisonment. What follows is a race across Mayan mythology set in Jazz Age Mexico. Gods of Jade and Shadow was my book of the summer and one of the freshest takes on old mythologies that I’ve read in the past few years. Recommended for adult fans of Percy Jackson or readers of Lore Olympus.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
In medieval Russia, at a time of unrest, when the boyers consider rising against the Mongol Horde and the old folk ways are challenged, a young woman Vasilisa huddles around the fire with her siblings, listening to tales of house spirits and yard spirits and the winter demon Frost. But when her father remarries, the household is forbidden from honoring the spirits that guard their hearth and home, even as danger leaves the woods and draws ever nearer to their doorstep. A beautiful tale of winter magic best savored on a cold night with a hot drink.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
A young Arab hacker, from an unnamed Middle Eastern country, protects his clients – dissenters, zealots, and criminals alike – from state security. When his lover leaves him to marry a high-ranking official and his network is breached by state security, he’s forced to go on the run – and stumbles into a copy of the lost Thousand and One Days. A blend of Islamic mythology with computer science, all set against the background of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
Princess Cimorene takes fencing lessons with the armsmaster – until her parents catch her, and she is sent back to dancing lessons. She takes Latin lessons from the court – until she is caught and sent back to embroidery lessons. She learns from the court magician – until she is sent back to etiquette to learn how loudly to scream when being carried away by a giant. When she ends up betrothed to an insufferably dull prince, she decides to run away and finds herself living with the dragon Kazul. Full of pragmatic dragons, a genie, and a witch who owns a crêpe pan.
The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
Six richly illustrated tales of dark, atmospheric magic explore the cold, cruel edges of fairytales. Capturing the classic cadence of folklore, Bardugo asks if the monsters live in the woods or in palaces, what bait could be used to trap the old grey wolf or the great forest bear, and what use the witch in the woods would have for children, anyway.
Dark and bitter, these stories serve up alternate endings for anyone who has found “happily ever after” a little too sugary.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
In 1953, Boy Novak flees her home in New York and takes the bus to the end of the line: Flax Hill. There she meets Arturo Whitman, a businessman with a daughter named Snow. But when Boy and Arturo have a daughter of their own, Bird, who is clearly black, the family is revealed as passing for white. Oyeyemi uses her twist on Snow white to explore the fallout from this revelation through Boy, Snow, and Bird’s relationships. Recommended for those who have enjoyed The Snow Child by Ivey or fans of Colson Whitehead.
Fables by Bill Willingham
Snow White, Rose Red, Prince Charming and all sorts of other fairy tale characters have had their “Homelands” taken from them by a deadly enemy. Now they live in an enclave in New York known as Fabletown. Through this 10 volume series (plus its spin-offs), the characters must deal with murder, politics, nosy mundane humans, and the ever-looming threat of the Adversary whose hunger for power extends not only into the world of the Fables, but their new safe haven as well.