Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group hosted by Trina from Between Chapters and Kayla from Kayla Rayne. We’re a million years late with this post due to a complete lack of time for blogging at the moment, but better late than never, eh? 😉
Retellings have become quite popular in the last years, and for a while, we were worried that this avalanche of retellings would cheapen their quality and make us grow tired of them. Thankfully, there are plenty of well-written, imaginative retellings out there, which made it almost effortless to put together a selection of recommendations for this category. While you might think books based on pre-existing stories and legends add nothing new, this is not the case with many retellings. Authors will often change or modernise the context, add a new element or a little extra twist, or swap genders. With retellings, you often expect to know the story, yet you find yourself having a novel reading experience. We’d like to share some of our favourite retellings with you – some are rather popular, others may be less known.
As always, they are sorted alphabetically and clicking on the title will lead you to our review if there is one. Of course, we’re keen to learn about retellings that might have slipped our attention, so please let us know if you have any recommendations not featured on this list!
A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
Both A Thousand Nights and The Wrath and the Dawn are retellings of A Thousand and One Nights but the two couldn’t be more different. If you’re less keen on Young Adult fantasy and a strong romance, then we’d recommend A Thousand Nights. This is not about a slow burn romance between a skilled storyteller from the heart of the desert and a murderous king. A Thousand Nights tells a much darker tale, underpinned by a slow pacing and beautiful writing. Save for the king Lo-Melkhiin, no names are mentioned. The core of this book very much resembles the original story: The storyline follows a young Bedouin girl who sacrifices her life for her half-sister and takes her place as the bride of a ruler who has killed his 300 previous brides, and who then survives night after night due to her illustrious stories and a magical twist. This book is a testimony to sisterhood, to the strength of women, to the virtue of storytelling, and to the magic in belief.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Every time I need to describe Bone Gap to someone I do not know where to start. Which makes it pretty difficult to recommend. It does not fit clearly into any genre and is incredibly strange. It is the compelling and poignant story of two brothers and a girl, a town, and their relationship with one another. I went into this book not knowing it was a retelling of any sort and when it finally dawned on me what story Laura Ruby was telling us, I had one of those rare, wonderful moments when everything clicks into place and you realise that the author is an actual genius. The references are subtle yet impactful and I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of care and effort that must have gone into crafting this story. This book certainly won’t be for everyone, but if you generally like strange reads and magical realism, I think you should give this one a go.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Based on the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, Rosamund Hodge reimagined this story with a darker touch and a demon for a beast. The characters in Cruel Beauty are fantastic, as not only is Ignifex an intriguing, cunning, and surprisingly malevolent beast, but the main character Nyx is portrayed as realistically flawed as well. The resentment she feels towards her sister who’s been spared the fate of being the future bride of a bargain-striking demon, locked in his enchanted castle, gives her characterisation an interesting layer. I also appreciated the mythology elements woven into the world-building. The castle itself is a magical world to be discovered, its doors and stairs changing and shadows lurking in its corners. The romance between Ignifex and Nyx is a slow burn, and it never tries to justify both characters’ darkness in their hearts. There are certainly some confusing parts and the issue of a strange love triangle, but overall, Cruel Beauty retelling adds an intriguingly dark touch to this fairy tale.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
As you probably guessed by the title, Jane Steele is a retelling of Jane Eyre, and what an incredible one at that. It is not so much an alternative to Jane Eyre but rather parallel, since the actual book Jane Eyre happens to be Jane Steele’s favourite novel. Besides that, the two storylines are pretty similar, with one major difference: Jane Steele happens to be a murderer. This book is fun and compelling, gorgeously written and so much easier to get into than I expected. The romance is beautiful and characters are well-drawn and engaging. I was rooting for Jane from the very beginning and my love for her only grew as the story went on. I do not gravitate towards historical fiction set in this time period but this book was fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone.
Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
How can you not adore a Romeo and Juliet retelling that commences with trespassing? It’s impossible. Prince of Shadows tells the famous tale of forbidden lovers of families at enmity with each other from a refreshing angle. Shakespeare’s tale is enriched by the point of view of Benvolio Montague (cousin to Romeo Montague) and adds a magical twist to the original. Prince of Shadows dazzles with an engaging narrator, a dark atmosphere in the streets of Verona (Italy), and poetic prose that makes the historical setting come to life. I specifically loved how this book put Benvolio and Rosaline in the centre rather than Romeo and Juliet; their romance was the slow burn to Romeo and Juliet’s insta-love. To my surprise, I really enjoyed this contrast, as the insta-love worked well for Prince of Shadows. To reduce this retelling to a mere love story would, however, not do the book justice. Prince of Shadows paints a dark, haunting picture of a beautiful city torn apart by the hatred of two families. Its plot stirs political alliances, violent clashes, ugly truths, and sorrowful fates of the ones who do not fit society’s standards. Prince of Shadows made for a wickedly good and dark love story overshadowed by bloodshed and curses.
The Child Thief by Brom
One of my favourite retellings, this story based on Peter Pan has it all. Morally grey characters, fantastic worldbuilding, beautiful writing and a suspenseful plot. The Child Thief is interesting in that it takes the setting of the original novel but creates a new plot around it. Brom also draws inspiration from other places however, from Celtic mythology and Arthurian legends to pagan myths…it’s all in there. It is strange and peculiar yet manages to instill in the reader a sense of realism that is awe-inspiring. It was both a tragic and hopeful story that was slow-moving yet action-packed. Brom manages to create characters that are simultaneously unlikeable and endearing, their ambiguity is wrapped up in great character development that moves the story forward at all times. The novel is very gory and violent and thus not for everyone but if you feel ready to handle a really dark, disturbing read, don’t miss out on this fantastic retelling.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is based on the German tale The Handless Maiden by the Brothers Grimm. This contemporary retelling cleverly wraps the fairy tale up in a story of abuse, religious fanatism, friendship, love, and beliefs with a sprinkle of mystery. The plot is divided into the present, in which Minnow Bly is sent to juvie after an assault, and the past, which depicts the horrors the main character has suffered at the hands of the Kevinian cult leader. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly looks tame from the outside but its content is dark and at times horrific. There’s also a strong focus on female friendship and self-discovery, of everything Minnow has never been allowed to question with the cult. I really enjoyed how the author handled religion and beliefs as well as the critique of the justice system. The book poses some tough questions without passing judgement. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly deserves all the credit it can get for wrapping up a Grimm’s tale with a story of friendship and love, the atrocities happening in cults, and a murder investigation in one book. If you need something a little different in YA, then this book is for you.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
For anyone who knows my reading taste, you know I am not a big fan of the romance genre. I barely ever reach for it and if I do it usually leaves me feeling disappointed. The Song of Achilles, though it has a lot going on, is most definitely at its core a romance. And I absolutely loved it. It retells the story of Achilles and Patroclus but whereas many of the other books on this list mainly draw inspiration from earlier stories, this one is pretty historically accurate and stays close to the source material. The romance between these two young men is beautiful and tragic and heartbreaking and although you know how it will end you cannot help but keep turning the pages. Madeline Miller’s writing style is gorgeous and the book is exceptionally well paced. The character growth is incredible and seeing how Patroclus went from a blind – almost obsessional – love for Achilles to a more lucid, well-rounded vision of him and accepting his flaws, was stunning. Even if you do not usually enjoy romance, I highly encourage you to pick this book up if you have any interest in Greek mythology.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Though The Wrath and the Dawn is also a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, it has a very different feel from A Thousand Nights. Though its writing is as beautiful and its Persian-inspired world as exquisitely built, The Wrath and the Dawn works with strong emotions and a blossoming romance and, as such, fits more into the ‘typical’ YA genre. Renée Ahdieh built her retelling on a story of loss and revenge, and her king is not a power-hungry demon but a troubled boy with a cursed caliphate. Chantal and I adored this book for its magnificent prose (the food descriptions will make your mouth water) and witty dialogue, its strong female lead, its dreamy love interest, and its slow burn. The Wrath and the Dawn is certainly not without flaws. The romance can be questioned from Shahrzad’s point of view, and it has a touch of insta-love, but Shahrzad and Khalid just had that chemistry we’re looking for in literature. The kind that makes your heart soar. The sequel The Rose and the Dagger fell a bit flat for us but we’d still recommend this duology. The Wrath and the Dawn simply blew us away.
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Tiger Lily is a brilliant reimagining to the Peter Pan tale and approaches the original story from a completely different angle. The reason I didn’t refer to this as a retelling is because it doesn’t really retell Peter Pan but imagines parts of the story that have not yet been shown. Told from the perspective of mute, mind-reading, and insect-sized Tinker Bell, the storyline shines light on the hidden life of Tiger Lily. I adored this fierce, head-strong, flawed, and boy-ish character. Tiger Lily is a take on the draw-back of not conforming to society’s expectations of a girl. This novel’s romance is not pretty, as when Wendy Darling arrives and catches the eye of her beloved Peter Pan, Tiger Lily learns exactly how deep jealousy reaches. This book also addresses issues of colonisation, exclusion, and ‘otherness’. Tiger Lily is a tragic story in more than one way. It is a tale of the greedy and savage ways of the heart, and how it can sometimes be misguided by its own yearnings.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This NA adult fantasy is not a typical retelling. However, it picks up on many elements of Polish culture and folklore, such as the baba jaga and the strained political relationship with Russia. If you think you’ve seen it all where villains are concerned, then we’d recommend picking up Uprooted all the more. In this delightful, whimsical, and fairy tale-like novel, the Wood is the antagonist (Chantal will tell you all about its parallels to Studio Ghibli movies if you’re curious!). This is also what gave this book its title, for the only way to kill a magical tree is to uproot it. Novik’s imagination created a dark, eery atmosphere and it knew no limits, which also applied to the magic system. I haven’t seen many books pull this off – a magic system to which no rules seemed to apply – but it worked really well for this story. What further makes Uprooted such a good read is its strong focus on friendship and its steamy, hate-to-barely-stand-each-other-to-attraction-to-love romance.
We hope you enjoyed browsing our list of recommendations for the literary category ‘retellings’ and that you may have found some retellings to check out. As we’ve already mentioned, we love this type of genre and thus appreciate any recommendations you may have. If there are any good retellings out there which we haven’t listed, please let us know in the comments! 🙂