Fairytales have inspired, fascinated, and educated people for centuries. Our curiosity and interest for these stories is still going strong today—evident by the countless options of fairytales and their retellings to choose from. Everyone has the potential to discover their favorite fairytale, regardless of your age, background, or favorite literary genres.
Fairytales and fantasy may share some similarities, but the two are not entirely interchangeable. Fairytales are actually a subgenre within fantasy. My weekly fantasy recommendation series A Thousand Lives continues with these seven recommendations of fairytale retellings!
1. The Bear and the Nightingale– by Katherine Arden (Traditional Russian Fairytales)
For Vasya, the long Russian winters in the wilderness mean spending time huddled around the fire with her siblings, listening to fairytales spun by their nurse. Vasya’s favorite tale is the one of Frost, a “blue-eyed winter demon.” He takes “unwary” souls; many Russians are fearful of the creature and praise those spirits that protect their homes.
One day, Vasya’s father comes home with a new wife. Vasya’s new stepmother is highly devout; she orders the family to stop honoring their spirits. Vasya worries this change will lead unwanted dangers to her village, and those fears become a reality.
Vasya’s stepmother grows more and more cruel, attempting to coerce the village to do things her way and is insistent on sending Vasya to a convent or finding the girl a husband. Vasya must eventually get in touch with her hidden, “dangerous gifts” once her village’s defenses weaken and evil forces come nearer. She must protect her loved ones from the very creature she heard of so many times in her nurse’s fairytales.
2. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Eastern European/Polish Fairytales)
Agnieszka loves the simple life she lives. In a quiet village within a valley, beautiful natural scenery surrounding her. And yet, the Wood stands at the edge of her village, formidable, evil, and threatening.
Agnieszka’s people solely rely on a wizard, called the Dragon, to ward off the Wood’s forces. The wizard agrees, but his help comes with a price: the village must provide him with a young woman to serve him for ten years.
As the next choosing approaches, Agnieszka is certain her beloved friend Kasia will be handed over. It is impossible to save her. However, Agnieszka will soon learn she was afraid for the wrong reason; the Dragon is not going to choose Kasia.
3. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Snow White/Asian Folklore/Classic Dark Fairytales)
Xifeng is eighteen years old, and already prophesized for greatness. However, to fulfill what destiny has planned for her, she must acknowledge and accept the darkness within her.
Xifeng grew up as a peasant in a little village. Her malevolent aunt, a witch named Guma, read Xifeng’s fortune in her cards and foresaw “a majestic future.” The cost of achieving this greatness comes with a price; Xifeng must reject the one who loves her and “exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins.” This sorcery can only be fueled by consuming the hearts of the recently killed. The god that sends Xifeng on this journey will not be fully satisfied until “his power is absolute.”
4. The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty)
A young queen embarks on a quest to save a princess from an enchantment on the eve of her wedding. Swapping her fine wedding clothes for chain mail and a sword, the queen and her dwarf retainers dive deep under the mountain towards a sleeping kingdom.
The queen wishes to be the only one in control of her own future, and the princess she plans on saving is not quite what she expected.
5. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron (Cinderella)
Cinderella may have found her prince, but 200 years later that fairytale is over. At the Annual Ball, girls must present themselves to the men of the kingdom to be chosen as their wives. If a girl does not get selected, or find a suitable match, she is never heard from again.
Sophia is sixteen, and would definitely prefer to marry her childhood best friend Erin. Sophia decides to flee at the ball and winds up in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she runs into Constance, Cinderella’s last-known descendant. They make a pact to bring the king to ruins once-and-for-all, but along the way learn more about Cinderella’s story than they ever could’ve ever imagined.
6. A Whole New World by Elizabeth J. Braswell (Aladdin tales from The Arabian Nights)
In this installment of the Disney Twisted Tale series, Braswell imagines what would’ve happened if Aladdin never found the magic lamp, but Jafar did instead.
When Jafar acquires the lamp, he wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. His people live in terror, awaiting his third and final wish. Aladdin and Jasmine (now a deposed princess) need to join the people of Agrabah to rebel against the evil sultan. However, they must acknowledge that their fight for freedom will likely come at the cost of civil war.
7. The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley (The Brothers Grimm Fairytales)
Sabrina and Daphne are sisters, and now orphans. They are sent to live with their grandmother Relda Grimm in a town called Ferryport Landing. The girls discover they are the descendants of the renowned Brothers Grimm storytellers. Perhaps more surprising is that the Brothers Grimm’s fairytale book is an actual history book.
Not long after, a terrible giant appears and wreaks havoc on their town. Sabrina and Daphne, dubbed the Sisters Grimm, must put an end to the giant’s rampage and learn who sent him in the first place. Possible suspects include: Mayor Charming (who used to be Prince Charming), the sketchy town cops (the Three Not-So-Little-Pigs), and possible other fairytale characters who seem to “have it out for the Grimms.”