Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Retellings
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: Top Ten Retellings (Freebie!)
This week’s theme is a freebie, and while I’m still away on vacation I thought it would be great to schedule a topic that I’ve wanted to do for a while! In recent years I have been reading a lot of retellings, so today I just want to shine a spotlight on ten of my favorite ones.
Pride and Prejudice retellings and other Austenesque-inspired stories have traditionally been hit-or-miss with me, but there was something about Heartstone that drew me to it right away. Might it have been the dragons? Okay yeah, it was the dragons. Heartstone is actually a pretty faithful rendition of the original, in some places following the plot so closely that I was surprised the author took such a direct route. The story follows Aliza Bentaine, the second of five daughters in a family living at Merybourne Manor. Their home has been set upon by monsters as of late, and six months ago tragedy struck as Aliza’s youngest sister was attacked and killed by one of the wild gryphons that have invaded the surrounding woods. This has led to the arrival of a band of Riders who have come to Merybourne to eradicate the creatures, and among them are the warriors Master Brysney and Master Daired. The publisher blurb for this book describes it as Elle Katharine White infusing Austen’s classic with her own brand of magic. With the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t say that the strength of Heartstone is in its story since most of the plot closely mirrors the original, but what really shines is the world-building. White doesn’t stop at populating her book with all sorts of extraordinary creatures from hobgoblins and wyverns to lamias and lindworms, for she has also fleshed out the world with a vibrant culture that’s entirely of her own imagination. (Read the full review…)
Few things get me more excited than a book by Jacqueline Carey, and on the list of my must-read authors, her name definitely sits way up near the top. And with the growing trend in Shakespeare retellings these days, I suppose I wasn’t too surprised when I initially discovered that she was working on a retelling of The Tempest. That project ultimately became Miranda and Caliban. As the book’s blurb states, many of us are already aware of how the original story goes, with Prospero and his quest for revenge against his usurping brother as well as the complicit king. But in her version of this classic tale, Carey has chosen instead to shine the light on Prospero’s gentle and kindhearted daughter Miranda, reimagining her in a coming-of-age romance with the other titular character Caliban, who was actually the monstrous antagonist of The Tempest. In this book, however, Caliban is the misunderstood feral boy who opens up to Miranda after being enslaved by her father, with the bond between them increasing in strength over the years as the two grow up together on the lonely island under Prospero’s overbearing tutelage. The Tempest fans will love this beautifully written and richly imagined retelling which approaches the story differently from an interesting and thought-provoking angle. (Read the full review…)
Any book that can make me laugh like a maniac deserves high marks from me. This one’s funny—and I do mean funny, as in exploding-in-uncontrollable-giggles-so-that-nearby-bystanders-are-staring-at-you-sidesways-and-backing-up-slowly funny. This was something I did not expect. When the Warlock Holmes series was pitched to me, I figured it would be your run-of-the-mill classic literature mashup with paranormal elements. Oh, little did I know. The key to this book’s success, I think, was the way Denning stuck close to the source material while still keeping the tone light and readable, and he dressed the story up with just enough of the fantastical to make it feel unique and different. After all, everyone knows of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes whose logical reasoning and powers of observation are unparalleled. But what if, instead of a brilliant genius, he was a bit of a dippy eccentric, albeit endowed with arcane powers and the scary ability to tap into the world of demons? This, in essence, is Warlock Holmes. He’s well-intentioned, but rather dim. To make up for it though, at least he’s something of an expert in the supernatural and occult. I had a hell of a good time with this book. (Read the full review…)
Christina Henry has written quite a few dark fairy tale retellings at this point, but this one reimagining Peter Pan from Hook’s point-of-view is my favorite. In this book, Peter is the villain, who spends his never-ending childhood stealing boys from the “Other Place” to bring back to his island paradise so that he will always have playmates to amuse him. However, Peter has a very sick sense of what constitutes “amusement”. His outward appearance of an eleven-year-old boy belies the fact that he is a master manipulator, with an infectious charm that makes all his Lost Boys love him and want to please him. The only one who can see through all of this is Jamie, the first boy Peter ever brought to the island. They’ve been the best of friends for a long, long time—long enough that Jamie has become Peter’s favorite companion and right hand man, the one who takes care of the rest of the boys. Someone has to, after all, considering the way Peter goes through playmates like dogs go through chew toys, a fact that Jamie hates. And here I thought Disney’s depiction of Peter Pan was an annoying little shit. The portrayal of the Boy-Who-Wouldn’t-Grow-Up in Lost Boy on the other hand, is on an entirely different level of evil and heartlessness. This in turn made it easy to root for Jamie, whose characterization was a huge part of what made Lost Boy such a fascinating, addictive read. (Read the full review…)
Here we have another Pride & Prejudice retelling, but this one also had the added element of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Although the book may draw inspiration from one of two of the most beloved novels of classic literature, it would be a disservice to simply label Pride and Prometheus as just your average literary mashup. Not only has the author succeeded in capturing the tone, spirit, and style of these two works, he’s managed to create a perfect fusion of its deeper themes as well. Kessel’s writing is absolutely gorgeous, emulating the style and manner of the original novels that inspired this tale. All in all, I adored everything about Pride and Prometheus, from the utterly engrossing struggles of its characters to the emotional themes about obsession and attachment. I think Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein fans will be impressed with how well Kessel has captured the original novels’ forms and styles, but even if you’re familiar with both classics, there will still be plenty of surprises. This book endeared itself to me and then broke my heart, but all I could think about after finishing this was how I wanted more. Truly a treasure of a novel. (Read the full review…)
I’ve never been able to say no to a good fairy tale retelling, especially by the recent crop of novels touting the point-of-view of the “villain.” That ultimately led me to pick up All the Ever Afters, which boldly bears the tagline describing itself as the untold story of Cinderella’s stepmother, the notoriously cruel and wicked antagonist from the classic fairy tale we all know and love. However, Danielle Teller’s approach to this novel is one that I’ve seldom seen in most fairy tale retellings I’ve read, in that she has completely eschewed all aspects of fantasy and magic, choosing instead to ground her story in history. Our tale introduces readers to Agnes, a young girl born into poverty. Worked to the bone and unfairly treated, she had no choice but to use all her wits and wiles to finagle a better position for herself. With Cinderella only playing a bit part, this tale truly belongs to her stepmother, who has been given new life in this heartfelt novel. With no magical spells or fairy godmothers, Agnes is a woman who relies on nothing but herself to change her life and make a better future for her children. If you prefer fantasy in your fairy tale retellings, you may wish to reconsider this one, but if you don’t mind a narrative that’s more rooted in realism, then I really can’t recommend this highly enough. (Read the full review…)
The Winters has been described as an updated, modern retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Like its 1938 inspiration, the book stars an unnamed narrator, but many of the similarities to the original character end there. Our protagonist is a 20-something-year-old American woman from the Cayman Islands, where she works at a boat charter company that caters to clients from many of the elite local clubs. That is how she meets Max Winter, a charming and wealthy state senator from New York, who has come to the Caribbean for work and holiday. He is also a widower, his wife having died in fiery car crash about two years ago. In spite of this recent loss, Max and our protagonist fall into a whirlwind romance, and within a month of their meeting, he asks her to marry him. Before she knows it, our narrator is whisked away to the Hamptons, where Max’s family owns a lavish seaside estate called Asherley. Needless to say, life in New York takes some adjusting to for our protagonist. Like all retellings, The Winters takes a particular slant on a familiar story, and therein lies plenty of opportunities for fun fresh spins but also the possibility for some difficulties. Fans of Rebecca will probably want to read this, with the added caveat that while it pays homage to the Daphne du Maurier novel by drawing heavily from some of its plot elements and themes, Lisa Gabriele’s retelling also brings a lot of her own voice and originality to the table. More generally, fans of psychological thrillers and suspenseful family dramas may also want to check it out. (Read the full review…)
Few retellings invite more scrutiny from me than Beauty and the Beast, one of the most beloved fairy tales, so I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this. As retellings go, The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross is pretty low-key, focusing on atmosphere and emotion instead of miring itself in attempts at audacious new twists. Told from the perspective of the Beast, our story begins in the enchanted forest where our protagonist lives with the curse cast upon him long ago. Slowly, painfully, he begins to remember the man he once was, but has no memory of why he was made into this beastly form, let alone how to break the curse. My favorite part of this book is hands down Shallcross’ depiction of the Beast. He is no monster, and over time it becomes clear that there’s not a malicious bone in his body. In fact, I wasn’t even sure why he was cursed in the first place (though later we do get some answers). As for the atmosphere, The Beast’s Heart also offers a nice change of pace. It is dark, but not oppressively so; moody, but not to the point of being melodramatic. In fact, I found the whole book to be quite charming and lovely. Overall, this is not a fast-paced read, but it’s a passionately earnest and eloquent debut that would be perfect for fans of quiet, evocative and lyrical fairy tale retellings. (Read the full review…)
After consistently being disappointed by so many books described as “Mulan retellings”, you can probably understand why I went into The Magnolia Sword with no small amount of trepidation. But ultimately, I was blown away. Sherry Thomas has written a refreshing new take on this famous Chinese folktale about the legendary female warrior, applying her own unique approach to the portrayal while staying faithful to the original story and ensuring historical and linguistic accuracy. Inspired by the traditions of wuxia, a genre which translates to “martial-chivalric” fiction, Sherry Thomas spins an epic tale of courage and adventure. I adored her depiction of Mulan, who embodies all the traits we think about when it comes to the character—fiercely independent, altruistic, and honorable. At the same time, the narrative never lets us forget that behind all that armor, our protagonist is a teenager, and wholly human. I was also glad this story shone a light on Mulan and the love and respect she has for her father, which a surprising number of retellings tend to neglect, considering his role in her decision to enlist in the army in his place. The Magnolia Sword adds another complex layer to their bond, making the final chapter with Mulan’s homecoming and seeing her father again even more touching and poignant. Bottom line, I just loved this. (Read the full review…)
Even though I first read this a while ago, it remains a perennial favorite so I decided to I had to include it in this list. The book introduces us to Sorcha, who should have been the seventh son of a seventh son, but she is loved no less for being a girl, the only daughter of Lord Colum in the kingdom of Sevenwaters. She grew up with her six doting older brothers, and the siblings could not have been closer despite their different personalities and walks of life. However, peace at Sevenwaters is shattered when their widower father is seduced into marriage by an evil enchantress. To stop the siblings from meddling, the witch curses them all, turning Sorcha’s brothers into swans. It’s up to Sorcha to lift the spell, but she has to undertake a long and difficult quest thrust upon her by the Fae to do so, all the while remaining silent until she completes it. To those familiar with their fairy tales, this is of course a retelling of The Six Swans, one of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. It’s a pretty close adaptation, actually, though Marillier fleshes it out a lot more and sets her version in the medieval Celtic era. She does not stray too far from the source material, which ended up being perfect for someone like myself, who adores fairy tales but at times wishes someone to come along and give them the deeper, more detailed treatment. This is simply a gorgeous book, filled with pain and sadness but also hope, healing and love. (Read the full review…)