Romance retellings are fun and offer endless variety. The fun comes from seeing a recognizable frame—and then going along for the ride as the author takes the base story in a new direction. And there are so many ways you can take retellings! And so many stories out there to retell! We had a group chat just about Cinderella romances last fall, and even that one story offers a host of possibilities. When the original and the new material really play off each other, it’s magic.
Holly is our local Austen Retelling Expert, and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors remains her gold standard for Pride and Prejudice retellings. Dev captures the ethos of the original in her contemporary retelling but gives Tricia and DJ depth such that their arc from antagonism to love is believable in and of itself, and not just because they are Lizzie and Darcy and have to fall in love. (Read Holly’s full review.)
Content Notes: racism, medical stuff, past sexual assault (secondary character)
On the surface, this Taming of the Shrew retelling follows a women’s rights activist and a buffoonish aristocrat who’s trying to do right by her after inadvertently compromising her. But Cassandra “tames” Ashmont (as it were), not vice versa, because as she explains why she won’t marry him, doesn’t respect him, and doesn’t trust him, she makes Ashmont see his privilege and how his past behavior had harmed her (and others) and made her feel invisible. Chase did some really awesome things with this retelling, and the character development was fabulous. (Read Erin’s full review.)
Content Notes: emotional abuse, misogyny
This Cinderella retelling manages to evoke the Cinderella ethos without making Amanda a helpless victim. With Amanda’s employer being cast in the role of the step-sister, it’s easy to understand why Amanda chooses to tread carefully – she’s got a dream to reach for, after all! But even without meaning to, Oscar-winning actor Sam Pleasant churns up some drama when Amanda comes into his orbit. The natural tension of the Cinderella plot works for this story, so if you’re looking for a not-so-angsty read with some solid natural tension and awesome checking in and consent between the protagonists, this here’s a great retelling for you!
Content Notes: verbal/emotional abuse (in the workplace)
Garton’s reimagining of the Arthurian legend is set in rural Kentucky, and it is a wild ride. Lance, as a trans man dealing with some self-esteem struggles and body dysphoria and living back in his hometown where people don’t hesitate to deadname him, is working on some emotionally weighty stuff. But also he, his sister Gwen, his friends Mordy and Morgan, and his best friend–>boyfriend Arthur have to destroy the evil necromancer, save the girls/young women in their community, and pull themselves out of the eons old reincarnation loop that they’ve been dealing with since being cursed by Morgana. (Read Erin’s full review.)
Content Notes: transphobia, deadnaming, abuse, violence
This super-sexy retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth leans in to the dysfunctional side of Olympus. Like, of course Persephone and Demeter have a fraught relationship! Where this book really shines, however, is in the bantery grumpy-sunshine dynamic that develops between Persephone and Hades, as they go from exhibitionist sex pact to true love. Bonus points for Hades doing that thing where he is all domineering because that’s how he shows he cares.
Content Notes: public sex, violence
Whether or not you agree with me about including this book probably depends on how you take your happy endings, but I’m going for it because 1. It is a reimagining of the Victorian pulp romance The Prisoner of Zenda, 2. It clearly demonstrates that retellings or reimaginings are everywhere and 3. It is totally awesome. The original is OTT in true Victorian pulp fashion, but with her “let’s tell this story from the perspective of the bad guys, and also they’re totally into each other” twist, Charles makes it even better! Jasper is a cheeky anti-hero narrator, and he and Rupert are a clever team with some stellar on-page sizzle.
Content Notes: violence, homophobia, abduction, discussion of sexual assault
Honorable Mention: Peter Darling by Austin Chant
This book is the rare retelling that makes you rethink the source material—and not just because Chant reimagines Wendy/Peter as the same person, but also because of the way he portrays Neverland and the nature of reality there. Plus, everyone can agree that Captain Hook is the sexiest. So why is this incredible book listed as a bonus? Because it’s not currently available for sale anywhere. (Holly was lucky enough to find a copy at her local library; you might get lucky too!)
Content Notes: transphobia, violence
EDITED TO ADD: As of June 1, 2021, Peter Darling has been re-released by the author and is available for purchase.