Books based on fairy tales and folktales have a special place in my heart. There are so many of these beautifully re-imagined stories or fun and inventive twists on well-worn tales that it’s hard to pick a favorite.
I tend to prefer books written with an adult audience in mind, and I was surprised that I couldn’t find a proper list of fairy-tale retellings that weren’t YA books. Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of YA fairytale retellings and have read scores of them in the past, but here’s my list of the best fairy tale and folk tale retelling (for adults)!
If you know of any more good ones, please do drop a comment!
P.S. For more retellings, check out Books Based on Mythology, Myths and Legends
What It's About: Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart - he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow...Publication Date: February 1, 2012
What It's About: Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.Publication Date: January 1, 1990
What It's About: BOY Novak turns twenty and decides to try for a brand-new life. Flax Hill, Massachusetts, isn’t exactly a welcoming town, but it does have the virtue of being the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. Flax Hill is also the hometown of Arturo Whitman—craftsman, widower, and father of Snow...Publication Date: August 27, 2013
What It's About: The prize-winning, bestselling author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours returns with a bewitching and inventive novel.
Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children's stories--equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch's house in "Hansel and Gretel" to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can--beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe...Publication Date: March 5, 2019
What It's About: We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?
As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, a woman who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. But what unfolds is not the princess's history...Publication Date: May 22, 2018
What It's About: We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty ... and what curses accompanied Cinderella's looks?
Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition...Publication Date: October 6, 1999
What It's About: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?
Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again...Publication Date: September 29, 1995
What It's About: A gripping adventure, a seaborne romance, and a twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship
The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail...Publication Date: June 4, 2013
What It's About: Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century...Publication Date: March 29, 2011
What It's About: At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls...Publication Date: January 10, 2017
What It's About: The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden’s enchanting first novel, introduced readers to an irresistible heroine. Vasilisa has grown up at the edge of a Russian wilderness, where snowdrifts reach the eaves of her family’s wooden house and there is truth in the fairy tales told around the fire...Publication Date: December 5, 2017
What It's About: FOLLOWING THEIR ADVENTURES IN THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE GIRL IN THE TOWER, VASYA AND MOROZKO RETURN IN THIS STUNNING CONCLUSION TO THE BESTSELLING WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY, BATTLING ENEMIES MORTAL AND MAGICAL TO SAVE BOTH RUSSIAS, THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN.
Reviewers called Katherine Arden's novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower "lyrical," "emotionally stirring," and "utterly bewitching...Publication Date: January 8, 2019
What It's About: Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.
Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her ...Publication Date: April 10, 2018
What It's About: From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a postapocalyptic take on the perennial classic "Little Red Riding Hood"...about a woman who isn't as defenseless as she seems.
It's not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves...Publication Date: June 18, 2019
What It's About: The Truth is No Fairy Tale. I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. Those of humble birth suffer their heartbreaks and celebrate their triumphs unnoticed by the bards, leaving no trace in the fables of their time.... And so begins Elise Dalriss's storyWhen she hears her great-granddaughter recount a tale about a beautiful princess awakened by a handsome prince, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked...Publication Date: February 20, 2014
What It's About:
A Library Journal Best Book of 2014: Historical Fiction
The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love
French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs...Publication Date: March 20, 2012
What It's About: Once there were six sisters. The pretty one, the musical one, the clever one, the helpful one, the young one...And then there was the wild one. Dortchen Wild has loved Wilhelm Grimm since she was a young girl. Under the forbidding shadow of her father, the pair meet secretly to piece together a magical fairy tale collection...Publication Date: March 13, 2013
What It's About: A retelling of The Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark' in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom...Publication Date: August 3, 2015
What It's About: It's Easter in Reading—a bad time for eggs—and no one can remember the last sunny day. Ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III, minor baronet, ex-convict, and former millionaire philanthropist, is found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. All the evidence points to his ex-wife, who has conveniently shot herself...Publication Date: July 11, 2005
What It's About: "The Gingerbreadman - psychopath, sadist, genius, convicted murderer and cookie - is loose in the streets of Reading. But Jack Sprat doesn't get the case. He and Mary Mary have been demoted to Missing Persons because of Jack's poor judgment involving the poisoning of Mr. Bun the baker. Missing Persons looks like a boring assignment until a chance encounter at the oddly familiar Deja Vu Hotel leads the pair into the hunt for missing journalist Henrietta "Goldy" Hatchett, star reporter for The Daily Mole...Publication Date: January 1, 2006
What It's About: They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared...Publication Date: March 6, 2018
What It's About: What if the fairy tale came true?
In this bittersweet love story, it isn't Beauty who needs to discover the man inside the Beast—but the man himself.
When Alix Miller takes off for a remote spot in New Hampshire to paint a portrait of the reclusive aristocrat, Leland Crompton, nothing has prepared her for what's in store...Publication Date: February 10, 1997
What It's About: High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things...Publication Date: November 7, 2006
What It's About: The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes...Publication Date: July 23, 2019