I don’t think I have to tell you that fairy tale retellings have become very popular. Too popular perhaps? Even if, like me, you’re an avid reader of fairy tale retellings that promote female agency and take a feminist perspective, you probably can’t help worrying that publishing will soon be oversaturated with them. How much longer will re-imaginings of well-worn tales such as “Cinderella” and “Snow White” be as creative and unique as, say, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles?
One way a retelling stands out is if it is inspired by a lesser-known fairy tale, as is the case with two new releases: Sarah McGuire’s Valiant, a gender-bending reimagining of “The Brave Little Tailor,” and Stephanie Oakes’s The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, a contemporary story of violence against women based on “The Handless Maiden.” Both debut novels advocate for female empowerment and bring new life to familiar fairy tale tropes, but in very different ways.
McGuire was smart to choose “The Brave Little Tailor” as the basis for Valiant. A clever and courageous tailor’s daughter, masquerading as a boy, defends a kingdom from an immortal duke and his army of giants.
In the beginning, Saville is at the mercy of her mean-spirited father who values his bolts of velvet and silk more than her. When he becomes ill, however, she takes a great risk: she dresses up as a boy and convinces the king to commission her as his tailor. Her masquerade is further jeopardized after she outsmarts two giants who threaten to attack the city, and she is declared the king’s champion and future brother-in-law. If the king finds out her true identity, she’ll likely be accused of treason and executed–even if she is the kingdom’s savior.
Valiant relies heavily on fantasy elements like most fairy tale retellings, while The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is set in the real world. Both female protagonists are brave, clever, and rebellious, but Minnow Bly’s heroism depends on overcoming real-life imprisonment: first in a religious commune that abuses women and next in a juvenile detention center.
Oakes couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate fairy tale than “The Handless Maiden” for portraying Minnow’s brutal victimization as well as resilience. Minnow lost her hands after she rebelled against the Kevinian cult, and now she is in a juvenile detention center as the main suspect in the Prophet’s murder investigation. Fortunately, this novel is hopeful as well as harrowing since, rather ironically, it’s during her incarceration that she gains freedom and faith in herself.
If you like Valiant and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, you may also be interested in Malindo Lo’s Ash, Rhionnan Thomas’s A Wicked Thing (read Nicola’s recommendation here), Christine Heppermann’s Poisoned Apples, Betsy Cornwell’s Mechanica (8/15), and Sarah Prineas’s Ash & Bramble (9/15).
While market oversaturation is a valid concern, I believe that fairy tale retellings can continue to be creative and unique. Here are a few of my most anticipated 2016 fairytale-inspired releases. (Summaries are from Goodreads.)
C. J. Redwine’s The Shadow Queen: From Publisher’s Weekly…a dark fantasy inspired by “Snow White.” A princess has lived in hiding from her stepmother for years, until the false queen sends out a new kind of huntsman – the crown prince of a nation of powerful dragon shifters, desperate enough to save his people to ally himself with even an evil usurper.
Wendy Higgins’s The Great Hunt: A strange beast stirs fear in the kingdom of Lochlanach, terrorizing towns with its brutality and hunger. In an act of desperation, a proclamation is sent to all of Eurona—kill the creature and win the ultimate prize: the daughter of King Lochson’s hand in marriage. Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ tale, “The Singing Bone,” New York Times bestselling author Wendy Higgins delivers a dark fantasy filled with rugged hunters, romantic tension, outlawed magic, and a princess willing to risk all to save her people.
Danielle Paige’s Stealing Snow: Reminiscent of Wicked and Maleficent, in Stealing Snow, seventeen-year-old Snow escapes a mental institution in upstate New York and ends up lost in Algid, a Winterland of ice. Confronted with a past she never knew she’d had, in a strange world that mirrors her dreams, Snow meets the River Witch who tells of a prophecy: Snow must save this mysterious frozen land from the evil King Lazar and claim it for her own or she will never escape Algid….This gripping, re-imagination of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” is equal parts romance and fairy tale—a quest to fulfill a destiny that may not go where the heart leads…and the dark twists and turns it sometimes takes to get there.
Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction at Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She also writes staff recommendations for the Boulder Book Store, where she worked for many years as a bookseller. She thanks Edelweiss for The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly and NetGalley for Valiant. Please chat with her on Twitter about books! What are your favorite and most anticipated fairy tale retellings?