While I love new and unique stories, there’s also something delicious about immersing yourself in a story you’re familiar with, but from a different perspective. I’ve always been fascinated by folklore and mythology — it’s one of the ways humans have made sense of the world for so long, and so many of these stories have laid the building blocks for modern storytelling and fantasy. I love the idea of taking an old favourite and reimagining it for a new audience or era, and I wanted to highlight some of my favourite retellings of folklore and mythology — some stories we may already be familiar with, and some we may never have heard before.
From a collection of queer figures from the myths and legends we know and love; to legends from the perspective of the “villains”, or those who were previously sidelined; to race or gender-bent retellings of favourite myths; to reimaginings of mythical figures in a world without magic; to myths from cultures and communities you may not be familiar with… whether it’s a story you’re intimately familiar with, or one you’ve never heard of before, if you’re in the mood to dive into a new take on an “old” story, there’s a book for you here.
Now pack your bags, and join me on my own hero’s journey: Where I show you some of my favourite retellings of folklore, myths, and legends from around the world.
Queer Heroes of Myth and Legend – Dan Jones
Dan Jones’ Queer Heroes of Myth and Legend is a celebration of queerness through the ages. It features 50 profiles, and a collection of illustrated portraits that highlight gay gods and goddesses, sapphic sirens, misunderstood merfolk, and legendary lesbians who were so often relegated to the margins of history. From the forbidden love story of Patroclus and Achilles, to the pansexual god Set from Egyptian myth, to Zimbabwe’s trans God Mawi, this collection brings to life these bold, brave, mysterious, and fantastical figures, in a quirky and delightful collection.
Kaikeyi – Vaishnavi Patel
Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi is a fascinating imagining of the vilified queen from the Ramayana. The story follows Kaikeyi, the only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya. She’s been raised on tales about the might and the benevolence of the gods, yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, and listens as her own self-worth is reduced only to the marriage alliance she can secure. When she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear her, so, desperate for her independence, she turns to texts she used to read with her mother, and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this magic, she transforms from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and queen. However, evil from her childhood stories is threatening the cosmic order, and the path she’s forged for herself clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. Soon, Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will bring, and what legacy she intends to leave.
Clytemnestra – Costanza Casati
Costanza Casati’s Clytemnestra tells the story of the most notorious villainess of the ancient world, and the events that forged her into the legendary queen. Queens are either hated, or forgotten, and Clytemnestra already knows which option she’d prefer. Born to be a king, but married to a tyrant, she stood helplessly as he sacrificed her child to placate the gods, and watched him wage a war on a foreign shore, as she comforted herself with violent thoughts of her own. This wasn’t his first offence, and this is not the life Clytemnestra deserved, so she plots… This is a thrilling tale of power, prophecies, love, hatred, and revenge, the story of a queen who sets out to deal death to those who wronged her. Clytemnestra is perhaps the personification of the “I support womens’ wrongs” meme.
Herc – Phoenicia Rogerson
Phoenicia Rogerson’s Herc comes out this September, and I for one, cannot wait! You’ll probably (rightfully) assume that this is the story of Hercules: His twelve labours, his endless adventures, his rippling muscles… he’s everyone’s favourite hero, right? Well, this is actually the story of everyone ELSE. His mother Alcmene (who has knives everywhere); His first friend Hylas (who was more than just a friend); His wife Megara (who will tell us all about the marriage); Eurystheus, who oversaw Herc’s labours (and definitely didn’t hide in a jar!). Told with humour and heart, Herc intends to give voice to the silenced characters in Hercules’ story, in this feminist, queer, and shocking retelling of the classic myth.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin – Roseanne A. Brown
Roseanne A. Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is the first book in a sweeping YA fantasy duology, inspired by West African folklore. Malik is trying to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters, in the prosperous city of Ziran. However, when his younger sister is abducted by a vengeful spirit, he must strike a deadly deal: kill Karina; the Crown Princess, in exchange for his sister’s freedom. Karina, however, has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother has been assassinated, her court is threatening a mutiny, and the festival of Solstasia is looming. Overwhelmed with grief, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic… magic that requires the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to get one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition. When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they’re on course to destroy each other, even as an ancient evil stirs, and attraction sparks between them. Will they be able to see their tasks through?
Stone Blind – Natalie Haynes
Natalie Haynes’ Stone Blind is a fresh take on the legend of Medusa, the only mortal in a family of gods, and the youngest of the Gorgon sisters. Unlike her siblings, Medusa grows older, experiences change, and feels weakness, and her mortal lifespan gives her an urgency that her family will never know. When the sea god, Poseidon, assaults Medusa in Athene’s temple, the goddess is enraged by the violation of her sacred space, taking revenge on Medusa. Punished for Poseidon’s actions, Medusa is forever transformed – her hair is replaced with writhing snakes, and her gaze will turn any living creature to stone. Now cursed with the power to destroy all she loves with one look, Medusa condemns herself to a life of solitude…until Perseus embarks upon a fateful quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon. Author Natalie Haynes is a classicist and a comedian, and in this book she brings empathy and nuance to one of the earliest stories where a woman is blamed, punished, and monstered for the sins and the violence of a man, bringing empathy and perspective to this timely retelling of the classic myth.
Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow is an unforgettable fairytale 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 music, even as she dreams of a life she can call her own, far from her dusty small town in Southern Mexico. This new life seems incredibly distant, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who asks her for help getting back his throne from his treacherous brother. If they succeed, he could make her dreams come true, but failure would mean her demise. Accompanied by the strangely alluring god, and armed with her wits, Casiopea starts a cross-country adventure, that will take her from the jungles of Yucatán, to the bright lights of Mexico City, to the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
Psyche and Eros – Luna McNamara
Luna McNamara’s Psyche and Eros is a stunning reimagining of Greek myth, where the god of desire is cursed to fall for a spirited young mortal woman, but if she ever looks upon his face, they will be parted forever. A prophecy states that Psyche, princess of Mycenae, will defeat a monster feared by the gods. Rebelling against society’s expectations for its women, Psyche spends her youth mastering blade and bow, preparing for her destiny. When she angers Aphrodite, the goddess of love sends Eros, god of desire, to deliver a cruel curse. When Eros pricks himself with the arrow intended for Psyche, he finds himself doomed to yearn for a woman who is doomed to be torn away from him the moment their eyes meet. Thrown together by fates, Psyche and Eros face challenges greater than they could have ever imagined. As the Trojan War begins, and divine powers strive to tear them apart, the pair must determine if the curse could become something more… before it’s too late. This is a stunning retelling full of gods, monsters, and all too human heart, a love story for the ages, perfect for fans of myth and legend.
The Valkyrie – Kate Heartfield
Kate Heartfield’s The Valkyrie is a beautiful retelling of one of Norse mythology’s greatest epics. Brynhild is a Valkyrie — shield maiden of the All-Father, chooser of the slain, but now she too has fallen — exiled and flightless. Gudrun is a princess of Burgundy, and a prize for an invading king, a king whose brother Attila has a dragon to call upon, and his own plans to enact. And in the songs to be sung, there’s another hero — Sigurd, a warrior with a sword. As the legends tell, these names are fated to be enemies, destined to be enemies… but here on Midgard, legends can be lies. Not all heroes are heroic, nor are all monsters monstrous. Full of battles, betrayals, betrothals, romance, intrigue, and gods, this retelling highlights that love just might be the greatest weapon of all.
The Last Tale of the Flower Bride – Roshani Chokshi
Roshani Chokshi’s The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a Gothic story, inspired by fairytales. It follows a man who believes in fairytales, and studies myths, who marries a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada, a glamorous heiress. They exchanged gifts and stories, and believed they would live happily ever after. In exchange for her love, Indigo asked one thing: that her bridegroom never pries into her past. However, when Indigo discovers that her estranged aunt is dying, the couple returns to her childhood home, The House of Dreams, and her husband finds he’s unable to resist digging in to the manor’s extravagance and decay, for within those halls, there is the shadow of another girl, Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house starts revealing his wife’s secrets, he will be forced to choose between fantasy and reality, even if doing so threatens their marriage, and their lives. This book is lush, atmospheric, and decadent in all the best ways.
The Shadow of Perseus – Claire Heywood
Claire Heywood’s The Shadow of Perseus was such an intriguing retelling of the familiar myths of Perseus, with a twist. This book doesn’t feature any elements of fantasy or magic, and looks at Perseus’ legend through the lens of three women (Danae, Medusa, and Andromeda), whose lives he most significantly impacted, and who most significantly impacted his life. Traditionally these three women – his mother, his wife, and the “monster” he slayed, were figures who were often sidelines or made to be vehicles FOR Perseus’ story, but now we get to see a different perspective, and we get to learn their stories. This is an incredible and unputdownable story about a man who is obsessed with the promise of his own destiny, and the lengths that he would go to to meet it.
Lies We Sing to the Sea – Sarah Underwood
Sarah Underwood’s Lies We Sing to the Sea is a gorgeous and sweeping young adult retelling of Greek mythology. Each Spring, Ithaca sentences twelve maidens to death, the price enacted by the vengeful Poseidon, in exchange for the lives of Queen Penelope’s maids, hanged and cast into the depths centuries and centuries ago. When that fate comes for Leto, her death isn’t what she expected, when she wakes up on a mysterious island and meets a girl with green eyes and the power to command the sea. This girl’s name is Melantho, and she tells her that one more death can stop a thousand. The prince of Ithaca must die, before the tides of fate drown them all. Emotional and poignant, and bittersweet, this is an epic and sweeping debut.
Morgan Is My Name – Sophie Keetch
Sophie Keetch’s Morgan Is My Name is a feminist retelling of the early life of famous Arthurian villainess, Morgan Le Fay. When King Uther Pendragon murders her father and tricks her mother into marriage, Morgan refuses to be crushed. Rebelling against his stifling rule, she seeks education in secret. Trapped within the machinations of powerful men, and thirsty for revenge, she discovers secret powers. In a world of isolated castles and gossiping courts, she soon becomes a worthy adversary to Merlin, the king’s influential sorcerer. However, in her fight for her freedom, she risks losing everything. Her loved ones, her reputation, and her life. I was obsessed with Morgan Le Fay as a kid, so I was VERY excited to get my hands on a copy of this book. I love the shift in perspective, centering the story from the villain’s perspective.
Legendborn – Tracy Deonn
Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn is one of my favourite stories, and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s the first book in a breathtaking young adult fantasy series about a young Black teen seeking her roots, in the face of the unexpected and devastating death of her mother. When she observes a magical attack on campus — something she should never have seen — she gets caught up in a secret society based on Arthurian legend. This book tackles powerful themes of legacy, ancestry, grief, and rage. Full of action, adventure, romance, friendship, royalty, and complex and immersive systems of magic, including ones rooted in Black culture and history. Smart, stunning, and SO unputdownable, this book is full of great characters, compelling storylines, and fantastic writing.
The Wolf and the Woodsman – Ava Reid
Ava Reid’s The Wolf and the Woodsman is a dark, inventive, and gripping fantasy, inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology. In her pagan village, hidden in the forest, Évike is the only woman without power, marking her as an outcast, abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline — her father was a Yehuli man, and a servant of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen in order to claim a pagan girl for a blood sacrifice, Évike is the obvious choice, cast out by her villagers. But when monsters attack the caravan, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, Gáspár, they have no choice but to rely on each other to survive. But Gáspár is no ordinary Woodsman, he’s the disgraced prince, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Fearing that his cruel brother will seize the throne, and start a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli, he and Évike make a tenuous pact to try to stop him. As they journey together, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, but trust can easily lead to betrayal… Dark, rich, stunning, and beautiful, this is an incredible story — one you won’t soon forget.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess – Sue Lynn Tan
Sue Lynn Tan’s Daughter of the Moon Goddess is one of my favourite fantasies. It’s the first book in a lush and vivid fantasy epic duology inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese Moon Goddess. This book follows Xingyin, who has grown up on the moon, accustomed to solitude, unaware that she’s being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor, who exiled his mother to the moon after she stole his elixir of immortality. When Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she’s forced to flee her home, and leave her mother behind. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering magic and archery, even as sparks fly between them. To save her mother, she ends up on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures, treachery, and vicious enemies. This book was immersive and romantic, and beautifully written, and you’ll want to get your hands on the sequel immediately!
Song of Silver, Flame Like Night – Amélie Wen Zhao
Amélie Wen Zhao’s Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is an epic young adult fantasy, inspired by Chinese folklore and mythology. Once, Lan had a different name. She now goes by Elantian, the name colonizers gave her when they invaded her kingdom, killed her mother, and outlawed the magic her people wielded. She spends her nights as a songgirl, and her days scavenging for the past — all in a desperate attempt to understand her mother’s last act, burning a mark into her daughter’s arm. The mark is a mysterious, untranslatable Hin character that no one but Lan can see… until the night a boy appears at her teahouse and saves her life. Zen is one of the fabled magicians of the Last Kingdom, wielding a magic once believed to have been lost. He recognizes Lan as a fellow practitioner and accompanies her on her search for answers. Both of them have secrets hidden inside them, even ones they have yet to discover themselves. Fate has brought them together, but their destiny is still left to be written, because they both have the power to liberate or destroy the world. This is the first in an action-packed and epic saga.
The Candle and the Flame – Nafiza Azad
Nafiza Azad’s The Candle and the Flame is a young adult fantasy inspired by myth and magic. This is an immersive story of magic and danger following Fatima, who lives in the city of Noor, a thriving destination along the Silk Road. It’s a city full of music and multiple languages, and people of all faiths, but the city also bears the scars of its recent past, when the Shayateen djinn tribe slaughtered almost the entire population, only leaving behind Fatima and two other humans. Now they are ruled by a new maharajah, and Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, as well as their commander Zulfikar. But when one of the most powerful Ifrit dies, Fatima is inextricably changed, and drawn into the lives and intrigues of the maharajah, his sister, Zulfikar, and the djinn.
Trail of Lightning – Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning is an epic dystopian story, inspired by Navajo mythology. When most of the world drowned after climate change caused waters to rise suddenly, during the climate apocalypse, the former Navajo reservation known as Dinétah was reborn. The gods and the heroes of legends now walk these lands, but so do monsters. Maggie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer, and the last hope for a small town who needs her help in order to find a missing girl. However, what she discovers about the monster is much more terrifying than she could imagine, and she reluctantly enlists the help of unconventional medicine man Kai Arviso. Together, they travel to the rez, in order to try to unravel ancient mysteries, trade favours with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft, set in a world of myth, monsters, and deteriorating technology. As Maggie starts to uncover the truth behind the disappearances, she’s going to have to confront her own demons… the ones buried in her past. This is a dark and action-packed urban fantasy that you’ll be excited to get your hands on.
Circe – Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller’s Circe is the book that really cemented her as one of my favourite authors. It’s a bold and subversive retelling of the story of Circe, a character only briefly appearing in The Odyssey, that finally casts her as the hero in her own story. We meet Circe, daughter of Helios (the god of the sun, and the mightiest of the Titans), as a strange child. She’s not as beautiful as her mother, nor as powerful as her father, and she ends up turning to the world of mortals for companionship, where she discovers that she’s not as powerless as she once thought. She has the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters, and menace even the gods. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her craft, tames wild beasts, and crosses paths with some of the most famous figures in mythology, from the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus to Odysseus. But a woman who stands alone also faces danger, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, she must choose once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. Madeline Miller has such a gift with words, and this story was unputdownable.
Wrath Becomes Her – Aden Polydoros
Coming this Fall, Aden Polydoros’ Wrath Becomes Her is a stunning melding of history and Jewish mythology, and a striking story of love, grief, and vengeance. In Lithuania, in 1943, a father is drowning in grief when his daughter is killed by the Nazis. He can’t bring her back from the dead, but he can use kishuf — an ancient and profane magic — to create a golem in her image… a Nazi killer, to avenge her death. When Vera awakes, she can feel her violent purpose in her veins, but she can also feel glimpses of a human life lived: stolen kisses and tender moments amidst tragedy and horror. When she meets Akiva, she recognizes the boy with soft lips who gave warm kisses, but those memories don’t belong to Vera, and she doesn’t know if she even deserves to have a life beyond what she was made for. When she learns that there are others who would channel kishuf for reasons far less noble than avenging a daughter’s death, Vera realizes she’ll need more than just a reason to fight, but also a reason to LIVE.
Ameema Saeed (@ameemabackwards) is a storyteller, a Capricorn, an avid bookworm, and a curator of very specific playlists, customized book recommendations, and cool earrings. She’s a book reviewer, a Sensitivity Reader, a book buyer at Indigo Books & Music, and the Books Editor for She Does the City, where she writes and curates bookish content, and book recommendations. She enjoys bad puns, good food, dancing, and talking about feelings. She writes about books, big feelings, unruly bodies, and her lived experiences, and hopes to write your next favourite book one day. When she’s not reading books, she likes to talk about books (especially diverse books, and books by diverse authors) on her bookstagram: @ReadWithMeemz