Friday, February 10, 2017

Fairy Tales: Timeless Tales (Retellings Part 1)

Readers everywhere have fallen in love with retellings. Old tales are spun into new. They've grown longer and have added depths to them. What makes a great retelling?

The most obvious qualification is a recognizable plot. Perhaps the names are the same, or similar to the original. Ex. Cinderella might be Eleanor, Ella, or Ellie. Belle might be Bella, Gabriella, Annabelle, etc.

More than the names, you need to hit familiar plot points and aspects of the story. What would Snow White be without some form of the seven dwarves? What about Sleeping Beauty? She most definitely needs to be under a form of sleeping curse at some point.

The goal is to have readers be able to say, "Hey, this is a retelling of blah blah." And know that even if they hadn't been informed ahead of time(by blurb or shelf).

New twists are a must. If the story is the same, it'll be lackluster. Retellings are taking the old and spinning them into something new. Maybe Rumplestiltskin was trying to rescue the child from two horrible people, or the Little Mermaid needed to get legs to find her captured sister.

Magical storytelling and engaging characters are good things to have in any genre. I think it's important to highlight them. Characters need to pull emotion from us. Whether we hate them, love them, or find them amusing, emotion is good. We need to cheer for the heroes and rant against the villains. Often character development in the original tales was lacking and shoring up that weakness now that we are taking novel-lengths to retell the story is important.

Storytelling should still remind us of a fairy tale. It should sweep us away, it should be vibrant, it should make us feel like we're in some fantasy world.

Lastly, the pixie dust touch. This is the special something that each author can bring with their version. It defies a set formula and can't be captured to repeat. It's the thing that will grip readers.

I love reading retellings, so today I'm going to share some of my favorites with you. I expect the list to get long! Any books I've read recently or read multiple times where I can remember details of what I loved(more than a memory that I did love it), I'll attempt to do a short "why I loved this" segment.

We'll start with one of my favorite tales that gets retold. Now I'm not overly fond of the original 12 Dancing Princesses story, but I find it's retellings are often my favorite.

12 Dancing Princesses

The Firethorn Crown By Lea Doue
Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and heir to a mighty kingdom, desperately seeks a break from her mother's matchmaking. Tradition forbids marriage with the man Lily loves, so she would rather rule alone than marry someone who only wants the crown.
Fleeing an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she and her sisters encounter a mysterious sorcerer-prince and become entangled in a curse that threatens the safety of her family and her people. Lily can free them, but the price for freedom may be more than she's willing to pay.

The Firethorn crown is an amazing story that really rounds out the charcters more than the original. It also takes the love interest from a different quarter, as well as having more male characters than just the "failed princes" and the love interest. There's lots of potential for more stories and some of the best descriptions I've ever seen in any book.
Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

Entwined by Heather Dixon

Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her—beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing—it's taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest, but there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A tale of twelve princesses doomed to dance until dawn…
Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.

This has been my favorite retelling of this story for years. It's now tied with number one on my list. I've read this a couple of times and I love it for a lot of the reason I love The Firethorn Crown, good development of the princesses, a unique love interest, and room for each princess to have her own story. Unlike most TDP stories, this one gives a good bit of the story from Galen's pov and having the male main character take a turn in the spotlight was a good move on Jessica's part.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads


I actually am not a big Cinderella fan. This boils down to my issue with Cinderella staying. Her parents are dead, she's a slave in her own house where she's mistreated. Yet she stays! That drives me crazy! If you're okay with that kind of labor, then at least go somewhere that pays you and treats you better.

The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett

What really happened after the clock struck midnight?

Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She's tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother's noble family-especially now that the family's wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It's hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane's burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family's struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane's stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire.

When her stepfather suddenly dies, leaving nothing but debts and a bereaved daughter behind, it seems to Jane that her family is destined for eternal unhappiness. But a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate...

This tale decides to take things from the Stepsister's point of view. Imagine if Cinderella was a spoiled brat who believed being asked to do anything was a hardship? Imagine if the stepsister was the one doing all the work and trying to navigate around a spoiled new sister and a mother with her own basket if issues.

A really unique twist that showed characters in a new light and showed what happens when bad nurturing is involved.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

"Princess, nobody can stop those rumors. People would rather believe in fairy godmothers...than think that you took charge of your own destiny."Like every commoner in the land, Ella dreams of going to the ball and marrying Prince Charming. But after she is chosen to marry the prince, life with the royal family is not the "happily ever after" that Ella imagined. Pitiless and cold, the royals try to mold her into their vision of a princess. Ella's life becomes a meaningless schedule of protocol, which she fears she will never grasp. And Prince Charming's beautiful face hides a vacant soul.

Even as her life turns to misery, the stories persist that Ella's fairy godmother sent her to the ball: How else could the poor girl wear a beautiful gown, arrive in a coach, and dance in those glass slippers? But there is no fairy godmother to help Ella escape the deadening life of the castle. Can she do it on her own?

As a kid, this was one of my favorite retellings. I've read it many times, though not in recent years. My favorite part is the twist. What if Cinderella won the prince and then afterwards realized he and the palace life weren't her HEA? This takes place after Cinderella has come to the palace and before the wedding. You meet a guy one night at a ball and then you fall and love and get married? Uh-huh, that was always a problem with Cinderella's tale, but no more. We see what happens when you up and choose a guy you just met.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you'll ever read.

Another childhood favorite, Ella Enchanted puts a curse on Cinderella that compels her to obedience. At last there was a reason for why Cinderella was stuck in her position. With a father who failed as a parent, a wicked step-family who realizes that for some reason their sister HAS to obey them, this book is a recipe for success. The prince is no longer a strange figure that Ella doesn't meet until the ball and there's plenty of magic and other things going on. Ella Enchanted has withstood many contenders to still remain my favorite retelling of Cinderella.

(and you most certainly should NOT watch the movie. I know what movies do to books, so I've never seen it. But I have heard the wailing from fellow lovers of the book that it was a special kind of bad.)

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

Happily Ever After...Or Happily Nevermore? 

Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

Captive Maiden is one book in the Hagenheim series which are all medieval fairy tales with a Christian slant and no magic. Very rarely do I see retellings without the use of magic, so this is a fun series that I've mostly enjoyed that feels more like historical fiction than fantasy.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast is one of my top two favorite fairy tales(based on the original). In light of that, I find it very strange that I do not really enjoy retellings of this tale. I was actually shocked to find only ONE book that retells this story to my complete satisfaction.

Rose of Prophecy by Hope Ann

She is afraid. Not because she is alone. Not because thick roiling clouds obscure the moon. Not because the wind rushes through the forest like a wild dragon. She is afraid because she is late. And to be late means death.

Despite the destruction wreaked by Tauscher, traitor to the King. Despite the distant war led by the Prince and fought with the help of her three brothers. Despite her own poorly-chosen nickname of Beauty, she'd enjoyed life.

But, in a flash of light, Beauty finally glimpses the truth. And the cost. The price which must be paid, or the sacrifice which must be made.

It is a curse which even love alone may not be able to break. 

This story is the only novella on my list and as mentioned, the only retelling of BatB. I've had some middling reads for this tale, but most retellings for this have crashed and burned. 

Like Cinderella, there is a plot point that's always bugged the crap out of me. The father . . . Usually portrayed as a kind and loving parent, I struggle with a good father allowing his daughter to take his place. Or even telling her about the deal!!!

Rose of Prophecy was simply amazing. For the first time, I actually read a retelling where the father didn't tell Beauty! He hid it from her. He was willing to die for her. He wasn't going to allow her to go. He wasn't even going to pitch it as an option. He wasn't going to tell her and have her forever after blame his fate on herself. I could've just hugged the author. 

A combination of dealing with that aspect and a host of other amazing attributes made this one a winner.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

Peter Pan

Peter and The Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Don't even think of starting this book unless you're sitting in a comfortable chair and have lots of time. A fast-paced, impossible-to-put-down adventure awaits as the young orphan Peter and his mates are dispatched to an island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They set sail aboard the Never Land, a ship carrying a precious and mysterious trunk in its cargo hold, and the journey quickly becomes fraught with excitement and danger. 

Discover richly developed characters in the sweet but sophisticated Molly, the scary but familiar Black Stache, and the fearless Peter. Treacherous battles with pirates, foreboding thunderstorms at sea, and evocative writing immerses the reader in a story that slowly and finally reveals the secrets and mysteries of the beloved Peter Pan.

That seriously is the blurb. Whoever wrote that thing should be made to walk the plank. Peter and the Starcatchers is a series based on Peter Pan(a story I've never really cared for in any of its variations) and though it's a middle-grade book, the dark edge and depth of the plot and characters renders it just right for young adult and adult audiences.

I highly recommend this series(the first 2 books are the best). Both my husband and I read it and it now graces our library. The first three books would be prequels to the original tale and show us the story of how everything came to be, while introducing some terribly wicked villains and leaving you with the feeling that somehow this really all could've happened.

Book Links: Amazon and Goodreads

That wraps up the first part of the retelling section! The second part will be posted on Feb. 24th, so keep an eye out for that! If you missed the intro post, you can find it here.

What are your favorite retellings based on these four tales? (Cinderella, The 12 Dancing Princesses, Beauty and the Beast, and Peter Pan.)


  1. I love Ella Enchanted and Just Ella! Haven't read enough retellings of the others to really have a favorite yet, though I actually wasn't a fan of Peter Pan and the Starcatchers.

    1. Starcatchers is a bit dark, so I can see it not being for everyone. We listened to the audiobooks as well and wow, those were good. So creepy at times!

  2. Well, I've got some more books to check out now. :) It's been a few years since I read it, but I really liked Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. It's about Tiger Lily, but it's told from Tinkerbell's point of view.

    1. I picked that up at one point and then had to return it before I even got to it. I'll have to grab it again. :)