Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Dark Retellings of Children’s Classics

Courtney Rodgers


Courtney has been reading and collecting books almost as long as she's been alive. She holds a B.A. in Theatre and Creative Writing. Courtney has been writing with Book Riot since 2019, and is a Bibliologist with TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations. She's currently brainstorming for her next creative project. You can follow her on Instagram.

Macmillan Audio

This collection of audiobooks features classic stories and favorite fairy tales and reimagines them with modern flair. Marissa Meyer takes on Rumpelstiltskin in Gilded, Lauren Blackwood gives an Ethiopian-inspired fantasy twist to Jane Eyre in Within These Wicked Walls, Alix E. Harrow puts her own spin on Sleeping Beauty in A Spindle Splintered, and more. Hear them all now!

The nature of stories is that they are reformed, reshaped to fit the storyteller’s world, beliefs, and imagination. Storytelling was for most of human history, an oral art. Stories were expanded, reshaped, and tailored to fit new audiences. When those stories started being written down, recorded for future generations, they became set and shared. We can recognize a Cinderella retelling, even from the barest bones. These fairytales and folklore that we know today are the same shape as the stories our grandparents and great-grandparents knew.

Retellings are a way of reimagining the possibilities, the what-ifs. What if Cinderella never made it to the ball? What if the Prince was a Princess? As humans, we are creative, curious beings. We have to explore the possibilities. When a new retelling is written, it’s not a lack of creativity, but an abundance. While fairytales and cultural folklore are the most popular stories to be retold, children’s classic novels have become increasingly popular. 

There’s something exciting about stepping into a familiar world and being in charge of the story. In these books, the authors chose childhood novels, explored those what ifs, and decided to run with them. The result is a darker, more sinister world, where things are  do not always end happily ever after. What version would you choose? 

The Looking Glass Wars Cover

The Looking Glass Wars Series by Frank Beddor

After weeding through the numerous Alice in Wonderland retellings, Beddor’s wartime series is still one of my favorites. Princess Alyss, heir to the Wonderland throne, is on the run from her dangerous and scheming aunt. Lost in Victorian London, Alyss meets a kind writer who listens to her incredible tales of the apocalyptic Wonderland. Meanwhile, Royal Guard Mattigan seeks Alyss to bring her home as the rightful Queen. 

sisters of the snake cover image

Sisters of the Snake by Sarena Nanua and Sasha Nanua 

Separated at birth, Ria and Rani live opposite lives. Ria is a scavenger, living on the stolen scraps, evading danger at every corner. Rani is kept inside the palace walls, longing for her chance to see the world outside. When Rani and Ria meet, their resemblance is unmistakable. They plan to switch lives, but at what cost?  This fantasy adventure is a clever retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, with twin co-authors!

This Poison Heart by Kalyn Bayron

This Poison Heart by Kaylynn Bayron 

After Briseis’s aunt wills Briseis her estate, Bri hopes that spending time at the rural estate’s gardens will help her learn to control her gift. Since she was young, Bri has been able to grow blooms from seeds with a single touch. Gardens of flowers, plants, herbs and even an apothecary wait for Bri and her parents at the new estate. When new neighbors ask Bri for cures and elixirs, suddenly Bri is caught up in a world she’s never known. This lush blend of The Secret Garden and Greek mythology is full of sinister secrets and dark intrigue. 

Marley by Jon Clinch book cover

Marley by Jon Clinch 

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the annual clanking of the ghost Marley’s chains. This novel imagines Jacob Marley as a young man, as he earned the chains that he would wear in the afterlife. Marley and Scrooge meet as students, where they quickly pick up on each other’s less charitable traits. As young men, they build their business on greed and deception, cashing in on illegal trade. Their youthful brotherhood smashed by pure ambition and greed, Marley and Scrooge have little left in common. This sinister novel adds tangible weight to Marley’s chains. 

Legendborn Cover

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn 

Yes, the Arthurian Legends are solidly in the legends and folklore category, but there are at least three Arthurian retellings that are considered children’s classics, so let’s roll with this one. After the death of her mother, Bree finds escape in a program for exceptionally bright students. Her first night on campus reveals a secret society of magicians, called the Legendborn, who protect against magical attacks. Bits and pieces from Bree’s memory begin to resurface, and she’s determined to join the Legendborn.  Secrets and magic fuel this gritty reimagining of the Knights of the Round Table epic. 

Wicked Cover

Wicked by Gregory Maguire 

Even if you’ve listened to Idina Menzel belt out “Defying Gravity” 7000 times, Maguire’s haunting and politically unstable Oz may feel unfamiliar. Wicked chronicles the life of Elphaba Thropp, the green girl, from university days of animal rights activism, to dark magic and illicit love affairs. Religious and political overtones, combined with violence, sex, and profanity make Wicked very much an adult take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

skin of the sea book cover

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen 

Inspired by West African mythology, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is the mysterious tale Disney could never give us. As a Mami Wata, Simi collects the souls of those who die at sea and sends them with blessings. When Simi witnesses a living boy tossed overboard, she goes against everything she knows to save him. To atone for her choice, Simi must make a dangerous journey to the Supreme Creator, because the fate of all Mami Wata is in her hands.  

Midnight in Everwood Cover

Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzinar 

On Christmas Eve, as Marietta dances her final ballet, the world around her shifts from Edwardian Theater to a deep, snowy forest covered in sweets. This magical world is more sinister than it appears at first glance. When Marietta is trapped by the cruel King Gelm, she allies herself with Gelm’s other prisoners to attempt escape. This fantastical retelling of E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouseking is full of twists and turns, perfect for cozy winter reading. 

These are just a sliver of the remarkable and imaginative retellings of your favorite stories and books available for you to read for the first time. Check out our retellings archives for more books to get lost in.