There are few things I love more than a good fairytale retelling. Stories of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White are such cultural touchpoints that they can be used to create really remarkable and compelling tales, just with the threads of a fairytale twisted around to create something new. Maybe it’s because we’re raised on animated adaptations and picture books that these stories are so ingrained in us, but they really are an indelible feature of storytelling that connects hundreds of stories over hundreds of years. And I especially love seeing authors bring those stories to modern audiences. With new characters and romances and representation, people who never connected to the original fairy tales can finally see themselves in these stories. That’s a beautiful thing. These 30 must-read queer fairytale retellings are a pretty good place to start, if you ask me.
Girls falling for fae, queens falling for princesses, and boys waking the prince of their dreams with true love’s kiss — those are the kinds of stories you’ll find in the beautiful assortment of fairytale retellings below. These books feature a wide assortment of identities across the LGBTQ spectrum. Whatever your favorite fairytale, whatever sort of love story you hope to read, there really is a story for everyone. And with Pride Month in full swing, take a moment to something magical, timeless, and altogether new with one of must-read queer retellings.
Ash by Malinda Lo
A classic of queered fairytale retellings. Ash is left to the mercy of her cruel stepmother after her father’s death. All she has to hold onto is the comfort of rereading the fairytales her mother told her as a child. So when a fairy appears in her real life, it seems her hopes have been answered. Sidhean is enchanting and powerful. It isn’t until she meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, that she begins to question his hold over her. With Kaisa, she learns to hunt. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash as his own. Will she be able to break free of his hold — and all her fairytale dreams — in the name of true love?
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
This is not the Cinderella story you know. This is the story of Sophia, a girl who would much rather marry her best friend, Erin, than one of the men who might make an offer at the mandatory ball hosted by the king every year. After fleeing the ball, she stumbles across the tomb of the real-life Cinderella, a woman who died 200 years ago and whose story has been used to keep women in line. But with the help of Cinderella’s last living descendant, she learns the true story of Cinderella — not the fairytale she’s been told — and becomes even more determined to take on the King and end his reign once and for all.
Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips
Cameron and Nate meet in a dingy L.A. nightclub, and the connection is immediate. Too bad Cameron is the heir to the record label that destroyed Nate’s father. What can he do? He runs. All Cameron has to go on the guy he felt an instant connection with is a blurry photo of Nate’s sharpie-covered Chucks. He’s basically a modern Prince Charming, so is it any surprise that the internet breaks over his search for true love? It’s a modern day fairytale.
The Snow Queen
Robber Girl by S.T. Gibson
Helvig was raised by her brigand of a father to steal whatever pretty treasure caught her eye. So when she rescues a girl from an ambush on the road, she can’t resist bringing home the best prize yet: a real life witch. But Gerda is on a mission of her own. She has been walking the icy border roads alone to track down the the Snow Queen said to live in the mountains. That’s just a children’s story, though. At least, Helvig always thought so. But then, she’s been struggling against enchantments of her own, and as she and Gerda become more entwined, they set out on a journey that will either redeem or destroy them.
Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
The city-state of Sirapirat was once a haven of warmth, but when the Winter Queen conquered it she turned it into a place of snow and ice. But the queen is looking for more than just an empire; she is seeking the shards of a mirror that will grant her deepest desire. One such shard resides in the heart of an insurgent, Nuawa. She’s prepared to make any sacrifice to take down the tyrant queen. But there is another with a mirror shard, looking to bring Nuawa into the queen’s fold: Lussadh, the Winter Queen’s general. As the two grow closer, Nuawa knows even her feelings are not too great to overcome her desire to dethrone the queen. That is, if the deadly tournament she’s been forced to enter and the shard in her heart don’t kill her first.
The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
Master of magical realism Anna-Marie McLemore weaves together the mythology of The Snow Queen with a story of teenage trauma and healing in their newest book, The Mirror Season. When Graciela and Lock discover they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, a tenuous kinship blooms between them. Over pan de dulce at Ciel’s magical family pastelería and a secret forest of otherworldly trees, she tries to help the boy who has no memory of the night that changed both their lives forever. It’s a difficult line to tread — especially since their survival depends on no one finding out what really happened at that party.
TW for sexual assault and rape
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Mina’s magician father is heartless, but she never could’ve guessed that as a child he’d cut out her own heart and replaced it with one made of glass. If she can win the heart of the king at Whitespring Castle, perhaps that won’t matter anymore. There’s one catch, though. The king has a daughter, Lynet, created out of snow in her dead mother’s image. But Lynet would rather be like her fierce new step-mother than a mirror image of a woman she never knew. As the king give more and more power to his daughter, Mina grows jealous. How can Lynet prove her love for a woman without a heart?
I love the emphasis on mother-daughter relationships and the conflicting pressures put on women in this retelling. Bashardout deftly weaves together the mythology of Snow White along with The Snow Queen in this beautiful retelling .
Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara
There’s a story that came before the Snow White you know, a story most prefer not to tell. When the young Queen Katherine stumbles across the reclusive daughter of her husband for the first time in 17 years, she is shocked by the princess’s beauty and boldness. But at a time when romance between women is unthinkable, the queen has to put all her power and pretense into keeping her husband and the huntsman trying to win her heart from finding out about her true desires.
TW: rape, sexual assault, and suicidal ideation
The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
YA author Laura Pohl brings us a bold new boarding school thriller featuring not one, not two, not three, but FOUR fairytale retellings. Yes, that’s right: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. In addition to a murder, boarding school shenanigans, and F/F romance, the protagonist is also aro/ace.
Four girls at the elite Grimrose Académie search for answers in the death of their friend and discover a disturbing connection to fairytales. Cursed to live out their fairytale counterparts’ brutal endings, Ella, Yuki, Rory, and Nani must find some way to break the cycle for good…before they repeat it.
Snow-White and Rose-Red
The Circus Rose by Betsy Cornwell
Rosie and Ivory grew up in the circus, sitting at their ringmaster mouther’s knee. After years traveling the circuit, they’re returning to Port End, the closest thing they’ve ever had to a home — other than the circus, of course. But the city isn’t the same as it was. Fundamentalist flyers paper the city preachers shout of coming shadows on the street corners. It may take more than just the glittering circus lights and high wire acts to chase away the new darkness in the city. But when disaster strikes during Rosie’s tightrope act, it’s up to Ivory and her magician love, along with a dancing bear, to save the circus before its too late.
Filled with all the lush prose they’re so well known for, Anna-Marie McLemore weaves together the story of Snow-White and Rose-Red along with Swan Lake in Blanca & Roja. It’s a beautiful tale of sisterhood, envy, and love. Blanca is as obedient as Roja is manipulative. They couldn’t be more different, yet their love for each other knows no bounds. But the del Cisnes have always been in competition too, because a decades-old spell binds the women of their family to the swans in the woods. It takes two missing boys becoming entangled in the magic of the woods to show them what matters. And the answer could save them — or destroy them forever.
The Little Mermaid
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
An artic mermaid falls for a Nordic warrior in this F/F reimagining of the Little Mermaid. Ersel has always wondered about life beyond the ice shelf, searching out shipwrecks and collecting human debris. It isn’t until she rescues a shield-maiden named Ragna that she meets one in person. But when she’s caught fraternizing with humans, she’s left with a terrible choice: leave all thoughts of Ragna behind or face mermaid justice. Ersel makes a different decision. She asks for help from the trickster god Loki. But deals with Loki are never as simple as they seem. In order to live the life of her choosing, she’ll have to accept her choices — and their consequences — and outsmart the God of Lies.
Mer Made by S.T. Lynn
When Erika finally sees an opportunity to escape her father, who refuses to see her as the daughter she is, she boards a ship and doesn’t look back. But when a superstitious deckhand finds her wearing a dress one night, he throws her overboard. But this isn’t how Erika plans to die. Instead, she makes a deal with a sea witch, trading her voice for the body she’s always wanted and a new mermaid tail to go along with it. The sea witch is after more than just her voice, though; she wants the throne. And if the last daughter of the undersea king, Ariel, doesn’t marry within three days, the only home Erika has ever chosen will be lost.
TW for transphobia
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
I’ll be getting over this beautiful graphic novel never. Until then, you’re just going to have to put up with me gushing about it. Tiến may not be a little boy anymore, but he still loves the fairytales he shares with his mother. With all the language and cultural barriers between them, it’s one thing they still have in common. As the two struggle to connect and express their feelings to each other, the fairytales help them bridge the gap. In gloriously illustrated panels, The Magic Fish depicts reimaginings of The Little Mermaid and Cinderella, incorporating the cultures, beliefs, and time periods of the characters telling the tales. It is truly one of the most incredible graphic novels I’ve ever read and just a beautiful story of love and acceptance.
Beauty and the Beast
More Than Enough by Elizabeth Wambheim
A gentle retelling of Beauty and the Beast featuring some wonderful ace representation. In his three years as the sole gardener of the royal’s abandoned country manor, Petra has not once seen the prince, despite rumors that he skulks through the halls, more beast than man. He’s more interested in flowers than rumors. But Prince Fier isn’t a beast; he’s just haunted by one.
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
Vu Côn is one of the last dragons to walk the Earth. She lives alone, with her two unruly children, in a palace where every door could lead to death. It’s no surprise, then, that failed scholar Yên expects to be tortured and killed for the dragon’s amusement when she’s sold to Vu Côn to pay off her village’s debts. Instead, the dragon takes her on as a tutor for her children. Yên begins to see a new side of Vu Côn, a softness, a kindness. But despite their growing attachment, Vu Côn is her jailor, and Yên’s affections may not survive the dark secrets the dragon keeps.
The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
The sole survivor of a magical curse, Ekata inherits the title of duke meant to go to her older brother and that brother’s warrior wife, too, all in one night. Ekata never wanted the throne; in fact, she had planned to flee the moment the crown touched her brother’s head, leaving all her books and science experiments behind. But with the rest of her family under a sleeping curse, it’s up to Ekata to somehow keep her home together amidst political intrigue, war, and maybe even love.
Lava Red Feather Blue by Molly Ringle
Prince Larkin of Eidolonia has slumbered in a magical sleep since 1799. That was part of terms of a truce between humans and fae. But when a modern-day witch, Merrick, discovers some cryptic old notes and magic charms in a garden statue, he accidentally transports himself to the prince’s tower and awakens him. Oops. Also awake: a faery bent on eradicating all humans from the land. With the treaty disintegrating and escalating hostilities, Merrick and Larkin form an unlikely alliance and become even more unlikely heroes to save humanity from utter destruction.
Malice by Heather Walter
The princess doesn’t fall for the evil sorceress — except in Malice, that’s exactly what she does. No one in Briar cares what happens to their princesses, not when there are jewels and parties and magical elixirs to worry about. Until a fairy from the very line that cursed all of Briar’s princesses to die without true love’s kiss begins to fall for her. But is it too late to change the story? Or could Alyce, the Dark Grace, and Princess Aurora write a new one together?
Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells
Lena’s skin can kill. It’s a secret she’s kept since birth, cursed by a vengeful witch, and left to a life of fear and isolation. Then one night a girl wanders out of the forest, promising to break Lena’s curse if she’ll only help her on her quest to wake a sleeping princess. Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise, Lena follows her into the depths of the dangerous forest. But the farther in she goes, the more she begins to suspect she’s been lied to — about her curse, herself, and everything about the life she thought she knew.
Release date: November 2, 2021
Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey
Lost Boi, described as a queer punk reimagining of Peter Pan, follows a world of orphaned, abandoned, and runaway bois who’ve sworn allegiance to Pan. Pan, Mommy Wendi, and the brigade of Lost Bois create their own version of family, standing strong against Hook and the leather pirates. Definitely not a mainstream book for a mainstream audience.
Darling by K. Ancrum (June 22)
We are in for a world of queered Peter Pan delights this year, it seems! The author of The Wicker King and Weight of the Stars is bringing us a contemporary thriller take on the story of Wendy, Peter, and his lost boys. On her first night in Chicago, a boy named Peter visits Wendy at her window, promising a night filled with adventure. She expects a party. Instead, Peter whisks her away to the underground, where she meets a punk girl named Tinkerbell, the lost boys who follow Peter around, and a terrifying detective by the name of Hook. But as awful as Detective Hook is, the more Wendy learns about Peter, the more she fears he is the real enemy here.
Tink and Wendy by Kelly Ann Jacobson (October 26)
The story begins with one simple and enthralling question: what happens if Tink is in love with both Peter and Wendy? Many years after their death, Peter and Wendy’s granddaughter, Hope Darling, finds the elusive fairy caring for her grandparents’ graves. Eventually she learns the full story, that of a love triangle gone terribly awry.
Little Red Riding Hood
Burning Roses By S.L. Huang
Rosa, also known as Red Riding Hood, joins forces with Hou Yi the Archer to protect the countryside from the deadly sunbirds ravaging the land. Blessed and burdened with the hindsight of middle age, the two women, one a failed hero and one a former assassin, grapple with all the ways they’ve hurt those they’ve loved. In addition to Little Red Riding Hood, Burning Roses draws on the stories of Goldilocks, Beauty and the Beast, and Hou Yi.
Hunting Monsters by S.L. Huang
A follow-up of sorts to S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses, this one’s a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast. Ever since she was little, Xiao Hong’s Auntie Rosa has warned her to be careful on the hunt. The need to recognize regular animals from the human-cursed grundwirgen is paramount. To harm a grundwirgen is, after all, a crime punishable by death. So when her mother is arrested for killing one, Xia Hong learns the truth about the secrets she and her Auntie Rosa have been keeping from her. Now, to save her mother, she must face up to the truth and hunt down a monster — not matter what she’s been taught.
This is a novelette — or even a short story — more so than a novel, but too good not to include on this list, and a great option for anyone looking for a quicker read.
Caged Bird Rising by Nino Delia
Proper girls are raised by men, but Robyn grew up with only her grandmother. A betrothal to Hunter Wolfmounter, the captain of her village’s guardsman, is the greatest honor she could imagine. But after being bitten by a white wolf deep in the dark of the forest, Robyn begins to question her the world around her and her place in it. She even begins to question the courage of her future husband. Fearing for his reputation, Hunter banishes her to the woods. It should be a death sentence. Instead, she meets Gwen, who shows her that a woman doesn’t have to be dependent on the goodwill of men. But as she turns into the sort of independent creature the village men have always feared, she is hunted by the guards and the very man she was supposed to marry.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Retelling: The Shahnameh (as well as Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel)
Another gorgeous retelling by Melissa Bashardoust, and easily one of my favorite books on this list (which is saying something). A princess cursed with a poisonous touch has lived her life hidden away in the palace, allowed to venture only as far as the gardens. It’s a lonely existence. But for Soraya, it’s the only existence she’s ever known. As her brother’s wedding approaches, she faces a choice: to stay in the shadows or venture beyond the palace walls. Because in the dungeons, a demon holds the secrets to her curse. And in the palace halls above, a young soldier watches her, not out of fear, but longing.
A Lake of Feathers and Moonbeams by Dax Murray
Retelling: Swan Lake
A queer, polyamorous retelling of Swan Lake featuring an enchanted forest, warring nations, and a nonbinary heir to the throne. Murray’s easy inclusion of so many LGBTQ identities in such a queer-accepting world makes this a really lovely and uplifting story.
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
Retelling: The Green Man
There is a Wild Man in the woods of Greenhollow. His name is Tobias, though few would know that. He lives a quiet life, tethered to the trees, with his cats and his dryads. But then Greenhollow Hall acquired a handsome new new owner — an owner curious about the old secrets of the woods. As Henry digs deeper into the past, Tobias is forced to reckon with a history best left buried.
Summer in the City of Roses by Michelle Ruiz Keil (July 6)
Retelling: Sister and Brother
In early ’90s Portland, two siblings are torn apart. Iph has always tried to protect her sensitive younger brother, Orr, but this summer their father has decided its high time for him to toughen up at boot camp. Determined to find him, Iph runs away only to cross paths with a bicycle riding, queer Robin Hood, who offers her a place to hide out while she searches for her brother. Orr, meanwhile, has already escaped camp and fallen for an all-girls punk band, moving into the closet of their ramshackle pink house. In their first summer apart, both siblings have to find their own place in the world — and each other — before a fantastical transformation splits their family apart. Summer in the City of Roses weaves together fairytales and Greek myth into a beautiful tale of self-exploration and self-discovery.
Big fan of fairytales and fairytale retellings, are you? You might want to check out these 8 LGBTQ fairytales from 2020, 10 queer retellings you need to read, the best Cinderella retellings, 25 best comic and graphic novel fairytale retellings, and 14 LGBT retellings of classics.