Retellings are amazing because authors take well-known stories and make them their own. Lindsay King-Miller said it best: “revisiting a story gives us an opportunity to explore universal experiences from the perspective of those who weren’t represented in the original”. And boy do we know that some of these original stories lack representation. But that’s okay, because nowadays there are dozens of authors that revisit and rewrite those stories to show how diverse humans are. That’s how some of these queer retellings were born. They give us a fresh, real look at the classics and fairy tales that they are revisiting; using LGBTQ+ characters to reclaim those stories and reasserting that diverse people exist, and that they deserve to see themselves in the books we read. So, without further ado…
10 Amazing Queer Retellings You Need to Read
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
Retelling: Twelfth Night
Violet comes from a family of wrecks. Her ancestors survived a shipwreck and established a small town in Maine. Now Violet’s life is a wreck; she parties too hard and her brother tried to take his own life. So Violet is sent back to Lyric, Maine, to live with some family members while her brother Sam is being treated. There, she makes new friends, including the dreamy Liv Stone. The two embark on an adventure, trying to find the original shipwreck that brought Violet’s family to this corner of the world. This romantic story follows some of the beats of Shakespeare’s original, but dealing with more current conflicts. It’s beautifully written and it doesn’t shy back from dealing with difficult topics.
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Retelling: The Red Shoes
CW: transphobia and racism
In the 16th century, a Romani woman named Lavinia is accused of witchcraft and blamed for the dancing plague that swept through Strasbourg. Five centuries later her descendant Emil meets Rosella, who wears a pair of red shoes that are making her dance uncontrollably. The two teens team up to solve the mystery of what really happened in 1518, hoping that can save Rosella from certain death. Dark and Deepest Red is a beautifully written love story with lyrical prose and a magical backdrop that make this a great retelling.
His Hideous Heart Edited by Dahlia Adler
Retelling: Poe stories
This anthology does a great job of retelling 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. Most of them have queer characters, and all of them reimagine Poe in an atmospheric and creepy yet diverse way. It also has a very impressive contributors list: Dahlia Adler, Kendare Blake, Rin Chupeco, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Stephanie Kuehn, Emily Lloyd-Jones, Hillary Monahan, Marieke Nijkamp, Caleb Roehrig, and Fran Wilde. His Hideous Heart reimagines a lot of classic Poe tales and poems, from “Annabel Lee” to “The Pit and the Pendulum.” If you want to know more about the stories and the reasons why the authors changed them like they did, the editor wrote a great post about it.
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang
Retelling: Little Red Riding Hood
CW: child abuse
Hou Yi and Rosa, also known as the Archer and Red Riding Hood respectively, are tired. Their stories have come and gone, their days as heroes or at least protagonists, seem to be over. Hou Yi and Rosa are middle aged now, and all they want is to retire after a life of hurt and regret. But when deadly sunbirds attack their home they must work together to defeat them. This sends them on a journey of reckoning, in which they must face the awful things they did and the people they hurt. Burning Roses is a beautiful novella with rich storytelling that weaves the story of two women who learn about forgiveness.
Ruinsong by Julia Ember
Retelling: The Phantom of the Opera
Cadence is a powerful mage in the Queen’s arsenal. She uses her voice, and her songs, to torture in the name of her Queen. One day she is reunited with Remi, daughter of a Viscount and her childhood friend. But Remi has ties with an underground rebellion, and she wants nothing more than to see the Queen dethroned. So Cadence faces a difficult choice: to take a stand and help the rebellion free her country or to follow in her queen’s steps. This is a story full of magic and love and a great take on the rebellion trope that you won’t want to miss (plus, how many POTO retellings do you know?).
Legendborn By Tracey Deonn
Retelling: Arthurian legend
Bree Mathews longs for escape. Her mother died in a car accident, and when she gets the opportunity to attend a summer pre-college program she doesn’t hesitate. But on her first night on campus, she witnesses a magical attack that is stopped by members of a secret society that calls itself “Legendborn.” Afterwards, a Legendborn mage called Merlin tries — and fails — to wipe her memory of the attack. His failure unlocks some of Bree’s memories, and powers of her own. Bree decides to infiltrate this historically white society and she must choose whether to stop them or join them in the fight. Legendborn is intricate, enthralling and thoroughly entertaining. It talks about trauma, racism, and grief and it’s one of those books that stays with you for a while because it’s just THAT GOOD.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
Retelling: The Arabian Nights
TW: rape, sexual assault
The One Hundred Nights of Hero is a simple and quirky, yet beautiful graphic novel full of folktales and myths that deal with tragedy and love and the legacy of female storytellers. The main story follows Hero and Cherry as Hero tries to distract a man named Manfred from seducing Cherry. Each night for a hundred nights, she tells Manfred a new story to keep him at bay. The stories are also depicted in the graphic novel, and some of them are retellings in and of themselves.
Variations on an Apple by Yoon Ha Lee
Retelling: The Iliad
In this short story, Ilion is the city of Troy, and Paris’s lover. It begins with Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite offering Paris the apple of discord. After some deliberation he gifts it to Ilion, which still jump-starts a war. “Variations on an Apple” is a very short story that closely follows the Greek myth, even though it intertwines some sci-fi elements. It focuses more on the lush language and the love between Paris and Ilion than on the plot itself. But it makes for a beautiful story about love and fate.
Cinderella Boy by Kristina Meister
Delia helps her brother Declan dress up for a party. There, he’s no longer a 16-year-old gamer boy, but Delia’s mysterious cousin Layla. Super-popular Carter hosts the party, and when he meets Layla, he immediately tries to charm her. She leaves in the middle of the night, leaving Carter confused and pining after her. Back at school Carter and Declan become friends, even though Carter still has a crush on Layla, complicating things even further. Cinderella Boy is a romantic, modern twist on one of the most popular fairytales. It talks about identity and honesty and features a couple that brings out the best of each other making for a sweet, cute, read.
In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette De Bodard
Retelling: Beauty and the Beast
Yên has to go with Vu Côn, one of the last dragons to walk the earth, in exchange for the dragon’s assistance. Yên is a failed scholar, and while she expects to be tortured by Vu Côn, the dragon surprises her by asking her to tutor her two children. As Yên gets to know the fierce, secretive, dragon she begins to fall in love with her. With an all-Vietnamese cast, In The Vanishers’ Palace is a great, diverse take on “Beauty and the Beast.” One of the great things about it is the way deals with the concept of consent, and how those in a relationship have to grow to become equals in their partnership. The world-building and magic make for beautiful and epic backdrops to this take on a classic love story.
Need more queer retelling recommendations? We wrote about 2020 queer fairytales and we also have a list of great LGBTQ+ retellings of classics. If you’re into Shakespeare, there are many great retellings out there. Lastly, if you’re a fan of Peter Pan we dedicated a whole post to novels inspired by the original book!