I have always had a soft spot for retellings of fairy tales; growing up enthralled by animated Disney movies that did just that (Snow White! Sleeping Beauty! The Little Mermaid! Aladdin! Mulan!), I suppose it was inevitable. This sub-genre of fantasy has obvious appeal to kids and YAs as a convenient segue from Disney princesses to fiction and fantasy, but there is lots of adult appeal as well.
My favorite is Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. In this romantic, atmospheric adventure, teenaged Sorcha faces down incredible odds with the lives of her six older brothers on the line. An evil stepmother has transformed them into swans, and Sorcha must spend years in magically induced silence weaving them shirts out of a prickly, punishing plant that bloodies and blisters her fingers. The fairy tale is Celtic and the book is beautiful, with as much historical and mythical appeal as romance.
A close second is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. In this deceptively mature tale, a young English boy slips into the world of fairy tales – but not everything is as his storybooks told it. There are some gruesome moments but it’s never unduly gory; teen readers as well as adults (and even mature tweens) should be comfortable with the scares. Connolly is a thriller writer by trade and that style is evident in The Book of Lost Things, which is tense and atmospheric. A chilling and very unique take on familiar fairy tale motifs.
Finally, if you love fairy tales and Disney princesses, don’t miss out on Robin McKinley. Her retold fairy tales have been popular with teens and adults for decades; Spindle’s End, her spin on Sleeping Beauty, involves a sleek magical realm that’s familiar without being at all boring. Princess Briar Rose (Rosie) is spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia’s curse to be raised in secret as the daughter of a village fairy. Rosie’s ability to speak to animals and her perfect golden curls cling to her, the gifts of her fairy godmothers, despite her average looks and un-princess-like interest in blacksmithing and animals. In Beauty and Rose Daughter, two distinctly different but related books that retell the story of Beauty and the Beast, McKinley reinvents Belle and all the other familiar characters and fills in the missing details of the story.