Damsels in Distress and Other Non-Existent Things: 5 YA Fairy Tale Retellings

These fairy tales aren’t full of your normal damsels in distress, knights in shining armor, and one-dimensional evil queens. In this list, we are here to bring you some fantastic, intersectional fairy tale retellings that will make your heart soar, your spirit sing, and… a whole bunch of other upbeat idioms that describe fairy tales. A fair warning to all ye who enter this list – just because the original fairy tale might be all fun and games, that doesn’t mean that the books on this list will be devoid of dark twistiness.  

The Mirror Season - McLemore, Anna-Marie

  1. The Mirror Season, by Anna-Marie McLemore 
  2. The Mirror Season

A retelling of “The Snow Queen”, a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, this story follows Graciela, our main character who loses her magical gifts after being assaulted at a party, along with another nameless person. After all the trees in her world disappear, only to be replaced by mirrors, Graciela realizes that while her magical gifts have left, a new and evil magic is creeping in, threatening to destroy everything in its wake. When Lock, the young man who was assaulted alongside her, appears at her school with no memory of the incident and no ability to see the mirrors around them, Graciela knows that it is up to her to ensure their survival. 

The Mirror Season was written by Anna-Marie McLemore, a Mexican-American author who has loved folklore and fairy tales from a young age. They mostly write stories with magical realism and have had a lot of influence from the culture that they grew up within.  

You can read “The Snow Queen”, written in 1865 by Hans Christian Andersen, here 


Skin of the Sea - Bowen, Natasha 

  1. Skin of the Sea, by Natasha Bowen 

Skin of the Sea takes “The Little Mermaid” and puts a new spin on it. Simi used to pray to the gods, but when her prayers were answered and the goddess Yemoja (a Yoruba water goddess known as the mother of all Orishas) turns her into a Mami Wata, Simi realizes that mermaid life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After being charged with collecting the souls of those who die at sea, Simi goes against her job and the gods by saving a young man, Kola, from drowning. When the enraged gods find out that Simi has turned against them, she does anything that she has to in order to save both Kola and the rest of the mami wata.  

Skin of the Sea was written by Natasha Bowen, a Nigerian-Welsh author and teacher who writes mostly fantasy-driven stories. This is her first published novel, and Bowen states that researching for the book and writing it helped her to connect with her Nigerian Yoruba heritage.  

You can read Hans Chrsitian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” here 

A Curse So Dark and Lonely - Kemmerer, Brigid

  1. A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer 

What if you took “Beauty and the Beast” and mixed it with… say… Groundhog Day? That is basically the premise of A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Throw a dash of The 10th Kingdom in there as well, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good book! A Curse So Dark and Lonely tells two parallel stories, one of Prince Rhen, the 18-year-old heir to Emberfall, who finds himself repeating his fate for the 327th time – every year he must try to fall in love, and have someone love him in return, or he is bound as a beast and forced to repeat the year over again. For Harper, things in the less-enchanted world are also a bit complicated. Her mother is on her death bed, and while she’s learning to live with it, her brother is using her cerebral palsy as a way to underestimate her abilities. Harper knows better, though. She’s tough and she knows what it takes to survive. But will those skills come to good use when she is drawn into a magical realm while helping a stranger on her home turf in Washington, DC? Do Rhen and Harper have it in them to break each other’s curse?  

A Curse So Dark and Lonely was written by Brigid Kemmerer, a YA author who focuses on fantasy, sci-fi, and the supernatural. She was inspired to write this book when thinking about the background characters of Beauty and the Beast, and what they are up to while the whole story is taking place. In an interview with the Los Angeles Public Library, Kemmerer said, “I always found myself wondering what was going on with the rest of the kingdom. The royal family had basically disappeared! What were people thinking? What were the subjects doing to survive? Once I started to explore that, the country of Emberfall came together.” 

You can read Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original “Beauty and the Beast” here (Translated by J. R Planché).  

The Shadow Queen - Redwine, C. J. 

  1. The Shadow Queen, by C.J. Redwine 

Snow White has been exiled. Only in this book, she’s known as Lorelai, and she’s much tougher than she looks. Cast out by the wicked Queen Irina after her father is murdered and his crown taken, Princess Lorelai knows that she has to use the only weapon she has that will match Irina’s – Magic. But in a neighboring kingdom, Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, and he is left alone to save his kingdom. He knows that he needs to make powerful allies – preferably ones with magic – and thus he becomes Queen Irina’s huntsman. Irina tells Kol that she will give him magic in exchange for Lorelai’s heart. He doesn’t expect her to fight back, though, and in a battle of passion and wit, they find themselves catching feelings for one another, though neither wants to lose sight of their goals.  

  1. J. Redwine is an author of sci-fi and fantasy, mainly within the YA range. She also co-owns The Writers Sanctury, where she holds writing workshops and classes for authors, new and old. She was inspired by the 2012 film “Snow White and the Huntsman” and found herself wanting a more fleshed out queen and a more powerful Snow White. About this, she said, “I saw the potential for the story to be an epic showdown between two equally powerful female characters, and the more I talked about it, the more it came to life in my head, until I knew I had to write it.”

Snow White was first published by The Brothers Grimm in their collection of fairy tales, aptly titled Grimm’s Fairy Tales and it tells a much darker story of the princess and the evil queen. You can read (or listen to) the story here 

Cress - Meyer, Marissa

  1. Cressby Marissa Meyer 

It would be a shame if I left Marissa Meyer off this list, who mainly writes YA fairy tale retellings. In the third installment of her Lunar Chronicles series, Cress, we have the story of Rapunzel (known as the titular Cress in this series), who has been imprisoned on a satellite from a young age, with nothing but tech screens surrounding her. In turn, this has made Cress an excellent hacker, though her hacking skills are not always used for good. Queen Levana has ordered Cress to track down Cinder, all while Cinder is attempting to free Cress from her dystopian prison and give Cress the freedom she deserves.  

Marissa Meyer was inspired to write her Lunar Chronicles series, which is a dystopian YA fairy tale retelling series, through multiple sources – the original fairy tales themselves, sci-fi movies like Star Wars, and TV shows like Firefly. To the Guardian in 2016, Meyer said, “I was frequently inspired by the technology of today, as well as news stories and magazine articles regarding where we are heading with technology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and cybernetics. I was inspired by history – revolutions and the fall of dynasties, the civil rights movement, the bubonic plague. It goes on and on. Inspiration is everywhere.” 

You can read the original Rapunzel story, first published again by the Brothers Grimm in their Grimm’s Fairy Tales book, and it again has a much darker vibe than the more contemporarily beloved story. You can read (or listen to) the story here. 

If you’re interested in more fairy tale retellingsretellings in generalalternate history, or possibly reading up on the dark origins of some of your favorite fairy tales, then do we have the resources for you! Just click the links throughout this paragraph and you’ll find where you need to be.