2020 Retelling Wrap-Up

I love retellings and I read some fantastic ones in 2020. Some of them are set to have sequels in 2021, so look out for those reviews over the next year! 

A Blade So Black (2018) / A Dream So Dark (2019) - L.L. McKinney

Retelling of Alice in Wonderland. 
This is blurbed as "what if Buffy fell down the rabbit hole instead, and was a Black bisexual girl from Atlanta?" Rarely is a blurb so perfect that I have it memorized, but this one is. It's excellently told, with a mix of clear and subtle references to the original story, but it remixes the elements to make something that feels very new. If you like urban fantasy but you've never cared about Alice stories before, you should still try this one. If you love them already, definitely check this out. It should be totally understandable to anyone whose Alice in Wonderland knowledge goes no further than "wasn't there a tea party?" while having a lot of fascinating detail for anyone hungry for references and allusions in their retellings.

In the Vanishers' Palace (2018) - Aliette de Bodard

Retelling of Beauty and the Beast. 
This is one where I think it actually works a bit better if you don't already worry about it being a retelling. I didn't find out until afterwards and so I got to have a series of realizations about the references and connections. The coercive power dynamics get explored within the story and I love the ending.

A Dowry of Blood (2021) - S.T. Gibson

Retelling of Dracula's Brides.
This is another retelling where it'll still make sense if you don't know about the source material at all (I don't think I've read the particular thing it's a retelling of, though I have read DRACULA), all you really need to know is what a vampire is. It builds a really great world partly by how the main character is denied access to the wider world. A lot of its strength is in how it depicts the relationships between the characters, which is especially important when they often literally just have each other, and therefore the reader only has them as well.

Peter Darling (2017) - S.A. Chant (published under Austin Chant)

Retelling of Peter Pan.
This is set after the events of the original story, but clearly the original didn't go quite like the version we have because there's only Peter, his deadname is one we all know but since it's not his name I won't say it here. I love this book and hope it ends up back in print sometime. I was able to find it as an ebook in my local library, but this might be a bit trickier to find than some of the others.

Cinderella is Dead (2020) - Kalynn Bayron

Retelling of Cinderella.
This leans on popular knowledge of the story in the general zeitgeist to create tension between the story you know and the story the characters know, with the disconnect feeling stranger and stranger as the story progresses until we find out what really happened. 

Unbirthday (2020) - Liz Braswell

Alice in Wonderland retelling.
This definitely felt like it was trying to be part two where part one was the original duology, and this its sequel. I know the original well and I do love this version, but if you're not super familiar with Alice in Wonderland you might feel a bit lost. This book's mirror moment is one of my favorites, it's well placed and I like it a lot.

Legendborn (2020) - Tracy Deonn

Authurian retelling set in the modern day.
This is a fantastic novel which should be on the TBR of anyone who loves contemporary fantasy. It takes on an interpretation of the Arthurian mythos which grapples with the years in between the original stories and what they might look like if they were true and magical and present in the 21st century, while also completely making sense if you don't really know anything about Arthur and the rest. 

No Man of Woman Born (2018) - Ana Mardoll

Contains a Sleeping Beauty retelling.
I love the Sleeping Beauty retelling here, it's my favorite story in the whole book. The collection as a whole is a kind of remixing of expectations around gender so it's only suitable that it would contain a really great retelling as well. I think this one works even if you're not familiar with the original, the twist/solution definitely should because the story is self-contained without being referential. It's not interested in allusions, but seeing this new version was really powerful.

A Universe of Wishes (2020) - edited by Dhonielle Clayton

Contains a Cinderella retelling (by Anna-Marie McLemore) and a Rapunzel retelling (by Zoraida Córdova).
If you like retellings, this collection has two! I love the stories individually and the collection as a whole. 
The Cinderella retelling is great, grappling with classism and queerphobia in a way that is really great. It's perfect as a short story, but if the author ever expanded this one I would be very interested in reading a longer version. 
The Rapunzel retelling is set in the same world as some of the author's other work and it works as both an expansion of that world and a straight-up retelling of Rapunzel. 

These Violent Delights (2020) - Chloe Gong

Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920's Shanghai.
I read this today, so I'm still in the "picking my still-beating bloody heart off of the floor" stage of processing how much I love this book. I remembered just enough of the original to catch at least one fake-out and a bunch of references. As a retelling, it's completely understandable even if you have zero familiarity with the play and its (many, many) adaptations. I think it uses the heart of why people love the original to create something wonderful and new, and that transformation is why I love retellings so much. 


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