Blog – Posted on Monday, Nov 11
20 Modern Fairy Tales to Make You Believe in Magic Again
A witch’s curse, a magic door, a princess finding her ever-after. Fairy tales have been with us for so long that it’s hard to argue their appeal. They’re the stories that have woven themselves into our childhood dreams, and they’ve never really left us.
And yet, they’re also brimming with new potential. What if the prince who comes to save the day is actually a princess? What if the evil queen isn’t so evil after all? What if the curse is more than it seems? It’s questions like these that are at the heart of the best fairy tale retellings.
Below, we’ve compiled 20 of the best modern fairy tales, from new stories that read like time-honored classics, to retellings that tip our age-old assumptions on their head and breathe new life into tales as old as time. Whether you grew up on Disney princesses or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, this list of stories will probably feel comfortingly familiar — while also managing to surprise you.
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Original Fairy Tales
1) The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (The Hazel Wood #1)
Probably the most meta book on our list, The Hazel Wood is a fairy tale about fairy tales. Specifically, it’s about Alice and the fairy tale book that her late grandmother wrote many years ago. When Alice’s mother is captured by someone claiming to be from the Hinterlands — the magical realm of her grandmother’s stories — Alice is forced to go on a journey down her own personal rabbit hole, and there’s no telling how deep it will take her.
Richly drawn with vivid descriptions, The Hazel Wood will take you on a creepy, twisted journey from the streets of New York to the wild woods of a storybook. Just don’t read it after dark.
2) Uprooted by Naomi Novik
It follows the course of Agnieszka, a girl whose village is protected by a mysterious wizard called the Dragon. This protection comes with a high price that, this time, falls on Agnieszka to pay. Against her wishes, she is sent to live with the Dragon, who soon finds himself with more on his hands than he bargained for. If you like enchanting tales about dark woods, ancient wizards battling cruel magic, and just a touch of Beauty-and-the-Beast romance, this book is for you.
3) The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #1)
Okay, you think, but what if I’m looking for something that’s both a fairy tale and the perfect winter read to enjoy snuggled up with some cocoa? Well, look no further, because The Bear and the Nightingale has you covered.
The power of fairy tales themselves haunt the very pages of this book. Inspired by stories of Russian trickster gods and set in a place where snowdrifts grow taller than houses, it’s the perfect blend of spooky and cozy. Featuring a wicked stepmother, hidden magic, and threats ripped straight from the pages of bedtime stories, it’s hard not to imagine this as a tale told in front of the fire.
4) The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
After spending years out of print, Schwab’s debut novel came back to us like a song almost forgotten. The Near Witch takes place in the town of Near, a quiet village that borders the woods. It’s also the home of Lexi. Lexi has been told all her life that the Near witch is a myth, that she shouldn’t listen to the call of the wind, and that there are no strangers in Near. But when children start going missing, and a mysterious boy is accused of kidnapping them, everything Lexi thought she knew about her home is thrown into question.
This is a story of whispers in the night, of old legends that may prove to be more than stories. The pages are so rich with fairy tale feelings that you’d never realize it’s not an age-old classic. From such lush beginnings, it’s easy to see why Victoria Schwab has become one of the rising queens of fantasy.
5) The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg
Don’t let the sci-fi setting fool you — The Kingdom takes all the best elements of fairy tales and mixes them up fresh. This book is part murder mystery, part dystopia, and part Disney-theme-park-gone-rogue, and we are here for it. Oh, and did we mention it’s about an android princess falling in love?
That’s right. In a futuristic theme park where guests fly on virtual dragons and Happily Ever After is a way of life, seven half-android Fantasists spend their days acting out fairy tales for the pleasure of the park’s guests. Then, one day, the Fantasist Ana is accused of murdering theme-park employee Owen, a man she’s fallen in love with — despite the fact that robots cannot fall in love. This Westworld-with-Princesses fairy tale is told in alternating past and present, switching between formal court transcripts and intimate first-person narration, and will keep you on your toes right up until the end.
6) The Poison Within by Rachel Marie Pearcy
- A Reedsy “Indie Choice”
An evil queen on the run from assassins and a princess archer living in the woods. It’s a wonder this isn’t a retelling, because it feels so deeply fairy tale you’d think it surely must be. But this royal redemption story is entirely its own creation, and all the richer and more beautiful for it.
Rya, a woman known throughout her kingdom as The Black Queen, escapes to the woods after being accused of a murder she did not commit. It’s there she finds herself in the company of Princess Cam, and both their lives begin to change. A story of salvation and love and the choices we’re forced to make, The Poison Within has all the classic trappings, but with a fresh outlook that makes everything new again.
Retellings and Remixes
7) Cinder by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #1)
Inspired by: Cinderella
Is any list of modern fairy tales complete without The Lunar Chronicles?
If by some chance you’re not yet familiar with it, Cinder tells the story of an eponymous android mechanic living in New Beijing, a city ravaged by a deadly plague. Cyborgs like Cinder are often sold into medical experimentation, and that is exactly where this story kicks off. After a chance meeting with the prince, Cinder’s stepmother finally caves to monetary pressure and sends her off to become part of the experiment. There’s also a war brewing with the Lunar Empire, a robot best friend, and many, many secrets to uncover.
Fresh, futuristic, and feisty, Cinder spawned four sequels that rework other classic fables, a short story collection, and even some follow-up graphic novels. With all there is to love about these books, it’s easy to see why The Lunar Chronicles have become more than just a series, but a phenomenon.
8) Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Inspired by: Snow White
Have you ever stopped to wonder why Snow White and her “wicked” stepmother queen were such bitter rivals? Was it really just jealousy over Snow’s beauty, or was there something more? Was it, perhaps, not even their idea at all?
That’s the question that breathes life into Girls Made of Snow and Glass, a gorgeous, glorious retelling of Snow White unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s the story of Mina, a queen with a heart made of glass, and Lynet, a girl built from snow to be the literal image of her dead mother. This feminist tale of their rivalry and the choices they’re forced to make by circumstance will upend everything you thought you knew about one of the most classic fairy tales of all time.
9) Sinful Cinderella by Anita Valle (Dark Fairy Tale Queen #1)
- A Reedsy “Indie Choice”
Inspired by: Cinderella
Everyone knows that poor, sweet Cinderella had long suffered beneath the cruelty of her stepmother and stepsisters until one magic day, when chance arranged for her to attend a ball. Except… what if it wasn’t by chance? And what if Cinderella was never quite so docile?
That’s the premise of Sinful Cinderella, a novella in which her good deeds (like all those household chores) grant her white magic to enhance her beauty — with the aim of securing the prince for herself. It’s a dark twist on a familiar tale, told with just the right amount of sass to keep you rooting for Cinderella as she pursues her vicious goals. Just don’t expect any helpful mice in this one.
10) Ash by Malinda Lo
Inspired by: Cinderella
Considered one of the earliest mainstream LGBTQ fantasy novels for teens, Ash has become something of a classic. While the setup is identical to the original Cinderella story, the bulk of this book doesn’t follow it anywhere near as closely as some of the other titles on our list. Still, it’s richly drawn and utterly heartbreaking, so we won’t be purist snobs.
Ash is a tale of magic and curses. It’s about falling in love with the king’s huntress while trying not to get snared by fairy magic. If you like your fairy tales with actual fairies, if you love getting lost in the woods, if you want a story packed with women of all different personalities and motivations and roles, then this is your book.
11) The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines (Princess #1)
Inspired by: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White
Described as a cross between Disney princesses and Charlie’s Angels, The Stepsister Scheme is anything but a typical “happily ever after” story. Shortly after Danielle (Cinderella) is married, her husband is kidnapped. So she teams up with Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (White, naturally) to go rescue him.
That’s right, in this version, the princesses have to save a prince. If that wasn’t enough for you, we have a Sleeping Beauty adept at martial arts, a trip to the realm of the Fairies, and an inventive use of mirror magic that saves the day. Told with Hines’ signature humor and featuring some truly wicked stepsisters, this is a vision of the princesses you won’t soon forget.
12) Thief of Cahraman by Lucy Tempest (Fairy Tales of Folkshore #1)
- A Reedsy “Indie Choice”
Inspired by: Aladdin
One of the more unusual spins on a classic fairy tale, Thief of Cahraman is a gender-bent take on Aladdin. In Lucy Tempest's version, the young hero is Adelaide, a thief who's been stolen away by a witch and made to assume the life of a noblewoman in order to enter a competition for the Prince’s hand. Except, oh yeah, the competition is just a way to get inside the palace for a heist, and the cost of failure is certain death. Add in a love story with another charming thief, setups for future retellings of both Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, and a twist ending that will leave you clamoring for the sequel, and it’s no wonder this book gets such consistently high reviews.
13) When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
Inspired by: The Fox Spirit
Coming to us from a background in Chinese folklore, When Fox is a Thousand tells the story of three women: a mystical fox nearing her 1,000th birthday, a ninth-century Taoist poet and nun (who really did exist!), and an Asian-Canandia woman living in present-day Vancouver. While seemingly disparate, these storylines slowly braid themselves together in a lyrical, often poetic journey as the novel progresses. You can read and enjoy the book simply for the power of the language itself, but if you ever find yourself aching for something beautiful, magical, and not afraid to ask the difficult questions, this may be just what you’ve been searching for. It’s certainly one that will leave you mulling over it for a long time to come.
14) Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Rise of the Empress #1)
Inspired by: Snow White
For an evil queen that truly lives up to her title, look no further than Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Ever since she was a child, Xifeng has been told of her destiny as the Empress of Feng Lu. It’s a future she longs for more than anything. A future she is willing to do anything to achieve, even if it means rejecting the man who loves her, or harnessing magic that comes from eating the hearts of the recently-deceased. This is a story of a leader twisted by a looming destiny, powerful and ambitious women, and the layered and nuanced relationships that shape people. You may never look at Evil Queens the same way again.
15) The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn #1)
Inspired by: A Thousand and One Nights
A more faithful retelling than some on our list, The Wrath and the Dawn is no less enchanting for it. It’s set in a world where the local ruler takes a new bride each night, only to find her dead with a cord around her neck the next morning. Our hero is Shahrzad — a girl who lost her best friend to this very fate, and is determined that it will never happen to anyone ever again.
Shahrzad allows herself to be taken as the newest bride, but quickly finds a way to entrance the ruler with stories each night. Drawing out her life one night at a time, knowing that each could be her last, she attempts to put a stop to the ruler’s monstrous ways, only to realize that he may not be so monstrous after all. High stakes and unexpected romance will draw readers through this imaginative tale.
16) East by Edith Pattou
Inspired by: East of the Sun, West of the Moon
While Edith Pattou’s East may feel like it takes its origin from Beauty and the Beast, it comes to us, in fact, from a Norwegian story called East of the Sun, West of the Moon. If you’re not familiar with it, that’s okay — you can still enjoy this lively, multi-POV story about a girl named Rose who gives herself over to a giant white bear in order to save her family from ruin. Fold in a Troll Queen, rich family dynamics, and plenty of mystery and adventure, and you’ve got the makings of a classic. A perfect winter read, with depictions of cold that grip you so hard you’ll want to wrap yourself in a blanket just to shake it.
17) The Princess Companion by Melanie Cellier (The Four Kingdoms #1)
- A Reedsy “Indie Choice”
Inspired by: The Princess and the Pea
There’s a lot to be said for darker retellings with layered twists and turns, but sometimes you just need something happy and satisfying and adorable. For those needs, look no further than The Princess Companion.
This story is told in retrospect by Alyssa, a woodcutter’s daughter who gets lost in the woods and ends up at the door of a castle. Before long, she finds herself employed as a “princess companion” for two unruly young princesses — the siblings of one extremely handsome prince. But don’t be fooled by the setup or the string of visiting princesses vying for the Prince’s hand — this isn’t just a fluff piece. Political intrigue spices things up, along with a slow-built romance that is far more satisfying than the insta-love we so often get. In the end, it’s the book, and not just the prince himself, that can be called Charming.
18) Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Inspired by: Snow-White and Rose-Red
The best fairy tales are the ones that remind us of age-told truths. Blanca & Roja does this beautifully, by depicting a sisterhood stronger than even the gravest threats. It follows the lives of Blanca and Roja, sisters destined to be rivals due to an ancient curse on their family — one that will end with either Blanca or Roja turning into a swan. But the book is about much more than the plot, dealing with issues of race and gender identity, and carrying the reader through a harrowing emotional journey.
Relationships (familial, friendly, and romantic) are the heart and soul of this book, woven together with McLemore’s signature spellbinding prose. It’s one surely designed to become its own legend.
19) Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (The Blood of Stars #1)
Inspired by: Mulan
A version of Mulan where it’s not the army that tries to recruit the protagonist’s father, but the royal court seeking a tailor. A competition where the protagonist must sew a dress made from laughter of the sun, tears of the moon, and blood of the stars. If that doesn’t sound like a great premise, we don’t know what is. Throw in an epic journey to the far reaches of a kingdom, a court magician who seems to see through Maia’s boyish disguise, and lush descriptions of gorgeous clothes, and we’re all set for a journey like no other. Billed as Mulan meets Project Runway, Spin the Dawn is so much more than an enticing tagline. Come for the dresses, stay for the adventure.
20) A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (The Cursebreaker #1)
Inspired by: Beauty and the Beast
From the streets of D.C. to the magical kingdom of Emberfall, this retelling is a wild, imaginative ride. Part fairy tale retelling and part portal fantasy, A Curse so Dark and Lonely follows our main character, Harper, as she’s taken from her modern-day life and transported to a magical castle, where a cursed prince must make her fall in love with him. However, this prince has more-or-less given up on falling in love or escaping his fate, and it’s up to Harper to fight for the future the castle deserves. Acting as an excellent representation of life with cerebral palsy, and with a fierce and fighting spirit, Harper is easily a hero to root for, and one who will stick with people like all the best heroines in fairy tales do.