Fairytales have impressive staying power. Some of the oldest stories have themes that still resonate today. There are many modern retellings of some of these classic fairytales, with tweaks to the setting or characters to keep them relevant to the modern age (a little less sexism here, a little more humour there...). These five books are some of the best examples.
1. Spindle's End- Robin McKinley
At her christening, Princess Rosie was blessed by several good fairies with gifts such as a beautiful singing voice, lovely hair etc. The evil fairy, Pernicia, is offended not to have been invited and curses the princess to prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep from which no-one could wake her.
This retelling of[ the story of Sleeping Beauty is an odd book, which shifts from one character to the next and is quite slow moving in terms of action. However, there is some fascinating world-building, with lots of odd details such as the practice where men shave in the street to prove that they do not have fairy blood, and only smiths grow beards because they work with iron and thus can't be fairy folk. It's an interesting book full of a variety of female characters figuring out their own identities and places in the world.
2. Briar Rose- Jane Yolen
Rebecca grew up hearing her grandmother's stories of Briar Rose. On her grandmother's deathbed, Rebecca promises to find out the truth of the stories and her own identity. This creepy retelling of Briar Rose links the fairytale with the Jewish Holocaust. It's haunting, grim and unusual.
3. Ella Enchanted- Gail Carson Levine
As a baby, Ella is blessed by visiting fairies with various gifts, but one well-meaning fairy grants her the gift of obedience. This makes poor Ella unable to disobey a direct instruction given to her by anybody, a "gift" terribly open to abuse. When she comes of age, Ella sets out to find a way to undo the spell and win her freedom. She is a brave, resourceful heroine who doesn't need rescuing, and even rescues her prince.
4. Skin Folk- Nalo Hopkinson
Skin Folk is a collection of short stories by Nalo Hopkinson. Some are folk tales but others are retellings of European fairytales with a Caribbean flavour that reflect the author's heritage. In particular, The Glass Bottle Trick is a creepy, original version of Bluebeard that will give you the shivers.
5. A Feast of Sorrows- Angela Slatter
Another collection of short stories, A Feast of Sorrows is a mixture of original fantasy stories, but contains several retellings of traditional fairytales. By My Voice I Shall Be Known is a version of The Little Mermaid that is closer to Hans Christian Anderson than the Disney version, but with an emphasis on revenge. Light as Mist, Heavy of Hope is a more feminist take on Rumplestiltskin, focusing on a daughter's relationship with her mother. Bluebeard's daughter is a darkly funny blend of several fairytales, including Bluebeard and Hansel and Gretel.