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Something Old, Something New: The Magic of Reimagining Fairytales, a guest post by Leslie Vedder

A glass slipper abandoned on a flight of stairs. A handful of magic beans for an old cow. A poison apple. A sleeping curse. A rope of golden hair…

Each one of these images is almost a story by itself—a key that unlocks a torrent of memories and feelings with a single twist. That’s the power of fairytales to me. You know them intimately, even if you don’t quite know from where.

Fairytales are all around us, like a language we learn to speak from very young. They’re in bedtime stories, movies, ballets, children’s plays, and picture books. A fairytale isn’t a singular, static story, but a rich tapestry of interwoven strands.

Maybe your first Cinderella was the Disney version, or maybe she was Gail Carson Levine’s delightful Ella Enchanted. Maybe she was Brandy with Whitney Houston as her epic fairy godmother, or Drew Barrymore meeting Leonardo da Vinci. Or maybe she was the quirky Cinder Edna as imagined by Ellen Jackson.

Maybe she went Into the Woods, or tried out high school, or found herself living with a whole host of other characters in the town of Storybrooke. Cinderella is all these things and more.

When I’m coming up with a retelling, it often starts for me with a question. How did Robin Hood get started with all that thieving? Could there ever be a practical use for a glass slipper? Or in the case of my Sleeping Beauty retelling, The Bone Spindle, how do you fall in love with someone who’s fast asleep?

That last question was the source of quite a bit of amusement for me and my wife. She is my editor, my first reader, my biggest fan, and the person I drag out on walks to talk out all my ideas. It was during one of our many, many laps around the park that the idea to genderflip the Sleeping Beauty story came up and the first seeds of The Bone Spindle were born.

A prince who had been sleeping for a hundred years would practically be ancient history, a relic—and who better to dig that up than a pair of girl treasure hunters? Right away, I loved the idea of one of the girls, Fi, being a bookish, intrepid historian who doesn’t believe in anything as impractical as true love. I couldn’t see her kissing some prince without ever holding a single conversation with him…so my new question became, how do you meet some guy who’s going to be asleep for most of the story?

This is where the fun of fractured fairytales really kicks in. In a world of magic and curses and witches, anything is possible. Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and finds herself stuck with the spirit of the sleeping prince Briar Rose, whom only she can see. Meanwhile her partner, Shane, styles herself the huntsman for hire and gets tangled up with a girl in a red cloak. You know there’s going to be a wolf in that story!

Inevitably, there’s always some part of the original fairytale that doesn’t fit. In my Sleeping Beauty story, one of the tricky elements was the three fairies—they seemed a little too whimsical for the darker world I was creating, full of treasure hunters and mercenaries and vicious Witch Hunters. Still, I didn’t want to lose the idea of these women of great power. So instead of fairies, I ended up with the Three Great Witches, who felt more at home in this story of a fallen kingdom rich with magic and lore.

Something old, something new. That’s half the fun of a retelling, I think—the recognizable elements draw you in, while the new elements keep it fresh and surprising. Fairytales are old friends, and I can’t wait to meet them over and over again!

Here are a few my favorite fairytale and folklore retellings!

ASH by Malinda Lo is a gorgeous f/f Cinderella retelling that follows a young girl, Ash, who gets tangled up with dark fairy magic and must escape both her evil stepmother and the dangerous fairy who’s laid a claim on her—all while falling hard for the King’s Huntress. Full of determination, magic bargains, and an entrancing love story!

CINDERELLA IS DEAD by Kalynn Bayron is a stunning dark retelling set in a world where the original Cinderella is long dead and the annual ball is no dream, but a nightmare. Sophia is a fierce, queer heroine who sees how broken and painful her world is and rises up to change it. Mortal peril, f/f love, and a fierce heroine in a ball gown!

GIRLS MADE OF SNOW AND GLASS by Melissa Bashardoust is a Snow White retelling that entwines the stories of Snow White and the evil queen, unspooling them to reveal the haunting truth of how power, control, and grief are often at the heart of tragedies. Princess Lynet (our Snow White) is also in an f/f love story full of heart!

LEGENDBORN by Tracy Deonn is a thrilling take on the Arthurian legend that completely reimagines the Knights of the Round Table as a modern-day secret society descended from the figures of legend. It follows Bree, a young Black girl with a hidden connection to these Legendborn, as she fights for a place in this ancient rigid order in a book full of bold, powerful, expressions of love and grief.  

THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy is a queer reimagining of the Russian firebird myth, retold from the perspective of two sisters whose long separation ends when they’re brought together by the mystery of their mother’s death. Asya is the fiery, passionate incarnation of the mystic Firebird who must uphold the balance of magic. Her sister Izaveta, who is next in line for the throne, is brilliant, powerful, and caught in a tangled web of intrigue and schemes.

DAUGHTER OF SPARTA by Claire M. Andrews takes on the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo but turns it completely on its head, making Daphne into a warrior of Sparta on a journey with Apollo to stop a calamity—while also twisting in few more Greek myths along the way. Daphne takes the lead in an adventure full of heart-pounding danger and equally heart-pounding love scenes!

Finally, one that should definitely be on your list for later this year: ONE FOR ALL by Lillie Lainoff is a genderbent Musketeers retelling with ownvoices disability rep that follows Tania, a fierce heroine with POTS, on her journey to become a musketeer and uncover the truth of her father’s death. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and this is a sisterhood to die for!

Meet the author

 Leslie Vedder is a YA author who loves girl heroes and adventurers. She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction, and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing, and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats. Learn more at https://www.leslievedder.com.  

About The Bone Spindle

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and The Cruel Prince.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi—until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way—not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark.

ISBN-13: 9780593325827
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/11/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Summer in the City of Roses by Michelle Ruiz Keil

Publisher’s description

Inspired by the Greek myth of Iphigenia and the Grimm fairy tale “Brother and Sister,” Michelle Ruiz Keil’s second novel follows two siblings torn apart and struggling to find each other in early ’90s Portland.

All her life, seventeen-year-old Iph has protected her sensitive younger brother, Orr. But this summer, with their mother gone at an artist residency, their father decides it’s time for fifteen-year-old Orr to toughen up at a wilderness boot camp. When their father brings Iph to a work gala in downtown Portland and breaks the news, Orr has already been sent away against his will. Furious at her father’s betrayal, Iph storms off and gets lost in the maze of Old Town. Enter George, a queer Robin Hood who swoops in on a bicycle, bow and arrow at the ready, offering Iph a place to hide out while she tracks down Orr. 

Orr, in the meantime, has escaped the camp and fallen in with The Furies, an all-girl punk band, and moves into the coat closet of their ramshackle pink house. In their first summer apart, Iph and Orr must learn to navigate their respective new spaces of music, romance, and sex-work activism—and find each other before a fantastical transformation fractures their family forever. 

Told through a lens of magical realism and steeped in myth, Summer in the City of Roses is a dazzling tale about the pain and beauty of growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes a book is so wonderful and lovely and alive that I almost feel angry. I feel angry that I will have to leave the world of the story eventually, that someone can write so breathtakingly beautifully, that someone’s brain was able to come up with such a strange and special story. I finished this book and thought, well, great—now what am I supposed to do with myself? I mean that in the best way. In the way that you just had a great experience, and will never experience it in that same new and amazing way, and what, I’m just supposed to pick up some other book and pretend I’m not thinking about Orr and Iph and all their new friends?!

You can read the summary up above my thoughts. I’m not going to talk about what happens other than to say I felt completely wrapped up and brought along on the adventures Orr and Iph have while apart (and eventually together) in Portland. It’s the 90s, in this book (you know–that time I was a music-obsessed punk teen, an era my brain INSISTS on thinking was maybe 10 years ago—don’t correct me). The story is full of feminism and punk rock and adventure and magic and love. There’s poetry, theater, sex workers, books, beautiful weirdos in crummy apartments, mythology, fairytales, animals, and love love love. It’s a weird, dark, happy, sad, real, fantastical story. It’s serious and upsetting and whimsical and hopeful. Just go read it. This is a standout book about runaways finding what they need in the strangest of ways. Just lovely.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641291712
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years