For this month’s Books & Bites podcast, we discussed books inspired by fairy tales and mythology. Listen to the full episode, or read below for my recommendations.
This is a Young Adult Fantasy novel inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, a classic collection of Middle Eastern and Indian stories. One of the most well-known stories is that of Scheherazade, who gives herself in marriage to a King who is known to murder a new wife every morning. Scheherazade tells the King a story in the evening, but leaves it unfinished, so that the King will spare her in order to hear the end of the story the next evening and so save herself and future wives. This book is a retelling of that story.
In Renee Ahdieh’s debut novel, the land of Khorasan is ruled by a monstrous boy-king named Khalid. When our heroine Shahrzad’s best friend falls victim to Khalid’s murderous hands one morning, the girl vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride, against the wishes of her friends and family. Each night Shahrzad captures the young Caliph Khalid’s attention with her stories, attempting to stop the murders and save herself and her people. But as many nights pass, Shahrzhad finds herself inexplicably falling in love with Khalid, who is nothing like what she expected. Meanwhile, war is brewing between Khorasan and the surrounding countries, and Shahrzad’s father and childhood friend are tied up in the conflict.
This novel’s biggest strengths are the world that Ahdieh created and the strong characters. The world-building in this fantasy novel is fantastic, and the characters have incredible depth. I’ve read it twice, and plan to reread the entire series again this year. The second book is called The Rose and the Dagger, and along with two short stories, completes the series. It’s one of my absolute favorite retellings, and I highly recommend it for fans of YA fantasy or romance, or those looking for something very magical and exotic.
Although this is an older Young Adult novel, it will always be one of my favorites. It was possibly the first fairy tale retelling I ever read. It’s a retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, set in a brand new fantasy world and with some unique sci-fi elements as well. Stacey Jay is an incredible author with a real talent for building a fantasy world that feels real, and populating it with characters that make readers feel like they’re really inside the pages of the book.
The world of this novel is divided—the Smooth Skin people live inside the domed city of Yuan, while the Monstrous live outside it in the desert. The main characters are the blind Princess Isra, who is raised from birth to be a human sacrifice whose death will keep her city safe, and the mutant beast Gem, who fights to save his own people from constant starvation. However, the people of the city and the desert are not completely separate—in the city are the Banished, those who have Monstrous traits and are despised for it. Princess Isra wants to get them better treatment, but she is shunned by her family because of it, and has very little power.
Then she encounters Gem, a Monstrous man who was caught trying to steal the palace’s enchanted roses. As she cares for the prisoner, Isra starts to question everything she was brought up to believe. After that, both Isra and Gem have to make tough choices about whether to stay loyal to their families, how to protect their people, and what to do about this newfound and strange friendship that has formed between them.
While this retelling of Beauty and the Beast might not be for everyone, I highly recommend it for fans of the classic tale, and those who liked The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, the Matched series by Ally Condy, or Across the Universe by Beth Revis.
This is another Young Adult fantasy story set in historical Japan, and it’s a fairy tale reminiscent of “Cinderella.” The classical storytelling style of this novel is very refreshing, as is the historical Japanese setting. I really enjoyed the way this novel was not only complete in its storytelling—it’s only a single book—and that the world is also very real and concrete. I felt like I was really transported away to a long-ago magical Japan, and I couldn’t keep myself from thinking about the story even after I had closed the book or finished a chapter.
It’s about a girl named Suzume, who is trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, meaning that she can recreate herself in any form. Suzume is constantly on the run from her tragic childhood, and no one knows who she really is. She could be a noble girl living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama; or she could be a lowly servant trying to survive the hardship of Lord Terayama’s kitchens. Or perhaps Suzume is actually the mysterious Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands. Suzume has many identities that she uses to survive and work towards her goal—revenge. She uses her power to steal the heart of a prince in order to exact revenge for her past and her family, and she just might find out some hard truths along the way about her past and herself.