Who doesn’t love a good fairytale? Handsome knights, beautiful princesses, wicked witches, gingerbread cottages…but these books offer a much darker different take on classics such as the Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping beauty, and many others besides. Many of these are truer to the original spirit of the stories than those pretty Disney movies you might have watched as a kid. And a warning: there’s not always a “happily ever after”…
Lies, knives and girls in red dresses, Ron Koertge
I’ve featured this book before; it’s one of my favourites. It’s a collection of poetry, that often deals with the twisted consequences of the “happily ever after.” It’s nothing you’ve ever read before. Ron Koertege pulls no punches; these poems are often brutal but still beautifully written. The first lines perfectly capture the eerie spirit of this book.
Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you
want to think about the world in a new way?
Come closer. Closer, please.
I want to whisper in your ear.
The stepsister scheme, Jim C. Hines
This is another book that deals with a “happily ever after” that’s gone wrong, but The Stepsister Scheme’s tone is a bit lighter. After Cinderella’s Prince Charming is kidnapped, she teams up with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to kick some Fae buttock and rescue her husband. Despite this focus on action, there are some cool dark threads that run through the book.
Book of a thousand days, Shannon Hale
Maid Maleen is a rather obscure Brothers Grimm fairytale, which documents the imprisonment of a Princess in a tower for seven years. Unlike Rapunzel, however, no rescuer is immediately forthcoming. Book of a Thousand days transplants the story from Europe to the Asian Steppes, and it’s a fascinating and engrossing story that neglects the “magical” elements of faiytales for a more realistic tone.
The rose and the beast:fairy tales retold, Francesca Lia Block
This is an awesome collection of short stories, told in Block’s unique voice. It’s a potent mixture of realism and Americana – the fey, somewhat feral heroines run away from home, go to L.A, or the desert, or wherever – only to find that the monsters have followed them. These haunting stories that stay with you, right until after you’ve closed the book.
Troll’s-eye view: a book of villainous tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
For something much darker, you can’t go past this collection, which features some of the best YA authors writing today. Each tale shows the other side of the fairy-tale’s primary encounter: what does the giant’s wife have to say about the young man who climbed up her beanstalk? The answer may surprise you…
The replacement, Brenna Yovanoff
This should be compulsory reading for those who think that faeries are sweet and gentle creatures who spend their time rescuing princesses in distress. The faeries of The Replacement are implacable, inhuman creatures who have made a deal with the town of Gentry: economic security for the life of one child. The story is narrated by Mackie, a “replacement” changeling, who was swapped out for a human child and now dying because of his allergies to blood and iron, a nice nod to traditional superstitions about faeries. It’s a an interesting take on a slightly overdone subject, that retains the grimness of the original stories.
Ash, Malinda Lo
Ash is not your typical Cinderella story, although it begins the same: Ash’s father dies and the main character is reduced to a mere servant. Ash does receive help from the faerie, but his intentions may not be entirely benevolent. Then she meets the King’s huntress, the enigmatic Kaisa, and has to decide between her fairytale ending or one, more uncertain, that may end in true love. I like this particular retelling because it avoids the traps of many; getting too caught up in the glitter and not enough time spent on character development. The lesbian romance at its heart also separates it, and adds an interesting twist on a very old story.