There’s a long SFF tradition of using legends, fairy tales, and mythology as frameworks for newly imagined worlds. By spinning familiar stories in fresh ways, authors can explore the contemporary resonance of these tales, and the ways in which society builds up, and break down, its heroes.
April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests (FSG, Mar. 2020, ages 14–up), a gender-bent retelling of The Sword in the Stone, follows 2018’s The Boneless Mercies, which PW’s starred review described as an “evocative fantasy loosely inspired by Beowulf.” “Her books tend to concern themselves with power,” says Grace Kendall, senior editor at FSG Books for Young Readers. “Who has it, who doesn’t, how do you get it, and why?” The recasting of the hero as a heroine underscores the invisibility of women in the English heroic tradition, Kendall says. “I’m interested in how women would retell that story, and why those stories were written the way they were in the first place.”
With Red Hood (HC/Balzer + Bray, Feb. 2020, ages 14–up), National Book Award finalist Elana K. Arnold offers commentary on #MeToo via a fairy tale. “When the girl wanders off the path and gets assaulted, who do we believe? Whose side do we hear?” asks Jordan Brown, executive editor at Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray. “The author shakes up how very normal this story feels to us. Rape culture and male toxicity are baked into so many aspects of life, at school, at home, in the media.”
Other titles focus on humanity’s capacity for self-destruction and its precarious place in the world. In Danny Tobey’s The God Game (St. Martin’s, Jan. 2020), a group of teens are drawn into a video game run by a powerful AI that believes itself to be a deity. The teens soon discover that they’re trapped; quitting the game would kill them in real life, and their autonomy is as illusory as that of people under the sway of Mt. Olympus. “This reflects how we deal with social media,” says Sara Goodman, editorial director at Wednesday Books. “We’re being pulled into this thing that’s so much bigger than us, convinced we’re making our own choices.”
In Jennifer Givhan’s Trinity Sight (Blackstone, Oct.), an anthropologist, pregnant with twins, fights for survival in a dreamlike wasteland that once was New Mexico. Givhan, a debut novelist and author of several poetry collections, draws on Zuni and Puebloan oral traditions to illustrate the protagonist’s struggle to reconcile her modern life and ambitions with her connection to her ancestors.
World War Z author Max Brooks trades zombies for Bigfoot in Devolution (Del Rey, May 2020), set after the disastrous eruption of Mt. Rainier. The book is “preoccupied with the ways in which the systems we rely on are fragile in ways we don’t want to think about,” says Julian Pavia, executive editor at Ballantine Bantam Dell, “and how easily civilizations can crumble.”