In researching her forthcoming retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” Rebekah Weatherspoon turned to many sources, including the original French story, published in 1740, and the popular 1991 Disney animated film. “I read all the versions I could find to see what I could layer in,” she says. For instance, “I knew readers would want a parallel to the library scene in the Disney version. I had to see what was there and then mold it into the existing universe.”
The result is A Thorn in the Saddle (Dafina, Nov.), third in her Cowboys of California series of fairy tale riffs set at a Black-owned luxury dude ranch. It follows the “Sleeping Beauty”–inspired A Cowboy to Remember and If the Boot Fits, a spin on “Cinderella.”
Sonali Dev’s Raje family books make their Austenite inspirations known in their titles: series launch Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, followed by Recipe for Persuasion. Dev was herself introduced to Jane Austen via a retelling: Trishna, an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that first aired on Indian state TV in 1985. “For the first time, I saw a female protagonist who was opinionated, who didn’t pander to be appreciated by the opposite sex or to her elders, and was loved for it,” she says. “Ever since, I knew I wanted to do something with her stories.”
Incense and Sensibility (Morrow, July), like others in the series, is faithful to Austen’s themes but not always her scenes, Dev says. “Austen is not writing historicals; she’s writing contemporaries and making commentary about her times,” she notes. “The books are homage to everything I learned from Austen and everything I want to say as a writer.”
Both Dev and Weatherspoon are authors of color, and each stresses the power of subverting the Western canon. “The fun thing about romance, even with the most basic tropes, is seeing what authors do with it,” Weatherspoon says; she hopes to see more marginalized voices retell the classics.
Dev, whose Indian upbringing allows her to see Austen through a post-colonial lens, says, “We’re in a very unique position to observe and write about privilege and class. We have a unique way of commenting on society.”
Weatherspoon and Dev are two among many authors whose forthcoming romances transform classic novels, traditional tales, and one early aughts movie to reflect new perspectives and contemporary concerns.
The inspiration: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
The twist: Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe’s turn-of-the-20th-century academic rivalry is transposed to graduate school in contemporary New York City; the two are paired with the same professor for their theses. Starler, in her debut, “brings impressive heart and sensuality to a classic,” PW’s review said.
The inspiration: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
The twist: This is a multiracial social satire in the vein of Austen, and a loose homage to the themes, names, and places in her most popular text. In it, EJ, a Black engineering major and the RA at Bennet House, a women’s dorm at Longbourn College, clashes with Will Pak, an Asian American TV actor. “The commitment to diversifying a very white classic is commendable,” PW said of Appiah-Kubi’s debut. “The passages about being a Black woman in majority-white spaces are beautifully and sensitively written.”
A Certain Appeal
The inspiration: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
The twist: Liz Bennet is a burlesque dancer; Will Darcy is a wealth manager. They develop chemistry at Meryton, a top-tier venue, but she overhears him calling her “tolerable.” Debut novelist King draws on her experiences as a performer, and the book touches on themes of body positivity, consent, and sexuality.
The inspiration: “Cinderella”
The twist: In her adult debut, Murphy (best known for the YA novel Dumplin’, which has sold 140,000 print copies, per BookScan) recasts Cinderella as Cindy, a plus-size shoe designer working for her reality show producer stepmother. When a contestant on the Bachelor-like show drops out, Cindy steps in, only to find herself falling for the program’s Prince Charming. PW said the book, which launches a series of contemporary retellings, “cleverly blends the conventions of fairy tales and reality TV to create an incisive commentary on both.”
The inspiration: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
The twist: Dev continues to explore Indian American and immigrant experiences in this gender-bent novel. Yash Raje, California’s first Indian gubernatorial candidate, is the target of a shooting, and India Dashwood, a spiritual coach, helps him find his center again. PW said “the story of trauma and recovery in the face of racist gun violence is timely” and praised the narrative’s “deeply romantic heart.”
The inspiration: Greek mythology
The twist: This “red-hot romance” (per PW’s starred review) launches Robert’s Dark Olympus series and reimagines the tale of Persephone and Hades as a contemporary story with political rivalries in place of clashing deities. Persephone Dimitriou flees the upper city of Olympus to escape a forced engagement to Zeus, and finds herself making a sexual bargain with the ruler of the lower city.
The inspiration: Kate & Leopold
The twist: The author of 2019’s Red, White & Royal Blue (228,000 print copies sold, per BookScan) remixes the 2001 Meg Ryan–Hugh Jackman time-travel flick. Here, August is a plucky waitress, and Jane is a displaced punk rocker from the 1970s. “Grounded in the tenderness of first love,” PW’s starred review said, “this time-slip rom-com is an absolute delight.”
A Thorn in the Saddle
The inspiration: “Beauty and the Beast”
The twist: Jesse Pleasant is a ranch owner with a short fuse; brainy former tech consultant Lily-Grace Leroux uncovers his soft side at a community date auction. This is the third book in Weatherspoon’s Cowboys of California series; books one and two received starred reviews from PW.