In the last year I’ve noticed what seem to be an unusual number of staff book reviews of novels based on folktales and mythology. My own book club has read many of them recently, and we’ve found that they’re exceptionally fertile ground for discussion. Writers have always loved retelling traditional stories, so this isn’t exactly novel, but it’s not old news either. Some of these books find ways of breathing new life into dusty legends we’ve long forgotten (or in some cases, never discovered in the first place), and you may find yourself wanting to share them with others just as I’m sharing them now with you.
Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless (my review) is a sensuous feast of a novel that retells the Russian fable of Koschei the Tsar of Life and his mortal bride Marya Morevna. Valente has reimagined the bloody tale in a new setting, post-revolution Russia, adding political upheaval to an already complex story.
Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor (Jessica’s review), takes inspiration from Nigerian folklore and brings it to a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s a coming of age story about Onyesonwu, a young sorceress on the margins of her culture who must risk her life to fulfill her prophetic destiny.
Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt (Joe’s review) is not so much a retelling of the Norse myth as it is a small story about an English girl who reads it. Drawing parallels between the mythic and the real during the Blitz in World War II, Booker Prize winner Byatt hones in on the power legends have over readers in the present.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (Jessica’s review) seems like an unlikely inclusion here, but this technological thriller/urban fantasy has roots in Arabian myth. In Wilson’s story about the Arab Spring, hackers compete with Djinns for the power to change the modern world.
–Sara D., Public Services Librarian at CADL Downtown Lansing