I don’t know about you, but I love a good, old-fashioned fairy tale—one that hits all the cheesy tropes we know and love. One that chucks my suspension of disbelief over a cliff with a cheeky wink because it knows I’ll keep reading anyway. One that flagrantly bends the laws of physics, human nature, and more, because it knows I watched too much Disney as a child and thus won’t be complaining.
I also adore intriguing, modern fairy tales that transform or subvert original tropes. Whether it’s undermining the status quo in terms of who ‘deserves’ a happily ever after, flipping the switch on the gender norms so inherent in our society’s fave fables, or taking an established mythical concept and running somewhere ridiculous with it, I’m there.
Why am I there? Aside from the aforementioned childhood Disney brainwashing? Why, because I’m a romance reader, of course. Fairy tales and romance are siblings. You can tell because, generally, they both end with a ‘happily ever after’. That’s the family resemblance.
A combination of fairy tale elements and romance is, to me, an absolute jackpot. And now, here I am, reviewing four such jackpot stories purely for your reading pleasure. Will my selflessness never end?
Cinders by Cara Malone
Cinderella retellings have had a special place in my heart ever since I saw Brandy’s brown foot slide into an iconic glass slipper. Cinder is a fabulous fairy tale transformation based on the Grimm version of Cinderella, which involves mysterious grave-haunting birds and self-mutilated feet. What, you never read that at bedtime?
Well, this contemporary F/F version swaps the grittier details for a firefighting Cinderella, a green-thumbed small town ‘princess’, and an arson epidemic. Woo! The drama! We love it!
Cynthia ‘Cyn’ Robinson, called ‘Cinders’ by her buddies at the fire station, has been crushing on Marigold Grimm for centuries. Not actual centuries, because there’s no magic or mysticism in this story (except the everlasting power of lurve) but a pretty long time nonetheless.
Gorgeous and wealthy Marigold is considered cold and aloof, but—surprise—she’s secretly not, and stuff. When an arsonist sets Mari’s beloved garden alight, Cyn comes to her rescue (y’know, as a firewoman) and proceeds to be the smoothest, most awkward Romeo on earth. No, I’m not sure how she makes that combo work. It just happens, okay? And it’s fabulous.
The flirting is intense. The touching is intenser-er-er. Every time things get hot, Cyn has to run off to fight a fire—which makes things literally hot, and also figuratively extra-hot, because firefighters.
The fairy tale call-backs are super satisfying. Cyn, as our dapper Cinderella, leaves behind an Italian leather loafer instead of a glass slipper. It falls from her foot, not as she flees to hide her rags, but as she rushes off to the station because duty calls. Did I mention that she is a firefighter and that it is sexy? Yes? Well, here I am mentioning it again.
If you like giggling at fairy tale references, fanning yourself through sex scenes, and gasping at evil machinations (!!!), you’ll fall in love with Cinders.
A Stone Kissed Sea by Elizabeth Hunter
This book isn’t a fairy tale transformation, but I put it on the list because I’m the writer and I’m in charge. LOL, no, I put it on the list because the tone, magic, and character arcs seem so fairy-tale-inspired. So here’s me shoving this fantastic, elemental-vampire-medical-romance down your throat like a mother shoves broccoli at her child. Take your vitamins. Read your sexy blood-drinker stories. You’re welcome.
A Stone Kissed Sea is in the midst of a series I haven’t read, but the world building is so seamless that I didn’t miss a beat. Here’s the quick set-up: vampires exist, they each have an elemental power (control over earth, fire, wind or water), and they’re fighting a fatal blood disease that’s being spread amongst humans and vampires… apparently by design.
Our heroine is a brilliant human scientist brought in to work with a grumpy (but also brilliant) vampire scientist on this fatal disease thingy. Both fiercely intelligent, the two butt heads from the very start. Guess what happens. Go on, guess.
This story is full of the kind of casual weirdness that would make any traditional fairy tale proud. If you’ve ever read about iron stoves flying over mountains or invisible princesses dancing in jewel mines and thought ‘seems legit’, you’ll have a great time with A Stone Kissed Sea.
Also, there’s a mama who dumps her children into the earth whenever they misbehave. Just straight dumps ‘em. Like, Now you stay in that magical underground dirt pit and think about what you’ve done.
Really, do you need any more reason to read it?
Beauty and the Blitz by Sosie Frost
[Full disclosure: this book is the first in a Kindle Unlimited series, but it’s not in KU because it’s free. Clearly, it is spiritually in KU. You get me? I know you get me.]
This book is another contemporary fairy tale retelling, a sports romance that plays on Beauty and the Beast. It’s also pure, red-hot fantasy from start to finish, as if it occurs in an alternate universe where everything is very sexy, animalistic and extreme. Which seems fitting, don’tcha think?
In Beauty and the Blitz, the beast, Cole, is a linebacker with anger issues and the beauty, Piper, is his agent. She also has a baby named Rose. GEDDIT?
Piper must save Cole from the curse of his own temper and uncontrollable strength, before his on-pitch aggression gets him cut from the league. Or something. Just so you know, I have zero understanding of American football or team sports in general. But I read this anyway because the supposedly beastly Cole is so devoted to Piper and Rose, and because Piper is unbelievably snarky.
The fairy tale elements aren’t limited to nudge-nudge references like baby Rose, or the fact that Cole lives in the west wing of his huge, lonely estate. There’s also the rags to riches trope that straddles fairy tale and romance: Cole swoops in to rescue the heroine from poverty and possible homelessness when her dad treats her ill. Awwww.
And yes, this is that kind of book. If you don’t enjoy wealth and #RomDoms, AKA Romancelandia dominants, you probably won’t enjoy this. But if you like mouthy heroines who go toe-to-toe with grumpy heroes, and lots of explicit sex, you will. Ohhh, you will.
Once Upon a Princess by Clare Lydon and Harper Bliss
This isn’t a fairy tale transformation, but it’s definitely a fairy tale romance. Once Upon a Princess follows Princess Olivia, aka Charlie (don’t ask) who is essentially a gay, gender-swapped Prince Harry.
No, really: youngest child of two, party-hard past, time spent in the armed forces, etcetera. At one point, she even dyes her hair kinda red. Why does she dye her hair, you ask? To disguise her identity when she escapes to a small, seaside town to come to terms with her arranged marriage, of course! Which, incidentally, is where she meets café-owner Rosie.
This book has lots of elements that I usually hate. Charlie/Olivia lies about her identity, which I typically can’t cope with. She also has a fiancée, waiting back home, but doesn’t mention that while canoodling with Rosie. Yes, the fiancée is a socialite ex-girlfriend she has zero feelings for, but still!!! I hate that stuff.
And yet, I enjoyed this story so much. It was all so soft and well-intentioned. I understood exactly why Charlie/Olivia messed up so royally (hah! Pun) even if I couldn’t approve. Plus, Rosie was such a lovely heroine that I had to keep on reading, just to support her. She is my new BFF.
By the way, the royal aspect isn’t this book’s only claim to fairy tale status. It has so many sweet, intensely romantic moments that it feels cheesy in the very best of ways. You know, like a character randomly punching the air and shouting into the silence, “I LOVE [INSERT NAME]!” That sort of thing.
There are tons of those moments, actually, but they’re spoilers. And if I spoiled you, I’d have to kill you. Insert ominous pause. My point is, this story’s path to a happily ever after is so fairy tale—but it’s also down-to-earth, moving, and electric with sexual tension. NICE, am I right? Of course I am.
Aw, look; we’ve reached this article’s happy ending. And yes, that would’ve been the perfect time for a dick joke, but I’ve made it this far without cracking any, so I shall refrain. Now, go forth and find your own happy ending with any one of these fairy tale romances. Or all of them. I don’t judge.