There’s just something about Greek mythology that fascinates us, at least in Western society. Not just Greek mythology, but Ancient Greek culture as well. We can’t help ourselves with it, feeling the need to put bits of it in everything — from the architecture in state buildings (at least in the United States) to references to their culture in our art, political systems, even our jewelry in the cases of some apotropaic items. But of all the facets of Ancient Greek culture that we include in the modern world, the bit we really cannot help ourselves with is Greek mythology, especially when it comes to creating retellings. There’s a LOT of Greek myth retellings out there, y’all, from your smuttier adult books to middle grade fantasy books like Rick Riordan’s series. It’s a lot to go through. So I’ve done the work for you and collected some of the best Greek mythology retellings here for you to peruse at your leisure.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
We all know the story of The Iliad, or as it’s more commonly known as, the Trojan War. Many of us were made to suffer through reading it in high school, and even if you don’t remember much, the way it’s integrated into our culture means you likely remember some. But the story is very male-centric, with the women playing supportive roles to their male counterparts. This book changes that. It tells the story of Briseis — once a queen, now a bed-slave — as she is held captive in a Greek camp and is the cause of a fight between Agamemnon and Achilles. Trigger warning for rape in this story, unsurprisingly.
Oreo by Fran Ross
Loosely based upon the story of Theseus, we follow a little Black Jewish girl named Oreo as she searches through the labyrinth of New York for her father, a man named Sam Schwartz. Initially published in 1974, it is still as relevant today as it was then, exploring the relationship between Black and Jewish communities and what ethnicity and identity truly means. It’s all packaged up in a satirical magical realism story that is there to have fun and you will too while reading it.
Lore by Alexandra Bracken
Lore has been described as Greek mythology meets The Hunger Games, and it’s easy to see why. Every 7 years, the Agon happens, a punishment put forth by Zeus for a failed rebellion. The gods who were part of said rebellion are sent to Earth as mortals and are hunted down by the descendants of ancient bloodlines until there is one left: Athena. She turns up, bloody and needing help, on the front steps of Melora, a descendant of Perseus — a descendant who had sworn to turn her back on that life after her family was wiped out in the last Agon. This book grabs you from the first chapter and won’t let you go until the last page.
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
Another Greek gods in a modern world story, but this one is a little more adult. The Greek gods live among us, or at least they do in a London townhouse, getting on each other’s nerves the way only family can. When you add in the stress of slowly losing their powers and the everyday drudgery of having a day job, it’s not surprising that fights break out between them. But this most recent one between Aphrodite and Apollo is huge — huge enough to have two humans in the crossfire who have to figure out how to solve the fight before humanity is the eventual loser. It’s a similar premise to American Gods, but whereas American Gods would be like a chocolate mousse cake (dense, rich, and it’s really better to take it in bits), Gods Behaving Badly is like strawberries and cream: light and all too easy to eat (read) it all in one sitting.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Written by the same author as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Piranesi was much awaited prior to its release, and it has not disappointed. A shorter book, only 245 pages, it’s still filled with the expert world building and the storytelling we associate with Clarke. Based upon the Greek labyrinth, the house Piranesi lives in contains an ocean and an individual known as The Other. Piranesi knows this and relies on The Other’s knowledge. But it turns out the house has more secrets kept from Piranesi, including another person and an entirely hidden world.
Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebel-Henry
Reminiscent of the way Sylvia Plath wrote, Rebel-Henry tells the story of Raya and Sarah, two best friends who deeply love each other but live in a very small conservative Texan town. They are outed and sent to a conversion camp in an attempt to “fix” them. There, Raya (who is obsessed with ancient myths) swears that she will become like Orpheus and break them both out of the camp so they can finally live together, especially in the face of the abuse they are subjected to. Heavy trigger warnings in this one: homophobia, transphobia, self-harm, and abuse.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
The Odyssey modernized, this story is told by the spirit — chi — of poultry farmer Chinonso, beginning when he first sees Ndali about to jump off a bridge. They quickly fall in love after he stops her, but Ndali is from a wealthy and educated family, two things Chinoso is not. And so, with promises of arrangements made by a fellow Nigerian, Chinoso sells his belongings to journey to Cyprus for college. But upon arrival, he discovers he has been lied to and is now stuck, penniless, in a strange land. He has to find a way back and prove he is worthy of Ndali. This is a heavier read, especially if you aren’t used to reading Igbo, but so worth your while, with gorgeous storytelling and complex, fascinating characters.
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera
Another Orpheus retelling, but this time with an Afro-Latine perspective, the ancient story is set in New York after Hurricane Maria causes Eury and her family to leave Puerto Rico behind. After seeing the haunted look Eury carries with her, all Pheus wants to do is use his golden voice to make her smile and laugh and chase any demons she has away. Dealing with heavy topics like grief and loss, all while trying to hold onto precious cultural identity, the story still stays sweet and heart warming as well as being a love letter to Puerto Rico.
If you’re needing some more Greek mythology reads, may I suggest our 50 book list of Greek mythology books, or if other mythology retellings are what you need, there’s our 100 book list of folklore retellings from around the world. You might also be interested in Books Like Circe By Madeline Miller.