Which Myth Retellings Are Worth the Read? Breaking Down ‘Horses of Fire,’ ‘Helen of Troy,’ and More

Myth retelling novels book covers The Shadow of Perseus, Houses of Fire, Helen of Troy

Like a hydra’s head, Greek myth retellings are continuously springing up in the publishing world. Almost every book store has a Greek myth display these days, with more books constantly added as they are released.

A few years ago, powerhouses like Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller revived myth retellings, set industry standards for the genre, and kicked off the current craze.

Circe was the book that introduced me to myth retellings, and I’ve never looked back since, reading dozens since then. They make up the majority of my TBR pile.

Here are a few that are definitely worth reading — and two that aren’t.

Horses of Fire

Horses of Fire book cover

I’ve noticed that within the literary world of Greek myth retellings, the Trojan War seems to take center stage. And for good reason.

Homer’s The Iliad—what we commonly believe to be the first written source featuring the legendary battles and colorful cast of characters—has made the Trojan War part of our cultural, historic, and literary landscape.

So what is a myth retelling of the Trojan War that is worth your time—or the hype?

One answer is Horses of Fire by A.D. Rhine. It’s rich in detail and reads like a historical epic, along the lines of books by Margaret George or Diana Gabaldon, presenting another perspective of the war.

In alternating POVs, we follow Helen of Troy, Andromache, wife of Hector, and Rhea, a rescued captive brought to Troy. These women, Andromache especially, are not afraid to take matters into their own hands, quietly trying to fight and outsmart their enemies—at home and abroad.

The first book of a duology, with the sequel releasing later this year, Horses of Fire is a bold reimaging of the women of Troy. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but this novel brilliantly brings the ancient world to life, full of historical and archaeological detail, something I greatly appreciate.

Helen of Troy

helen of troy book cover

Horses of Fire aside, it can be difficult to get the character Helen of Troy (or Helen of Sparta, whichever you prefer) right. To me, it’s unimaginative to make her “the bad guy” and the sole cause of the Trojan War.

Troy was an extremely wealthy city of ancient myth, and the men of Greece were waiting for any excuse to try to take it for themselves. Enter Helen. Whether she was kidnapped by Paris of Troy or went willingly, a war still followed in her wake, and novels and retellings that deeply explore her character are fascinating and compelling to me.

Take for example Helen of Troy by Margaret George, which follows Helen’s entire life, not just her time in Troy. By following her from childhood and beyond, it humanizes Helen and presents her life story in a believable way, albeit to a tragic tune.

This is also one of the only retellings featuring Helen’s time in Egypt—something I would love to see explored more, as it’s a little-known aspect of her story.

In George’s book, Helen is a flawed but admirable woman. We witness everything through her eyes, and her character is stronger than the Helen portrayed in some other retellings.

The Shadow of Perseus

the shadow of perseus book cover

Along with the Trojan War, the myth of Perseus and Medusa is another ancient story that almost everyone knows. You don’t have to be a classicist or historian to picture brave Perseus slaying snake-haired Medusa.

This is another increasingly popular subset of the myth-retelling genre, with various authors trying their hand at reclaiming Medusa’s story.

The Shadow of Perseus by Claire Heywood is one of my favorites because it almost flips the genre on its head, completely changing how a myth retelling can be presented. Stripped away of mythical figures, of fantasy and magic, and gods and goddesses, this reads like a historical fiction novel, bringing the women of Perseus’s myth to the forefront.

Yes, even Medusa. In this book, she’s no monster. Instead, she’s a mortal woman who suffers a cruel and violent fate at the hands of this would-be hero.

Andromeda is my favorite character in this book. As opposed to a woman in need of rescue, she voluntarily sacrifices herself to save her people—until Perseus appears and ruins her plans, eventually taking her as captive. It’s her inner strength and resiliency that carries this novel through to the end.

The historical settings were some of my favorite parts of this book as well. The author’s note explains everything beautifully, and I learned so much about the original myth, not to mention about the Bronze Age Mediterranean world.

Like Horses of Fire, this book was well-researched and grounded in historical fact.

Because of its originality and creativity, The Shadow of Perseus has become the retelling that I judge all other retellings against—it’s that good. I love when authors aren’t afraid to tell their own tale, to put their own spin on a myth. For me, that’s the whole point of a retelling.


phaedra book cover

Stories featuring Theseus, Ariadne, Phaedra, and the Minotaur are another major source of interest and inspiration for fiction writers today.

However, one problem retellings often fall into is not adding anything to the original myth. These were stories told in the oral tradition, with each new speaker adding their own spin.

So why are some authors seemingly afraid to break away from the so-called script? Straight-forward retellings beg the question: why read this at all? Especially when you can read the original source material?

Even when women are placed at the forefront of these retellings, they often feel or become passive in their own stories. Phaedra by Laura Shepperson is a perfect example. The character of Phaedra is reactionary instead of proactive in almost every sense.

It’s a book that’s also convoluted with too many narrators; at times it was hard to differentiate between them because hardly anyone had a unique voice. Phaedra can’t even be the main character in her own story.

This is a so-called feminist retelling in which every woman is automatically good, and every man is automatically bad. Pitting men and women against each other in a black-and-white, good-versus-bad way doesn’t give most characters the depth of understanding they deserve.

Phaedra is just a shallow-feeling book with its themes falling flat.


Ariadne book cover

Similarly, Ariadne by Jennifer Saint falls into the category of passive women of myth retellings. Ariadne, the sister of Phaedra, eventually becomes almost a background character in her own story, content to offer very little input or action.

This book also largely feels boring. Ariadne doesn’t do much of substance aside from assisting Theseus in slaying the Minotaur, which takes place early on.

Both Ariadne and Phaedra are at their best at the beginning, describing each princess’s life on the island of Crete, where they are both more proactive; both authors offer more imagination here before they obediently follow the original myths to the bitter end.

I’m still waiting for a satisfactory retelling of Ariadne and Phaedra’s story. These two mythological sisters deserve better.

Even if I didn’t personally enjoy certain retellings, I still commend each author mentioned for keeping the tradition alive, especially those giving new life to lesser-known women of myth and stories of old.

There is an entire world of myth retellings out there. I hope I’ve introduced you to some potential new reads—maybe even some potential favorite books.

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Amanda Larch works as a writer and editor when she’s not in the middle of a good book. Learn more about her work and view her portfolio at www.amandalarchwriter.com/ and keep up with her on Goodreads @_groovyginger_.

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