The Best Mythology Books for Adults - 2024

January 29, 2024

Do you love epic stories about gods and goddesses, but want a contemporary twist to the telling? One glance at this lineup of modern mythological fiction, and you'll notice that most of them have a couple things in common: they're written by women, about women. Maybe that's because mythology needs a female-centric recasting, a feminine lens on war, courage, and culture. The minority characters living in the shadow of mythical Greats like Hercules, Achilles, and Odin didn't have platforms like social media for their voices and stories to be heard. The following mythological novels seek to change that.

The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller

For those who don't know Madeline Miller (is that even possible?) she's the "it" author for mythology retellings. Her novel Circe made our top books about magic and witches for packing a mythological punch in the face of the Patriarchy. Circe is gorgeous and empowering and Song of Achilles is equally so. It's epic, poignant, and wonderfully nuanced in its portrayal of masculinity and the nature of love. Song of Achilles should be at the top of everyone's lists, myth-lover or not.

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Stark, fairy tale-like prose retells the Oedipus myth in Daisy Johnson's haunting novel. This literary read will pull you under the current of mythical realism and a fragmented narrative, confounding and delighting with each revelation. Mythology is the invisible backbone, because the novel is a contemporary story about modern-day characters and their search for (or struggle with) identity and family. Themes include mother-daughter relationships, gender and queerness, and myth itself--how myths are created, and the very language of storytelling. Oh, and there might be a monster on the river.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Odysseus sets off to be a Trojan hero and two decades go by. Meanwhile, his wife Penelope, symbol of steadfast loyalty, is...what? Sitting at her loom the whole time? Atwood's novella plays with form and point of view to give Penelope's side of the tale, as well as that of the maids whom Odysseus hanged upon his return. Why'd he do that? You'll have to read to find out. The maids' posthumous perspectives take the form of rhymes, songs, and a court trial, setting a haunting yet playful tone that will captivate fans of Angela Carter, seekers of both entertainment and social commentary.

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

First came the Iliad, which introduced Aeneas, founder of Rome, and then came The Aeneid, Virgil's epic national poem. Fast forward many hundreds of years later, and we have Le Guin's addition: Lavinia, about the unlikely heroine who's hardly mentioned in The Aeneid. Le Guin plays on the meta nature of Lavinia's creation, having her "communicate" with Virgil, her original author, and draw intuition and strength. Herself intuitive, Le Guin is a master of nation and world building on the page. Though Lavinia is well researched, it reads like epic fantasy, a world unto itself.

XO Orpheus edited by Kate Bernheimer

A smorgasbord of Greek retellings: the Titans, Galatea, Phaeton, Persephone, Orpheus and Euridice, Dedalus, Demeter, Narcissus, oh, and don't forget Argos, Odysseus's dog. With contributors like Aimee Bender, Madeline Miller, Joy Williams, and Kevin Wilson, this collection of stories is a modern, self-aware approach to myth-telling. The title itself suggests a goodbye to the art form, but in recasting old stories, we keep them somewhat alive. Readers at any level of mythological appreciation will enjoy this collection, as each story stands on its own, separate from their referents.

The Half-God of Rainfall by Inu Ellams

The most contemporary, modern recommendation on this list, this lyrical poem-story takes place in modern day and blends Greek and Yoruba mythology. The story follows Demi, a basketball player and son of Zeus, who raped his mortal mother Modupe. With magical realism flair, this story about love, sacrifice, and the bond between a mother and her son reads like a lyrical play in acts. The blend of mythology is as brilliant as its form.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Gruesome and brutal like Berker's Greek soldiers, this novel spares no prisoners. Its goal is to ignite a feminist fire in one's belly, and it does the job well. Told mostly from the point of view of Briseis, Achilles' concubine, this novel is about the brutality of slavery and of the male-dominated ancient world. We don't have to look far for modern echoes. A good read for Trojan War nerds, but also for anyone brave enough to face into the misery and ugliness of war, and get some--emphasis on some--redemption along the way.

Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati

You probably know of Helen, the woman whose face launched a thousand ships. But did you know she had a sister? While Helen lets others do the plotting and fighting, Clytemnestra takes matters into her own hands. She's a survivor. A doer. She gets a bad rap for it, or is at best shunted to the side of the narrative. In Casati's novel she's the heroine on center stage, facing into tragedy and forging her own fate.

Herc by Phoenicia Rogerson

The title would suggest that this novel is about Hercules, but it's actually about everyone else. The story revolves around Hercules, but it's not about him, because his inner world isn't the focus. We're led to care more about the community surrounding the famous hero. The novel is funny, compassionate, feminist (unsurprisingly), and (surprisingly) queer. Fans of Song of Achilles will enjoy this alternate take on a hero known for being tragically, traditionally masculine.

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

A Norse mythology retelling about the witch who bears Loki's monster children, who in turn help bring about the apocalypse. It's a weighty story, and protagonist Angrboda bears the load like any good parent, loving and accepting her monster children for who they are. A story of love, acceptance, and inner strength, Gornichec's character-driven novel is a unique offer in a market saturated with Greek myth retellings.

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes

Told from several perspectives, including Medusa's decapitated head, this retelling of the famous snake-haired monster and the boy who slayed her is cutting and often quite funny. Tip: the audiobook version maximizes the hilarity. This read is a poster child for modern concerns about fake news: what's the true story of an event, and what makes a "monster" a monster? In the end, it's all a matter of perspective.

Honorable Mentions

Shallow Waters by Anita Kopacz

Lyrical and ambitious, this retelling of Nigerian mythology (specifically Yemaya, deity of the sea) has mermaid vibes and a strong undercurrent of cultural healing.

Other Books By Natalie Haynes

Natalie Haynes is a wonderful contributor to myth retellings. Other books by her include A Thousand Ships, a feminist recasting of the Trojan War, The Children of Jocasta, a reimagining of two Sophocles tragedies, and Pandora's Jar, nonfiction commentary on the women in Greek Myths. She also just released a new book called Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth, a follow-up to Pandora's Jar.

Books by Jennifer Saint

Another prolific contributor is Jennifer Saint. Her books include: Ariadne, about the Princess of Crete and sister of the Minotaur; Elektra, which follows the story of three women during the time of the Trojan War; and Atalanta, about an abandoned princess raised by a bear and the Goddess Artemis.


And if you've made it through this entire list and you still want more myths, maybe try a contemporary translation of an original myth by Emily Wilson, whose work has gotten rave reviews.

Inglenook hopes to grow this list in future. If you know of a good read to add to this list, send us a message or post in the comments below.

About the Author: Sasha Bailyn lives in New York state surrounded by trees and her son’s pillows forts. She writes memoir and magical realism. For regular content on the life of a bibliophile / writer / mother / magician, follow her on Substack.

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