There are plenty of reasons a writer might undertake a spinoff or a sequel to a classic novel, riffing on the characters and settings created by a long-dead author whose work is now in the public domain. Not the least of these is the irresistible opportunity to spend more time in a literary happy place.

Witness the cottage industry of contemporary fiction that draws on the novels of Jane Austen. Did fans of Pride and Prejudice really need to see Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet solve a murder mystery? Perhaps not, but who better to concoct this scenario than the great P.D. James? Death Comes to Pemberley (2011) was her final novel, and Janeites certainly weren’t objecting. Of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), however—which pits the Bennets et al. against hordes of the undead—the less said the better.

More enriching is Jo Baker’s Longbourn (2013), which borrows its title and setting from the Bennet family estate but, in an upstairs-downstairs twist, reveals what was going on in the kitchen and the stable while the principals of P&P were busy in the drawing room and gardens. Mrs. Hill (the cook), Sarah and Polly (maids), James (manservant), and Ptolemy (footman) take center stage here; our starred review called it a “simple but inspired reimagining.”

The novels of Charles Dickens, like those of Austen, feature richly imagined worlds and secondary characters ripe for further exploration. One of the best reimaginings in recent years is Jon Clinch’s Marley (2019), in which Jacob Marley— Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased business partner, whose ghostly visit sets A Christmas Carol in motion—earns a fully developed backstory, dating to their boyhood meeting at Professor Drabb’s Academy for Boys. Our starred review called it an “adroit, sharply drawn portrayal of Dickens’ indelible characters.”

Clinch was no stranger to this genre of literary homage. His 2007 debut, Finn, took as its focus the father of one of the most memorable characters in American literature: Huckleberry Finn. Clinch’s Pap Finn is an irredeemably racist, evil man who steals an enslaved Black woman, terrorizing both her and Huck. In a starred review, Kirkus called it a “bold and disturbing work” that was “likely to make waves.”

Percival Everett, who appears on the cover of our April 1 issue issue in a portrait by illustrator Patrick Rosche, is certainly making waves with his new novel, James (Doubleday, March 19). Now four decades into his literary career, and riding high on the success of American Fiction, the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of his novel Erasure, Everett has written what many critics are calling his masterpiece: a reworking of Mark Twain’s novel from the point of view of Jim, the enslaved man who rafts down the Mississippi with Huck in a bid for his freedom.

“I was shocked when the idea came to me that no one had done it before,” Everett tells contributing writer Gregory McNamee in a recent interview. “It seems particularly strange to me that no one had considered Jim’s point of view.” This brilliant novel is bursting with ideas, humor, and heart—a remixed classic that seems destined to become a classic in its own right.

Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.