Burning Roses by S.L. Huang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book surprised me a bit. It's a fairy tale, but it's also a deconstruction thereof. The protagonist, Rosa, is a middle-aged Red Riding Hood who has to come to terms with all the things she's done during her life. Flashbacks scattered throughout the narrative reveal the scope of those things: she killed many classic fairy tale denizens, including Goldilocks' Bears, and was entangled with Goldie herself for several murderous, grifting years. (Goldie here being revealed as a cunning manipulator.) Rosa fell in love with the Beauty (here named Mei) and killed her Beast, and it all comes to a head decades later when she is about to be arrested and her past revealed, and she runs from Mei and their grown daughter. She falls in with Hou Yi, another middle-aged female warrior with a similar family tragedy in her past. The two of them take up fighting the sunbirds that are burning out local villages, and Rosa and Hou Yi go on one last adventure where they both have to face up to what they've done.
This is a story of loss, pain and regret, but also one of hope: at the end, Hou Yi begins the process of reconciliation with her estranged wife and son, and Rosa realizes she has to stop running and deal with her own wife and daughter, who have followed her despite everything that has happened. This is a novella, and it's just as long as it needs to be. The worldbuilding is a nicely done mixture of European and Chinese fairy tales, and the characters, especially Rosa, are well drawn. This is not an action-heavy or flashy story, but it has a lot of heart.
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