Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

Many thanks to Macmillan-Tor and NetGalley for the ARC. This book is being released today, September 29 2020.

My Rating: 2 stars

Burning Roses is a fairy tale retelling mash-up mainly consisting of “Little Red Riding Hood” and the Chinese legend of “Hou Yi.” Now middle aged women, Rosa and Hou Yi are hunting down destructive sunbirds and telling each other the tales of their pasts. The book switches between the present moments and Rosa’s tale of her past, which also includes aspects of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Rosa’s story was easily my favorite part of the book. I really wished there was a whole novel devoted to it. I loved seeing how Huang used and changed the fairy tales. I’m also happy that I’ve been introduced to a new fairy tale; I had never heard of “Hou Yi” prior to this and now I have a new tale to explore.

There is a lot of diversity in this book, which I know a lot of people will appreciate. Both Rosa and Hou Yi are queer women of color, and the country they are in is Asian-inspired. As you may know by now, I love finding diverse fairy tale retellings because the genre is usually so straight and white. I’m so happy that the genre is expanding to include LGBT+ characters and characters of color, and it’s also great to see a retelling of Chinese story instead of just the usual European ones.

Unfortunately, this book mainly missed the mark for me. Part of the issue is that it is a novella; I don’t always vibe with fantasy novellas because of how short they are. I tend to want more world building than they have space to provide, and that’s what happened here. There seems to be so much to this world, and we ultimately see very little of it. I wanted to know more about the grundwirgen (intelligent animals), who are a major part of Rosa’s back story, and about how they interacted with society. Sometimes I was confused by things the characters treat as standard occurances, and I think a little more world building would have helped with that.

I also didn’t have much of a connection with either Rosa or Hou Yi. I didn’t feel that I knew them well enough, even though the book is literally telling the stories of how they came to be the way they are. Part of this comes from many things being told to the reader instead of shown. Rosa’s love for Mei is a good example. Huang tells us that they love each other, but we don’t actually experience the relationship developing or the love they share. This made it hard for me to connect with and care about the characters, which is a major part of reading for me. I don’t have to like the characters, but I do have to care about them.

Overall, Burning Roses is a fairy tale retelling that didn’t quite do it for me, but it is still worth checking out. Huang’s writing is lovely and lots of people will enjoy reading about these queer, POC protagonists.

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