Thoughts on BURNING ROSES

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you know what that means. It’s book review time! This month, I opted for something on the fairytale side of things. I didn’t realize it was a novella when I requested it, but I’m glad it was something short and entertaining. I’ve been reading too many longer things lately, so it was a nice change of pace. It’s S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses and it was released yesterday (09/29) from Tor/Forge. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

Love the cover.

Burning Roses follows Rosa and Hou Yi, two middle aged women who are the stuff of legends. The problem with being legends is that you have to gain that reputation somehow and that can be misleading, even if it’s all wonder and prestige. Both women are filled with regret and running away from their pasts when they decide to team up and protect their makeshift home from the sunbirds that have started attacking the surrounding area. They don’t expect to make it out alive, but maybe one last adventure can help to resolve some of the regret that plagues them.

I’m going to be completely honest with you. I read this about four weeks ago and have been putting off writing this review purely out of laziness. But what I’ve discovered from my procrastination is that this book is pretty forgettable. I had to skim the first chapter just to remind myself what it’s about. The details came back to me fairly quickly, but I shouldn’t have needed the nudge. I probably won’t remember it at all a year from now. That’s not to say the story is bad (it’s actually really good). It’s just that among the plethora of fairytale retellings, it doesn’t stick out in my mind.

To be fair, this is me with most fairytale retellings.

The fairytales. This is a mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood (Rosa) and Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology which I’m not familiar with at all. Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Beauty and the Beast are also mixed in for good measure. I also feel like there might have been some others I wasn’t familiar with, like maybe the thing with the dragon. But the way they were all blended together made for a really nice story of family tragedy and toxic friendships and all consuming obsessions and, of course, love. I really enjoy how the story pulls enough from the originals to make them recognizable, but twists and weaves them into something new.

The story itself. This is a nice read. I took a few days to get through it, but at around 80 pages it could easily have been done in one sitting. The way their pasts unfold, mingled in with the present story is lovely. My only complaint is the same one I have with most novellas: the story feels incomplete. There’s a finality to it, but there’s also this gaping hole where we don’t get to see the end of Rosa’s story. It’s weird how it seems to start out as Rosa’s story, then shifts to Hou Yi’s story during which we get her ending, but it never shifts back to give us a satisfying ending for Rosa. Maybe that’s another story, but it doesn’t really feel like something that would require another book.

Basically.

The writing is lovely. It’s not super poetic, but there’s this nice rhythm that carries you through the story. The imagery is deliberate and helps bring the story to life. It’s a smooth read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Burning Roses while I was reading it. Despite the unsatisfactory ending and the forgettableness of it, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by S.L. Huang.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars (3.5 really, but I rounded up). If you enjoy fairytale retellings, it’s worth a look. And it’s short enough that even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’re not wasting too much time.

Thoughts on SEA WITCH

Howdy, howdy!  Due to the random sicknesses of the past couple of months, I forgot to request a book from NetGalley for March.  Luckily, I had a book on my to-be-read list that I’ve been looking for an excuse to read ever since it came out in July of last year.  My love of mermaids automatically drew me towards Sea Witch by Sarah Henning.  The fact that it sounded like a new take on the Little Mermaid (my favorite fairy tale) sealed the deal.  I had to read it.  But that’s enough of why I chose it, let’s get to the review.

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I love the cover.

Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch tells the story Evie, a peasant and a witch, who not only has to hide her power, but also has to put up with the townsfolk accusing her of not knowing her place just because she’s best friends with the prince (Nik) and close to his cousin (Iker), another prince.  When her other best friend, Anna, was taken by the sea, Evie’s whole life fell apart until she thrust herself into studying magic.  Evie and Nik never stopped mourning Anna, but when a mysterious stranger who resembles their dead friend appears, Evie finds herself a purpose: keeping her new friend on land.  Unfortunately, Evie has no idea what kind of magic it will take, nor does she understand the repercussions until it’s too late.

This isn’t some Disney-ified version of the tale with replicas of Ariel and Ursula and Erik.  These characters are mostly well-developed and have a nice balance between light and dark within them.  However, I do admit that Iker and Nik could have used a bit more personality.  Nik was an ideal prince through and through.  I wanted him to be a little selfish and at least make his desires known.  Iker, on the other hand, is a stereotypical playboy prince who turns his back on Evie when he thinks she’s a threat to him and his family.

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For some reason, Iker reminded me of this.  “Love me Evie! … from afar.”

As far as the plot goes, I have some issues with the reasoning behind Annemette’s whole revenge thing.  I just don’t believe someone who was always best friends with these people would blame them like that.  But I’ll say it was because of her lack of a soul.  I’m sure that would corrupt people and make them do weird things.  But other than that, I have no real qualms with the book.  In fact, I’m really happy the story didn’t take the happy ending route where friendship conquers everything.  That would’ve been far too sappy a climax and not a fitting tribute to the original Little Mermaid.

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Because we’re talking about writing next.

The writing is mostly smooth and enjoyable.  Most of the romance between Evie and Iker comes off as corny and more funny than I think it was supposed to, but I got a good chuckle out of it.  I also admit that a couple of the past sections confused me.  At one point, I’m not entirely sure if Iker or Nik is the main character for one of those parts.  It’s easy enough to figure it out after the fact, but during it, I was super confuzzled.

Ultimately, I’m glad I found this book.  A friend actually pointed out that a second one is coming out this year.  I will definitely be picking it up to see what Evie is up to next.

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Overall, I gave Sea Witch four out of five stars.  If you love mermaids or witches or both, this book is a worthy addition to your library.  Bonus points if you’re into fairy tale retellings!