Genre-typical descriptions of blood, gore and violence.
– Middle-aged main characters
– Focus on family
– Everything wraps up tidily
– Elegant, purposeful writing style
– Main characters a bit too similar in personality
– No tension or emotional conflict until near the end
– Some weak spots in writing
(Thank you to NetGalley and Tor.Com for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review! Burning Roses comes out September 29th, 2020!)
A fairy tale mash-up led by two uncommon protagonists, each carrying their own burden of regrets.
Burning Roses is about Hou Yi (from the Chinese legend) and Rosa (Red Riding Hood.) Both are middle-aged women with regrets about choices they’ve made in the past regarding their families. Both are sharpshooters—Rosa with a gun and Hou Yi with a bow and arrow. When someone from Hou Yi’s past shows up and threatens the region with sunbird attacks, the two set out on what’s likely to be their final hunt. Along their journey, Rosa tells her full story to Hou Yi, and Hou Yi relates parts of her own as well.
In this way, Burning Roses is very much a book where you get what’s written on the label. There’s lots of digging into the past, if you enjoy that element. (I actually love that.) Lots of lamenting about the choices they made and how those choices screwed up their families. Burning Roses is straightforward in this regard and fairly easy to enjoy in a single, short sitting.
Huang does a tidy and efficient job of presenting Rosa’s past and working in various fairy tale references. Burning Roses didn’t overwhelm me with emotion, but it does have a few parts ready to pluck at your heartstrings—particularly the bittersweet final line.
I should note that this isn’t a romance, even though both Rosa and Hou Yi are attracted to women. It’s about two friends in similar situations for similar reasons—with a few key differences that lead to some tension down the line.
Huang has summed up Rosa and Hou Yi’s relationship in a few tidy lines:
Hou Yi was running from something the way Rosa was, only Hou Yi ran by hunting the sunbirds and other creatures that threatened the people, extending herself beyond call, beyond reason.
They were meant to be able to hide from each other, together.
The two women are very similar and their character arcs are similar, and this works for the most part, although there’s a lack of tension in the story (and between them) until closer to the end. I found this parallel satisfying, as well as the conflict Hou Yi feels at Rosa joining her: she is scared that Rosa will see her fail and she is also scared she will falter if Rosa is not here.
Burning Roses is told in third person, past tense from Rosa’s point of view.
Huang has a solid style which blends elegance and frankness. She’s produced some excellent phrases that really hit home and brought moments to life with some key word choices that really bring the scenes to life. However, there are also several spots with weak phrasing or word choices, which turn a strong visual into an awkward sentence. There’s also a tendency toward short, choppy sentences between paragraphs.
Themes and Representation—★★★★☆
There’s some nice representation here. Both Rosa and Hou Yi are middle-aged and same-sex attracted women, possibly lesbians since there’s no mention of attraction to any man. There’s also a line from Hou Yi about how Rosa’s Western tongue would refer to her as a man. I don’t know if she’s transgender or if this refers to not-traditionally-feminine appearance. Hou Yi is Chinese-coded and Rosa is Hispanic, although I don’t know if she’s South American or Spanish.
The key themes in Burning Roses focus on family, past choices, how and why they were made, the regret surrounding them, and the possibility of second chances. Huang’s handling of these themes is solid, if a little heavy-handed at times.
Readers who want family-centric or flashback-centric reads; readers who want to see more middle-aged women as complicated, competent, badass leads.