The Tangleroot Palace

- Marjorie Liu

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously-plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of traveling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.


My Review:

enjoyable/easy to read:

I’ve learned that the only way I can decide how to rate books like this – either collections of short stories or anthologies – is to rate and review the stories individually. So, here we go…

Sympathy for the Bones ★★★.5
Such a dark, creepy vibe. The picture is revealed slowly to keep you hooked and reading, wanting to know what will happen next. I liked the hopefulness of the future shining through the dark disparity of the past (and present) and the plotting to win the freedom that has been denied for a lifetime. The writing is sharp yet haunting with evocative imagery; it feels like it crawled straight out of a nightmare.

Briar and the Rose ★★★.5
This retelling of Sleeping Beauty is much darker than the Disney version but definitely more hopeful than the original Giambattista Basile version. I liked that it took place over years with the protagonists falling in love one day a week, every week. The story itself is shrouded in mystery, and while the details are sparse, it feels like a dreamscape with images flowing one after another to create a narrative rather than a straight line of words. You get to know Rose and Briar without really knowing them at all. This is not a sweet, naive fairy tale, but it has sweet moments – although they are often overshadowed by a horrific loss of agency and freedom. I love that once the story takes a turn, the storytelling begins to feel like legends whispered across lands, and it left me questioning whether the ending was real or just hopeful myths and legends.

Light and the Fury DNF
I didn’t know it was possible to DNF a short story, but this one was mind numbingly dull. I read the first few pages, skimmed the next few, fell asleep, tried continuing the next day, ended up skimming again, and then gave up. So all I can tell you is there’s a war going on, she’s going to murder some dude’s sister, and he’s okay with it, and everyone is going to die anyway because war and she’s some never forgotten hero but doesn’t think she should be but knows she is. Too many details I didn’t care about, and it felt so long I started to worry it was going to take up the rest of the book even though my kindle says I’m only at 30%.

The Last Dignity of Man ★★★★
This story managed to be both disgusting and heartbreakingly sad – I didn’t think it was possible to walk this line successfully, but it was done very well. I’m not a big fan of the ‘unsaid speaking more than anything said‘ trope, so a lot of Richard and Alexander’s conversations were annoying but the rest of the story was wonderful. I liked the idea of Alexander portraying himself as a villain in the hopes this proves there is a hero out in the world looking out for humanity.

For the first time, Alexander wonders if evil villains are only beards to hide what's truly septic about the world.

Unfortunately, pretending for so long has made Alexander more Lex than Alexander, and he’s lonely and sad since people are so quick to judge a book by its cover. The ending was both predictable and refreshingly unique
– it’s so nice when a love story doesn’t force an unbelievable happy ending.
Where the Heart Lives ★★★★.5
A highly captivating read, I was intrigued by the spooky, mysterious feeling of this story. It felt like there was always something just out of sight, and if you could look straight at it, everything would make sense. I love a found family and characters learning where (and who) they’re meant to be. The story itself is pretty simple, but the feelings are complex, and, for once, I got a lot more out of what wasn’t said rather than what was (and yes, I know this directly counteracts what I just said about The Last Dignity of Man but I’m okay with it).

After the Blood ★★.5
This one gives me the opposite vibes of Where the Heart Lives, with roughly the same about of non-explanations; but in this case, it was more annoying than captivating. And instead of folklore witchy magic, it was dark, depressing horror, and my preference leans more towards the former. I don’t know why the Amish being so important post-apocalypse was so surprising to me – because, duh – but the Amish-vampire-zombie thing still feels like a bizarre crossover. If this had been a full-length book, I might like it more – I think the premise requires more explanation – or maybe context? It’s also possible the cliffhanger ending seemed to lead to a much more exciting place than anything included in the short story.

Tangleroot Palace ★★★★
I don’t care that this was predictable from probably the first paragraph; it was still a fantastic read. The imagery of the forest made this story worth reading, and while it was just the vessel for the predictable feminist twist on a fairy tale (the only version of a feminist twist on a fairy tale that anyone seems to write
– a princess who ‘isn’t like the other princesses‘ runs away to avoid marrying a stranger, runs into a rapscallion stranger, falls in love, discovers she’s a witch, danger happens, the princess saves the stranger, but the stranger disappears, the princess is forced to meet her soon-to-be-husband and, surprise! It’s the stranger!)
The only missing predictable element in this feminist fairy tale was a queer character placed to ensure wokeness. It’s impossible to spend any time in a forest and not feel the magic and wonder of being surrounded by trees. Liu did an excellent job of translating this feeling to the page, and it’s what I appreciated most in this story.

Overall: The Tangleroot Palace ★★★ [if you consider DNF as zero] or ★★★.5 [if you just exclude a DNF from the collection]
This collection is worth a read for the spooky/creepy/witchy vibe that Liu seems capable of creating on command. It is an excellent vibe, and I will certainly be adding more of her work to my TBR shelf to get more of it in my life.

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