ARC Review: Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

When Rosa (aka Red Riding Hood) and Hou Yi the Archer join forces to stop the deadly sunbirds from ravaging the countryside, their quest will take the two women, now blessed and burdened with the hindsight of age, into a reckoning of sacrifices made and mistakes mourned, of choices and family and the quest for immortality.

As soon as I first saw this cover, I knew I was gonna read it because just look at it – it’s absolutely gorgeous. I love the colors and all the elements within it, which made even more sense once I read the story. And I was ecstatic when I got the ARC coz I never thought I would. 

The one good thing I did was read a couple of reviews before I started, and realized that it doesn’t have as much action as the blurb implies – it’s just not that kind of a story. And once I set my expectations right, then this was a beautiful stunning story. Owing to its very short length, we don’t get much detail about the world but we do understand the context within which the story is told, so I can say that the exposition was just enough. I also loved how seamlessly the author manages to combine multiple fairytales, crossing the bridge between Western and Eastern storytelling perfectly, overall creating a very believable narrative. The pacing is slow and contemplative, but it never feels boring or less engaging. 

This is a story about two women (possibly in their late middle age) who are brought together by circumstances on a quest to save innocents, but the truth is that they are running from their past actions and their grief. The guilt they feel about what they have done is what forms the emotional core of this tale, and it was very interesting to get to know their backstories as well as how they are dealing with it all. It’s about them helping each other not only to realize their faults, but also to encourage the other not to give up hope, and maybe do something to overcome their guilt to move onto a better future. I love how the author was able to show us the flaws of both Rosa and Hou Yi clearly, but also make us empathize with them and want them to find peace. 

To conclude, this is an intricately woven tale about different kinds of love and families, grief and loss, and how guilt can eat you alive. It’s an introspective story of two women finding their path back to their humanity, after years of thinking themselves incapable of it. If you love such very personal stories with queer BIPOC protagonists, then don’t give this a miss. 

PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Tor.com for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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