S. L. Huang’s 2020 Burning Roses is a re-imagined fairy tale. Or rather, it is the intersection of two re-imagined fairy tales.
Her grandmother’s murder at the hands of the wolf-man confirmed everything that red-clad Rosa’s mother ever told Rosa about Grundwirgen —people who have both human and beast-forms — so rifle in hand, Rosa set out to cleanse the human world of the tainted race.
Rosa’s quest was so successful that she had to flee to the far side of the world to escape her crimes.
The catch, as Rosa eventually discovered, is that unreasoning bigotry is an unreliable guide as to who to shoot and who to spare. Befriending alluring sociopath Goldie certainly didn’t correct Rosa’s mistaken judgements. By the time Rosa began to comprehend the magnitude of her error, her body-count was quite impressive.
Escaping Goldie, marrying Mei, and raising Xiao Hong with Mei provided only a temporary reprieve from consequences. Eventually, the King’s Men came looking for Rosa. She fled from the King’s Men and from her family, abandoning West for East.
Decades later, Rosa and Hou Yi the Archer use their arcane skills to protect common folk from the occasional rampaging monster. Hou Yi has her own colourful, unfortunate history, which she has NOT revealed to Rosa.
The deadly sunbirds ravaging the countryside are a sign that Hou Yi’s past has come back to haunt her.
I know readers won’t be able to buy this until September. The important thing to remember is that I didn’t need to defer gratification.
This is another story in which a lot of trouble could have been avoided had some effective therapy been available. For that matter, what we learn of Rosa’s childhood and her violent, raging, bigoted mother suggests that effective child protective services would also have been useful. Although such services, had they existed in this fictional setting, would probably have been too busy arresting child-baking witches and cannibalistic ogres to deal with one bad mom.
Lacking good therapists, Rosa and Hou Yi relied on defective coping mechanisms, mechanisms that didn’t work that well. Both of them tried to forget their pasts; both of them tried to lose themselves in work. Both of them failed to bury the past.
Be assured the story isn’t all about feelings; there’s quite a lot of action involved, especially action against giant flaming monsters.
I don’t know that the story could have supported a longer version — the novella ends just as the story is over1—but more time with Huang’s prose and characters would have been enjoyable. Still, the novella is a must-buy. Or at least it will be once it is released.
- You would think that would be the default, but it isn’t.