Cover Image: The Tangleroot Palace

The Tangleroot Palace

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I know of Marjorie Liu from the Monstress graphic novel series. I love that series but it is very dark and intense. It’s really good though. I just pre-ordered volume 6! yay! haha. Anyways, I saw this one Netgalley and immediately requested it. I didn’t even know what it was about but I knew I wanted to read it. Look at the cover! This is an anthology with seven short stories told by Liu.

Knowing what I know about her Monstress series, I was not expecting a light and fluffy read. It gets dark and intense but she keeps you captivated with the fairytales and magic. These are very unique stories, where some are more intriguing than others, but she tells them so fluidly. She captures the world and makes you fall in love with the characters. I love how she ends most of her stories but you will be wanting more.

Sympathy for Bones – 4 stars

A great story about the lengths you would take for freedom. It was a great story to start with because it let me know how dark and haunting to expect some of these stories to be!

The Briar and the Rose– 5 stars

This is a sapphic Sleeping Beauty retelling. I loved how she twisted this and the whole story was just so beautifully done. This one pulled at the heartstrings!

Call Her Savage– 3.5 stars

I needed much more context. I think this would have been an amazing full novel. There were many things that I wanted to know more about and I think it would have helped me connect more to the ending. It was still interesting and I enjoyed it but I would have loved more.

The Last Dignity of Man– 2.5 stars

This was my least favorite of them all. It’s really gross. There are engineered worms that eat waste and it’s all around gross. We have Lex, who is trying to be like Lex Luthor, to find the hero that will love him. It just didn’t hit well for me. I was glad when this one was over.

Where the Heart Lives– 3 stars

This one was just “meh” for me. A women who is forced to leave her home and work for a witch in the woods. Liu did a great job with the fairytale atmosphere but the plot kind of left me wanting more.

After the Blood– 4 stars

Ahhhh.. a virus that wipes out humanity and now we have vampires and zombie-type creatures. WHAT! Too close to home. haha. She mentions that it was a bit weird to publish right now. Anyways, I did like this one. I love how the three stood up for each other. I like that we got a bit of a romance too!

The Tangleroot Palace– 4.5 stars

I loved all the fairytale/magical stories that Liu wrote in this series. This one I did feel like followed your typical runaway princess and some other things that I don’t want to give away. There isn’t anything wrong with that because I love that stuff. haha! I enjoyed this one but was surprised by how tame it felt compared to some of her other stories.

This is such a great anthology because I enjoyed almost all of these stories! It is my favorite one to date. So many of these stories are just so rich in detail and her beautiful prose. Some of these stories will stay with me. One of the things that I loved was that after each story, she would write a paragraph or so about what influenced it. It was a great addition and I wish more people would do that for their anthology short stories.

Overall, this was a great read and I highly recommend it. I will warn you that they can get dark and intense so just be aware of that. It’s not a light and fluffy read but you get a lot of the stories. Women are awesome. That is all. 🙂

** Receiving this e-ARC has in no way influenced my opinions! **
Was this review helpful?
With captivating lyrical prose Marjorie Liu has written a short story collection that will enchant readers from start to finish.

From the creator of Monstress, The Tangleroot Palace: Stories is a collection of six fantastical short stories and one novella. This lushly written collection runs the gamut from a fairy tale-esque princess on a quest to a post-apocalyptic horror story. Each story is a glimpse into an enthralling new world. Whether a fan of steampunk, high fantasy, horror, or fairy tale retellings, there’s something in the collection for every type of genre reader.

Even in such a marvelous collection there’s always a stand out and for me that was The Briar and the Rose. A Sapphic reimagining of Sleeping Beauty that takes on the dark elements of rape and loss of bodily autonomy that often get ignored in new versions and retellings of the original story. In Liu’s deft hands the tale becomes one of a woman possessed by a witch who regains control of her own body every Sunday and the woman’s bodyguard who is the only one who notices.

Fans of genre fiction and short stories should pick this one up. Liu’s talent with world building alone makes this collection a must read.
Was this review helpful?
An outstanding collection of short stories, this book features lovely writing, engaging characters, fully realized worlds, and complicated plots. Whichever genre - fantasy, horror, science fiction, fairy tale - Liu chooses, she turns the standard genre tropes on their heads, taking the reader in unexpected directions. She is a master of tone and setting. Her characters, mostly women, are emotionally complex people dealing with extreme conditions of peril.

Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
My only brush with Marjorie Liu has been a bit of Monstress series, so I picked this up without specific expectations.

The writing is as lush and beautiful as Sana Takeda's Monstress illustrations. 

The collection of stories is a pretty quick read, but each was complex and entertaining. If I had to compare Liu's writing to another author, it reminds me of the dark fairy tales and moral ambiguity of Neil Gaiman, but perhaps with a little less whimsy, a little more lushness, and more feminism. Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber might be a better match. Regardless, I really enjoyed it and will now seek out her other novels!
Was this review helpful?
There are six short stories and one novella in The Tangleroot Palace and each one varies in theme and genre but a fairytale element runs through the entire anthology. It isn’t your typical fairytale though, it’s alternative and unique and if you’re at all familiar with Marjorie Liu’s work you’ll understand what I mean by that. If you’re not then you’re in for a treat because no one spins a tale quite like Liu. 

At the end of each story, Liu discusses the origins and inspiration for each story, naming the anthology that each one originally appeared in and the premise she was given for each one. I really enjoyed these notes from her, the author, because it was so interesting to see what she had done with an idea and where she had pieced it together with something else she had seen/read/heard about.

The Tangleroot Palace was, as I expected, brilliant. Each story was unique, wonderful and magical, weaving fantasy and reality together to create stories that although set in fantastical worlds with monsters and fairytales at their core have something we all recognise; people. Even in the darkness of ‘Sympathy for the Bones’ we can recognise parts of ourselves, and that is what makes Liu’s writing so compelling.
Was this review helpful?
Short story compilations are always tricky things to review because they are, by definition, always going to be a mixed bag. I have to say that in the case of The Tangleroot Palace I found that the hits *far* outnumbered the misses. I loved a lot of the stories in this collection. I found The Briar and the Rose hugely compelling and I would say pretty much all of the other stories intrigued me in one way or another. 
Marjorie Liu's writing is gorgeous and fits really well with the forest setting that crops up in a number of these stories. I found the atmosphere that was built in a relatively short period of time to have been very powerful indeed. 
I liked the ideas that were explored and I also appreciated that this takes a number of works from various parts of Liu's writing career, it's always fascinating to see how an author's writing can be so varied - I would say 'has improved' but I didn't notice a difference in the quality of the writing. 
The one qualm I had with this book as a whole was that I wasn't sure the Lex Luther (but it isn't actually Lex Luther) fit in with the rest of the anthology in terms of theme? I can see how it was relevant to Liu's work in comic books but it just didn't quite gel with the other stories in the same way. That's not to say it was a bad story - I liked it a lot - but in terms of the cohesion of this collection it felt just a little bit off. 
I would definitely recommend this both to people who have read Liu's work before and want to read more short fiction and also to those looking to discover a new author, this book gives you a great flavour of what you can find in various different places. 

My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu is a collection of 7 stories, one of which is a novella. Many of you probably know Liu from the dark fantasy comic series Monstress, but she has written novels, too. My previous experience of Liu is only from the Monstress comics, but I love especially the worldbuilding in those, so I was excited to check out her short stories. The gorgeous cover art is by her Monstress collaborator, Sana Takeda.

These dark fantasy stories once again show Liu's strength in worldbuilding. Some of them are even a bit too packed for such short stories, but in most of them the world feels real and unique and well-thought-through. Each story has a short author's note following it, and I really like when that is included in short story collections. I also prefer the notes after rather than before the stories so that I have some context for them.

Something that Liu remarked upon in one of her author's comments, and something that I also noticed myself, was that a few of the stories share in common magical forests with terrible secrets or powers. Apart from the recurring dark forest, I could also find recurring themes of making your own family and finding your own place.

I'll go through the stories individually, since seven seems like a manageable amount to talk about in one review.

Sympathy for the Bones– 3 stars
An apprentice witch seeks her freedom.
This was one of those stories that I didn't have any strong feelings about. It had elements and themes that I find interesting, like revenge, family, and freedom; a main character with maybe questionable morals; doll magic... but the story just didn't hook me. It might've been the setting that wasn't my cup of tea, or then I wanted the story to be more spooky or dark.

The Briar and the Rose – 4 stars
An original take on Sleeping Beauty, and my second favourite from the collection. We follow a main character, called the Duelist, who is the bodyguard to a sorceress who can't stay up too late every Saturday because of a dark secret that we learn during the story. It's also a love story between two women, one of which isn't the sorceress.

To probably no one's surprise, this was one of my favourites from the collection. You know I enjoy my fairytale retellings, and this was a very different take on Sleeping Beauty, with a different storyline and setting, but still some elements in common. I liked the main character and the love story. This was first published in The Starlit Wood fairytale anthology, which I really want to get my hands on. I've now read two stories from the anthology and liked them both.

Call Her Savage (The Light and the Fury) – 2 stars
In my ARC copy the story has the first title, but judging from the Amazon preview it seems the title was changed. I'll update the title when the book is out and this is confirmed.

"In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex." That short description from the back of the book sounds really exciting, doesn't it? But to me it was one of the weakest stories in the collection. It had way too much worldbuilding for such a short story. The crystal skulls powering everything, as well as the people getting sort-of-superpowers from them, were very interesting concepts, but it was a lot, and I don't think it worked as a short story. So many elements and ideas. The fraught relationship between the MC and the ex was my favourite part, but it was a very short part of the story.

The Last Dignity of Man – 4.5 stars
My absolute favourite, the standout of the collection. A rich, young businessman, who owns a large company specialising in biotech, models his life after Lex Luthor.

This one was a story that I wasn't sure about in the beginning (because I didn't know how the Superman link would be handled), but which quite quickly turned into my favourite. The main character was the strength of the story. He wants there to be good in the world, wants to be loved, but isn't sure either possibility really exists. He is so lonely and conflicted, and it really radiates throughout the whole story with this sad atmosphere. Such a good story.

Where the Heart Lives – 4 stars
This was a cosy story about finding your family, and it was my third favourite from the collection. Lucy is not wanted at home by her father and brothers, and is sent to be a serving girl to a mysterious woman living a few towns over. There, in a house surrounded by a mysterious & haunting forest, among strange magic, she finds somewhere she belongs.

Some parts in the end were perhaps a bit rushed, but I really enjoyed the feel of this. I liked how magical everything in the world felt and how cosy and peaceful the life in the house felt even though the people had their own tragedies and there was dark, scary magic around. A found-family type of story. This was apparently a prequel to a series of hers.

After the Blood – 2 stars
This is a post apocalyptic story where, after some sort of a pandemic, people now live among overgrown forests and strange monsters and magic. This takes place at a farming community led by the Amish. The main character isn't Amish, she lives on the outskirts, but there are Amish characters in the story.

This one had a vampire in it, so one would think I'd like this, but sadly, no. This was another one that was a bit of a miss for me. It had a lot of other stuff in it as well apart from the vampires. The post-apocalypse, the Amish farming community, past trauma, strange new magic, ghouls, something going on with the forest. It was hard to get a grasp on, because not all the elements felt quite 'done' yet. The main character in this one was the one I got the least from in the whole collection, the others felt like complete characters. Maybe it was also slightly too long.

Tangleroot Palace – 3 stars
The title story of the collection was also the longest story, a novella. The official description goes like this: “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." And that's a pretty good description.

I liked the fairytale setting, the characters were good, but I wanted more from the plot. I enjoyed it, but it was a middle-of-the-road story for me. I felt like the other stories had more of a Marjorie Liu twist in them. This is also the earliest written story in the collection, so that might have something to do with it.

These stories were published between 2009 and 2016. The ones that were my least favourites were from 2010, so they were earlier works of Liu's.

I give the collection as a whole 3 stars. It's hard for a short story collection to get more from me, since there are always stories I love more and stories that don't work for me. But I am very happy I got to read The Last Dignity of Man and The Briar and the Rose, especially.
Was this review helpful?
This is a lovely collection of short stories, ranging from fantasy to horror. While I enjoyed this book for the most part, I did find the geographical and societal settings on a couple of them difficult to understand at first, which is an acknowledged risk with short stories. Overall, though, I definitely recommend this and I can't believe it's taken me this long to come across a story re: the Amish in a post-apocalyptic world. 
Rounding up from 3.5 stars.
Thank you to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for the ARC!
Was this review helpful?
The Tangleroot Palace is a short story collection with 7 different stories written at different times by Marjorie Liu!  

I thought the stories were very atmospheric with great writing! Like in all short story collections I liked some more than others, but I mostly leaned towards the positive for all of them. I especially liked hearing what prompted the different stories originally, and it was interesting to see so many of them focused around a dark forest, haha. My favorite was “Briar and the Rose”, which had a really dark themed but it hooked me in a lot and I would love it as a longer novel. Would recommend if you want to chill with a short story collection! 4/5 stars.
Was this review helpful?
Overall very enjoyable. Each story could stand on its own, which is very refreshing when it comes to short stories, which often feel incomplete or rushed. See my thoughts on each story below:

Sympathy for the Bones: This didn't go where I expected, though I'm not sure why I didn't expect it. I think because Clora didn't have enough kindness in her or Ruth didn't seem evil enough. There wasn't enough depth to either of them to really show us our journey. Really cool concept though.

The Briar and the Rose: I'll admit I was a little put off by the descriptions of the Duelist, but I'm always here for a sapphic story where the MC and love interest work together to fight the system and overcome the odds. It also twined the style of a fairytale with the detail of an epic fantasy. Would definitely read a full novel of this.

Call Her Savage: There is a very unfortunate passing mention to scalping, but damn this story is a lot. Alternate history / magical steampunk with China as a world superpower competing against England in the 1800s. So many salient points about culture and history (personal and cultural) and the atrocities of war. Another one I wish was a full novel.

The Last Dignity of Man: love the concept of "be the villain to summon a hero" - especially when Alexander doesn't actually want to be the villain, he wants to be "just bad enough" to warrant a hero, someone who is purely good. There's an unfortunate offhand suicide comment that didn't need to be there, though.

Where The Heart Lives: I'm really impressed by how complete these stories feel. I've yet to find one that isn't quite able to stand on its own, which is so common with short stories. In this case, the difference between Lucy at the beginning and Lucy at the end of the story didn't feel vast enough (perhaps because of the short timeline) but the overall concept works 

After the Blood: Possible zombie apocalypse? Amish vampires? What on earth did I just read? I feel like I need answers. Apparently there's a novella set in this universe and now I need it. Because I have so many questions - and not in a "this story feels incomplete" way but in a "I really want to see every possible direction this could take" way.

Tangleroot Palace: Very fairytale-esque. Insta-love, evil queens and generational curses. I loved the glimpses we saw of the Tangleroot forest, and really wish we could have dug in deeper to see more than flashes. But this was already the longest story in the anthology so I can't be mad.
Was this review helpful?
I have a bit of a confession to make. I’m most familiar with Marjorie Liu from her wonderful work on the Monstress comics where she collaborates with illustrator Sana Takeda. Since Takeda worked on the cover for this one as well, I had presumed that The Tangleroot Palace was going to be a comic anthology.

But, nope. To my pleasant surprise, this is in prose , and Liu’s prose writing does not disappoint. She’s a wordsmith who knows how to craft a gripping, visceral, biting tale. Here in this collection, you’ll find stories about loneliness, magic, and dangerous women. 

Overall, it’s a haunting and enchanting anthology, but some of the stories that stayed with me the most were: “Sympathy for the Bones,” “Where the Heart Lives,” and of course, “The Tangleroot Palace” itself.
Was this review helpful?
I love this cover so much, I would buy it just to stare at it. As for what's inside, I only liked half of these stories unfortunately. I really do enjoy Lui's writing but I do think there's too many extra details that we don't need in most of the stories.  I haven't read her graphic novels but I definitely want to soon. She has unique ideas that I enjoyed reading about. Some of the stories did bore me though. 

Thank you Netgalley and to the publisher for an advanced copy of this book!
Was this review helpful?
I am now kicking myself for not having picked up Monstress yet, because if this short story collection is any indication, I'm going to absolutely love it.

The collection consists of six short stories and one novella. The writing is absolutely stunning and it hit me from the first paragraph. Liu's style is one I really love; that mix of beautiful descriptions, dark storylines and emotion, and giving you just enough hints of information about the story that your mind starts to race ahead thinking about all the possibilities. It made it really easy to enjoy reading this, even the stories my imagination didn't latch onto that much. The characters are also really diverse; there's plenty of queer rep and PoC rep.

Sympathy for the Bones 
Appropriately creepy, and I loved how this story slowly built up to its conclusion. There's definitely a feeling of something ominous coming throughout.

The Briar and the Rose 
This one was my favourite. Everything in this just worked for me. The fairytale feeling, the romance, the characters. Spot on. It's a twist on Sleeping Beauty and I loved it.

Call Her Savage
I think I could have liked this more if it had been a bit longer. This one tries to do a lot of world building for a short story, and I have to admit it lost me in the details.

The Last Dignity of Man 
This one could also have been a bit longer, but I just loved the characters. The relationship in this one really worked for me too, and parts of it were so melancholy they made my heart ache.

Where the Heart Lives 
I don't know if it's because this book had one too many creepy woods stories, or because I just spent a week on a creepy woods story I didn't really enjoy, but for some reason none of them quite did it for me. This is another one that could've benefitted from a bit more meat, and the ending felt pretty sudden.

After the Blood
Just wasn't interested in the setting or the characters. It's post-apocalyptic with vampires but I don't feel like any of it is explained well. Lots of insinuations that are never fully clarified.

The Tangleroot Palace
More dark woods, but I did really enjoy the romance in this one, even though I saw it coming. The conclusion that relates to the mystery behind the woods felt a bit weird though; maybe a bit too in the vein off "the power of positive thinking" for me. Still really enjoyed it overall.
Was this review helpful?
I first heard of Marjorie Liu because of the comic Monstress that I am a fan of. So when I saw this gorgeous cover and a story collection by her hand, I knew I had to request.

At first I wasn't sure how I felt about this collection. The first two stories certainly didn't grab me like I thought they would but then the story Call her Savage came around and I fell quite in love with how this story was told. And that continued on with the rest of the stories in this collection. Most of the stories have a fairytale like feel and some are even inspired by some of them. There are always strong woman and a lot of diversity to go around, making this a very solid and strong collection as a whole.

Sympathy for the Bones | 3,5 stars
In itself this is a very interesting and creepy story about voodoo. But personally could have done with a bit more of wickedness in Ruth than we got in the story. I just didn't quite feel the fear we were meant to I guess.

The Briar and the Rose | 3 stars
This is a sleeping beauty retelling with quite a bit of a dark twist with a saphic romance. Unfortunately I didn't quite care about the characters.

Call her Savage | 5 stars
This story is set in an alternate China-Britain. It follows a soldier who was trained as a weapon from birth and retired in her own way. But when war threatens, reappears. The politics and the whole interactions just completely drew me in.

The Last Dignity of Man | 4 stars
This was an interesting play on Superman. Our mc is trying to be Lex Luther which is kind of ridiculous on its own. The whole story is really, but then there are the underlaying emotions of loneliness that come through.

Where the Heart Lives | 5 stars
This fairytale story was everything I like to see in a whimsical kind of story. The magical forest one has to stay away with. The orphans taken in by a woman on her own. I just loved all the aspects and I would love to read more about them.

After the Blood | 3,5 stars
A story about humans becoming vampires after a virus. I really liked the idea and the characters but it got confusing in parts.

Tangleroot Palace | 4 stars
This story takes the typical tale of a princess running away from an arranged marriage into a lovely tale about magic and things not being what you think they are. And again, a magical forest. I love those.
Was this review helpful?
While by no means bad these stories struck me as very 'green' in terms of writing style. There is a stress on aesthetics and style so that the stories have little substance to them. I think fans of the author's graphic novel series will appreciate these more than others.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed all the different tales and retellings in this book. My favourite was The Briar & the Rose. They all have their own really intriguing twists. There's magic, modern-day retellings, supernatural and sci-fi twists. The writing is lyrical and haunting. I was surprised at how fleshed out the protagonists were despite the short length of the stories.
Was this review helpful?
I am familiar with Marjorie Liu’s work from her "Monstress" series, which I love for its darkness and tough women. And the series' beautiful artwork, from the mind of Sana Takeda, whose gorgeous work graces the cover of the terrific collection of short stories (and one novella).
The Tanglewood's stories are dark and creepy, and I didn't find a weak one in the bunch.
I particularly loved the recurring presence of trees in these stories, with their age, hunger and power central to situations in several stories. The stories  are:
-Sympathy For The Bones
-The Briar And The Rose
-Call Her Savage
-The Last Dignity Of Man
-Where The Heart Lives
-After The Blood
-Tangleroot Palace

It was hard to pick a favourite within this collection, but if hard pressed, would say that Sympathy for the Bones and Tangleroot Palace lingered in my mind after finishing this book. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for this ARC in exchange for a review.
Was this review helpful?
This was quite the pleasant surprise. I had very little expectations going in, and am now looking forward to reading more from Marjorie Lui in the future. The Tangleroot Palace is a bind up of six speculative short stories with a novella at the end. Post apocalyptic vampires, sapphic sleeping beauty, and deadly forests make up some of what goes on in these tales. Quite a few of the tales are haunting, with a dark fairytale elements that I just ate up. There were two stories I didn't like, but everything else I ended up really enjoying.

What struck me most throughout the course of the stories was the authorial voice. I loved the way Lui constructed her stories in such a short time. I found the delivery of her prose to be quite beautiful and really added to the creepy, unsettling atmosphere of all of her stories. 

My particular favourites were The Briar and the Rose, Sympathy For the Bones, and The Tangleroot Palace.
Was this review helpful?
The Tangleroot Palace is a collection of short fiction from fantasy/comics writer Marjorie Liu (featuring yes, the story by that name).  It's only seven stories long, with the stories probably all at the boundary between short story (7500 words) and novelette (17500 words) in length.  Each story comes with a comment by the author about what it was written for and the prompt that inspired it, after the end of course so as not to spoil.  I'd never read Liu outside of comics - her Monstress comic was in the Hugo Packet for a few years in a row and that was pretty enjoyable, so I was interested to try out her short fiction. 

And well, its' a fun collection with a few winning stories, but nothing particularly mindblowing.  A few stories are highly predictable, if done really well, although a few others are surprising in the directions they go.  Several of the stories deal with love and finding it, magical forests, alternate histories, and more, and again, they all do work.  It's not a collection that I think people have to have, but it's a solid collection of Liu's work, and I'll certainly be on the lookout for more going forward.  

More after the jump - since there are only 7 stories, I'll go into each one very quickly: 

The seven stories of this anthology are as follows:
1.  Sympathy for the Bones - A girl who found herself under the tutelage of a woman feared for her power to kill and harm through stitched-up dolls...and finds her soul held hostage by the woman enacts a plan to gain her freedom from this horror filled role.

2.  The Briar and the Rose - A woman hired as a bodyguard, known as the Duelist, works for a famous courtesan....who secretly is a witch who has taken the body of a beautiful princess, who only is able to wake once a week.  But the Duelist has fallen in love with the princess and searches for a way to free her.  

3.  Call Her Savage - In an alternate steampunk history, a China allied with and with territories on America is in danger of being destroyed by a British Empire - an Empire using the magic of found crystal skulls, and only a heroine like the Lady Marshal, a magically enhanced soldier weary of war and betrayal, can save China from total destruction.  

4.  The Last Dignity of Man  - A brilliant head of a research company, named Alexander Lutheran, finds himself dreaming of being Lex Luthor, and of there being a Superman to stop him, as he leads a company building dangerous new technology for the government and finds himself falling in love with a stranger who he gives a job as a janitor.

5.  Where the Heart Lives - An unwanted girl is given away to help a woman who lives on the edge of town and maintains a graveyard for the unwanted, and finds herself seeing spirits trapped in a magical wood, and discovers for the first time what it means to find love.  

6.  After the Blood - After a plague destroys most of humanity, self-sufficient groups like the Amish are the few groups best setup to survive....but the plague has brought forth something else, as magical forests have also grown filled of monsters, and a young woman and her two friends from an Amish community find themselves transformed in ways that their religion and families aren't quite able to accept...

7.  The Tangleroot Palace - A wild princess of a kingdom besieged by mercenaries and raiders finds herself betrothed by her beloved father to a barbarian warlord famed for his ruthlessness, and seeks a way to both keep her freedom and not to doom her kingdom in a dangerous magical forest known for changing all those who enter.

All of these stories are well done, with the story I liked the least (After the Blood) being one that a friend mentioned was a real favorite of her own, so obviously there are no real stinkers here.  Still, a couple of the stories, like The Tangleroot Palace, Where the Heart Lives, and Sympathy for the Bones are kind of predictable and not that unusual, even if they're well done.  And there aren't any real "oh my god you must read this" moments in the other stories either.  One of these stories incidentally, Where the Heart Lives, serves as a distant prequel apparently to Liu's "Dirk and Steele" series, but works perfectly well if (like me) you have no knowledge of that series.  

Still, The Last Dignity of Man is the stand-out of the collection for me, showing a seemingly genius industrialist trying to be Lex Luthor....not because he wants to be an evil super genius rich businessman, but because he wants there to be someone good to balance him out, to stop him, and...for him to love.  It's a story that fits really well in today's world with seemingly unchecked powerful businessmen doing things without any accountability, and Alexander's quest to find someone to love and to hold his terrifying potential in check is beautifully well done, even as it refuses to give an easy romantic ending.  

And both The Briar and the Rose and Call Her Savage work fairly well in different ways.  The Briar and the Rose pulling a spin on Sleeping Beauty that removes the consent problem, as the protagonist's love is a second mind in the same body only awake once a week who she wants to rescue, so there's nothing nonconsensual about her love and desperation to save her.  It's really sweet, even if anticlimactic in its ending.  Call Her Savage uses an alternate history, a steampunk world, and magic to show a beleaguered and tired warrior coming back to fight when the one who betrayed her, and who betrayed her heart, returns fighting again for the other side, and works pretty strongly as well.  

In short, this is a fine collection of Liu's short fiction, that makes me interested in reading more of her work...but doesn't really make me want to make much extra effort to seek it out.  It's a fine fun read, with some solid moments, but it never truly hits the highlights of some other collections I've read, that make those collections must buy for any reader.
Was this review helpful?
A young woman must pay a terrible price if she wants to gain her freedom in ‘Sympathy for the Bones’. A warrior woman falls in love with a beautiful woman whose true nature emerges just once a week in ‘The Briar and the Rose’. A woman enhanced with superhuman abilities races against time and the British navy to help save her people in ‘Call Her Savage’. A lonely man lives the life of a comic villain, but has the heart of a hero in ‘The Last Dignity of Man’. A girl whose family sent her away to be the maid in a strange household learns that life is infinitely stranger– and more frightening– than she imagined, but that there may be a place for her in this unsettling house in ‘Where the Heart Lives’. After a horrifying plague destroys civilization, a woman fights to keep her land safe and prevent the love of her life from either being destroyed by the transformation he is undergoing, or by his own family in ‘After the Blood’. And in the final tale of Marjorie Liu’s short story collection, ‘Tangleroot Palace’, a princess seeks to not only save herself from an unwanted marriage but to also save her beloved father’s kingdom. To do this, she must enter the terrifying enchanted forest known as the Tanglewood where a dark queen lies sleeping.

It is generally assumed, when it comes to short story collections, that not every story will appeal to the reader. Such collections are, after all, a chance for a writer to experiment with subject or theme or try on a new genre for size without committing to a full novel or even novella. Fortunately, Marjorie Liu is an excellent storyteller, and in Tangleroot Palace, the worst that can be said of its weakest entries is that they aren’t quite as strong as the more compelling stories. ‘The Last Dignity of Man’, for example, is the story of a genius who has a moral compass and can’t quite be the supervillain he often imagines himself to be. While that concept is interesting, the story’s general ambiguity- and its coolness toward the main character- keeps everything at a distance, and when fateful events force him to make a decision with dire consequences, it’s hard to feel empathy for him, even when it’s obvious that he is a good person who is more than a little lost.

The title story, ‘Tangleroot Palace’ is also one of the weaker tales thanks to a series of events that leads to a satisfying conclusion by way of some very convenient coincidences along the way. But even that is a minor blip in an otherwise excellent set of stories that are all just as long as they need to be to build a world, develop characters, and then make the reader care about their fates in the span of twenty or thirty pages. The short story is an art form on its own, and not every author can flesh out characters and a world in a handful of pages. That Liu has also written a series of successful novels as well as an Eisner Award-winning graphic novel series (Monstress, along with illustrator Sana Takeda) shows that she has a complete grasp of storytelling, both in short and long forms. Not every author can do that, but Liu retains an elegant prose style, even while employing an economy of language that ensures that each sentence makes as much of an impact as it can. This makes for a set of stories that are engaging from the beginning, hold the attention through the end, and linger in the imagination long after the last pages have been turned.

The Tangleroot Palace is a collection of eerie little wonders, and is perfect for fans of other short-form storytelling masters like P. Djèlí Clark or Ted Chiang.


Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book.
Was this review helpful?