Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu

cover of The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie LiuThe Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie Liu
Tachyon Publications (June 15, 2021)
239 pages; Paperback $16.95; Digital $9.99
Reviewed by Chris Hallock

The boundless creative energy of prolific author Marjorie Liu flows through The Tangleroot Palace, a collection of seven genre-defying tales set in worlds both strange and familiar. This eclectic anthology contains work selected from various points in Liu’s career, displaying astounding growth and versatility along that trajectory. Evidenced is Liu’s knack for cultivating deep intimacy within grandiose dark fantasy — exemplified in her romantic urban fantasy series Hunter Kiss and Eisner award-winning comic series Monstress — where demon-hunters, shapeshifters, and superheroes grapple with issues of identity, sexuality, race, and acceptance, while engaged in spectacular battles. As expected, Liu’s flair for world-building is on full display, as well as her penchant for representing diverse voices, embodied in the powerful women and people of color who inhabit her fantastic realms.

The collection opens with “Sympathy for the Bones,” a macabre tale of a young woman’s deliverance gained through the ritual of her family’s long-standing hoodoo tradition. “The Briar and the Rose” is a bittersweet twist on “Sleeping Beauty,” focusing on the tender relationship shared between a fearless warrior and a woman trapped in the body of a cruel and untouchable noblewoman. “Call Her Savage” examines East and West cultural tensions, a mystical reinvention of the Opium Wars between China and Great Britain, guided by a fierce protagonist who longs to return to her simple home life. “The Last Dignity of Man “ transforms comic book archetypes by introducing a morally-conflicted and love-starved figure patterning himself after supervillain Lex Luthor. The closing titular novela “Tangleroot Palace” features a strong-willed princess fleeing from an impending marriage to a vicious warlord, drawn to the ancient and mythical forest surrounding her kingdom.

These and other stories are marked by Liu’s distinctive voice, transmitted through conflicted protagonists torn between tradition, expectation, and desire, who defy the repressive and oppressive forces assailing them outside and from within. Liu’s astonishing range reaches stunning heights of savagery and tenderness, with groundbreaking visions of fairy tales, alternate history, and high fantasy, even challenging the conventions of feminism itself. Longtime fans and new readers alike will be swept away by the tragic romance, nail-biting adventure, and dread-inducing terror found within these boundary-pushing texts, where representation is the key ingredient to supremely engaging storylines, accessible to all.

Although she shoulders a heavy load on the cultural front, Liu flourishes as a transformative storyteller committed to inclusivity. Her effort to emphasize overlooked or ignored perspectives is integral to the ongoing evolution of fantasy literature. The Tangleroot Palace is just a small sample of her formidable skills, a multi-dimensional talent whose voice resounds with breathtaking force.

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