Book Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

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Trigger Warning: This review contains discussion of incest, sexual abuse, rape, forced abortion, gang rape, rape of male rapists and the psychological/emotional fallout of these events.

Spoiler Alert: Some details will be given that “spoil” the earlier chapters of the book.

Tender Morsels is an imaginative, beautiful fantasy novel that tells the story of a sexual abuse survivor, framed within the fairy tale of Rose Red and Snow White. The story opens with a focus on Liga, whose father is abusive (emotionally and sexually). When he accidentally gets her pregnant, he calls on the local herbalist/wisewoman for a solution. Sadly, though, he does not stop abusing his daughter, and she eventually gives birth to a daughter of her own, Branza.

Like real-world abuse victims, young Liga, having been victimized once, was high-risk for being abused again. When some local young men realize she’s had a baby out of marriage, they decide that they can do whatever they want to her. After a gang rape that leaves Liga on the edge of sanity, she decides to end her life and the life of her infant daughter. A supernatural spirit intervenes, whisking the now-pregnant Liga and her daughter away to a new world. It is much like their own, but there’s no alcohol and more importantly, no men. Eventually Urdda is born, and Liga raises her two daughters in the quiet and peace of her Heaven.

When her daughters reach puberty, though, pieces of the real world begin slipping through. The village they were from holds an annual festival where young men dress as bears and run through the streets. One of these men is turned into an actual bear and transported into their world. The children and Liga become attached to the bear, who spends months with their family. He is, as it turns out, only the first of many interlopers from the real world.

In equal parts beautiful, painful, and inspiring, Tender Morsels is a powerful read. It reminds those who have suffered trauma and abuse at the hands of others that completely withdrawing from the world isn’t really a solution. As long as readers are able to get through the more dark and difficult content, the psychological growth and development of Liga and her daughters is empowering while being realistic.

Though we do not have a formal rating system yet at Ladybud, I want to give this book 4 out of 5 pot leaves. It would be a full five-leaves rating but some people believe a scene toward the end of the book involving Urdda and the men who attacked her mother condones rape as an act of vengeance (link is VERY spoiler-heavy). I personally do not believe the entire book should be written off because of the one scene, but do feel the need to warn readers.

Have you read Tender Morsels? Share your thoughts on the book in the comments below! If you want more, click here for previous book reviews published by Ladybud.

Photo Credit: By Ricardo Maragna, Andrew Lang (Editor), H.J. Ford and G.P.Jacomb Hood under public domain via Wikimedia Commons