Combined Reviews: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender_morsels.jpg    Tender Morsels
Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin

[This novel won the 2009 Ditmar and 2009 World Fantasy Awards for Best Novel.]

From the publisher's page

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. It is a gloriously told tale of journeys and transformations, penetrating the boundaries between male and female, reality and myth, conscious and unconscious, temporal and spiritual, human and beast.

Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, given to her by natural magic and in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters, gentle Branza and curious Urdda, grow up in this harmonious world, protected from the violence and village prejudice that once made their mother's life unendurable.

But the real world cannot be denied forever, and gradually the borders break down between Liga's refuge and the place from which she escaped. Having known heaven, how will Liga and her daughters survive back in the world where beauty cannot be separated from cruelty? How far can you take your fantasies before they grow dangerous? How fully can you protect your children, and how completely should you?

Building on a mythic scaffolding, Margo Lanagan asks timeless questions about what it is to be human. She unflinchingly explores the evil and sweetness in the world and reveals the essential magic of learning to live with both.

A long-awaited novel from an author acclaimed for the fearless range of her imagination, the emotional intensity of her stories, and the virtuosity of her writing.

A story of astonishing beauty, originality and power.


Garry K. Wolfe in Locus magazine: "Lanagan's Tender Morsels is perhaps best approached without any YA preconceptions, for reasons that become apparent before we're halfway through the prologue, which begins literally with a roll in the hay ("you have the kitment of a full man," explains the witch to the dwarf, "however short a stump you are the rest of you."). Long before we get to the graphic bear-fuck in Chapter 9 or the voodoo gang-rape sodomy later on, we've figured out that Lanagan shows little interest in pulling punches in the interest of perceived sensibility, and have begun to wonder if her notions of YA derive more from Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence than Judy Blume. But we're also beginning to realize that the brutal intensity of the novel's more graphic bits is a necessary counterbalance to a tale that somehow manages to end on a note of almost astonishing sweetness, and that for a good part of its length takes place in a Wordsworthian bucolic idyll that is one character's notion of's a brilliant realization of a brilliant promise, and a profoundly moving tale."

Van Ikin in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Medieval times have done well in recent years, providing the magic-infused playpen into which most fantasy escapes. Only the better writers capture what Margo Lanagan calls the 'broad-hipped childbearing flavour' of the medieval and few successfully combine the glitter of magical special effects with the ordure and suffering of those times. This novel does....Proclaimed as Lanagan's first novel 'for adults', Tender Morsels is far more than that: it is a towering work of imagination in which a supremely talented writer opens rich new frontiers."

Meg Rossoff in "The Guardian": "I'd like to go out on a limb here, and say that nothing in the world of adult summer reading can compare with the revolutionary content of a novel you are likely to find in the young adult section of your local bookshop. Tender Morsels, by the Australian author Margo Lanagan, is funny, tragic, wise, tender and beautifully written. It also left me gasping with shock...Lanagan handles a variety of points of view and a large cast of humans and animals with great delicacy and restraint. Her characters grapple with the terrible damages inflicted by life and the inevitability of death, and although she offers them (and us) no easy consolation, the book celebrates human resilience and unexpected gifts: 'children touched with charm, clueless that it was within them; maids whose frivolous fortune-telling always held a grain of truth; mothers and wives whose soups were as good as medicines; men who attracted luck, or women who sped healing'...It is with a mixture of respect and delight that I greet any book capable of blasting an entire genre out of the water with its audacity and grace. Tender Morsels is such a book."

Short Notices

"Eva's Book Addiction" weblog shows the cover of the US edition, with the note that the book is aimed at grades 9 and up. I assume that means 14+: "From its truly horrifying and brutal beginning to its satisfying but bittersweet end, this novel is mesmerizing. Language (characters speak in a country dialect that sounds both fantastical and utterly authentic) and tone remain consistent, whether the story is being told from Liga's damaged but sweet perspective, from the perspective of one of the Bears who ends up in Liga's heaven, or from those of any number of other carefully drawn characters. No one is perfect -- all have flaws, some much more than others -- but we can understand, if not sympathize with, each person. Often wrenching, at heart this is a truly tender story of healing, growing, and redemption."

Sarah Miller, on her "Reading, Writing, Musing..." weblog: "Once upon a time, the skeleton of this story was called Snow-White and Rose-Red. Like all fairy tales, it left much unexplained. Too much. Well, Margo Lanagan took those bones and added muscle and guts, bracing the loose joints of the plot with her characters' emotions, motivations, and histories. That's the secret of successful retellings: fleshing out the gaps that relied almost entirely on the readers' willful ignorance or suspension of belief, yet still leaving room for the existence of magic. And Lanagan knows how to handle magic delicately enough to make it believable: Tender Morsels revolves around magical doings, but never degrades enchantment to the level of coincidence." Miller concludes that this was "quite possibly THE best reading experience" she had had all year (her caps).

Melanie Saward on the "M/C Reviews" website: "The only downside to reading a book with such a beautiful world, is that in loving the characters as though they were real and getting lost in the words, you'll almost certainly be left wanting more. This is a big book, but it could have easily been bigger. While the ending is lovely and satisfying, there are still questions and there's still room for the reader to consider what might have happened next in this world. But that's the magic of what Lanagan has done, creating a story that's so real that the characters could easily have gone on living beyond the pages of the book."

Carly Bennett on the "Chicklish" website: "When I picked up Tender Morsels the first thing that struck me was the cover art. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I know it's wrong but I really do judge a book by its cover and Tender Morsels has one of the most interesting covers I've seen in a long time. Like some twisted version of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, the cover really sets the tone of the book, which flicks from beauty to horror seamlessly."

Bridie Roman on the "SFFWorld" website: "The book is quite beautiful in places, with a lot of scenes that were especially well written and touching but there is a certain lack of pace that out-weighed the beautiful nature of the writing. Now, I am used to reading more action packed books so you may call me biased and stuck in my ways but I did come away with a feeling of; what has really happened? Sure, there were horrible sex acts but other than that... nothing! I didn't feel any urgency while reading even the most unusual scenes. In the end, what I found most impressive is that, despite all the obstacles, ultimately other emotions did shine through, such as despair, hope and love, and it is these I would say are the real backbone of the book."

"Fantasy Book Review" website: "Tender Morsels never once tries to show that life has a happily ever after ending. It shows that life is full of hardship; you will experience hurt, you will watch loved ones die and you will often be afraid. It also shows that live can be full of love, caring and kindness. It is better to experience something, be it good or bad, than to experience nothing at all."

"Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews" website: "I have to admit that sometimes looking over the difficulties of the world from Tender Morsels I wished for the main characters to remain in their corner of paradise. But here is the exclusive merit of the author, who not only captures many emotions in her story, but also made me feel most of them. I also liked that the characters have their unique and strong voice and I could feel them manifest it in each dialogue they have within the story. Still, I have to say that I couldn't attach myself too much of any character, but I believe that this is because I do not have a common ground with any of them."


Jeff Vandermeer in "ClarkesWorld" magazine.

Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert on the "Blog of a Bookslut" weblog.

David Larsen in the "New Zealand Herald".

Lynne Jamneck on "" website.

Kerrie Anne on "The View from Here" website.

Other covers

tender_morsels_uk.jpg    tender_morsels_us.jpg    tender_morsels_uk_ya.jpg    tender_morsels_aus_p.jpg
UK Hardcover    US Hardcover    UK YA Hardcover    Aust paperback
(Feb 2010)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 7, 2010 3:05 PM.

Best SF and Fantasy Stories of the Year 2009 was the previous entry in this blog.

Reprint: As Her Poets See Australia by H.W. Malloch is the next entry in this blog.

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