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Tender Morsels    by Margo Lanagan order for
Tender Morsels
by Margo Lanagan
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan gives readers a lyrical story that bridges two worlds. In the brutal human one, young Liga's regular abuse by her father results in her first daughter, Branza, after which a gang rape by village boys leaves her pregnant with her second, Urdda. Desperate and suicidal, Liga is sent by a benign power to the utopian refuge that is her personal heaven, but which has its own flaws. They become apparent to both reader and Liga over time.

Other key characters include orphans Annie (whose untrained use of her powers have dangerous unintended consequences) and littlee-man Collaby Dought, whose greed - and Annie's soft heart - causes him to intrude on Liga's refuge and ultimately to destroy it. Then there are a series of young men who don bear skins on Bear Day, several of whom find their way to Liga's world, where they turn into bears and interact with Liga and her daughters in very different ways. Time also passes differently in Liga's heaven, confusing matters further.

As restless Urdda, who questions everything, grows older, she seeks more than their static lifestyle and finds her way back to Liga's original village. There she joins mudwife Annie and encourages her to seek help from 'the sorceress from Rockerly'. The latter, Miss Dance, seeking to mend the damage that has been done, pulls Liga and Branza out of their heaven as well. It's especially hard for Branza to adjust to this new world that restricts women in so many ways, but she gradually learns to do so.

Hardest of all, Liga tells her daughters what happened to her and, despite disappointments, adjusts to being 'back where terrors could immobilize her, and wonders too; where life might become gulps of strong ale rather than sips of bloom-tea.' As Miss Dance advises Branza, in the true world 'you must endure real people around you, and we are not uniformly kind ... It is harder. It is not safe. But it is what you were born to.'

Though her story begins in darkness and abuse, Margo Lanagan moves it steadily and assuredly into the light, with strong (mainly female) characters, intriguing magics, and beautiful writing. Tender Morsels will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

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