Tender Morsels by Margo Langan is a rich, highly unusual fantasy novel, set somewhere unspecified in eastern Europe during the medieval times. Liga Longfield is only thirteen when she has her first miscarriage. She gets repeatedly raped and sexually abused by her own father, Da, and gets pregnant multiple times, the baby usually terminated by potions her da buys from the neighboring mudwife, Muddy Annie Bywell. One day, Liga decides she wants to keep her baby, and hides her pregancy from Da. When Da finds out, he is furious, and goes to Muddy Annie's to buy more abortion methods. However, after he doesn't return for many days, Liga finds him dead on the side of the road, killed by a horse and carriage.
Now living alone, Liga gives birth to her baby, Branza, though misfortune still lurks around the corner. She gets raped by five town boys, and is soon pregnant again. Devasted, Liga attempts to kill herself and her baby, because life is too cruel for either of them to live. However, a mysterious force prevents her from doing so, and takes her to her own person heaven, a safe place where all evils and woes are gone. There, she gives birth to Urdda, her fiery second daughter. As the years pass by, Liga raises her two daughters in the safe world of her personal heaven. However, greedy men and magicked bears intrude on their barriers, whether accidental or not, and Liga's heavenly life is turned upside down.
Tender Morsels was fantastic. The prose was unusual but extraordinary, and captured the darkness and brutality of this tale. The prologue was quite confusing since the writing was so lyrical, so I had to reread it a few times to understand it. (If you go back and reread it after you finish the book, it makes a lot more sense.) However, once that was out of the way, the first few pages were extremely grim; they documented Liga's sexual abuse and miscarriages, though I was mesmerized by the disturbingness. The author does a pretty good job of skirting around the actual rape scenes, and tends to describe the traumatic effects opposed to the action. The characters are deep, realistic, and flawed, and all have their motivations. After I finished reading the book, I just sat there for a moment, slowly surfacing out of the rich world that Tender Morsels takes place in. This book is rich and hearty, like soup, and will keep your belly full of thoughts and questions for the next few days.
My favorite character was Urdda, because she was so fiery! She never hesitating in asking for the truth, and loved the spirit of adventure. Branza was more gentle, like her mother Liga, but just as realistic. The character of Bullock bothered me, for some reason, maybe because he seemed a little too bland.
I rated this book only four stars because I was not partial to the ending. Though I won't unleash any spoilers, it seemed abrupt, and everybody ended up doing the wrong things and with the wrong people. Also, Branza still seemed to yearn for life in heaven, and many of her questions still lay unanswered, all because she didn't want to press her mom for the details. This goes against the message that the book seems to say, which is that shelter from the harsh truth is never good.