The Bear and the Rose
by E.K. Larson-Burnett
Genre: Fantasy / LGBTQ
Print Length: 366 pages
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
A brave bearslayer embarks on a quest to rescue her new love in this fantasy novel rich with folklore
The Bear and the Rose is set in a world where humans shift into bears and community elders make pacts with gods for protection. Rhoswen, the “warrior rose” of her town and the protagonist of this wonderful book, has pledged her allegiance and sworn commitment to protect her village from the vicious bears who attack during the “waking nightmare” that is the season of Spring.
“The bear goddess rains terror on [her] people,” but she has found purpose in slaying the wild bears who come into her village every year to inflict brutal violence, as instructed by a merciless goddess named Artio.
This year, right after the first attack, Rhoswen meets a beautiful woman and all her plans change, almost immediately. Suddenly nothing matters besides freeing her new lover from the curse that keeps her under the torment of a dangerous forest. She ventures out into the world, abandoning her village for the first time, in the fierce hope that the instrument that will free her lover from the forest can also prevent the bears from attacking her people.
“Light trickles between the trees, warming the fallen leaves and needles, illuminating languidly drifting motes that wink in and out of sight. Though it seems peaceful, I know this place can shatter serenity in a heartbeat.”
Written so lyrically that it often feels as though you’re listening to a melodic folksong and reading classic poetry, author E.K. Larson-Burnett weaves nature and beauty into this imagined world. This novel is bloody murder and befriending beasts. It is at times a brutal fight for love, loyalty, and revenge. But it’s also filled with stunning phrases like “a knotting of whispers under my ribcage” and “This, I feel, is what it is to be a raindrop permeated by sunlight, bewitched without choice by a sacred warmth.”
The story is filled with all the wild creatures, dramatic gods, absurd dysfunctional families, and mythical tricksters you could want from a fantasy adventure novel, but it also moves with twists and turns and satisfying payoffs at a quick pace. If you’re looking for a captivating afternoon read that has a refreshing energy and richly woven lore, The Bear and the Rose is such a good choice. It would also make a great gift for someone who enjoys the vibes of a fantasy world, perhaps in a TV series or film, but isn’t sure they’d want to commit to the epic, extensive word-length typical of the genre.
The thrilling pacing that makes The Bear and the Rose so entertaining is amplified by the many jaw-dropping, catch-your-breath, reality-shifting plot twists that take Rhoswen (and readers) by surprise. One of my favorite of these is when Rhoswen goes to meet a god in hopes that he grants her access to an instrument that will end the bear attacks—only to learn that the god is deeply depressed and can barely console himself or perform simple tasks for himself.
The way Larson-Burnett weaves this god’s melancholy into Roz’s quest—and the generosity and patience with which she teaches him what it means to be human—is heartbreaking in a way that breathes even more life into the eerie pull of all the magic.
As a reader who is disabled, hard of hearing, and lives with debilitating anxiety, The Bear and the Rose lovingly wraps my everyday reality into its mythical premise. This novel is dedicated to “the anxious pickers, those with restless fingers. You’re warriors, all.” This message at the start of the book carries through in Rhoswen’s journey, both internally and physically, into a deep forest and across mountains.
She’s anxious and brave, determined and panicking. She picks at her eyebrows until they’re nearly gone, and at one point she has a mystical kind of panic attack. But she doesn’t let the anxiety weigh her down or hold her back, and she leans into the people and qualities that soothe her. The main one being Nathaire, her “hunting partner and occasional bedwarmer,” who makes her a calming tea and has two tongues. His twin tongues are “the source of his muteness” and the reason he signs to communicate with Rhoswen. It was tremendously special to read a character who is a hero, a loyal friend, and who communicates using sign language.
The Bear and the Rose is a story of folklore and curses, of gods and goddesses, of falling in love and making it your quest to do whatever you can to ease the burdens of your loved ones and heal their pain—without knowing the true cost or the toll it would take on you. Inspiring, empowering, and exciting all at once.
Thank you for reading Andrea Marks-Joseph’s book review of The Bear and the Rose by E.K. Larson-Burnett! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.