Published by Saga Press on May 17th 2016
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Imogen and her sister Marin have escaped their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, be it art or love in this haunting debut fantasy novel from “a remarkable young writer” (Neil Gaiman).
What would you sacrifice in the name of success? How much does an artist need to give up to create great art?
Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire.
Kat Howard’s debut novel landed on my doorstep one afternoon and, after reading the blurb from Neil Gaiman, I decided I’d give it a shot. Roses and Rot is unlike anything I’ve ever read and seriously impressed me.
- The writing: Kat Howard’s writing is by far the best thing this book has going for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good things about Roses and Rot but the writing just stands out. It’s so atmospheric and haunting and will have you stopping to savor it as you read the book. I really can’t do justice to how gorgeous it is. I marked so many quotes and I don’t typically mark any.
- The sibling bond: Marin and Imogen have an odd relationship. They were close growing up but grew apart when Imogen left for boarding school. Now they are both at the same art program and it’s sister against sister for an amazing opportunity that could make all their dreams come true. While it doesn’t seem to affect their relationship at first, things quickly come to a head and secret feelings start pouring out. I loved that they had a close relationship but they could still fight. Their bond was stronger than it first appeared and I’m not sure about Marin but Imogen was willing to do anything for her sister.
- The setting: I don’t want to give a whole lot away but Melete wasn’t the only place the book was set. Melete, however, sounded spectacular. Everything was so detailed that I felt like I was there with Imogen. The houses, the moat, the rose garden, the river, nothing was left unexplained and I could picture every stunning image in my head. And like I said, Melete wasn’t the only setting for the book and the other main focal point of the book was also pretty spectacular in a very haunting way.
- The friendships: Imogen and Marin went to Melete already having each other to rely on but everyone else was an outsider. That didn’t stop them from forming some rather unlikely bonds. Helena and Ariel were their other roommates and while it seemed like they didn’t have a whole lot in common with each other, they made up a pretty great foursome. Ariel was outgoing and fun while Helena was more moody and introverted. They all brought out different sides of each other and I liked the friendships they formed.
- The romance: Imogen and Evan start a romance relatively early on in the book and it seems to come out of nowhere. They clearly are physically attracted to each other and they can appreciate each other’s talent but they didn’t seem to have much more in common. Most of their interactions were physical in nature and they really just didn’t seem to be able to sustain more than a physical relationship.
- The pacing: Roses & Rot is not an easy book to get into. It takes quite some time for things to really take off. While I was intrigued with the story, it wasn’t enough to really capture my attention and hold it. I had to push myself through the first 50 pages or so until things really started going somewhere. Even then it’s not a fast-paced book. Just know that you won’t be able to really rush through this one and I honestly don’t think you should. It’s definitely a book to take your time with and really think about.
Overall, I clearly have much more good to say about Roses and Rot than bad. While it is classified as an adult novel, I think it holds great crossover appeal for older young adult readers. I look forward to seeing what Kat Howard does next and I highly recommend checking this one out.