Roses and Rot is an upcoming debut novel by Kat Howard. It follows two sisters, Imogen and Marin, as they begin a prestigious artists’ fellowship in New Hampshire. The premise of this book, the hint of fantasy, and the good things I was hearing about put it to the top of my to-be-read queue. I finished it today to much fanfare. Not only was it a great book, but it’s the first that I have finished in some time following a bout of illness. So, all good things.
Imogen and Marin had a hard childhood with their mother growing up. Both talented in different arts, their Mother pitted them against one another, favouring Marin’s ballet dancing over Imogen’s ability to spin tales, an ability she believes to be useless. Now, both adults, the two women have moved into Melete; an artistic haven where they have a year to explore their different crafts. They settle in their rooms and begin to get-to-know their peers to mixed results; friendly Ariel is a singer while poet Helena is standoffish and rude. The more colleagues they meet, the more obvious it becomes which ones are willing to fight for their art and which ones aren’t nearly as devoted.
A dangerous undercurrent brews at Melete; a plot that threatens to upend all. What Marin and Imogen don’t know is that Melete has roots further reaching than any they have encountered, a fantastical history that will pit them against each other. It is true that attending Melete will grant one all their hopes and dreams, but what the initiates do not know of is the risks they must undergo, the sacrifices they must make in order to achieve their goals.
Soft and beautifully written, this book has so many complicated layers to unfold – so much depth beneath the first fringe of petals. Completely unaware of where it was going, I was swept up immediately in the sisters’ tale; a tale that felt familiar and fresh in tandem. Imogen and Marin are both unique characters and yet together they are their own force – a pair of women willing to fight the odds, to risk the gauntlets, to stare down the wall of thorns surrounding the castle to rescue their futures. I immediately liked both of them, which made so much of this tale bittersweet – that for a lot of the book they are at odds with one another. It made for a good push-and-pull reading dynamic within the story, though. I simply had to know what was going to happen with their relationship.
The thread of violence and abuse throughout is really well-told. Hinting at their mother’s cruelty, Howard slowly unravels a tale of two girls whose childhood nearly broke them both. With the decision to escape, Imogen left Marin behind. This rash, but desperately needed act, caused a rift between the two for several years, one that might only now be healed at Melete. But there is so much more at stake for the both of them. One year, one concession, and one devoted act of sacrifice could mean the world to one of them. It could also rend them asunder.
The Fairy Tale aspect of the book is also quite good. I would not say that it is a retelling in a true form, but it has shades of so many of the sisters’ tales that it very well could be. Snow White and Rose Red is the big one that leaps to my mind – two sisters, fighting one all-powerful cause that could destroy them both. The Fae elements will surprise the reader as well, a subtle a poignantly drawn world and power structure that undermines everything at Melete. It takes a while for it all to unfold, but when it does it’s breathtaking.
Admittedly, I had this book for some time but I waited until I was in the perfect mood for it. Doing this helped on so many levels. As such, the tale read as both tragic and funny, as tender and heart-wrenching as one might wish it to be. It’s a tale of overcoming and forgiveness and losing oneself to ones deepest, darkest desires; its ups and downs and rigorous emotional hoops to jump through. It was a hard book at times for me to read but the journey was worth it. I loved it and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
5 out of 5 stars. It’s in my top faves for the year, that’s for sure.
– Follow the Reader –