Published: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Saga Press
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.5/5.0
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.
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.
Roses and Rot is the fantastical debut novel of author Kat Howard. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for a few months now and I was finally caught up on my ARC reviews and I had a long weekend. Perfect opportunity, right? I sat down and began reading, fully expecting this to take about two days for me to finish, but I was so engrossed by the lives of Imogen and Marin that I read this in a single day!
For me this story turned on its head the traditional idea of the evil stepmother, replacing her with an evil mother. What could possibly be worse as a child than knowing you have no escape from a mentally and physically abusive parent? Well, that parent could discourage one child’s aspirations while raising up the golden sibling on a pedestal while tormenting them both for years. Neither Imogen nor Marin had a childhood that was happy, but rather one that was filled with fear. Some years into their adult lives, the two sisters are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to study with talented mentors in their respective fields of writing and ballet. Of course, the two accept because it affords an opportunity to escape their mother’s sphere of influence and repair their relationship. What they don’t know is that the retreat is largely influence by the Fae, which are great lovers of talented artists and all forms of art.
I loved the way the Fae were seamlessly woven into the fabric of this tale with just enough presence. It was magical and I always find this type of story to be appropriate for the autumn months- it just gives me the right vibe, what with all the colorful leaves and that last vestiges of a lively summer slipping away. Well, anyways, Imogen and Marin were such wonderfully thought out and realistic characters, as was the artist’s retreat, called Melete. I felt they had such emotional depth, particularly Imogen, from whose perspective the story is told and I was absolutely horrified by their mother. She was such a horrible, cruel woman that I found the thought or idea of her to be repellant. The retreat would have been magical without the Fae, with its eccentric buildings and all inclusive nature (uh, catered meals?) and I could absolutely see myself falling in love with it and never wanting to leave.
Kat Howard wrote such an incredible story, dealing with abusive parents, self doubt, sibling rivalry, and the price one would pay for success and renown. These were very powerful themes that were, in my opinion, displayed believably and resolved in a satisfying way. Also, the cover is really quite attractive and I’ve really got to rearrange my books so this will fit on one of my display shelves. I can’t wait to see what else Kat Howard has in store for her readers!