About the Book
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.
This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Roses and Rot was a book I was really looking forward to reading. I love fairytales. I love it when authors subvert fairytales, and I knew that I was in for something special in that regard as soon as my hands touched this book.
My biggest qualm is one that I want to get out of the way right away. The ARC I got said that the publisher was planning YA blogger outreach, which is fine, but the more I read this book the more I figured that this could be considered new adult, but I really think marketing it as young adult is misguided.
Roses and Rot is, in its heart, a fairytale and it’s a story of kinship, love, and relationships. Roses and Rot does a lot of things beautifully, but one thing that it does best is subverting these fairytale tropes in delightfully subtle ways. The book starts with two sisters, Imogen and Marin, both of whom are ridiculously talented, lived in the same very broken home, and despite moving away, never lost their intense bond.
Marin (a dancer) got accepted to this prestigious arts college in Vermont, and eventually convinces her writer sister to attend it with her. They arrive separately, but instantly come together like they had never been apart. They are opposites in so many ways, but Howard allows them to compliment each other perfectly. They bounce off of each other, and connect well, which creates a really dynamic story in their relationship, as well as in the world around them.
The school itself is fantastic, and it is delightfully real. It highlights one of Howard’s real writing strengths, and that’s with atmosphere. She can write one of the most lonely, strange, otherworldly places I’ve ever read. Slowly she strips away our reality until it is hard to tell where reality stops, and other begins. It’s subtly done, just as so much of the rest of this brilliant book. It’s subtle and slow, and by the time it’s happened, you don’t realize it has happened.
This book really got under my skin quickly. I started reading it because I was interested in the sisters and their relationship. I kept reading it because the school was so real to me. And then the school was so strange to me. And then there was magic. Then by the time I finished the book I had spent so much time amazed by the book that I hadn’t even realized I’d read the thing in the first place. I think I just absorbed it.
Things start happening in the book, and quickly all the stuff you enjoyed at the start of the novel starts warping into something else entirely. For example, the sister bond is still there throughout the novel, and they remain close, but when they start competing for the same position, some darker feelings come out. They start to argue, and they never lose that bond, but it becomes twisted a bit, and tainted a little as they both enter a completion for something that neither of them really understands.
Melete, the school, was absolutely fantasticly crafted, but Melete is not the only place where this novel takes place, and that other place(s) felt just as well crafted, but never managed to hold my interest quite as much as Melete. The atmosphere was excellent, but it never felt as real to me as Melete, nor as addicting.
There is some romance in this novel, though the sibling bond absolutely takes center stage, which I enjoyed. My complaint here is that the romance seemed to come out of nowhere early on, and felt kind of baseless. The men were attractive, and that instant attraction was a huge piece of it, but I kept thinking that there had to be something else that kept these women interested in these men. I just didn’t see it, I guess.
All of that being said, this book was one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s dark and delightful, and it kind of creeps under your skin and infects you with its subversive tones before you even realized it happened. There are so many quotable passages because Howard is one holy hell of a writer. Really, it’s the atmosphere and the subtle tones that surprised me the most. This book has a lot of layers to it. If you’re one of those people who lies it when someone takes a fairytale and completely warps it, then you really need to get your hands on this book, because damn.