Book Review: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Roses and RotRoses and Rot by Kat Howard

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Saga Press (May 17, 2016)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

They say there’s a certain amount of truth in fairy tales. Despite their fantastical nature, the stories usually have some basis in reality, providing a moral compass during turbulent times, often teaching lessons which can be applied to one’s own life. If nothing else, the “trueness” may lie in the big picture rather than the details, such as the honesty of the character’s emotions or the essence of their relationships. How far would you go to save someone you love, for instance? And what might you be willing to sacrifice to get your happily ever after?

Roses and Rot is a novel that encompasses these concepts, using metafiction to address the basic literary conventions of fairy tales in order to convey the story’s full purpose and meaning. It follows the lives of two sisters, both of whom are talented artists in their own fields. Imogen, our narrator, is a writer, while her younger sibling Marin’s passion is in dance. The two of them grew up together suffering at the hands of their cruel, controlling and abusive mother, but it was awkward and introspective Imogen who bore the brunt of the mistreatment. This prompted Imogen to leave home as soon as she was able to, using the money she saved in secret to attend boarding school, even though her own escape meant having to leave Marin behind.

Now nearly ten years later, the sisters are in their twenties and have seized upon an opportunity to reconnect. At Marin’s urging, Imogen applies with her to a prestigious post-graduate arts program at an institution called Melete, and both end up being accepted. The school is a dream come true, a quiet retreat in the scenic woods where fellows can dedicate their full attention to their art. For Imogen and Marin, it is also a safe haven where they can finally be free of their terrible “Mommy Dearest”. They even get to live in the same house, among other residences styled like modern castles complete with moats and tower rooms. Unfortunately for the sisters, however, the peace doesn’t last. After a while, Imogen starts noticing strange things happening about on campus—nature behaves differently here, with the paths through the woods seeming to wind and shift with a life of their own, and she can never shake that unsettling feeling of being watched. As it turns out, there is more to the school than meets the eye. When she first arrived, Imogen remembered thinking how all the wonders and beauty of Melete reminded her of a fairy tale. Little did she know how close she came to the truth.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first started this book, given the vagueness of the publisher description. Even now, I find it hard to talk about it without giving away too many of its secrets. There’s a major fantastical element to this story but it remains elusive, teasing at the edges of perception, until the mysteries of Melete are ultimately revealed. The initial build-up is slow, but that also allows the setting a chance to draw you in with its haunting and almost dream-like atmosphere. The magic is subtle, at least at first, before it eventually grows to become this negative force which drives a wedge between Imogen and Marin. As children, the sisters were always close, helping each other survive their mother’s horrible abuses. At Melete though, the strength of that bond might just be tested. The two young women are presented with a dilemma which pits the love they have for each other against the love for their art.

At its heart, Roses and Rot is a modern-day fairy tale, and it earns that distinction by featuring themes of love and sacrifice. Choices are made. Prices are paid. As we all know, Faerie magic always demands something in return, but what you buy might not be what you get. And sometimes, even the Fae themselves are the victims of their own rigid, convoluted rules.

Sisterhood is obviously a central focus of this novel, with Imogen and Marin’s shared memories of living with their awful mother being a formative experience that shapes them both. Reading about the things they endured was so distressing at times, it literally made me sick to my stomach and made me want to go and hug my own daughters tight. For Imogen, that kind of poisonous upbringing also made her insecure and unsure of her talent as a writer, further stoking that need to prove herself to the world. However, anyone with a passion for their art, no matter what their field, will undoubtedly see something of themselves in Imogen and the other characters at Melete. The question though, is how much are you willing to give up for your dreams? Kat Howard explores this conflict with gentle compassion and her beautiful, powerful writing.

Roses and Rot is a clever and emotional story of love, magic, and imagination. I loved it. I would recommend this novel highly, especially for creative types and lovers of all things Fae and fairy tale. A truly delightful treat for fans of contemporary fantasy who enjoy vivid settings, complex characters, and meaningful relationships.


Mogsy 2

19 Comments on “Book Review: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard”

  1. Lovely review – I fancied a copy of this ages ago – in fact I think Lisa had it as a WoW post which is where I first noticed it. It sounds up my street so I will keep on the wishlist. The problem is that I’m reading very few of my own books at the moment so I’m trying to keep June fairly clear to catch up.
    I will definitely keep this on my list though.
    Lynn 😀


    • I know what you mean, I haven’t bought that many “personal” books for a while, since everything I want to read is in my review pile and it’s a pile that grows bigger every day. Hopefully June will clear up for you a bit to give you a chance to check out more of what you want to read 🙂


  2. I was expecting this to a mysterious/creepy fantasy, but did not know this was also a type of faerie-tale. That is what I think makes this story so appealing to me. Both of them being talented artist, and magic of having to give something up, feels like the story is going in the direction that in order to save one of the sister’s life, the other must give up their own art – which is their passions so is almost equal to their own life.


    • If you like modern fairy tales, then yes! Definitely give this one a look! Melete was such a wonderful sounding place, when I read about it I wanted to go there so badly…until I learned the truth about the place, of course 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This book has captured my attention sisnce the first time I saw the cover: so evocative. I like the idea of a story asking for hard questions abotu choices and sacrifice.
    Goes in my wish list 🙂


  4. I added this book to my wishlist when I saw the wonderful blurb Neil Gaiman did on it. The more I read about it, the I want it. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get a copy of it though.I can’t buy any more books this month but maybe I’ll ask it for my birthday in June! 😀


    • It’s funny, normally I tend to stay away from the books that are compared to Neil Gaiman or blurbed by Neil Gaiman or anything to do with Neil Gaiman, because I know that kind of style doesn’t always work for me. This one was a winner though! It had that slight “weird factor” but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy it 🙂


  5. I adored this book. I spoke really well to my inner visual artist, and it’s been a dream of mine to do an artist residency, so that one was the setting? I just ate that up!


  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  7. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Debuts of 2016 | The BiblioSanctum

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