Title and Author: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Publication Date: May 2016
Genre: Fantasy, fairytale novel
How I got it: Bought the print book from Amazon
“Once upon a time, there were two sisters, and there was a forest. The forest was, in the way of these things, full of secrets.
Not just the secrets of leaves and trees, of fur and feathers, of shadowed spaces. Certainly it had all of those, but it had other secrets as well.”
Imogen, the eldest. A writer of fairy tales.
Marin, the youngest. A ballet dancer.
Both are invited to Melete, a prestigious artist retreat, for nine blissful months of full concentration on their art. They’re excited about not only improving their art, but also getting to know each other better, for after an abusive childhood Imogen fled to a boarding school, and the two haven’t been close since.
A fairy tale often begins with abuse.
“You always tell yourself that there’s someone who has it worse, and if you lived through the abuse, there almost certainly was. There’s a horrible sort of comfort in reassuring yourself in that fashion—maybe you were hungry some nights, but you had food. Maybe you got slapped, but at least you didn’t get beaten. Maybe you got beaten, but at least you never had broken bones. You think of the worst thing that happened to you, and then you think of something even worse than that. If you survived, you always can, and so by pained, contorted logic, what happened to you wasn’t really that bad. . . . This is what you tell yourself. This is how you keep breathing. This is what happily ever after means.”
But Melete isn’t the safe haven for Imogen’s and Marin’s art they hoped it would be. The Fae run Melete and every seven years claim an artist as their 7-year tithe. This year is tithe year, and the first time there’s been two sisters at the retreat. Of course the Fae, with their darkly mischievous personalities, love the idea of sisters competing to be their tithe. Who will the Fae choose? Imogen, who is quickly falling for the last tithe and desperately wants to protect her younger sister, or Marin, who’s lover is the Fae king?
Here’s a video of the Mythra variation from the ballet Giselle, which Marin dances at one point in the novel:
Roses and Rot explores how far one would go for their art, the bond of sisters, and what happens when magic and reality collide. As a creative person, a sister, and someone who can’t quite not believe in magic, I loved it. It’s one I plan to reread, especially with someone else in the creative arts. Plenty of discussable ideas! I’m currently finishing a third draft of a fairytale novel, so I kept putting myself in Imogen’s shoes and asking myself what choices I would’ve made in the same situation. (For those of you who’ve read it, I’m on Ariel’s side. Also, I WANT ARIEL AS A FRIEND PLEASE!)
Neil Gaiman recommends the novel on the front cover, and the two writers are similar in some respects. Both have deceptively simple prose, so when an achingly truthful line appears, it hits you right in the gut. I read Roses and Rot in 3 sittings, yet despite the fast pace it’s a thoughtful novel that I highly recommend to any fan of fairy tales or of fiction about creativity. I’ve been reading Kat Howard’s short stories for several years, and was so excited when I heard she had a first novel coming out. I’m even happier now to find that it’s good. So glad I splurged on it.