Monday, May 30, 2016

Roses and Rot

Imogen and Marin are sisters who were once best friends. When Imogen left their abusive home years ago, they never kept in touch despite her reaching out. Now, they just recently began talking again and agreed to apply for Melete, a prestigious artist colony, in their specific area of expertise. Imogen is a writer while Marin is a dancer. Both are accepted and both are excited yet nervous to live together again. The past is ignored and they pick up where they left off. As their residency goes on, they are both chosen to possibly get an extension to stay and work on their craft, but it rapidly becomes clear that both of them can't get this coveted prize and the colony is not as benevolent and normal as they thought.

Imogen came from a violent home thanks to her abusive mother. Imogen was the sole target of the violence, but Marin shared the emotional abuse and manipulation their mother doled out on a daily basis. Imogen coped by leaving for boarding school after a horrific event that left her scarred for life. It's nice to see the view of people with abusive family members who aren't eager to visit them on holidays or happy to receive letters or gifts from them. As shown in the story, these gifts and other forms of communication are often laced with emotional bombs that aim to hurt and sabotage. I can see Imogen's point of view and I understand her motivations even as they're being misinterpreted by others.

Melete appears to be a beautiful, eclectic haven for artists with a large dose of whimsy. At first, everything is idyllic and inviting for new art. After a while, the pressure starts to get to people because they are supposed to be doing something brilliant while they are there. Imogen starts to see things that get more and more difficult to explain away. Melete is closely tied to another world that infuses it with magic that at first is wonderful, but then shows its dark side. The novel is entrenched in fairy tales and the writing shows the positive and negative aspects. Some forget with the popularity of Disney films that fairy tales punish harshly as often as they dole out rewards. Magic beings are the same. They can bestow luck and seem benevolent, but they are inhuman at their core. Howard does a wonderful job of portraying both the beautiful and sinister parts of her fantasy world.

The one thing I found lacking was Marin. She is more removed because the novel is primarily through Imogen's eyes. Her choices and actions just confused me. She always seemed to assume the worst when it came to Marin and even cut her deeply with lines right out of their abusive mother's mouth. Her insecurity causes her to be quite cruel to Imogen to an almost cartoonish degree. I wish her character would have been more nuanced because I just wanted her gone by the end and found her undeserving of all of Imogen's efforts to save her. Other than that, Roses and Rot was a darkly magical read. I will definitely be looking forward to more from Kat Howard.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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