Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Fantasy: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Imogen and Marin are sisters. Both are also artists with some regard in their fields: Imogen as an author, Marin as a dancer. The Melete artists’ retreat is recruiting talent to come and spend most of a year in residence, working on their art with the help of a world-class mentor and the separation from the busyness of the world. What Melete doesn’t tell you up front is that it is run by the Fae, and there is an opportunity at the end of the residency, an opportunity to have all your dreams come true.


What price would you pay to make all your dreams come true? Would you give up seven years of your life?


Would you betray your sister?


Would you die?


Roses and Rot is a different kind of fairy tale, one which examines the price paid for getting your wishes fulfilled. These prices are different from person to person, and it is not always the person getting their dreams fulfilled who has to pay that price. Could a child recover if she were born in Fae country then had to leave? What cost do the Fae extract for their largesse? Is an artist solely judged by her art, or is she more than just an artist? And throughout the book, though not directly tied to the fairy tale, what role does a mother’s love or lack thereof play in a person’s life?


In this book, when a Fae makes flowers appear, two smells come with the flowers: roses and rot. Without delving into spoilers, the book makes the point again and again: blessings from the Fae come with beauty and wealth and magic, but they come at a high cost as well. Not everyone wants to pay that cost. Not everyone is able to pay that cost. And some people are desperate to pay the cost and receive the blessing, even if the Fae are unwilling to accept the bargain. That itself is a price for the Fae’s “gift,” but one paid by others.


Kat Howard is, in the words of Neal Gaiman, “a remarkable young writer.” Roses and Rot is her first novel, published in 2016. (We reviewed her second novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, last year.) I most certainly do not disagree with Neal Gaiman, nor do I think I could word praise any better than he does. Roses and Rot is a marvelous novel, particularly as a debut, and Kat Howard is indeed “a remarkable young writer.”

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

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