Roses and Rot
Imogen is a writer who dreams of some day becoming a famous author. To that end she has applied to the exclusive Melete, a New Hampshire artist retreat where she–and other aspiring artists of various talents–would have access to famous artists as mentors. Also accepted is Imogen’s younger sister Marin, whose talent in ballet has people predicting a successful professional career.
The sisters had a difficult upbringing. With a father out of the picture early on, their mother raised them with a tyrannical fist. For her own sanity, Imogen signed up for boarding school and left home–including her sister to deal with their crazy mother alone. When they arrive at Melete together, the sister’s relationship seems normal on the outside, but like Melete, not everything is as it appears.
For the first couple of chapters I didn’t like ROSES AND ROT, Kat Howard’s debut novel. The setting is trendy and pretentious (‘it’s all about the art!’). The sisters’ baggage felt overwrought. The foreshadowing seemed cliché. I was sure I knew where the story was heading.
But I forged onward and was rewarded with a story I didn’t expect.
Imogen meets with her mentor and is excited to be able to have time to complete the novel she’s been planning. The sisters share a house with two other women, one is a singer and the other a poet. There are parties. Marin strikes up more than a professional relationship with her mentor, Gavin. Imogen meets Even, a sculptor who strikes her fancy. At first the story seems straightforward, but then Imogen starts noticing things about Melete: people in odd costumes, the local flora and fauna act strange, and the retreat’s reputation seems too good to be true.
I’m going to leave it there because I don’t want to spoil it for you. In some basic ways the story can be predictable, but Howard twists the plotline enough that I eventually got to a point in the novel where I had to learn what happens to the sisters when they are faced with some horrible decisions. I’m glad Howard didn’t take the most obvious route, but stayed true to Imogen and Marin’s personalities. There wasn’t much time for character growth with the other characters, despite Gavin and Evan’s important roles in the novel, so weren’t particularly deep. However, that doesn’t mean the cast wasn’t a fascinating assortment of characters.
The prose is pretty enough, with some excerpts from Imogen’s stories for good measure. The story moves at a steady pace; however, because I had a hard time enjoying the start of the novel, it felt like the story took too long to get going. That may be more personal preference than the existence of any real problem with Howard’s set-up information. It’s a novel that’s equal parts Urban Fantasy, horror, fairytale, and romance.
The setting starts out routine enough, but magic eventually makes its appearance–that’s part of the surprise so I can’t tell you much more than that. In honesty there isn’t much to the magic, it’s standard Urban Fantasy fare. Imogen learning how to get around it does play a pivotal role, and the revelations do get a little convenient, but it’s hard to see how it could have been done better. When Imogen finally stops being acted upon and working for her own benefit, then the story heads in a direction that leads to a satisfying ending.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A few per chapter
Sex: Referenced and a scene
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