Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Roses and Rot

Rate this book
Imogen and her sister Marin have escaped their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, be it art or love.

What would you sacrifice in the name of success? How much does an artist need to give up to create great art?

Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published May 17, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Kat Howard

117 books774 followers
Kat Howard is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror who lives and writes in Minnesota.

Her novella, The End of the Sentence, co-written with Maria Dahvana Headley, was one of NPR's best books of 2014, and her debut novel, Roses and Rot was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. An Unkindness of Magicians was named a best book of 2017 by NPR, and won a 2018 Alex Award. Her short fiction collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, collects work that has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, performed as part of Selected Shorts, and anthologized in year’s best and best of volumes, as well as new pieces original to the collection. She was the writer for the first 18 issues of The Books of Magic, part of DC Comics' Sandman Universe. Her next novel, A Sleight of Shadows, the sequel to An Unkindness of Magicians, is coming April 25, 2023. In the past, she’s been a competitive fencer and a college professor.

You can find her @KatwithSword on Twitter and on Instagram. She talks about books at Epigraph to Epilogue.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
673 (18%)
4 stars
1,273 (35%)
3 stars
1,092 (30%)
2 stars
402 (11%)
1 star
109 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 752 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,261 reviews8,753 followers
September 8, 2017
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

4.5 stars

This book . . . is too magical to give you more information than what is already given in the synopsis.

This is the thing about fairy tales: You have to live through them, before you get to happily ever after. That ever after has to be earned, and not everyone makes it that far.

It's not a secret that Fae are my favorite. But the reason behind my love of all things Fae is an accidentally given and gleefully received book of fairytales when I was ten(ish) years old.

The book was full of the REAL fairytales, where the creatures were sometimes more lovely than words, sometimes nightmarishly hideous. Where people died, both good and bad, and little girls cut off their fingers to rescue their brothers. Where pregnant women had cravings that cost them their child, and princesses descended hidden staircases to dance nightly with demons.

I loved the cleverness and fortitude of the characters who triumphed over those who would see them dead or worse, and I despised those too weak or too simple to prevail.

Which is why fairytales are responsible for my bloodthirstiness when reading. Fairytales where witches who would eat the children who fell into their traps were instead tricked into their own ovens. Fairytales where men lost their heads after three unsuccessful nights of trying to discover how princesses were wearing out their shoes . . .

ROSES AND ROT by Kat Howard is the story my adult self has been unknowingly longing for ever since my child self first cracked open the pages of that serendipitously given book of fairytales.

The imagery is beautiful:

Late summer’s lazy wind blew through the rose garden I had passed before, bending blossom-heavy heads like dancer’s arms.

The observations, profound:

Practically raised by wolves, we had joked. The monster and the metaphor, and the way they match up that makes the double-edged sword of wit. And then you realize what your words have done, and you weep because you’re both bleeding.

No one’s heart begins as a stone. Hearts are things that beat like birds in a cage, fluttering about, flying away from us at the least provocation.

It's the story of two sisters, both talented in different ways, both trying to escape their past, and both accepted into a highly prestigious enclave for artists, to hone their craft.

But things are not as they appear.

And that is all you get. If you're intrigued, I highly recommend that you read ROSES AND ROT by Kat Howard for yourself. Especially if you like fantasy in a modern setting and are drawn to the fairytale-like feeling of books by Juliet Marillier or Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
March 5, 2019

Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Roses and Rot (2016) is a slow-building but beautifully written dark fantasy, loosely based on a familiar folk tale that isn’t disclosed until about a third of the way into the novel, so I’ll refrain from giving it away. (Note: You'll see it given away in several Goodreads reviews, so if you don't want to be spoiled, limit your review perusing. :D) Primarily Roses and Rot explores the relationship between two adult sisters and their devotion to their respective arts, and how that affects their relationship during a year they spend at Melete, an elite fine arts retreat program in New Hampshire. At the same time, it asks hard questions of its characters, and of us as readers, about what we are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of our art, or any other personal goal.

Imogen, the narrator and older sister, is an author who uses fairy tale themes and motifs in her stories; her sister Marin is a gifted ballet dancer. The sisters’ relationship is loving but fraught with difficulties ― the damage caused by an abusive mother who hides her viciousness from all except her two daughters. Imogen escaped from home at age 16 by gaining admission and a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school. The sisters don’t reconnect for several years, for reasons that become apparent later in the story. But at Melete, an artist’s colony named after one of the original three Greek muses (“Practice”), they hope to rebuild their relationship as well as improve their talents.

As Imogen and Merin delve into their art and new relationships, events at Melete initially bring them together but eventually pull them apart. Merin begins a romantic relationship with her mentor, a famous principal dancer with the National Ballet Theater; Imogen with a mysterious and elusive sculptor, who creates awe-inspiring metal sculptures and appears only infrequently at Melete. Mostly, however, the sisters’ relationship is hurt by their deepening competition with each other for a prize that promises greatness, but at a disturbingly high price.
Never mind the other fellows — they didn’t fit into jealousy’s calculus that told me there was one place, and two sisters, and that all of this would come down to the two of us. One would speak diamonds, the other, toads. Never mind that both were uncomfortable and a curse — one was still better.
The mystery surrounding certain oddities at Melete builds slowly and steadily. It was great fun when I finally realized what familiar folktale Kat Howard is referencing. Howard gives the old tale some surprising twists, but they mesh extremely well with the universal themes that she explores in this tale: cruelty and pain initially appear in the story of past parental abuse, but resurface later in events spurred by betrayal and greed. Love, both romantic and sisterly, plays a role. And there is the overarching question of the pursuit of a cherished goal, and what one might sacrifice for it.

Howard weaves in vignettes from fairy tales written by Imogen, which reflect these themes and give them additional depth and resonance.
Nothing lasts forever, and midnight is a purposeful stop. A pause to remind you that there is always a clock ticking. There will never be enough time, and for every Beauty who saves her Beast, there will be a voiceless mermaid who dissolves into sea foam.

But there is another thing about midnight. It is when illusions break. When you can see the truth beneath them, if you are looking. There is always a crack in the illusion, a gap in the perfection, even if it is only visible with the ticking of a clock.
Roses and Rot has lovely language and imagery that will appeal to readers who like evocative writing. I had a few issues with the slow pacing in parts of the story, and the abruptness of one key betrayal that I thought lacked sufficient foundation and plausibility in the way it occurred, but overall I enjoyed Roses and Rot thoroughly.

Content advisory: Fairly detailed discussions of parental abuse, one short but explicit sex scene, cheating, scattered F-bombs.
Profile Image for Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky).
256 reviews442 followers
April 15, 2017
"That doesn't mean that I would destroy those works, or that I'm not proud of having come out the other side. Our past art makes our present art as much as our past life makes us who we are now. In the end, if the art stands up, that's what matters.”

This book is the most overwrought, overwritten, pretentious piece of nonsense I've suffered through in a long time.


* The writing: everything was so overwritten. I think the book was attempting to be literary but lacked both style and a consistent voice. It attempts to be a dramatic meditation on "the arts" but instead came off as inauthentic drivel.

* The characters: nothing they did made sense or felt believable. People fell in love with little or no development, everyone was full of terrible angsty emotion. The MC had a terrible childhood but it was so hard to buy into it. A suicide was included for dramatic effect and I think we were meant to feel terrible but honestly the character had been set up as a minor antagonist. Why would we be deeply affected by a fictional antagonist's death?

* The romance(s): There was also a big love affair between a teacher and student that was supposed to be super sweet but honestly- gross. The MC also had a relationship that was full of bullshit angst.

* The plot: so inconsistent. A major plot component is that one person has to go faery as a sacrifice for 7 years and on return is guaranteed artistic success. I'm not sure how that was meant to work but... magic amirite? The MC's sister is chosen but for plot reasons this would kill her. So MC decides to break the tithe. There is currently a question on the books GR page where a reader has said "I'm confused. I thought if Imogen prevented her sister from being the tithe she became the tithe in her stead, why didn't that happen was it because Imogen fell into the river with her sister and held on? Am I missing something" and the answer is literally "I dunno" because it didn't really make any sense!

I don't want to go on and on and I only reviewed this because Christopher asked me to so I'll just add that there are much better books out there that run along similar veins minus the contrived angst and literary pretensions.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,073 reviews2,634 followers
May 17, 2016
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/05/17/...

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.
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,535 reviews216 followers
September 15, 2022
A lyrically written slow-burn fantasy story that explores the relationship between two sisters and the depth of their devotion to the arts they are studying. This novel is filled with stunning imagery and raw observations about the impact of years of emotional and physical abuse the women suffered at the hands of their mother. It is a dark fairy-tale in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm. I was captivated.
Profile Image for Roshani Chokshi.
Author 44 books10.4k followers
January 20, 2016
It's a curious feeling when you finish a book and realize how desperately you needed it.

ROSES AND ROT is one of those books. It's a story of love and fairytales, and the horrifying ways we make peace with ourselves in the name of art. The story revolves around two sisters, Imogen and Marin, whose love for one another and troubled family history is the book's burning core. Both accepted to the prestigious Melete, both devastatingly talented. Throughout R&R, Howard makes reference to the motif of two sisters in fairytales:

"Once upon a time, there were two sisters. The older was dark, and sharp as a knife; the younger warm and golden as the sun."

Howard doesn't just subvert these fairytales, she points out their glossed over silences, the characters not seen, the ellipses after "Happily Ever After." And she does so in such a quiet, stunning way that it is a bit like the Otherworld itself — dancing out of sight, a feeling of heartache so elusive that you can never quite say why a sentence or image broke you.

I don't know how else to say this, but I felt like her characters lived for me. Maybe it's because I'm at a point in my "career" (I still laugh) where I am questioning what I write and why I write. I could feel Howard's characters peeling themselves to the bone for the sake of their work. It was hard to read. Harder, still, to know that feeling.

Beautiful and thoughtful. R&R is going to sneak into your soul and stay there.

"You go into the woods to find your story. If you are brave, if you are fortunate, you walk out of them to find your life."
Profile Image for K..
3,796 reviews1,022 followers
June 7, 2017
Trigger warnings: physical abuse of children, emotional abuse, suicide.


Let's start with something of a disclaimer: I didn't want to read this book. The Fae are not my thing. At all. I don't find them interesting to read about. I don't care about their dark, mysterious powers of persuasion or whatever the fuck. But this was the FYA book club pick this month, so I kind of had to read it.

And I wish to God I hadn't, because I've never been SO FUCKING BORED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Like...I hated last month's book club book because it was about baseball and it was also incredibly bleak and ALSO full of abuse. But I'd reread that in a heartbeat over reading this snorefest.

- I didn't like Imogen as a narrator.
- I didn't like Imogen's short stories that were included in the book. They're essentially fairytales based on her childhood with an abusive parent. I've never particularly liked fairytales, even as a small child, so I guess it's understandable that I wouldn't like those sections of the book? But I feel like flashbacks would have been a far more effective way of delivering their backstory than fairytales.
- I feel like all we knew about Marin was that she was a dancer and "the pretty one". So as a result, I didn't care if she lived or died or fell in love with her mentor/a Fae king.
- Evan was bland. FYA gave this book an 8 on the swoonworthy scale, but this dude was as swoonworthy as a dumpster full of generic white dudes. Although honestly, I was doomed to not like him because I read the line "cheekbones so sharp you could cut yourself" and my eyes nearly rolled out of my head.
- This was meant to be dark and creepy and magical, and probably the last...15-20 pages were? The rest of it was just boring.
- I cannot understand for the life of me why a ballet dancer in her early to mid 20s would decide that a) taking a year off from her career to go to an artist's retreat and b) taking seven years off to go and hang out in Faerie would be a good idea. Like...yes, the Fae promise you that you'll get everything your heart desires when you get back. But that means you've lost EIGHT YEARS of a dance career that's notoriously short at best, so???????
- Every single parent in this book is a fucking disaster zone
- I didn't like the writing. Everyone else seems to be gushing about how beautiful the writing was, but I just found it...kind of pretentious?
- The whole thing was just incredibly passive. Like, everyone just accepted things, no matter how far fetched.

So yeah. I hated this. A lot. It was incredibly dull. I don't think the abuse was handled well. And the suicide was...oof. Yeah. No.
Profile Image for Susana.
988 reviews247 followers
June 14, 2016

I'll call this a manipulative story... and not as an endearment.
With the main characters having been the target of their mother's abuse (psychological and physical) , I actually felt bad for not connecting with them.
Have I such a heart of stone, that neither a story with traits such as those, can touch me?

And that was what made me keep reading. I kept hoping to feel something...

And I did, in small bits. Mainly, during Imogen's stream of consciousness and during the fairy tales that she kept on writing and telling.
As for the rest?
For me it was rubbish. -_-
This was what I wrote in one of my Booklikes updates at 30%:

"BUT, the other part, the so called actual STORY with its actual characters, it just feels like a draft. A draft in which the writer seems to be more determined in trying to define what it means to be an artist.
A story _ for me_ has to have something more, I'll call it texture, and this doesn't have it. Flat storytelling. Flat characters. Flat relationships. I
This here, makes me want to just DNF it immediately."

And at 40%: "I feel as if, if this book was a person, it would be a snobbish one, going over and over about the "arts".

The characters are as interesting as last week's bread... but with less substance. More like phantoms of last week's bread...

The relationships are created in the blink of an eye, as if the author couldn't waste her precious time on it. All about the arts, remember?

Then there's huge craters of plot holes: there's this character, who'll end up calling one of the sisters a whore because of her immediately hooking up with her mentor ( something with which I also ain't crazy about ), someone who we'll later find out was born in Fairie, and who supposedly spent her first seven years there. But then, later on she says that the first time she rode into Fairie she was fourteen.

As for Melete, the place to which the sisters go live along with many, many others, to refine their art, I found it completely underwhelmed. The concept of it was too grand for the portrait of what we end up getting.
In the end, for me, this story had a great concept but a lousy execution.
Profile Image for Ezgi Tülü.
414 reviews1,100 followers
April 25, 2019
Edit: Kitaba devam etmemeye karar verdim, yani:
DNF @ 28%.

Masaldan Öte, Melete bir türlü akmayınca sorunun belki de kendimi Türkçe okumaya zorlamam olabileceğini düşündüm. Elimde Roses and Rot’un ekitabı zaten vardı ve okunmayı bekliyordu, ben de birkaç bölüm oradan okuduktan sonra çevirisine geri döndüm.

Böylece bir süre Türkçe-İngilizce arası gidip geldim ve bir noktada İngilizce edisyonda, Türkçe edisyonda görmediğim bir kısım gördüğümü düşünerek kitapları karşılaştırmaya başladım. (Çok üstünde durarak değil, şöyle biraz göz gezdirerek.)

Bu aşağıdakiler gözüme takılan birkaç tanesi.

“Eğer bir kaltak olacaksan, bari iyi bir kaltak ol!”
“Evet. Evet iyiydi.” (69-70)

“Well, if you’re whoring yourself out, at least the sex is good.”
“Yes, yes it is.”

“Her zaman bir şeyler söyleyecek insanlar olacak. Sen de Gavin de oldukça göz önünde insanlarsınız.” (70)

“There are always going to be people who think things. Obviously, you and Gavin are both hideous, unpleasant people with no redeeming personal qualities, so why would anyone want to have sex with either of you, unless they were getting something in trade?”

“Sahnenin sonlarına doğru, kalabalığın içinde tuhaf kostümler giymiş insanlar gördüm sandım.”
“Onları sen de gördün mü?”
“Çok korktum. Belki müziğin etkisiyle farklı bir etki altında kaldım diye düşündüm. Ama belki de gerçekten sadece kostüm giymişlerdi. Bilemiyorum...” (84)

“Like, toward the end of the set, I kept thinking maybe there were people there in costumes or something?”
“So you saw them too?”
“I freaked out. Thought maybe I’d inhaled some smoke that I shouldn’t have. But costumes makes sense.”
“They do, don’t they. Or the secondhand smoke. I had a beast of a headache.”
“Most likely explanation.”

“Ayrıca en sevdiğim tişörtümün üstüne mürekkep döktüm ve elimi de kestim.” (85)

“Plus I spilled a bottle of ink all over my favourite shirt and I cut myself shaving.”

“Kesinlikle. O yüzden yukarıda oturup surat asmak yerine, buraya gelip çikolatalı mus yapayım dedim. Normalde o kadar zor değildir. Ama bugün hiçbir şeyi sertleştiremiyorum.”
Ariel kıs kıs güldü.
Ona baktım.
“Ne dediğinin farkında mısın?” diye sordu. (86)

“Exactly. So rather than sitting upstairs and sulking, I thought I’d come down here and make chocolate mousse.”
“Seriously? You can just”--she waved her hands in the air like a wizard--“make that?”
I shrugged. “It’s usually not hard. Except today, when I can’t make anything get stiff.”
Ariel snickered.
I stared.
“You heard what you just said, right?”
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews195 followers
August 1, 2018
Two sisters - one a dancer and one a writer - are both admitted to an exclusive artist's colony. The colony turns out to be a gateway to Faerie, whose inhabitants have a bargain with the residents - the most accomplished among them can achieve the highest success and honors their profession allows; success that comes at great personal cost.
I liked the premise of Roses and Rot, but the novel itself did not really live up to its promise, and the conflict that drives the last third of the book is a little thin in my opinion. It is solidly written, though, with expertly drawn characters and an interesting, imaginative setting. I appreciated this book enough to think well of it.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 71 books1,000 followers
May 17, 2016
ROSES AND ROT is a modern-day fairy tale about art and survival and sisterhood, and it's fierce and beautiful and full of magic. Imogen and Marin are sisters who helped each other survive their abusive mother's toxic parenting when they were kids but had their connection snapped after Imogen escaped to boarding school. Now, as adults, they're both artists in different fields - Imogen as a writer, Marin as a dancer - and they're trying to re-establish their relationship...partly by coming together to the same artists' colony, Melete, a truly magical place famous for mentoring and nurturing astonishingly successful artists.

As Imogen knows from her own study of fairy tales, though, magic always comes at a price, fairies rarely act out of kindness...and the two sisters might just be pulled apart forever by their competition to win the faerie gold of success and fortune (and freedom from their mother, forever) that they find offered to them at Melete.

If you're an artist yourself, in any field, this book will resonate with you deeply. I identified with so much of Imogen's quest as a writer, and spent the first part of the book fantasizing about getting my own residency at Melete (before figuring out the whole truth about it)! And if you've enjoyed books by Charles De Lint, Emma Bull, or Terri Windling, then I can almost promise that you'll enjoy this book, too, because it's a beautiful example of that kind of mythic fantasy.

Partway through, I thought I'd figured out which classic fairy story the plot of the book was going to mirror, and I thought it might be a little predictable...but I was wrong! The archetype was actually twisted in a way I hadn't expected at all, and I was so pleased to be surprised by that. I loved the way that the story resolved, and the magic was lovely throughout.

For me, though, the most powerful part of the book was Imogen's and Marin's parallel fight to escape their mother's emotional legacy and redefine themselves in adulthood. It was so beautifully handled and so emotionally moving.

The second half of the book felt a bit less smoothly paced than the first half, and there was one small piece of story logic that didn't quite make sense to me - but I also have to disclose, here, that I read this book while extremely tired, so I might well have just misread that bit! And either way, it didn't change the fact that I found the whole book (the second half even more so than the first) - to be a totally compulsive read, and deeply emotionally resonant throughout.

I loved reading this book and can't wait to read whatever Kat Howard writes next.
Profile Image for Fiona.
1,269 reviews231 followers
August 30, 2022
Edit on reread - still absolutely love this book, and cannot be even in the slightest bit objective. Reading it feels like opening a vein, so writing must have been even more personal. And it translates to writing that feels like an absolute truth if there's resonance there for the reader. Beautiful - definitely a desert island book for me.

Once upon a time, a woman read a book. But this was a magical book, that told the truth wrapped in fiction, wrapped in dark and beautiful words.
I will freely admit that my personal lens GREATLY influenced this rating - from the very start of this book I knew there were parallels to my own childhood experiences. But even outside of those, this modern fairy tale wove a sly and enrapturing spell over me. I really, really tried to spread out my reading, but a couple of days in, I caved and finished it off.
I've already got the hardcover on the way, and I know this is a story I'll come back to time and time and time again. I'm sure we'll live happily ever after...
Profile Image for Leo.
4,388 reviews411 followers
December 31, 2021
Intriguing premise but didn't get emersed in the story as I had hoped. Remember being completely hooked on a Cinderella retailing many years ago and I had hoped this fairy taleesce novel would do the same. Although not a bad read but didn't feel anything in particular for it either
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books751 followers
June 27, 2023
I really loved this, actually. Dark fantasy with fae, art-as-magic, and strong sisterly love? Yes please!


Things to love:

All the stuff mentioned above. I don't want to get into it too much because I think exploring them is the joy, but it was macabre in a delicious way.

Things I did not love:

-Mom. So yeah, you're not supposed to like her and I didn't, but I also didn't feel she rang entirely true. I think a lot of people had parents that she is supposedly like, but this felt a bit cartoonish.

-Build up. I wanted a bit more emotion in the choices at the end, but overall, it came very close to doing exactly what it wanted.

Very impressed with this story!
Profile Image for WhatIReallyRead.
725 reviews507 followers
July 30, 2017
I don't know why it shows up as YA on Goodreads, but this book is about twentysomething adults, trying to find their ways as artists. It's not YA, not at all.

At the center of the novel we have two sisters - a dancer and a writer, who arrive at a mysterious establishment to work on their art projects and be mentored by professionals for a year. As time goes by, they discover some pretty weird stuff goes on there, and some pretty bizarre creatures inhabit it.

What I liked:

1) art, artistic process, finding value in things you created, especially in relation to the reaction of others to it - these are prominent themes in the book. I don't think I've ever read fiction books delving into this stuff before. Most contemporary books give characters an interest in some form of art to add "personality", and leave it at that.

2) the relationship around which the novel revolves is the relationship between two sisters. It's not romance-centric, which I liked. No extra pining and angst.

3) as far as fantasy novels go, it was pretty original. Or rather, there was a noticeable lack of tropes. For most of the novel I didn't really know where it was going, because it didn't follow a familiar formula.

What I didn't like:

1) okay, so it wasn't following a formula. But one good thing formulas generally contribute is a structure or rhythm or pace or whatever you call it. "Roses and Rot" began well: the sisters arrive to Melete, hints and weird episodes gradually amount to suspicions, things escalate until we discover the truth about what's really going on there. This happens at about 20% or so. After that the novel just flows, things happen, time goes by, like it does in life. But in a novel, I feel like, there has to be some sort of direction, tension and resolve.

2) I feel like the world building could be better. I was left with a lot of questions about how the faerie world operated and about fae themselves. The logic of the magic wasn't explained enough.

3) the romance between Marin and Gavin felt underdeveloped. There was little time for that - as I mentioned, not much attention was payed to romance. But it didn't make enough sense for me. I get why she fell in love with him - he's fae, beautiful, incredible dancer etc. Was her love partly due to his magical influence, or was it purely hers? Why did he fall in love with her? He obviously met a lot of people like her before at Melete. But he loves her enough to Why? Their relationship had to be very deep and special for that, but it was off the pages, so it wasn't very convincing.

4) Okay, now to the worst grudge I have against this book. What is it with Kat Howard and Moms? There are two mothers in the novel, one for the two main characters, and one for a side character. Both are unspeakably horrible, psychotic and abusive. Father in one instance is absent (because the horrible mother kept him away with her horribleness), and in the other - was not mentioned at all. That's right. The two main characters must have had a father (or two different fathers), but he is never even mentioned - not a death, or abandonment or anything. Given the fact that the awful relationship with Mom and the horrible childhood plays a big role in the novel, it was surprising. Why did neither of the girls ever bring it up?

In case of Helena's awful mother - her behavior and personality made sense.

In case of MC's mother - the whole thing was a bunch of bullshit and holds up to no close inspection. The behavior that is described is, essentially, just a strict single mom with short temper + bullshitty horribleness randomly piled on top of that.

It's really easy to separate the two. What does she do? She brings up two daughters, works hard to feed them and provide for them by herself, pays for dance classes and insists on their attendance. She sometimes says harsh words and is too strict - as she believes, in the best interest of her children. Her words, if unpleasant, are completely reasonable. She obviously cares for them. But all of that is demonized and presented as pure evuuulnes. Examples:

- A twentysomething dancer daughter quits her job at a dancing company to go to obscurity for a year? Yeah, she says "That's dumb! It will be hard to find a dancing job again, people will forget you, and a year is a lot in a short career of a dancer. This is a bad idea". Okay, so this makes complete sense. But the characters act as if she is a monster for saying that and not "supporting". Clearly, Mom wants the best for her kids.

- She sometimes calls, emails or visits. She sends a photo of her daughters together to them. Somehow, I don't know how, they make these completely justified bids for a relationship to be acts of deliberate torment.

Okay, so their mom may be a difficult person, a dramatic one, okay. The daughters had a difficult time with her growing up - understandable. But now they are adults. I don't know how they can not empathize or be grateful at all. They didn't really grow up, if they hold on so tightly to childhood grudges and can muster zero understanding for their mom's perspective. They hate her, they judge, they somehow expect her to be a totally different person than she is and are mortally offended to be wrong about that again and again. They act as if she harms them somehow, as if she even can - but they are ADULTS! Independent. Living separately. A few emails a year can be survived, no?

And then there's the bullshit. To demonize the Mom and justify the girl's hate there were added some dramatic and totally unbelievable instances of abuse. For no particular reason Mom burned her daughters hand, scarring it, and beat her several times. This is very outside of all the logic and personality (hateful interpretation aside) of this character. She also inexplicably prefers one daughter's art to the other. She supports, even pushes the dancing of Marin, but forbids and punishes Imogen's writing. Why on Earth? They say Mom likes Marin's dancing only because of the attention and praise she gets. Okay. But when Imogen's short story wins a contest instead of basking in the same admiration the Mom for some reason claims her daughter committed fraud, humiliates and punishes her.

Essentially all the plot holes are due to this dumb demonization of the MC's mom. They keep claiming they need "protection" from Mom (which is one of the major motives propelling the characters to go to faerie), when the worst she does is come see Marin's show as a member of the audience.

Not one positive or even neutral relationship between parents and kids are even mentioned in the novel, even for side characters. This strikes me as very unrealistic. I'm so fed up with awful childhoods in books. Let's face it, most people don't get abused by their parents to the point of permanent scarring. But in books that happens, like, in almost every family. Mostly it's done for a sob-worthy bullshitty back-story, to get pity and glory of "overcoming" to the MC. But it's so obviously fake...

I hoped the characters would open their eyes by the end of the book, but no.

All in all, the book was good, except for the Mom part, which really disappointed me.
Profile Image for Hazal Çamur.
172 reviews214 followers
November 14, 2017
Çeviride eksikler/atlanan yerler olduğu söyleniyor. Şimdi söyleyeceğim şey bundan mı kaynaklı, yani bu iddia doğru mu bilmiyorum ama biri 24, diğeri 26 yaşında olan iki genç kadının 12-14 yaş aralığındaymış gibi konuşuyor olması bu kitabı en itici yapan nedenler arasında. İddiaye göreyse kimi yetişkin içerikli konuşmalar çeviride sansürlenmiş, daha doğrusu atlanmıştı.

Ortada gerçek bir sömürü varken perileri beyaz atlı prensler gibi göstermek de aynı şekilde. Dahası, s��rekli geçmişteki kötü anıların kaynağı olarak gösterilen kötü öz anneye dair anılar bana kesinlikle suni geldi. Ben bu anıları okurken empati kuramadım, acıya dahil olamadım. Kötü öz anneden tiksinemedim.

Genç kadınlar yerine hayata dair deneyimsiz küçük kızların kişiliklerini büyük bedenlere giydirmiş, umduğum gibi bir karanlık masal yerine gayet de peri masalı kıvamında bir kitaptı. Hayal kırıklığıydı. En güzel yanıysa sanatçılar için oluşturulan ve onların yaratıcılıklarını muazzam biçimde teşvik eden dünyasıydı. Bunun dışında hızla okunan, yanlış mesajlar içeren bir eserdi.
Profile Image for Diana | Book of Secrets.
798 reviews595 followers
July 5, 2016
If I had to label this book, I'd call it a New Adult Fairy Tale, which I know some readers will devour. For me, ROSES AND ROT was an okay story, though not as "Gothic" as I was expecting.

Two sisters, Imogen and Marin, are accepted into an exclusive artists' colony called Melete. Only the best of the best are invited to join. It seems wonderful in theory, especially since the sisters have different talents and wouldn't be in competition with each other. Well, not everything is as it seems at Melete.

I had a hard time connecting with the characters - they weren't that interesting to me, though the crazy fairy tale their lives became was entertaining. What really kept me listening was the narration by Madeleine Maby. I love her voice, and she knows how to expertly tell a story.

Disclosure: I received a download of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for dreamwell.
196 reviews5 followers
June 12, 2016
Dull characters, boring plot, mediocre writing. Reads like some pretentious fanfiction. dnf.
Profile Image for Helen.
896 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2016
This is a fairy tale that sort of isn't. It has fae, magic and a king of fairy land but is essentially arty types on retreat. Two sisters, one a writer the other a dancer, escape their life and more to the point, their mother and try to be the best they can. Some of the imagery is particularly enchanting but there are a couple of times where events happened that I had to go back and read over still coming away confused. I would've liked more information on evil mum too.

I didn't feel that the cover portrayed the contents, I would've liked a pretty tower, a magical carousel or an hour glass, a hint at the story. At times, the imagery reminded me of The Night Circus.

I'm wondering if I can get an invite to the night market.
Profile Image for Chris.
2,863 reviews205 followers
February 8, 2019
4.5 stars. Very good story about two sisters who are accepted for a nine-month artists' retreat and slowly realize they're living in a faery tale.
Profile Image for Jessica.
1,161 reviews81 followers
May 20, 2016
To me, the testament of a good story is how long it sticks with you after you finish. My favorite books are the ones that, no matter what else you might be doing, are always at the back of your mind. Wooing you. Reminding you that they exist. Begging for another read through. Kat Howard's Roses and Rot hasn't unleashed me from its magical confines yet. I finished it well over two days ago, and it just won't leave me be. I tell you, I'm not even upset. All I really want is a hardcover of this so I can lovingly read it over and over again.

I love fairy tales, with all of my being. To be more specific, I love the fairy tales that are a bit on the darker side. The ones where people might be changed forever, or even die. The ones were love only prevails after sacrifice. That's exactly how Howard's writing captured me. Imogen's story is equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting. It deals with the definition of love, with sisterhood, and with all the blood, sweat and tears that go into passionate art. Imogen's life is revealed in tandem. Both her present, and her past, play a part in the fairy tale that she is unknowingly being woven into. It's magical, and trust me when I say it's easy to get lost in.

Which brings me to my next two points. First of all, this is a very difficult book to read at times. It does deal with childhood abuse, both of the verbal and physical varieties. Like all good fairy tales, it also has its very sad portions, so be warned. My biggest warning though, is that this book is extremely hard to put down. Chances are high that you won't want to set it down at all. So this is me giving you a heads up, before you end up staying up well into the wee hours of the morning because you started this before bed. It's addictive.

I don't hand out five star reviews very easily. A book has to truly sweep me up, in order to make its way onto my list of favorite books. Roses and Rot did just that. I'm thrilled that I was able to read this, and saddened that it's over. I'll miss Melete, and all its magic. Another read through can't come soon enough.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,173 reviews60 followers
April 10, 2017
"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."

Two sisters:
Imogen, the eldest. A writer of fairy tales, and
Marin, the youngest. A ballet dancer.

Both are invited to the prestigious artist retreat Melete for nine blissful months of full concentration on their art. They're excited about going, not only to improve their art, but also to get to know one another better, for after an abusive childhood Imogen fled to a boarding school, and the two haven't been close since.

But while the program at first seems too good to be true, strange things start happening, for Melete is run by the Fae. Every seven years the Fae claim an artist as their 7-year tithe, and this year is tithe year, and the first time there's been 2 sisters at the retreat. Who will the Fae choose as their tithe?

A novel about how far one would go for their art, about the bond of sisters, about what happens when magic and reality collide, Roses and Rot is a fast-paced, thoughtful novel that I would highly recommend to any fan of fairy tales or of fiction about creativity. I read it in 3 sittings, and I would definitely reread it!

I wish I'd been reading this with someone else, because it's a great discussion novel, especially with people in the creative arts. I'm currently finishing up 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 (I'm on Ariel's side, by the way. Also, I WANT ARIEL AS A FRIEND PLEASE!). And I have three sisters, too. I love sister novels.

I've been reading Kat Howard's short stories for several years, and I was so excited when I heard she had a novel coming out. I was not disappointed. It's an excellent debut novel (and novel in general). So glad I splurged on it!

Profile Image for Shomeret.
1,062 reviews208 followers
February 11, 2017
As the POV character, the writer sister Imogen, is the most fully portrayed in Roses and Rot. Her concerns are the central concerns of the book. Through the lens of Imogen's narration, I didn't see any difference between abusive human parents and the Fae's abuse of humans residing in places where they have power. Kat Howard shows the various types of abuse as part of the same continuum. I believe that she is telling her audience that the identity of the abuser doesn't matter. Abuse is still abuse, and you shouldn't tolerate it.

This is certainly the best book that I've ever read about the Fae. Faerie is left rather vague. There is very little time spent there in the course of the narrative. Kat Howard places humanity and human experience front and center , and that is what makes her book so powerful.

For my complete review which includes a history of my feelings about the Fae see http://shomeretmasked.blogspot.com/20...

Profile Image for Lisa.
346 reviews544 followers
July 25, 2016
Review from Tenacious Reader: http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2016/0...

So the thing about real fairy tales is that they tend to have a dark side to them. The fae are not all about making dreams come true, at least not without some sort of price. Roses and Rot is no exception. Imogen and her sister Marin have not had an easy or comfortable life, growing up with an abusive mother that was bad enough they would dream of fairy tales, dark side and all. What could be worse than a mother that is cruel and potentially violent?

Imogen and her sister shared a history and a family, but they were also very different. Imogen is more of an observer, introspective and finds release in creating stories (and fairy tales) of her own. Her sister Marin, with her fair looks, finds herself in the spotlight and excels at dance. Even their mother showed a preference for Marin, saving the worst of her abusive for Imogen. Because of this, Imogen saves and finds a way to go away to school, unfortunately leaving her sister behind.

Years later, when fate lands them both a place at a prestigious post-grad arts school, the sisters are thrilled. They will be together and will most importantly, out of reach of their mother. This is where the story really starts. The school almost seems too good to be true, and you know what they say about that! I am going to skip the details because I believe discovering them is part of the fun of the book. Be sure, there is more to this school than meets the eye. And as the tale spins into a fairy tale of its own, be sure that it is not all light and happiness. There exists a depth and darkness that also lends beauty to the story.

The relationships between the sisters and between them and others at the school are very interesting. When it comes down to it, this was just a very enjoyable, fascinating tale of two sisters who find themselves in the middle of their own fairy tale complete with the good and the bad that go along with the fae. Roses and Rot is a captivating book, with characters that I quickly cared about and a story that brings the fae to life. I definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for All Things Urban Fantasy.
1,921 reviews617 followers
June 7, 2016
Review courtesy of All Things Urban Fantasy.

Extremely compelling, ROSES AND ROT is a book that grabbed me from the first few pages and didn't let go. This is a book that kept me up late, that I read in one sitting. It simultaneously drags the reader to keep turning the pages but also manages to feel like a languid, meandering walk that you wish could last forever.

A lot goes on in ROSES AND ROT. Howard manages to weave together multiple storylines without missing a beat in any of them. Relationships are key, and toxic mother-daughter relationships reign supreme. Despite the sometimes awful subject matter, Howard has a writing style that makes the whole book flow like a song. This is a book that manages to be both beautiful and terrifying at the same time - and sometimes the beauty is all the more lovely for the terror.

Writing this review has been extremely difficult, because to go into any details would spoil the reveal for the reader, and I wouldn't want to do that. Nevertheless, ROSES AND ROT is a wonderful standalone (so rare these days!) novel, with echoes of fairy tales, difficult choices, sisterly love, and spectacular writing.

Sexual content: References to sex, very brief, abstract sex scenes
Displaying 1 - 30 of 752 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.