“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
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.
If a book has haunting imagery and some terrific passages, is that enough to get past a plot that doesn’t quite make sense? Perhaps not. In Roses and Rot, we follow two adult sisters who are accepted into an elite and mysterious artists’ retreat for a year. Imogen and Marin have lived apart for years, but their residency at Melete offers them a chance to both hone their art and mend their relationship.
Which all sounds terrific, but there’s more. The school borders Faerie, and the artists who achieve the stunning success that Melete is famous for do so at a cost. Imogen and Marin both want the guaranteed flourishing of talent that will come if they pay the price, but according to the twisted Fae rules, only one can be chosen.
Meanwhile, they and the other artists work and live in a dreamlike setting, with magical fairs popping up from time to time, when the borders between worlds become porous and the Fae walk freely among the humans across the campus.
Everyone seems to accept the existence of the Fae and the odd rules and opportunities without more than a blink of an eye. Imogen and Marin come to Melete with no knowledge of any of this, but they just fall right into it as if it were normal. Imogen has been fascinated by fairy tales her entire life, finding in them an escape from their horribly abusive mother, but it seems to me that it should have been a much bigger leap to accept the fantastic as real. The entire retreat, not to mention the lure of the Fae promises, makes even less sense for Marin, who already has a promising career in ballet just starting to take off when she enrolls in this voluntary seclusion for the year of her residency.
The story is kind of all over the place. I enjoyed the relationship between the sisters, and was moved (and horrified) by the memories of their mother’s incredible cruelty. The interplay between the artists’ success and the debt to Faerie just didn’t particularly work for me. There are pieces that made little or no sense, and some storylines that seem to drop in and then out again without much reason.
Overall, this is a book that includes some lovely writing, but the plot itself lost me somewhere along the way, and the characters seemed more like types than actual people. I just didn’t get swept up, and I think the success of the book as a whole depends on how much you can get lost in the atmosphere of the storytelling.
Title: Roses and Rot
Author: Kat Howard
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: May 17, 2016
Length: 336 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley