By Heather A.
3 out of 5 stars ★★★☆☆
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 in this haunting debut fantasy novel from “a remarkable young writer” (Neil Gaiman).
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.
An ARC of this book was provided by NetGalley and Saga Press in exchange for an honest review. The Pub date for this novel is May 17, 2016.
Roses and Rot is a fairy tale within a fairy tale. The protagonist is Imogen, a writer in a prestigious artists colony, who writes about fairy tales while living in a fairy tale herself (though it takes about 100 pages to figure it out). The book talks about art for the sake of art, how much you would be willing to sacrifice in the name of art. It’s also about competitiveness between sisters. There’s always a duality when it comes to the relationship between Imogen and her sister, Marin, who is also in the artists colony and is a dancer. Seemingly, these two art forms of dancing and writing do not have any direct competitive drives, but because we are in a fairy tale, everything has a price. Including success, including talent.
The major reveal <not really a spoiler> that happens half way through the book is that the artist colony is supported by the Fae (or fairies). I have never been drawn to the story (or any story) of the Fae so I didn’t really see why it was so important to be the Tithe. The sacrifice of seven years in the fairy realm didn’t seem worth it to me, even though it’s really emphasized throughout the novel that it is worth doing for success, safety, security. Imogen and Marin have to save each other from the Tithe so they can be a part of it instead. They are the “chosen ones” among the other students. However, the ending left me feeling confused because <definitely a spoiler> Imogen was able to break the tithe, but neither of them had to serve time as the tithe (the tithe breaker replaces the original tithe), but they still started to see the effects of success. What did I miss that changed the way the Fae rules worked? Ultimately, I’m glad that neither of them had to be the tithe, but it felt like a cop out. <end spoiler>
What I did really love about this story was the writing and how the author described the fairy elements. The fae were extravagant and beautiful, but behind the beauty was something sinister. They were only drawn to humans and required a tithe so that they could sustain themselves on human emotions. Living with the fae is a visceral act that was expertly depicted. I also found myself drawn to the author’s sensory writing. The writing is heavy with emotion and the imagery is superb. I also found the backstory of the sisters to be really compelling. Their mother was abusive, in a terrible moment burned Imogen’s hand to stop her from writing when she was in high school. This was explained in flashbacks, but there was some time at the start of the story when Imogen and Marin are in high school, which was explained as flashbacks anyway. I think the novel could have started when both sisters started at the artists colony. But like I said, when we find out how horrible their mother was, it’s no surprise that they both see her as evil (inspiration for many of Imogen’s fairy tales).
I would recommend this book to people who like fairy tales, stories about family, and art for the sake of art and the sacrifices it asks.