Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love.” (source)

My thoughts: How far would you go, how much would you sacrifice, to have everything you’ve ever wanted? That is the question central to Roses and Rot.

Not having enough talent seemed almost worse than not having any, because having a little meant having just enough to know what you lacked.

When I learned Roses and Rot was a retelling of Tam Lin, I was thankful it’d been several years since I’d read the ballad. That way there might be more surprises as I read this book’s version. [spoiler]All I really remembered about the ballad was a mortal woman had to pull her lover from a horse and hold on to him in order to save him from the Queen of Faerie. [/spoiler]

Stories of the Fair Folk are not at all then what we think of as fairy tales, those moralistic stories wherein evil is punished and virtue triumphs, that were set safely in once upon a time, and had happy endings guaranteed. True fairy tales are horror stories.

I adored that this love story centered around two sisters; the two of them, though bonded together in childhood against their narcissistic nightmare of a mother, grew apart after Imogen escaped to boarding school leaving Marin alone with their mother. Then they’re brought back together by their acceptance into Melete, an elite postgrad arts program. And in the end they must save each other in different ways.

The story’s imagery and sensory stimulation was vibrant and intoxicating — alive. I could smell autumn at the Night Market; I could feel the perilous edge of the collapsed covered bridge. Blurring the lines between the mortal world and Faerie felt exhilarating and frightening. It’s been a while since I’ve read a story in which Faerie is equal parts beautiful and terrifying, and I enjoyed the way Howard embraced the haughty nature of the Fae.

Roses and Rot is one of the most successful retellings in recent memory because it will delight readers familiar with Tam Lin whilst simultaneously resonate with readers completely unfamiliar with the story on which it’s based.

Perhaps the only happily ever after is to survive to tell the story.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)