Imogen and Marin are sisters who've not actively spoke in years. When Marin reaches out to her older sister to apply for a residency at the famous artist colony Melete, something about it doesn't seem quite right to Imogen but she cannot imagine getting a better opportunity to finally dedicate her life to her art. Imogen is a writer and Marin is a dancer - both artists in their own right - with disciplines so different, there should never be a reason to compete.
Melete at first seems just like the fairy tales that Imogen had written and dreamed of being a part of since her childhood. The scenery is absolutely inspired and enhanced by the presence of her sister. If only Imogen had paid closer attention to what happens in fairy tales before the happy ending occurs. There's always a price and now Imogen must decide if she is willing to pay it, in order to save her sister.
I read Roses and Rot in one day. I simply couldn't put it down. I don't remember the last time I picked up a book which captivated me from start to finish the way Howard's Roses and Rot has. The pacing was absolutely perfect, drawing me in as Howard revealed the various layers of her story. The writing was absolutely gorgeous and so vivid that I could easily see the campus of Melete and feel Imogen's doubts. Even when Howard stepped away from the main story to delve into the Imogen's book, rather than being a distraction, it simply added to the complicated beauty of Roses and Rot.
One of the things that really stood out to me was the relationship between the sisters. Sure, they each had their own romances but at the end of the day, unlike fairy tales we have grown up on, the love that mattered most was the love between Imogen and Marin. No man, no matter how he may have claimed to love either Imogen or Marin could have saved either of them.
Ostensibly, Roses and Rot is about an artist making a deal with the fae. Faerie needs to feed off the emotions of humans and so to accomplish this, one person is chosen every seven years and in return for becoming a food source for the fae, the artist is given their deepest desire and success in their chosen field of art. Alumni of Melete have gone on to win Tonys, Oscars, Pulitzer Prizes and appear on the New York Times bestseller list. That may seem to be a steep price to pay for something the artist might well have achieved on their own with hard work, dedication and a little luck, but it also comes along with the assurance that hundreds of years after you're dead that your name will live on and your art will continue to be loved. It's a form of immortality that few artists have achieved.
Roses and Rot is in fact about relationships though the fae do have an important role to play in this story. Through flashbacks we learn about Imogen and Marin's childhood with their physically and emotionally abusive mother. How she actively drove a wedge between Imogen and Marin, attempting to play them off against each other. How Imogen and Marin's mother preyed upon their fears of not being good enough, always there to suggest that they were getting fat, or not grateful for the supposed sacrifices she made on their behalf. In the present, even as the sisters worked on their art, their mother continued to send them missives about their worthlessness, triggering painful memories that the two sisters simply couldn't outrun no matter how fast they danced or wrote.