Saturday, 20 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 86: "Roses and Rot" by Kat Howard

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Imogen and Marin are sisters, both very talented in their own ways. Imogen is a writer, while Marin dances ballet. They have both been accepted into the prestigious Melete artists' colony, where a select few get a full scholarship for a year and a chance to truly hone their art. The sisters became estranged after Imogen went away to college, leaving Marin alone with their absolute horror of a mother. Now Imogen writes an anthology of fairy stories, where even the most horrible of stepmothers can't hold a candle to the woman who gave birth to her and her sister.

Living in the same house, away from their controlling and manipulative mother, the sisters start to reconnect again. It doesn't take long before they discover that Melete is something very different from what they were expecting, and that there may be more truth to the fairy stories that Imogen loved growing up. Both want to succeed, so they can get away from their mother's influence once and for all, but the price of success could be higher than they imagined.

I saw this positively reviewed on Forever Young Adult and it has a cover quote from Neil Gaiman. I should have remembered that a blurb from Mr. Gaiman isn't always a guarantee of quality, after reading Queen of Kings a few years ago. Sisters with a troubled relationship, a mysterious artists' colony, fairy tales and possibly actual faeries as part of the story? It sounded better than I think it worked on the page. I love me a modern faery tale, especially with scary bargains and high stakes. Yet my favourite thing about this whole book were the snippets of actual fairy tales we got from Imogen. Sprinkled throughout the story, they give an idea of her writing that engaged me a lot more than the story of her and her sister.

While the stakes are high for the sisters, and they've clearly had an absolutely terrible childhood and adolescence, I didn't find myself caring much about them. I was completely unmoved by the romantic elements to the story, and it took me much longer to read the book than I was expecting, mainly because I kept finding things I would rather do than actually read it. It may have been that I just wasn't in the mood for it, but for a book that by its description contains as much personal catnip for me as this, it should have thrilled and engaged me more.

This is Kat Howard's debut novel, and I'm not ruling out that she can do great things in the future. I really wanted to like this book, but it left me unmoved. If the whole book had been an anthology of the fairy stories teased in the novel, I think I would have loved it more.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is not only fairly boring, a stock photo of an old house, but fairly misleading. Imogen and Marin go to a fancy artists' colony in the woods and while there are a number of different buildings, none of them are described as the large, imposing mansion on the cover. For a book that deals with magical realism and fairy tales, the cover shoud have been something much more atmospheric. Bad choice, Saga Press. It's especially vexing as there is a discussion of cover design IN the book. Imogen is clearly much luckier with her designer than Kat Howard.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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