Book Review: “Roses & Rot” by Kat Howard

Warning: If you have not read “Roses and Rot” by Kat Howard, do not read this review unless you don’t mind spoilers.

Cover of "Roses & Rot" by Kat Howard.
Cover of “Roses & Rot” by Kat Howard.

I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Roses and Rot” by Kat Howard! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“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.”

Question: Why do a lot of protagonists I find in YA literature have abusive fathers/mothers/step-parents etc? There were examples of both abusive step-mothers and abusive biological mothers in this book, as I noticed. For instance, the main heroines Imogen and Marin had an abusive stepmother, while Helena (one of the supporting characters) has a horribly abusive and distant mother. I found that while Imogen and Marin’s past involving their mother, as well as them breaking out of their mother’s control over them was well-written in this book, I feel like the abusive mother Helena had was just there to make us feel bad for Helena (who, to be entirely honest, slut-shamed Marin and Imogen for no reason and was just horribly rude to them for over half the book). The discussions and thoughts the characters had over the abusive parent issue, however, felt very in-depth and are definitely worth reading.

There are two romances in this book, and one of them ends with a breakup—though for good reason. It’s Imogen and Evan’s romance that ends with a breakup, due to Imogen recognizing that Evan was doing the following:

  1. Evan didn’t tell her the truth about his origins as a Fae in the beginning, and deliberately concealed information that was kind of important for her to keep her sanity around the other Fae. Imogen seemed to forgive him a bit too soon for this, which annoyed me.
  2. Evan cheated on her. This was the clear last straw and Imogen broke up with him for good, which I’m glad about.

Gavin and Marin’s romance, though clearly the beta romance and therefore had less focus, was much better in terms of their relationship development. Unfortunately, Gavin is mainly there to act as Marin’s love interest and not much else, and so doesn’t have much individual development.

Marin and Imogen’s sisterly bond was interesting to read. It’s clear, beginning to end of book, that they’re close, and even when they get into a conflict over the whole ‘tithe’ issue (I would delve further into this, but it would also spoil a major part of the plot so I won’t), the reason Imogen truly goes against Marin in the end isn’t for her own ends, but rather because she needs to protect Marin. Going into the Fae world will actually, legitimately, harm Marin to the point of wrecking her and potentially killing her. I’m glad that Imogen was able to stop Marin before things got worse, and that the two did reconcile at the end of the book.

Going back to Helena, I didn’t like her development. She seemed very cold and frosty, and the only way I could really relate to her was when she expressed how talentless she felt as a writer, despite having published two books of poetry. Being a writer myself, I understand (and Imogen understands, being a writer herself) that one can have a lot of doubt about their own writing at times, no matter how much success they already have, and that’s a challenge they’ll face repeatedly.

What I really hated about Helena, however, was that the abusive-mother-backstory part felt very…not just sudden, but simply put in there to make us feel some shred of sympathy towards her if one couldn’t feel any sympathy towards her for her doubt in her own writing. I honestly think this was unneeded in the book.

Throughout the book, there are bits and pieces of Imogen’s own writing in the form of short fairytales lasting a page or two. I found these to be interesting, and that some of them helped with potentially foreshadowing parts of the plot.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 out of 5 stars!

This is due to the lack of development in Helena and Gavin, though the development other characters and their relationships make up for this.

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