As a child I instinctively shied away from stories about Faerie. I liked Tinkerbell in Peter Pan because she was vulnerable. She was the only one of her kind, and could fade away if people didn't believe in her. Yet in the tales, the Queens and Lords of Faerie didn't seem to have that problem. They had immense powers which they would wield unpredictably. I wanted predictability and dependability in my world.
As an adult I have often said that I have an allergy to the Fae. "Seelie" and "Unseelie" were the words that were most likely to precipitate my full blown Fae allergy attacks. They would make me shudder. In many stories, these are Fae factions each of which has their own royal court. I have always hated human royal court intrigues. They're all about the acquisition, maintenance and abuse of power. I find them repulsive, and the Fae version hasn't seemed to be any different.
The last time when I deliberately subjected myself to the Fae was when I read Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear because I love fiction about the Elizabethan playwrights William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Once the book began to spend long periods of time in Faerie, I liked it progressively less and less, and the sequel was beyond tolerance for me. I wouldn't put up with a book focused on Fae machinations for anyone-- not even for Shakespeare and Marlowe.
I have also been tricked into reading about the Fae. There is a wonderful fantasy novel about a mysterious people, and the surprise twist is that they are actually the Fae. It was a very fresh approach, and I loved it. Unfortunately, now that his readers knew they were Fae, the author succumbed to the temptation to tell a very traditional and predictable Fae story in the sequel. I lost my enthusiasm for that very quickly.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard is another instance of having been tricked into reading a book dealing centrally with the Fae. There was no mention of the Fae in the description. I was hooked by the concept of two sisters at an artists' retreat. I wouldn't have been tricked at all if I had read the reviews on Goodreads. On the other hand, if I had read them, I would probably have avoided this powerful debut novel and that would have been a shame.
As the POV character, the writer sister Imogen, is the most fully portrayed in Roses and Rot. Her concerns are the central concerns of the book. Through the lens of Imogen's narration, I didn't see any difference between abusive human parents and the Fae's abuse of humans residing in places where they have power. Kat Howard shows the various types of abuse as part of the same continuum. I believe that she is telling her audience that the identity of the abuser doesn't matter. Abuse is still abuse, and you shouldn't tolerate it.
I think that the singer/playwright Ariel is the character who takes the strongest stand for freedom from abuse. It's her independence that gives Imogen the strength to do what most needs to be done. I really admired Ariel, and at various points while I was reading Roses and Rot I thought that she was my favorite character. By the way, I would really love to see the rock musical about Joan of Arc that Ariel proposed. If it was written well and performed by the right cast, it could be one of the greatest musicals of all time.
I liked the statement that this book makes about HEA (Happily Ever After) most. I think that no one ever really has HEA because we are haunted by unhappy memories that prevent unalloyed happiness. I have always believed that there are values that are more significant than happiness. Readers take whatever message relates to their lives most strongly from any book, but the one that reverberates for me most powerfully after I read the final page of this novel is that I'd always rather live with integrity. That is the value that shines through in the characters that I respected in Roses and Rot.
This is certainly the best book that I've ever read about the Fae. Faerie is left rather vague. There is very little time spent there in the course of the narrative. Kat Howard places humanity and human experience front and center , and that is what makes her book so powerful.