Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard

What
is the difference between good and good enough?  Sisters Imogene and Marin have been asking themselves this
question nearly their entire lives. 
Imogen is a budding novelist, Maren a professional ballet dancer; both
are looking for that one break that will take them from maybe to
break-out.  Enter Melete, a
prestigious artists’ retreat where creators in nearly every discipline go to
focus solely on their craft, and sometimes leave with everything they ever
dreamed of.

Roses and Rot is a slow spiral, deeper
into Imogen’s past and the otherworldly atmosphere at Melete.  Told by Imogen, who is interested in
fairy tales, layer after layer is peeled back from a world that is not what it
seems, much in the way that children shed their fancies and imaginings on the
way to adulthood. 

It would be easy
to compare this novel to Neil Gaiman’s work, and though it shares many
similarities in tone and atmosphere—particularly to his later work—Howard has
crafted a story that interrogates the supernatural aspects with which many
readers are fascinated, while staying firmly grounded in the lives of the
people experiencing the very real events in which they are embroiled.  Because some facts and experiences are
all too real, particularly the Imogen and Marin’s painful childhood with an
abusive mother. 

This is a novel
that finds whimsy and beauty in the greater world while at the same time always
remembering that darkness exists in a very visceral way.  Readers looking for a fantasy novel
that doesn’t flinch from dark topics while still treating them with sensitivity
will enjoy Howard’s take on fairy tales and art.  Those looking for urban fantasy with a
strong contemporary feel will enjoy Howard’s worldbuilding and style.  Those who enjoy stories that push the
boundaries between fiction and metafiction are encouraged to check out this
deeply character-driven fantasy novel.

Advertisements

Without Light or Guide, by T. Frohock

Without Light or Guide picks up soon
after the events of In Midnight’s Silence,
after Diago has rescued his son from Moloch, ruler of the daimons, who wishes
to use young Rafael for his own empowerment.  Diago and his husband Miquel begin to put their lives in
order with the addition of Rafael, while trying to get to the bottom of the
conflict between the angels, daimons, and angel-born Nefilim to whom they are
both sworn.

Part
1930’s noir, part urban fantasy, Without
Light or Guide
explores human pain in all its facets, and the many forms
that healing can take.  Diago has
doubted himself for so long after the events of his first life that even though
he looks for mercy for others in their reincarnations, he reserves none for
himself.  This time, he has to deal
with the suspicion and even open hostility of other Nefilim while attempting to
solve a series of murders—and the victims have direct connections to him.  As the clues point towards a greater
game being played than just conflict between angels and daimons, Diago must
learn to trust himself again in order to face the next attack from Moloch, who
has only been weakened, not defeated.

Diago’s
humanity, and indeed that of all the Nefilim the reader encounters, is what
drives this story.  Frohock draws a
definitive line between the mortals and immortals, then skillfully blurs it,
allowing the reader to fall into it headfirst only to be brought up short with
the delightfully horrific realization that, no, these are not humans; though
they may make attempts to spare humans when it’s convenient, the lives of
mortals are not a priority.  Frohock’s
use of music as magic is a perfect example: music is both commonplace and
transcendent as a human endeavor, and yet when the Nefilim use it, it becomes
something more altogether—something that can kill or heal at will, and beguile
mortals to turn them into pawns in a greater game.

Readers
of urban fantasy and magical realism will enjoy the way Frohock blends myth,
reality, and her own blend of magic to create a unique fantasy world.  For those who like a historical,
alt-universe this series firmly places the story within its real-world setting,
all the while hinting at a much more sinister world history than we were taught
in school.  Any reader of fantasy
drawn to character-driven stories, will surely find much to love in Without Light or Guide and its
co-volumes.