ROSE is a fantasy-horror novel by Rami Ungar that tells the story of Rose Taggert, a 21-year old sociology graduate, specializing in criminology who awakens in a greenhouse with no clear memory of the past two years of her life and discovers that her body is in the process of transforming into a human/plant hybrid. Root-like tentacles are emerging from her neck; a crown of rose-buds is growing out of her head and her skin has turned green.
A young man, Paris Kuyper, comes to her aid. He claims to be her lover, but she has no memory of their relationship. He explains that she had been killed by a stalker and that he, Paris, saved her life by using a magic spell from an ancient book called The Forest God’s Record, which has been in his family for generations. According to him, her metamorphosis is merely a side effect that they can overcome.
Before they can do anything to solve Rose’s problem, Paris’ abusive father shows up. Rose hears a heated exchange between father and son and her sympathy for Paris climbs, though she still struggles to remember him.
Rose begins to learn what her new body can and cannot withstand as she takes nourishment via the roots that emerge from her neck. She discovers her new body cannot stand the cold of winter, but, on the positive side, she can hear things that Paris cannot.
Paris and Rose begin a series of experiments to see how far the plant metamorphosis has gone. She inquires about the Forest God, who happens to be a Japanese spirit. As the experiments progress, Paris’ mean streak surfaces and Rose begins to question if, indeed, there had ever been a relationship between them.
Their relationship deteriorates even further until Rose realizes that Paris is not who he has claimed to be. The abuse becomes unbearable Rose but, because of her condition, she cannot tear herself away. Finally, with the help of Paris’ father, she fights to regain her freedom.
ROSE is an enjoyable horror novel that is a great read. Ungar does an excellent job with style and pacing, as the book is a page-turner. Once I started reading it, I did not want to stop. And, since the story was told from Rose’s point of view in first-person, I discovered what was happening to her as she discovered it. In a Kafka-esque way, she led me through each new discovery as she assimilated its meaning. She pulled me into her story and once committed to it, I was along for the whole ride. Readers will feel her claustrophobia at her imprisonment, sense her dread at her captor’s next appearance. They will take hope when she does and feel her frustration as supernatural forces block her every move to escape. Rose takes you from one suspenseful encounter to the next, each one building in horror until the final twist, a twist that I did not expect.
And the quality of the horror is superb. Ungar’s uncanny ability to write horrific prose is the sweet spot of this novel. The way the villain was crafted is a testament to the author’s character development credit. The villain, Paris, becomes more despicable as the story progresses. If he weren’t so evil, you could almost feel sorry for him because of the treatment he has had to endure at the hands of others. Paris’ backstory mixed with his psychological issues twists good versus evil into a character that is so bad he cannot be redeemed, yet one might hope that he could be. And that is what creates such a dynamic character, a brilliant touch by Ungar.
If there was one drawback to the book, it would be the number of typographical errors (e.g. periods for commas) within the text. There were so many that it proved difficult to ignore, and sometimes became a burden. I am assuming that either the proofreader lacked the detailed eye necessary to catch these mistakes or that there was a glitch in the printer’s programming. Whichever the case, this area is the only daunting aspect of an otherwise stellar novel.
Looking past the printing mistakes, Rose is a fantastic horror read. The pacing and the fear factors go beyond expectation, building to an unexpected ending that is boldly twisted for the reader’s enjoyment. The character development with a strong heroine and supreme villain will definitely keep you drawn in, providing a wonderful reading experience. If you enjoy horror and thrive on surprise endings, you will not want to miss this one.