Review: Rose/House by Arkady Martine

Review: Rose/House by Arkady MartineRose/House by Arkady Martine
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: horror, mystery, science fiction
Pages: 128
Published by Subterranean Press on May 18, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Dust jacket illustration by David Curtis.
Arkady Martine, the acclaimed author of the Teixcalaan Series, returns with an astonishing new novella.
Basit Deniau’s houses were haunted to begin with.
A house embedded with an artificial intelligence is a common thing: a house that is an artificial intelligence, infused in every load-bearing beam and fine marble tile with a thinking creature that is not human? That is something else altogether. But now Deniau’s been dead a year, and Rose House is locked up tight, as commanded by the architect’s will: all his possessions and files and sketches are confined in its archives, and their only keeper is Rose House itself. Rose House, and one other.
Dr. Selene Gisil, one of Deniau’s former protégé, is permitted to come into Rose House once a year. She alone may open Rose House’s vaults, look at drawings and art, talk with Rose House’s animating intelligence all she likes. Until this week, Dr. Gisil was the only person whom Rose House spoke to.
But even an animate intelligence that haunts a house has some failsafes common to all AIs. For instance: all AIs must report the presence of a dead body to the nearest law enforcement agency.
There is a dead person in Rose House. The house says so. It is not Basit Deniau, and it is not Dr. Gisil. It is someone else. Rose House, having completed its duty of care and informed Detective Maritza Smith of the China Lake police precinct that there is in fact a dead person inside it, dead of unnatural causes—has shut up.
No one can get inside Rose House, except Dr. Gisil. Dr. Gisil was not in North America when Rose House called the China Lake precinct. But someone did. And someone died there. And someone may be there still.
Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

My Review:

I want to call Rose/House a haunted house book. AND I also want to say it’s more horror than it is anything else. But neither of those labels is strictly accurate. I’m not sure any labels I could possibly come up with would be strictly accurate.

And I’m sure that Rose House itself would agree. If it would condescend to consider anything I ever said at all, ever. After all, I’m not the one and only human that Rose House is required to accommodate.

Which may be the best place to begin. Rose House is the last, greatest, and best house built by the famous – sometimes infamous – architect Basit Deniau sometime in the next century. I want to say it’s a house with an integrated AI, but it’s more like the house IS the AI, and the AI is the house. It’s other in ways that haunt the reader and the story from beginning to end.

If it actually ends. I’m not totally sure about that.

This is one of those stories where the prime mover and shaker is dead, to begin with. And so is an unnamed and unidentified victim of the many and stringent security measures that Rose House is capable of.

Which is where the nearby China Lake Police Department, in the person of Detective Maritza Smith, comes in. Rose House is required to notify the local police of the presence of a dead human within its walls. It is not required to let the police, or anyone else, within those walls to investigate that body, except for its late creator’s one and only representative.

And it has more than enough free will to play with its prey before this AI spider invites the unsuspecting human fly into its surprisingly sticky web.

Because no one who enters Rose House leaves it unscarred. If they manage to leave at all.

Escape Rating B-: I picked this up because I still miss Teixcalaan. (Yes, I know I said that the ending of A Desolation Called Peace allows for a third book but doesn’t require one. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t WANT a third book REAL BAD.)

I knew going in that Rose/House wasn’t going to scratch that particular itch but the author’s writing style is just so lovely that I figured I would enjoy this novella even if I didn’t love it. Which pretty much sums up my reaction all the way around.

Rose/House touches on a lot of genres. It’s SFnal in its presentation of Rose House as a self-willed AI. At the same time, the way that the house plays with its potential prey has all the chills of horror because the very idea of a house deciding whether or not it wants to kill or absorb anyone within its walls is enough to make anyone startle a bit the next time their own dwelling makes random settling noises.

There’s certainly a bit of mystery in the way that Detective Smith is presented with a murder she can’t investigate, let alone solve, unless she finds a way into Rose House AND a method of going along with its thought processes without getting absorbed by them. Plus there’s the mystery of Rose House’s creator and all of the greedy and grasping people who believe they are entitled to a piece of his legacy and believe that the ends justify their means of acquiring it.

Which they don’t.

Rose/House supports all of those various plot strings, potentials and possibilities without really solving any of them, which works because this novella is short and it’s intended to leave the reader wondering whether Rose House has manipulated everyone and everything – including the reader – all along. It’s not meant to be solved, it’s meant to continue as a puzzle long after the last page is turned.

Whether that will leave the reader puzzled or satisfied is a question that each reader will have to answer for themselves. I wanted this to focus on the mystery – and i’m left a bit unsatisfied that it didn’t really resolve those issues.

The biggest questions that remain are all wrapped around the AI itself. And they are questions that leave me with shivers of possibility – all of them horrifying.