Book Review: In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Argyrosi
Publisher: Del Rey (April 5, 2022)
Length: 432 pages
I found Rory Power’s YA to be a bit on the weird side, but this was definitely more my speed. Her adult debut In a Garden Burning Gold is a fantasy novel that hews more strongly to the traditions of the epic fantasy genre, which is probably why it may receive more mixed responses from longtime fans but worked so well for me.
At the center of this Greek-inspired tale are twins Lexos and Rhea. Together with their younger siblings Nitsos and Chrysanthi, they live under the watchful eye of their ruthless father who is the all-powerful ruler of their small island nation. Members of their family are also endowed with magical abilities which make them near immortals, and the twins in particular are gifted with control over certain natural phenomena, even if these powers come with a steep price. For example, Rhea’s ability to influence the changing of the seasons means regularly having to choose a suitor from the many neighboring territories, and after the wedding, the killing of her husband would be the catalyst required to usher in a new season. Despite this bloody business, there have been no shortage of candidates over the centuries willing to offer themselves up as sacrifice, since in doing so, their nations would gain favor from Rhea’s family—and especially from her father, who controls death.
Lately, however, the old man’s behavior has been growing increasingly erratic, to the consternation of his children. Lexos, ever loyal to his father, has been helping him consolidate his rule by using his powers to control the stars and the tides, but now dangerous rumors have been spreading and the northern territories are on the brink of rebellion. Not knowing when or even if their father will get better, the twins realize they must act quickly on his behalf to keep everything from falling apart. But what would happen if Lexos and Rhea, who have always been in tune with each other, suddenly decide they want different things? Lexos only has the best interests of his family’s sovereignty at heart and believes his sister will go along with any plan he devises, but Rhea has become weary of being responsible for so much death. For once she may have a chance to save someone and gain some happiness, but her twin may be too blinded by his own goals to understand.
I highly enjoyed the major elements of this novel, specifically the world-building, and magic, and the focus on family dynamics. The story is mainly told through the duo perspectives of Lexos and Rhea, who are together at the beginning of the book but then spent the rest of it mostly apart, with the former remaining with their father on the island while the latter travels to the land of her new suitor to fulfill her role in their plans. In this way, readers get a fuller picture of the world and a better idea of the stakes at play. Their separation also heightened the suspense of not knowing how deep the trust between the two siblings truly goes.
I also find the author’s writing style very appealing. She has a way with words and a talent for bringing even the most abstract concepts to life. While the world-building itself isn’t as well-defined as it could be in this book, Power’s prose is solid and so some of the vagueness behind the magic systems can be forgiven because she makes up for it with the sheer originality and mystique behind her ideas. I loved the idea of this desperate family doing everything they can to hold on to the power they have enjoyed for centuries, fearful now that they know it can all just slip away. The bond between Lexos and Rhea is also complex and nuanced, and ditto goes for their relationship with their crazy, awful father. Like I said, the family dynamic is a main highlight for me, almost to the detriment of the other character relationships in the novel because hardly anyone else really stood out. That said, later on I did start to develop an emotional attachment to Rhea’s minor romantic subplot, if only because it started to change and reveal so much about her core personality.
Story wise, In a Garden Burning Gold is solid, and the pacing is what I would describe as more of a slow burn. For avid readers of epic fantasy though, it’s more or less what you would expect, with a gradual buildup to a strong finish, leaving lots to look forward to in the next installment.
Bottom line, Rory Power’s adult debut is quite different from her YA, but she’s got the epic fantasy conventions down pat, creating a world and characters that will make genre fans feel right at home, while enhancing the experience with her own imaginative flourishes. I can’t wait for the next book.