In a Garden Burning GoldIn a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

this is the first book in a duology, and it certainly does the work of a first book in a duology:

1) setting up the who/what/why of the world: its history, key players, and whatever details specific to its makeup a reader will need to know.

2) preparing the reader for the second book’s action.

it just…doesn’t do much else. i rounded this 3.5 up because rory power is a local girl success story—RHODE ISLAND REPRESEEEENT!!! but for me, books in a series—whether long-running, trilogy, duology, whatever—should each contain a conclusive story before building up to the teaser-ending “coming soon” preview.

this one is really just setting the table for book two. something is certainly brought to an end, but we’re not given much room for reflection before the second book’s consequences come knocking, heralding what will certainly be an action-packed resolution.

In a Garden Burning Gold is a greek-inspired epic fantasy, in which a consortium of immortal-ish ruling families, each helmed by a monarchical representative called a Stratagiozi, control the innerworkings of the natural world: the tides, seasons, stars, the physical signs of aging; basically all the things affecting the lives and fates of regular mortal folks like us.

these powers are passed down through the bloodlines, like the generational wealth of the gods, and although ostensibly part of a federation with common goals, the families are all working their respective angles within this uneasy alliance, secretly making moves as they vie for power, territory, and influence over everyone else. it’s stock epic fantasy, themed with political intrigue, magic, betrayal, and power grabs.

this story focuses on the argyros family of the country thyzakos, whose stratagiozi vasilis has four children: the twins alexandros (lexos) and rhea, and their younger siblings nitsos and chrysanthi. vasilis is a particularly powerful (and feared) ruler, because he controls death. rhea’s powers are also connected to death: in her official role as Thyspira, she oversees the changing of the seasons by choosing a suitor from a selection offered up from each of the neighboring countries, wedding them, and killing them when it’s time, say, to usher in spring. the chosen suitor’s region enjoys some benefits for their sacrificial sons and daughters, so it’s not completely barbaric, right? rhea’s been doing this spouse-killing gig for centuries; her gift, her responsibility, and recently—her burden.

this is stock immortality predicament—their longevity distances them from the concerns of the mortals their actions affect; death is an abstract concept, and to rhea, taking a life has become casual, repetitious—she’s rarely there to see the effect death has on the deceased’s loved ones. still, it’s beginning to take its toll on her, and in the aftermath of her most recent dead husband, who started developing feelings for her against all common sense, rhea’s been having some moral qualms. and now it’s time to get married again.

the novel’s other POV character is rhea’s twinsie lexos—and vasilis’ second in command—a role that gives him a seat at the table but not much political power. both he and rhea, whose duties take her—briefly—to other countries, have seen more of the world than their younger siblings, but their lives are fairly constrained by maintaining the family’s political power and protecting thyzakos from the other stratagiozi. all four children live in fear-love of their father, who is demanding and absolute, but his behavior is becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable, and an unstable person with his kind of power, well, we have seen—it can be concerning.

except for the details about how these families control the elements (many of which powers give rise to procedural questions in the readers’ mind that have not been answered thus far), this is a pretty conventional piece of epic fantasy.

i’m not entirely sure why this title being marketed as adult, since her other books have all been YA and this one certainly reads like YA. the characters are centuries old, but their life-experience is limited, so they have the narrow, sheltered worldview and emotional range of adolescents, and it’s ultimately a coming-of-age story about a younger generation pushing back against the power structures set in motion by their elders, paving the way for change, for progress.

this review is coming across negative, which is unfortunate, because i did enjoy the book, but if i’m being forced to consider it as 1) a standalone novel, and 2) an adult title, welp, i got some criticisms.

this would be a very good first half of a book.
this would be a very good YA novel.

it’s a straightforward narrative that doesn’t ask much of the reader—and i am a reader, not some rigid writing 101 teacher, so i’m not gonna scrawl “show us, don’t tell us” all over this, because in my opinion, telling is a perfectly valid way to write a story. there’s a comfort in being carried and sometimes we just want to sit down and be told a story. this one carries—there’s just one set of footprints in the sand, and even though it’s not particularly challenging or unexpected, storywise, there are some standout scenes and really lovely descriptions.

i psyched myself out when i saw the massive list of names at the front:

i slogged through the first 1/3 of the book, reading it in a very slow overcautious way to get my bearings, but once i got over that bullshit, this was actually very briskly paced. i’m intrigued to see where it’s going, which seems to be “nowhere good,” for team argyros, and i do hope chrysanthi gets to be more than just emotional furniture in book two.


i have had an E-ARC of this since november and a physical ARC of it for a month, but with all of life’s perfect storms, i’ve only been able to get to it now, five days before pub date. i hope to have it reviewed by then, because GRATITUDE, but there’re always more storm clouds, aren’t there?

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