I received an ARC of this novel through NetGalley in return for my honest review.
Ok, I love mythological fantasy in general, and Rory Power’s In A Garden Burning Gold is a genius mix unique fantasy universe, Greek myth, and Italian city-state power politics. The story opens when the eldest daughter the family in charge of their territory, returns after her latest marriage. Rhea (a lovely reference to the Greek Goddess), we discover, has just killed her consort and is returning home to rest between seasons until her next assignment. Rhea’s gift is to bring about the change in the seasons for her family’s territory by marrying a vassal family’s son at the beginning of each season and killing him at the end. So we start with a fascinating view into the lives of people who could be gods.
Rhea and her twin brother Alexandros (Lexos) are the main characters, but the whole family is just a mess. Lexos is their father’s second in command and manages the tides and stars. Their brother Nitsos creates mechanical creatures that become regular fauna outside his workshop. Their sister Chrysanthi paints flowers and plants that are alive outside her studio. Their father Baba, the head of the household and ruler of the territory, controls death and rules with all the harsh strictness of the worst Roman patrician. The family’s power dynamics and their father’s abuse can be a hard read (well written, just emotionally hard and potentially triggering). Abuse-created fear and desire to please their father drives both Rhea and Lexos in ways that ultimately affect the whole world, not just their own piece of it.
Power’s writing style is lyrical and lovely: easily as beautiful as the book’s cover. She mixes Greek words with an invented language and mythology with invented powers in ways that create a wonderfully complex and interesting world. However, I wasn’t completely hooked until I was nearly halfway through. I put it down more than once over the past few months because it kept losing my attention. I love the concept, but the execution needed some more explanation and it took me a while to care about Rhea and Lexos. Even a quick prologue explaining the situation would’ve been enough to hook me, because there are too many threads and details that didn’t connect for me until much later. Honestly, had I not promised to review I likely would’ve put it down and not finished the story, which would’ve been a terrible missed opportunity.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story’s twists and cutthroat politics as I got past the first half and all the seeds Powers planted started making more sense. In A Garden Burning Gold is definitely worth sticking with. The ending was satisfying and left me wishing the sequel was available. If you enjoy a good political fantasy mixed with a love story and a twisty plot, I recommend this book.