Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: In A Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity using cunning and magic to help rule their small, unstable country. Rhea controls the seasons to show favor to their most loyal stewards with bountiful harvests and short winters, while Lexos keeps the tides strong and impassable to maintain the country’s borders. Reigning over them both is their father, who holds dominion over death, using his most powerful weapon—fear—to keep the people, and his children, in line.

For a hundred years, Rhea and Lexos have been each other’s only ally, defending themselves and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger while also trying to keep up the appearance of unity and prosperity within their borders. Now, with an independence movement gaining ground, other nations jockeying for power, and their father’s iron grip weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep the world from crashing down around them. But as Rhea and Lexos travel beyond the security of their home to try to save their family, they begin to draw very different conclusions about their father’s style of rule.

And if the siblings aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other on the battlefield.

Thank you NetGalley and Titan Books for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.

From the very first line I was hooked by this fantasy saga with Balkan-inspired world building and a family with powers to control the world around them. The two point of view characters, twins Rhea and Lexos, as well as their younger siblings Nitsos and Chrysanthi, pulled me into their lives immediately, starting with Rhea as she returns to the family home after the death of her consort. It soon becomes clear this is the latest of many, and that it is routine, and in fact duty, for her to marry a new steward’s child at the start of every season, and kill them to usher in the next. This time, she has delayed the killing and winter is late in appearing, making her fear what her father will say of her failure to carry out her task. Even before we meet him, her father Vasilis Argyros looms over everything.

‘A week was too long to be a widow. Even after all her marriages, Rhea had never got used to it. The black, the singing, the veils—it was enough to drive anybody mad. At least no one ever expected her to cry.’

As a Stratagiozi, Vasilis Argyros lives far longer than an average human life, and his children also benefit from this slowed-down existence. They, and other ruling families like theirs, are what keep the world turning; literally. While Rhea affects the turning of the seasons, Lexos commands the tides and stitches the stars into the sky each night. Their brother Nitsos builds clockwork creatures that affect their real life counterparts, and Chrysanthi can paint new shades on anything around her and they will be reflected throughout the kingdom. I cannot emphasise enough how much I love this concept. The settings, aided by the world building, are so incredibly vivid and I could picture each place so clearly; Stratathoma with its deep blue walls and rocky cliffs, Trefazio and its excessive wealth, the cold city of Ksigori with its great lake and ancient buildings… I felt like I was there through it all.

What I appreciated, though, was that despite the idyllic settings, this is a harsh world and the Argyros family lives in constant fear that one of their stewards will kill them and take their power, just as they did to the Stratagiozi family before theirs. That is how Rhea finds herself torn between her father’s wishes and her brother’s strategies when it comes to choosing her next consort, because each disagrees on where the bigger threat is coming from. While their father looks at one unruly steward, Lexos is worried about the northern part of the country, where dissidents have been gathering and the people whisper of rebellion. He pushes Rhea to marry Michali, the steward’s son, whom he believes is involved in the plot against their family, so that when she kills him at the end of the season the rebellion will collapse.

‘The Stratagiozis had stolen their power from the saints, but nobody seemed to remember that the saints had stolen their power, too. They’d taken it from the earth. The currents in the water, the motion of the sun—one by one, these things had been stripped from the world and clutched tightly in the hands of man.’ 

In the North, they still secretly worship the saints, who used to wield the powers of the Stratagiozis until one of their own killed all the others and created the current order. When Rhea arrives in the North she sees a side of her country she has never before seen, and uncovers family secrets that have her questioning the rightness of her father and brother’s strategies. I really liked how the twins, so united in the opening chapters, find themselves on completely different paths and ways of thinking. I also liked the family dynamics overall, and found that the sibling relationships were very well portrayed; the little rivalries, the middle child syndrome, the youngest getting away with anything, and the pressure of the older two in bearing their father’s expectations.

The whole thing really had the feel of a Greek tragedy, especially from about the midway point. It was full of family drama, secret plots, unforeseen twists, and terrible betrayals. There was a moment when one of the twists made me put down the book and not want to deal with the consequences, but in the end I had to know how things would play out, and I ended up reading the whole thing in a day. As far as I know this is a standalone, and it works well that way, but there is definitely potential for a sequel and I would be very eager to read more about the tragic twins and the complex world they live in.

Book Info

Published: 5th April 2022 by Titan Books
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 384
Series: standalone
Narration style: third person, past tense – two points of view
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: death, grief, oppression, blood

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