Title: In a Garden Burning Gold
Author: Rory Power
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: April 5, 2022
One Sentence Summary: Twins Lexos and Rhea have only ever been devoted to their Stratagiozi father for the past century, but unrest around them has them preparing to protect their family.
In a Garden Burning Gold is a Greek-inspired fantasy featuring twins who will do anything to protect their family. But it comes at the price of their country and makes them blind to the rest of the world. Considering they’ve lived for over a century, there were several things that just didn’t work for me, but I absolutely adored their two younger siblings. As the story focuses on twins Lexos and Rhea, I couldn’t help feeling like a lot of the interesting parts of the story were happening off page and I instead got two characters were spent a lot of time thinking. Still, the world unfolds like a blooming flower and the history teases a lot of interesting things that will hopefully fully bloom in the second book. I’m intrigued to know what happens after the ending in In a Garden Burning Gold, even though the characters were a bit of a letdown and the story felt a little too simple.
A thousand years ago, the saints, who had stripped their power from the land, were slaughtered by one of their own, the first Stratagiozi. Over time, others rose, wresting land and power from him, eventually forming a council of Stratagiozi who rule the world, each governing their own country. A hundred years ago, Vasilis Argyros killed the Thyzakos Stratagiozi and took his place, taking his powers and eventually blessing each of his four children with powers as well.
For a hundred years, twins Lexos and Rhea have dutifully served their father and family, doing as their father bid. Lexos, as their father’s second, trains to become the next Stratagiozi of Thyzakos while tending to the tides and night sky. Rhea changes the seasons, taking a consort at the beginning of each season and then thrusting a knife into their heart to end the season. But, lately, their father has become unpredictable and tyrannical, alienating an entire region and the Stratagiozi council. When Rhea goes against their father and chooses a consort of her brother’s choosing, events are set into motion as both twins try to protect their family, completely blind to all the machinations around them and to each other.
In a Garden Burning Gold is a Greek-inspired fantasy full of incredible powers and the potential at a rich history. It features twins, the elder two children of a god-like man who took power for himself and his family, who will do anything to protect the family. I found their determination to do this admirable, but parts of them and the story felt a little flimsy, like explanations to solve problems while actually presenting more questions to my mind. I did love how this world functioned and parts of the world building were lovely, but, overall, the story felt a little on the simple side to me.
As the first half of a duology, In a Garden Burning Gold has a lot to offer, and ends with a lot of questions. It nicely builds the world and the history while leaving a lot unanswered. But, as the first half of a duology, I wanted more world building. I felt it unfolded very slowly, only as needed until the second half when more of the world just felt like it poured in. From Rhea’s perspective, she spent most of her time either at home at Stratathoma or in Ksigora with her consort. I loved the Ksigora and especially appreciated the stark signs of neglect to this frosty region. I loved how it tied into Rhea’s own family history and how everything about it tied into Rhea’s decisions. It was fantastic to really get to know this one area of the world through her eyes. In contrast, Lexos traveled quite a bit more, but even that felt a little limited. It was incredible to see the bits and pieces of the world his perspective offered, and I enjoyed how wildly different each region was, but, other than how the other Stratagiozi chose to rule, I couldn’t really tell how each country was different. In my mind the world looked like a big block of land with some mountains and a forest and a very interesting city. Otherwise I’d be hard pressed to say exactly what this world looked like. I just carried a miniature version of what I imagine Greece to look like to help me fill in the gaps. The history, though, was quite fascinating to me. I really enjoyed the story of the saints and how they and the Stratagiozi took their powers. I wanted to know more about the saints, but much of that has been lost to history, though I hope the second book will put more focus on it as it ties in to the story.
But In a Garden Burning Gold isn’t about the world; it’s about Lexos and Rhea. Told from their perspectives, it was interesting to get their different views of the world and their family, especially since they’re a deeply bonded pair. So much of what they did and believed were similar, but, because they were not physically together for much of the book, there were huge differences that really made all the difference in the story. I found them to be interesting, but I much preferred reading about their younger siblings, Nitsos and Chrysanthi, more. I enjoyed how loyal they all were, but, at the same time, I wondered if they ever tired of their work and the crazy demands of their father. After all, they’d been living like that for a hundred years; I’d about had it with their father halfway through the story. But what really bothered me was how young and naive Lexos and Rhea came off as. They seemed almost blinded, but I’m not sure by what. After a hundred years, I expected more cynicism and manipulation, but they seemed more like they’d just received their powers and were exactly the young adult ages they appeared to be. I had a hard time believing that, after a hundred years of having four consorts a year, Rhea just tumbled head over heels for one consort and would do anything for him. I also found it hard to believe Lexos would actually be content to be under his father’s thumb and never given anything more for a hundred years. The fact that the story just twisted around them and dragged them under with it had me scratching my head a little. They seemed a lot less worldly than I expected, and a lot younger, as though in a hundred years they only managed to reach age twenty.
Because Lexos and Rhea were so naive, the story ended up being fun and agonizing in turns. It also felt a little thin to me, but I’m more used to long, complex fantasies. This is not one of those. The pacing was kind of off to me, running headlong at the end after feeling like it was meandering a bit in the middle while the beginning kicked off at a good plod. Mostly, it felt slow to me in the middle because Lexos and Rhea both spent an awful lot of time just thinking instead of doing. I also kept getting the impression more interesting things were happening off the page, but, because this is a story told by Lexos and Rhea, the reader doesn’t get any of the really juicy pieces. There is a lovely twist at the end, though, that I absolutely loved and it’ll have me coming back for the second book. Still, the overall story in this one was mostly based around two siblings wanting to do anything to protect their family, without consulting with each other to align their plans, while picking apart everything else. I really wanted to enjoy the story, but nothing really interesting happened until after the halfway point, though some excellent reveals were given.
I’d have to say that my favorite part of this book were actually Nitsos and Chrysanthi. Nitsos is essentially the middle child, between the twins and Chrysanthi and, in many ways, really came off as that angry second child no one remembers or cares about. I felt he had a really interesting story there and couldn’t help feeling like I was missing out. I adored everything about his characterization and loved how this half of the duology concluded for him. I can’t wait to find out what he does in the second book. Then there’s Chrysanthi, the sweet baby of the family who just felt like she had so much light in her. She was like a breath of fresh air and her naivety was absolutely perfect for her. She very much felt like the youngest of the family, but there’s a quiet strength to her that was just a delight to see whenever it came out.
In a Garden Burning Gold is an interesting Greek-inspired fantasy, but it missed the mark a bit for me. The main characters tended to grate on me, though the secondary characters were quite amusing and a lot of fun. The story felt a little thin and simplistic as well, though I loved how much trouble Lexos and Rhea made for themselves. If they hadn’t been so self-absorbed and focused on their father, I think they might have been more palatable to me. Fortunately, their younger siblings saved quite a bit of the story for me, and absolutely made the ending something to enjoy. I also wished for a bit more from the world and history. It felt like there was a whole world out there, just beyond my fingertips. I liked how it slowly unfolded, but I wanted it to be more fleshed out.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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