IN A GARDEN BURNING GOLD by Rory Power.
Titan Books. h/b. £14.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Widowed once again, at the end of a season, Rhea returns to her father’s house in Thyzakos. He, Vasilis Argyros, is the Stratagiozi, their ruler. Each Argyros child helps their father keep the seasons and the tides and the physical world in balance, manipulating it for their own ends. Rhea, like her twin brother, Alexandros, has the power to take a life… just by speaking their name.
For Rhea, each new season means a new marriage. A move to a new place, a new life to take. It is the only way to ensure successful harvest, yet Rhea did not fare so well in her last. She hesitated, shaking her father’s position. Now she must face his displeasure then select her winter companion from the visiting consorts. Each season the number dwindles. This time only five have come before her, willing to sacrifice themselves for their people. She is Thyspira. She must do her duty as she has for these last hundred years or thereabouts, even as it weighs so heavily upon her shoulders.
In A Garden Burning Gold is a tale of duty and loyalty, love, sacrifice and above all else betrayal. Set in an ancient Greek-inspired world, this is a unique story with a magic system that stands out for its wonder and brutality. We are not given huge details about how Rhea’s marriages ensure successful harvest or why they have to end in sacrifice, but we do see some lovely scenes where her siblings create clockwork wonders and manipulate the tides and stars and sky.
The narrative very much has the feel of building up to something much larger than is contained in this first volume. We have twists and turns and betrayals, and Rhea who carries the main narrative thread bears a heavy burden. Parental and societal pressure and expectations are explored through power plays and under the greater threat of war and invasion. Her brother, Lexos, takes up a point of view role as well, with his portion mainly focused on trying to manage his father’s explosive personality and their political interests as the reign becomes increasingly more under threat. In terms of how it reads, the narrative moves at a fairly slow place. Much work is done to embed the worldbuilding and outline the magic system, but this is one of those books where the complexity leaves the reader not quite grasping the whys and hows of everything. There are a lot of characters and their various motives to keep track of and it will end up one of those series that needs at least a second read to straighten everything out.