Review: In A Garden Burning Gold - Rory Power
Published: Del Rey Books, April 2022
My Rating: 1/5 stars
I really enjoyed Rory Powers unique style and her pension for nature-based body-horror in her previous works, so when I heard she was releasing an <b>adult fantasy</b> novel, I was beyond excited. Unfortunately <i>In A Garden Burning Gold</i> let me down bad, as it both lacked the unique style I was expecting, ánd distinctly failed to feel like an adult-novel.
The Premise: Our story is set in a Greco-Romanian inspired world, following Rhea and Lexos; twins imbued with magical powers over the elements, seasons and stars. For centuries, their fathers iron-hand ruling has kept the country under their family’s reign. But with father becoming increasingly unhinged and surrounding countries threatening to encroach on their territory, the siblings are forced to take matters into their own hands. Soon they’re caught up in a high-stakes-game that blends the lines between political and familial intrigue, and plays them out against each other.
What I liked: As you can tell from this premise: this book had so many cool ideas. Power introduces us to a setting that she’s clearly thought in depth about, and concepts that could be setting up something great. Take the nature-bound magic of one sibling “pushing forth the seasons” and the other “knitting stars into the night-sky”, combined with the more alchemical elements of building mechanical animals to manifest into life elsewhere. The “setting” for greatness is there. Unfortunately, that’s all there is.
What I didn’t like: I reserve my one-star reviews for books I actively dislike, or feel like “shouldn’t exist”. This book fits the latter in the most literal sense: it shouldn’t exist as a separate book. Instead, this duology should’ve been condensed waaaay down, and all this book did over the course of almost 500 pages could (and should) have been the first three chapters of that final book. I’m not sure if this was a publishers push because duologies sell, but it felt bloated and stretched to the point where this was just worldbuilding and no plot. And not even good worldbuilding mind you… there’s a distinct lack of showing and an overabundance of telling, the world soon begins to feel like an exact replica of all the other Greco-Romanian inspired YA-fantasy worlds out there, and despite their page time, characters still have the emotional depth of cardboard cut-outs.
Despite being marketed as an adult novel, this has all the hallmarks of a YA-novel: immature and naïve characters that read far younger than they’re supposed to be. Unnecessary, cringy romance plotlines. But above all: a remarkable lack of “willingness to go out there”, making this book and all its characters nothing but forgettable. It was such a departure from what I’d expected from the author, that it exaggerated my disappointment. Where Wilder Girls and Burn Our Bodies Down felt like quite unique takes on YA-horror, this was one of the most bland and vanilla takes on YA-fantasy I’ve read in a while.
I won’t be continuing this duology, and I’m really hoping for a return to form from Rory Power in her next work. Not necessarily a return to the horror-genre perse, but a return to her tight pacing, sense of mystery and willingness to take a risk. And I hope her publisher will recognise that we come to Rory for her strange fantasy, not for her to write formulaic fantasy based of the latest selling tropes in YA-fantasy.
Apologies for this debby-downer of a review: finishing this novel just left me with an intense feeling of “my disappointment is immeasurable and my day is ruined”, that I haven’t had in a long time.
Find this book on Goodreads