Patel writes with a graceful, measured elegance; reading the book feels like walking through high halls and fragrant gardens, the ancient world evoked in broad, sweeping gestures while Kaikeyi tells her own story in counterpoint to the epic. At its core is the Bonding Plane, an in-between world in which Kaikeyi can see relationships as physical ropes of light and color stretching between herself and others; part of her life’s work is learning to create, maintain, and strengthen those bonds, rather than using them to control and influence those around her. The degree to which she succeeds or fails is the central tension of the novel.
I found Rory Power’s IN A GARDEN BURNING GOLD (Del Rey, 410 pp., $27) very surprising, as she had only read her successful youth debut ‘Wilder Girls’. That novel was a feverish dream of post-apocalyptic horror: girls who love each other monstrously and parasitic, written in green and rousing prose. Her first adult novel, on the other hand, is a stately and polished fantasy of the secondary world, built with an interest in order, mechanics, and the political chicanes of powerful families.
The Argyros family rules the state of Thyzakos: Vasilis, the patriarch, has the dictatorial title of Stratagiozi, but he and his children, Alexandros, Rhea, Nitsos, and Chrysanthi, also possess divine powers and an unnaturally long life, and have led the state for the past hundred years. Alexandros sews stars into the sky every night and controls the tides, Rhea kills her husbands and in return guarantees their home regions generous growing seasons, Nitsos builds mechanical devices that can mimic real life, and Chrysanthi paints colors and light directly on the land. Other Stratagiozis and their children control different aspects of the world; there is no overlap between them.
Alexandros and Rhea are twins. The former are being groomed to succeed their father at a time of increasing unrest in the country, while the latter are often decided by their father in accordance with his political machinations. But fewer and fewer suitors present themselves to Rhea, unwilling to trade their lives for good harvests, and Alexandros’s vision of the Stratagiozi chessboard differs more and more from his father’s. Reluctantly, the twins begin to conspire against their father for the good of the nation – but the moves they make also begin to drive them further apart.
“In a Garden Burning Gold” offers a window into an intriguing world that raises more questions than answers in this first part of a series. Some character developments are stilted or sudden, which, in a book very much focused on the core players, occasionally freaked me out of the experience, before beautiful language and evolving mysteries swept me back in. But overall it’s a very smooth and enjoyable read, paving the way for the next stage.