Patel writes with graceful, measured elegance; reading the book is like walking through high halls and fragrant gardens, the ancient world evoked in sweeping, sweeping gestures as Kaikeyi tells his own story in counterpoint to the epic. At its core is the Binding Plane, an in-between world in which Kaikeyi can see relationships as physical strings of light and color extending between her and others; part of his life’s work is to learn how to create, nurture, and strengthen those bonds, rather than using them to control and influence those around him. The degree to which she succeeds or fails is the central tension of the novel.
I found Rory Power IN A BURNING GARDEN OF GOLD (Del Rey, 410 pages, $27) hugely surprising, having only read her successful young adult debut, “Wilder Girls.” This novel was a fever dream of post-apocalyptic horror: girls loving each other monstrously and parasitically, written in green, whipped-up prose. Rather, his first adult novel is a stately, polished fantasy of the secondary world, constructed with an interest in the order, mechanics, and political chicanery of powerful families.
The Argyros family rules the state of Thyzakos: Vasilis, the patriarch, holds the dictatorial title of Stratagiozi, but he and his children, Alexandros, Rhea, Nitsos and Chrysanthi, also possess divine powers and an abnormally long life, and ruled state for the past hundred years. Alexandros sews stars in the sky every night and controls the tides, Rhea murders his wives and guarantees bountiful growing seasons to their homelands in return, Nitsos builds mechanical devices that can mimic real life, and Chrysanthi paints colors and light directly on the earth. Other Stratagiozis and their children control different aspects of the world; there is no overlap between them.
Alexandros and Rhea are twins. The former is groomed to succeed his father at a time of growing turmoil in the country, while the latter’s marriages are often decided by their father in accordance with his political machinations. But fewer and fewer suitors have presented themselves to Rhea, unwilling to trade their lives for good harvests, and Alexandros’ view of the Stratagiozi chessboard increasingly differs from that of his father. Reluctantly, the twins begin to plot together against their father for the good of the nation – but the actions they take also begin to drive them apart.
“In a Garden Burning Gold” offers a window into an intriguing world, provoking more questions than it answers in this first installment of a series. Some character development is stilted or sudden, which, in a book very focused on its main actors, took me out of the experience at times, before the beautiful language and developing mysteries dragged me back in. But, overall, it’s a very smooth and enjoyable read, setting the stage for the next phase.