In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power – Review

Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family safe—even if it tears the siblings apart—in the first book of a mythic epic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield. 

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of the first novel in a rich, lively, and absolutely unique series. I am such a huge fan of Rory’s; I look forward to her new releases every year now, and she never disappoints– yet ALWAYS surprises. While her past two novels have had a common thread of strong female characters placed in an unknowable situation that they must then claw and dig their way into and out of, In a Garden Burning Gold gives us an important family dynamic that has been built over centuries, and a girl who feels pulled to risk it all… to the detriment of her twin brother who is dying to keep the reign of their father afloat.

We meet Rhea as she comes back from her most recent voyage– a marriage to a man that she had to sacrifice in order to bring about the change of the seasons. Each of Rhea’s siblings are charged with a similar gift, but only her twin’s effects the world around them as hers does. Lexos manipulates the tides and the stars from the observatory of their home, but he has also been tasked with being their father’s right hand man. Baba, as his children refer to him, is a man with a guarded heart and an iron fist. He passed down the powers that each of the Argyros line have: Rhea; the flow of the divisions of time, Lexos; the control of the skies above and the waters below, Nitsos; the understanding of mechanical workings, and Chrysanthi; the heart and soul of the meals they consume. After having lost their mother ages ago, this family of Thyzakos count on each other to survive.

It is in this beautiful world with all-encompassing lore that we are deposited, and it comes alive around us. However, we are unable to find respite enclosed inside the Stratagiozi’s walls– there are problems arising from every side of not only the country… but also within the family. Rory builds tension delightfully, and from different perspectives in the ruling line. We are shown the hardships effecting the individuals, but also the threats to the entirety of the household. There are moments of joy, burgeoning relationships, traitorous plots, and mistrust in each and every corner. This novel is a breathtaking set up to what is going to be a brilliant series; one that already feels to me more alive than those that have come before. There is world-building, but also undeniable intrigue that will leave you desperate for more. Get in on this journey from the start! You will not regret it.

5/5 stars

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power – Review

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Wilder Girls comes a new twisty thriller about a girl whose past has always been a mystery—until she decides to return to her mother’s hometown . . . where history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this vibrant second release from one of my favorite YA authors. I fell head over heels for Wilder Girls last year, and it was actually one of the first ARCs I ever received from NetGalley. Rory’s work means a lot to me in that it was a huge moment for me when I received such an anticipated work as I was just starting out as a book blogger, and it gave me something to sink my teeth into as a review writer. In that vein, I was so excited to get Burn Our Bodies Down, and I had every faith that it would hold up to the standard that Wilder Girls set. I couldn’t have been more right. Rory has delivered another gut-wrenching tale led by a fierce and aged-beyond-her-years spitfire of a girl inside a setting just close enough to the world we call home to strike a chord, yet far enough removed with supernatural elements to keep you up at night.

Margot greets us at the beginning of this journey with a heavy heart and seventeen years of weight on her shoulders. She survives a tense relationship with her strange mother, both because of and in spite of the woman. They fight and struggle to make ends meet, but at the end of the day, they are all the other has. For a long time, Margot pretended to be okay with that. However, a streak of boldness finds her uncovering a secret that her mother has hidden all of her life; a family. In a desperate attempt to scrounge up what normalcy and conclusion she can, this daughter of a fire long gone out makes it to her mother’s hometown. She uncovers much more than she bargained for; walking straight into a blaze, one of splintered memories and actual flames. Margot learns something is very wrong in not only Phalene, but her own family tree.

The book takes us on a ride of self discovery, family ties, and wishes gone wrong. Margot grows up feeling like a carbon copy of her mother. Even as she escapes to Phalene, she feels as though she is carrying her decisions in her every step. Though this mystery that she is handed is one just past the folds of our reality, the sins of a past that isn’t even hers is incredibly real and haunting; something that teenagers far and wide are sometimes saddled with. Margot is the epitome of strong, and I hope that this novel will remind readers who are wrestling with themselves that they are more than extensions of their loved ones. They can break out of these vicious cycles, burn down any expectations, and start anew. Picking up this story is a good place to start, and they can feel the beating of their own heart within their chest as they sift through the pain, the gore, and the twists and turns as Margot finds who she really needed all along; herself.

Rory has struck gold yet again. If you’re looking for a page-turner mystery that will leave you as breathless as an inferno in a cornfield, this is it. As someone with a very strong bond with her mother and no father currently in the picture, I felt Margot’s uncertainty to my core. I have no idea what I would do if handed the keys to all my family’s secrets like she was. I was so proud of her strength and bravery, and admired how she handled herself in a small town that had already convinced itself of what she was. But she, like all of us, is not her last name. She’s not even her face. She is her mind and her experiences, and that is heartening. No matter how duplicated you might feel, you are you, and that’s enough. Burn Our Bodies Down is a thrilling and hopeful read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

5/5 stars

Wilder Girls by Rory Power – Review

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

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Thank you so much to Netgalley for this ARC! I had went in expecting a Lord-of-the-Flies-esque story; with girls turning against girls and a constant fight for survival. I received both of these things, but in ways that I did not expect. We are thrown into Hetty’s nightmare world, eighteen months after her life turned upside down. She has been stuck on Raxter, an island with a girls only school and a dark, hidden secret.

The girls are wracked by a disease called the Tox that attacks their bodies in different ways. For Hetty, she lives life with one eye permanently closed– and something writhing behind it. She watches her friends and fellow schoolmates suffer through flare-ups; times when the disease makes some sort of change to them that they either power through or die trying. Tensions are high, supplies are low, and the only spark of hope is the dream of a cure that the CDC, Navy, and the bordering Camp Nash are reportedly hard at work trying to realize.

Hetty and her two closest friends, Byatt and Reese, are in the front lines as everything deteriorates quicker and quicker, and we quickly see the resourcefulness and strength of not only these characters but every single girl that we are introduced to. It reminds us that even in our darkest hour, women are a force to be reckoned with. These girls are doing the best they can to survive; fighting for food, killing diseased animals, and even sacrificing others for the greater good.

In light of this, I think that the author did a beautiful job of actually living in the grief and the guilt that these characters felt after having to commit these acts. If they had to kill someone, they were stained red to their very bones as the weight of a life soaked under their skin. The other people that these actions effect react in kind; they understand the path taken but something snaps, breaks, and may never be repaired in that relationship but they continue on.

The biggest theme in this book to me was just that; moving forward. Life gets so hard sometimes that it feels easier to just let it swallow you whole. Even when it seems like you’ve lost it all, you have to remember the people and dreams that drive you. Hetty, Reese, and Byatt are all the author’s will to live personified. She wrote something in her acknowledgement that stopped me and illuminated the book as a whole. She says, “Thank you to younger Rory, who decided to stay. I would not be here without you”.

I think Rory Power created an intoxicating whirlwind of a novel. I could not put it down. I had been reading it late at night, and I would be struggling to overcome the siren call of sleep begging for one more chapter. I woke up in the mornings clutching my kindle like a favored stuffed animal or security blanket, and I would just keep going from where I had left off. The action never stopped, and the bonds between our girls were as beautiful and original as the Raxter Blues. It’s a perfect debut!