Member Reviews

I'm a keen gardener and fell in love with this powerful and dreamlike novel. Original world building excellent storytelling.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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I was intrigued by the premise however I wasn't immediately grabbed by the first two chapters. However I am glad I persevered as this turned out to be an engrossing and deftly written story.
This is a world where petals heal and flowers can provide a variety of powers or Delights as they are termed here, that is as long as they are ingested. If they are smoked then they become Sorrows and too much of which can lead to monstrosities.
Iyena travels to the city of Sirvassa with her father, a powerful political figure in the Abhadi , a leading country in the area. Iyena is asked to take lessons with the local youth and report back to her father - despite this she makes friends and starts to question the world that she has lived in and her fathers motivations.
The other key character is The Caretaker, a man cursed by a goddess to only experience his youthful body for a few hours after midnight. The Caretaker we find out is a Florrall a master of use of Delights and he tends the Garden in Sirvassa. From the Garden The Caretaker dispenses Delights to any who ask and is called the protector of the city.
The story is told from various points of view, again I normally am not a fan of this type of narrative but it worked well here and I felt equally invested in all the characters. The storyline delves into the issues of annexation, rebellion and power and comes to a thrilling conclusion.
My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for access to this ARC. All views are my own.

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Fantasy is an interesting genre, it has a foot in the pasts of folklore, legends and the type of stories told around a campfire by storytellers. At the same time and has always been the case stories are in dialogue with our own world, evolving, exploring issues of today but often subtly. This mix of classic and modern writing comes to mine when I’m reading Amal Singh’s elegant and engrossing fantasy novel The Garden of Delights which combines lyrical storytelling a with a refreshingly different type of fantasy world to explore.

The powerful and often independent city of Sirvassa is well known for the Garden of Delights. The Caretaker of which every day helps bring a touch of magic to the inhabitants of the city – flight, speed, healing and many more powers can be briefly sampled by the exotic mixes of special flowers this Garden offers. The Caretaker has done this for centuries ever since a war cursed him to be an old man everyday but the garden is suddenly experiencing a magical rot that corrupts those who take its wares. Into the city has also come the daughter of a powerful politician Iyena Mastafar follows in her father’s footsteps and is having to work her way around Sirvassa she has one desire she asks the Caretaker – the ability to fight monsters. Neither the Caretaker or Iyena know how much danger the Garden and themselves will be in.

The best way to describe why this book worked for me was it recalled the feeling of when I’d pick a book of myths and legends in the library and although the stories were a little too old for me, I felt I’d glimpsed a magical ancient world. Singh pulls the same feeling of with a secondary world with its own unique gods, history, politics, and cultures that carries a depth. Its an Earth adjacent type of world with ships, airships, picture houses, schools but also Gods in centuries of slumber, mysterious magical beings named Champions, magical automatons, the Garden and monsters that attack Sirvassa every day. Singh doesn’t explain this all in technical detail or simple exposition, instead it’s a more organic world that the reader has to put together. The Garden, The Caretaker, Iyena and many of the plot strands are culminations of all these unread stories. A 400-page book that carries that weight lightly but the more you hear about things the more you want to explore and understand the mysteries. By the end we understand local politics, the magic of the world and its beliefs. It is incredibly well told.

In terms of core characters, they feel quite classical in nature but offer surprises. The Caretaker we find is a Florral someone particularly in tune with using the magic of the Garden’s flowers to perform incredible magic. He once fought a huge war, beat mighty Champions and ultimately still despite all the good deeds got cursed to be an old man every day when he wakes up. The Caretaker is fascinating – wise, kind-hearted, a little impatient and has had his fingers burnt interfering with the magical world so he often holds back. His chapters concentrate on the intrigue and magic of Sirvassa and his challenge is how the town turns when the magic appears more curse than blessing. There is a great relationship with his erstwhile trainee Trulio – the classic too keen apprentice but the bonds feel genuine between them and most of all we sense The Caretaker is holding his power back. What happens when he releases it is a prize we keep waiting to see and its worth it when it happens!

With Iyena we have a fifteen-year-old girl arriving into the city from another culture. There will no doubt be a kind of reader saying oh so YA but no I feel Iyena instead feels a more classical young heroine of fantasy coming to face the world on her own turns, Funny, intelligent and yet a little naïve about the wider world. Her chapters help us explore the politics of Sirvassa in terms of cultures and colonization. The main powers that govern Sirvassa are keen to clip the city’s wings and we see how schools become weapons, laws are used to divide, and political games and dangerous tricks are at work. There is a subtle piece of storytelling exploring how powerful forces will often work hard to break up peaceful institutions change the law to suit certain sides and make huge promises in the pursuit of power. The parents of her school perhaps see the old dangers of colonial power being used to oppress starting again and prepare accordingly. While Iyena also discovers magic via the power of the Garden it’s the way her story is part of the bigger game afoot that really works to flesh out the more human side if the tale and her reactions to events always feel genuine. She very much stands on her own two feet which works very well to make you care about the outcomes.

The one drawback with a classical take is you do sense all things will succeed eventually. Singh does throw many unexpected elements into the story. This story doesn’t use stereotypes too often seen in simple fantasy but there is still a certain shape to such stories and a little more danger and threat may have helped add a bit more uncertainty to the outcome. I didn’t mind though that much as the storytelling, language and unusual world kept me reading as I still wanted to know exactly how all the plot elements come together and that was not very predictable.

Like the titular The Garden of Delights this is a book that offers different experiences to normal fantasy with gorgeous worldbuilding and lyrical storytelling to immerse yourself in. This book knows how to drive an emotional reaction from the reader and does it very impressively, the stakes for a single city and a peaceful way of life are just high enough for us to invest in and the characters are ones you want to root for. There is room for more tales in the same world, so I am very interested in what future stories Singh has in store for us in the future.

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In the city of Sirvassa, where petals are currency and flowers are magic, the Caretaker tends to the Garden of Delights. Imparting temporary magical abilities to the residents while battling a curse of eternal old age, no Delight could uplift his curse. So he must seek out a mythical figure; a god. When a Delight allows a young girl the ability to change reality, the Caretaker believes he’s at the end of his search, but where Delights persist, Sorrow must follow.

Full of vivid scenery brought to life by the author's hand, The Garden of Delights encourages you to leave all reality at the door and delve into its fantastical world. Once I'd got to grips with some of the language used, it was no longer a stumbling block, and I became more drawn into the story.

Although there are a lot of complex characters, I really cared about the fates of Iyena and Trehan in particular, and I thought Iyena was a fierce character for a young girl.

Personally, I enjoyed the points in the story that were more about the characters interacting than the political plot side, but there is a lot going on in this book full of intriguing characters in a magical, mysterious world. It should have wide appeal across a wide spectrum.
Thanks to Flame Tree Press for providing an eARC; this is my unbiased review.

#TheGardenOfDelights #AmalSingh #BlogTour #RandomThingsTours #FlameTreePress

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While readers often loathe expositionary information, a crumb of it is still needed. It's really not a good sign that after reading a few pages I had to look up the title again just to ensure it wasn't a sequel to something I have not read yet.

Fortunately though, much like it's repeated imagery, this novel matures and blooms like a bunch of too fragrant and too common flowers.

While a fine read, my one fear is that beyond the interesting worldbuilding, the narrative is too base to be found innovative by readers. It's not saying anything new but it is still beautiful.

The setting is lovely but it is not utilized in a way that I found satisfactory. Which is a shame because it really is a world I would have enjoyed more if it wasn't so abrupt. It just feels like this book is en media res.

It's not that I didn't find this book enjoyable, it's just a matter of feeling hollows where I should be more invested in the world and characters. Instead I find myself entrenched with extremely thin veiled messages that do not need to be directly communicated to get across.

Readers who quickly form attachments and can juggle an abnormal amount of magical facets will likely enjoy this read.

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This is indeed a garden of delights. A beautifully crafted story of fantasy in a world based on the India we know.. plus a bit more. Two cultures, one rational and industrial, one floral and rustic; yet both also not dissimilar. Xenophobia, plots, cruelty and kindness. What sets it apart for me is the gentle richness of the prose that allows me to smell the perfume if petals and taste the fragrance and substance of the food. An excellent novel reminding me of Silverberg's Majipoor Chronicles and the lyricism of Guy Gabriel Kay or Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Exquisite, like a Rose.

This was a complimentary ARC copy from Netgalley.

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3 Stars!

I decided to stay in the fantasy genre with Flame Tree Press and another upcoming release that held a lot of promise. The Garden of Delights by Amal Singh promised a new perspective in the genre and a fresh take on magic. That was enough for me and off I went for a new, fantastic journey.

Sirvassa is a city in which flowers are the ultimate currency, and the Caretaker is the unofficial power in the city. As the keeper of the Garden of Delights, the Caretaker uses his power to create delights: mystical potions that can grant their user magical powers for a limited amount of time. He cannot defeat Father Time, however, and the Caretaker is on a constant quest for immortality. The answers to his prayer, and the end of his eternal search, seems near when a young girl gets the power to warp reality through one of his delights. This is the moment he has been waiting for.

A rot has set in the garden and the city, however, and the Caretaker finds the world he has always known eroding around him. Politics begins to plague the Garden of Delights and public opinion is now turned against it. The Caretaker is desperate to turn the tides and keep the world of magic intake amidst the political turmoil that surrounds it. It may all prove futile in the end, however, as the Caretaker comes to learn that Delights ultimately lead to Sorrow and the garden hangs on the brink of being turned into something much darker.

The Garden of Delights is a fantastical story with a unique twist on magic. There is magic in the world here, but it is very limited and only comes into contact with humanity on a limited basis. The Caretaker is the gatekeeper of magic in the world and seeks to use his magic for good. That is a bit of a paradox, however, as he also uses it as wealth and a means of maintaining his standing in the world. He spurns the opportunity to enter into politics as he sees his skill as the pinnacle of power in the world, but he is already in deep in the politics of the city by virtue of his position. The garden, like life, is a balance that the Caretaker tries to maintain. There is a dark side of everything and Singh does a good job of illustrating the balance between light and dark. There is a beauty to this story that comes through the subtlety of the magic that makes the story almost read as a dream.

That dreamlike quality of this book may have worked against the story for me as I found my mind wandering at times and had to refocus on what was happening in the novel. The Garden of Delights is not a linear novel and it takes a little bit of work to keep in line with where the story is going. The writing in superb, which alone makes it worth reading, but the story seemed to meander along at times without much sense of urgency. I sometimes got lost in the words, however, and had to go back and read some passages to get to the meat of the story. Overall, Singh's voice and writing are very strong and carried the story through to a satisfying ending. The action in this story is sparse but the intrigue is high as there is a lot going on the creates tension. The Garden of Delights is a beautifully written story and well worth the time it takes to read for those who are looking for a story that has many layers that are slowly peeled back throughout the novel until it comes to a head. I cannot say it is my favorite read of the year, but it was worth the time invested and will work better for some readers than it did for me. This book is recommended for fans of the genre who are looking for a fresh voice and who may find an author that will rise toward the top of their must-read list. I look forward to what the future holds for Singh as this talented writer's voice is sure to only become stronger.

I would like to thank Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for this review copy. The Garden of Delights is scheduled to be released on May 14, 2024.

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