Blog tour: The Garden of Delights by Amal Singh

The Garden of Delights

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘In the city of Sirvassa, where petals are currency and flowers are magic, the Caretaker tends to the Garden of Delights.

‘He imparts temporary magical abilities to the citizens of Sirvassa, while battling a curse of eternal old age. No Delight could uplift his curse, and 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 soon a magical rot takes root in his Garden, and the Caretaker must join forces with the girl and stop it from spreading.’

The Garden of Delights

The Garden of Delights, by Amal Singh, introduces us to two very different cities: Alderra and Sirvassa. Alderra prides itself on its rationality and modernity: its people are concerned with making money and developing technology, and the sort-of gods they call upon are the disinterested, utilitarian “Champions”.

Sirvassa, meanwhile, values wellbeing and small pleasures over innovation and acquisitiveness. It’s a magical place where healing petals rain from the sky, a mesh strung between the rooftops keeps an occasionally-visiting monster at bay, and the name of an ancient, benevolent god is never far from anyone’s lips.

The jewel in Sirvassa’s crown is the stunning Garden of Delights, where the enigmatic Caretaker and his impulsive apprentice, Trulio, cultivate flowers and use their essences to make potions – Delights – that grant short-term, often whimsical magical abilities, at no charge to their customers.

Lately, however, all has not been well. A rot is afflicting the garden, turning the flowers black and giving the Delights nasty side effects. Some officials from Alderra have come to Sirvassa with an eye to reform in the name of commercial opportunity. The Caretaker has been subject to a curse of eternal old age for quite some time, and it seems less likely than ever that he’ll find a way to break it himself.

The Alderran delegation has brought with it one good thing, though: Iyena, the fifteen-year-old daughter of one of the administrators. As well as falling in love with Sirvassa and its ways, when she takes a potion that’s only meant to prime her for future Delights, it imbues her with an extraordinary power that gives the Caretaker and the city a fighting chance against their nemeses.

I found The Garden of Delights a highly imaginative and well-realised novel. There are a lot of different threads, and the author does a good job of keeping a handle on them all throughout the story.

Singh’s descriptions of the five sectors of the garden are vivid and lush, and the details of its different flowers’ mystical properties and purposes elevate it over non-magical literary counterparts. Before the problems start setting in, it’s really quite soothing to watch the Caretaker at work.

I loved getting to know the wonders of Sirvassa, from the variety of quirky effects conferred on people by Delights, to the strange and somewhat curmudgeonly creatures who power the public transport system, to the temple where Iyena has an intensely trippy and unsettling experience when she’s divinely chosen to preview her future.

With so much interesting and pertinent information to put in place – the past and present of the Caretaker, Iyena, and Trulio; the histories, geographies, characteristics, education systems and religions of the two cities; the machinations of the Alderran visitors; and more besides – The Garden of Delights is a slow-burner, which makes it all the more satisfying when everything that’s been building up finally comes to the boil.

I particularly enjoyed the “coming-of-age” element of this novel. Iyena’s part of the story is very much about self-discovery, deciding what kind of person she wants to be, and – quite literally – stepping into her power.

We’re aware from the outset that Iyena and her strict single father, Anaris, don’t get along brilliantly, but as Iyena learns more about herself, the mother she hasn’t seen in four years, and why Anaris has transferred to Sirvassa, she comes to realise the true depths of the divide between them.

Alongside awakening game-changing magical powers and grappling with serious moral and political considerations, though, Iyena also has to deal with more prosaic coming-of-age themes: making friends in a new city, intense feelings (her displays of temper and attitude make her all the more human), and a blossoming love interest.

While this story is firmly rooted in fantasy, it’s nonetheless possible to draw a number of parallels with real-world events and issues.

To name just a few examples: the pressure on the Caretaker to charge for his services and expand into other cities, when he’s satisfied with things as they are; the Champions’ practice of non-intervention and the Alderrans’ privileging of productivity over enrichment; and the Alderrans’ changes to the version of history taught in Sirvassan schools and the books pupils have access to.

The Garden of Delights is a rich and lush slow-burner.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK