NOTE: The author has since made edits to her book. The physical copy I read may now differ from the newer version.
I have known Jordanna Jade since Year 10, and we’ve been friends since Year 12. She’s always been the person scribbling in a notebook, the person I’ve known with 100% certainty would publish a book. She was the kind of student who could convince any tutor she was hanging on their every word and taking extensive notes. In reality, she was penning the next chapter of her novel. Over the years, sitting beside her in class, her novel took many shapes. The Eternal Garden is its final form.
The central protagonists, Rian and Wren, have experienced great tragedy by the time the story begins. Their pain led them to the eponymous garden, and they walked away Ilia—people with magical abilities. Only they live in Aquiline, a city where magic is strictly regulated and enforced by the often brutish Ilpolitia. As unregistered Ilia, Rian and Wren must keep their powers secret. But this shared secret they keep from the rest of the world is nothing compared to the secrets they’re keeping from each other.
From the first chapter, Wren is implicated in the murder of an Ilia and attracts the attention of an Ilpolitia named Erica—a woman with her own motives. Meanwhile, Styria, a friend of Rian’s, is secretly searching for an Ilia with the power to raise the dead. With all these lies and secrets, each page has you on tenterhooks waiting for the truth bombs to fall. The question is: will these truths bring these characters together or tear them apart?
Why it’s great:
There are two things Jade undeniably excels at: character development and stakes.
Jade wastes no time getting you invested in Rian and Wren’s relationship. Her well-crafted dialogue displays natural chemistry between them, drip-feeding exposition to explore the depths of their shared history. They’re deeply flawed, but you never stop rooting for them even when they’re at their worst. And the amount of hardship and growth these two go through really pays off. Much the same can be said for Styria and Erica.
When it comes to stakes, the cost of every action is both clear and believable. Every character wants something, and the truth poses a justifiable threat to their missions. Certain secrets are likely to resonate with some readers, too. To say that this book features LGBT representation feels like a little spoiler, but greater twists await you. But most importantly, this isn’t a Dumbledore-Grindelwald unwritten-but-totally-there romance. It’s a relationship that is integral to the plot and character development, which will elicit a spectrum of emotions as the relationship develops.
The magic system also comes with its own stakes. For Ilia, magic is addictive but destructive. If an Ilia uses their power too much, they’ll run themselves into an early grave. Eternal Garden treats magic very differently to a lot of other fantasy I’ve read. Rather than being an enviable power we’d all love to wield; magic is simultaneously like a drug and a disease. Every time an Ilia uses their power, we as the reader are aware that this person is slowly killing themselves in the process.
There are only two flaws that come to mind with this book. But I wouldn’t call them significant enough to spoil the reading experience.
The first is the occasional naivety that stretches my suspension of disbelief. Yes, we as the reader are granted more information than the characters. However, when characters don’t even entertain the most obvious answer as a possibility, and then jump to odd conclusions, I can’t help but question it. It’s infrequent and minor enough to be admissible, but noticeable enough that it gave me pause.
The only other negative I can really find is the absence of a copyeditor. I’m not a stickler for grammar by any means, and I’m certainly not against subverting conventions. But in this case, the grammatical inconsistencies can be distracting early on and take you out of the story. However, I found I quickly adapted, and the descriptive prose and compelling narrative were strong enough to gloss over the errors. Furthermore, as noted above, the author has made edits, which may have corrected a number of these errors.
Wait! This isn’t the first book in the series!
The Eternal Garden is technically the second part of Jade’s Ilia series, the first being Dance of Flames. But you can read these books in either order, although EtGar is the stronger of the two and is perfectly coherent without any knowledge of the prologue novella.
What DoF does give you, however, is a look into the lives of Rian and Wren before the Garden. It also delves into the deeper backstory of their friend Caspian. The events of DoF ripple throughout EtGar, and I felt understanding Caspian’s character enriched his scenes in this novel. But equally, the knowledge the second novel gives you could add a delightful sense of dread knowing the inevitable climax if you read part one afterwards.
So whether you want to experience Rian and Wren’s story linearly or fancy going back to see how these characters once were, Dance of Flames is well worth checking out. I might, too, have to go back and give it a re-read in light of Jade’s most recent edit of the novella.
Conclusion – Highly Recommend!
Jordanna Jade loves her characters, and she wants you to love them too. And in that respect, I think she succeeds. The world she’s built is one you’ll want to return to, which is just as well because Aquiline is only one city and Jade’s got more stories in other places I cannot wait to read.
If you’re a lover of fantasy and character-driven stories, then Jade is a fresh voice well worth your time.