What if you could take your feelings of sorrow, hurt, grief, loss, etc., and surrender them up? And if, in turn, the person to whom you surrendered these feelings could use them to nourish a beautiful, if capricious, garden? That’s what In the Shadow Garden explores. Liz Parker’s dark romance thriller, set in a small town in Kentucky, is about what we do with our worst memories. But it’s also about friendship, family, and who we let into our hearts. Parker’s ability to conjure up a perfect storm of emotions is impressive. However, unlike its eponymous garden, this novel didn’t end up bearing fruit for me.
Thanks to NetGalley and Forever for the eARC!
Yarrow, Kentucky. Three founding families: the Haywoods, the Bonners, and the Bakers. Except you can really ignore the Bakers, because they don’t figure much into the plot. The Haywoods are witches—most of them—and able to help ease the feelings around trauma. The Bonners make bourbon, and their distillery has never been more successful—or lucrative for the town of Yarrow—than since the Haywood matriarch allowed them to grow “dark corn” from seeds from the Haywood shadow garden. But twenty years prior to the start of this book, something terrible happened. The entire town chose to forget that summer. And now, with the death of a Bonner, everything comes back to what happened in 1997.
I love the premise and the setting Parker creates here. There are some great seeds of conflict, from Addison’s inability to wield her family magic effectively to Irene’s attraction to a prodigal Bonner son. The family dynamics, both within and among the families of Yarrow, are well done. The dialogue between family members is crisp. There’s a lot about the atmosphere of this book that made me think of Gilmore Girls for some reason—I think largely because of the grown-up mother/daughter relationship between Irene and Addison. That’s about the highest praise I can offer!
Beyond that, however, there isn’t much I can say that I enjoyed. The mystery/thriller aspects of the novel are underdeveloped. Most of the plot is predictable, the villains obvious and their motives uncomplicated. Even the secret of Addison’s parentage is obvious from pretty much the first time her hair colour gets mentioned. There’s a single red herring that is only half-heartedly dangled in front of our faces before it is hastily resolved to make way for the romance, which is tepid. Now, that’s my cup of tea when it comes to romance—but I was hoping to recommend this to one or two of my friends who enjoy romance more than I do, and I don’t think I will, simply because there’s no steam here. We get told there’s an attraction between the two characters involved, but it’s wooden (or at least, doesn’t seem distinct from any of the other relationships in this story).
The magic aspects are somewhat better off yet still stop short of truly hooking me. I love the idea of the shadow garden and the description of the Haywoods’ magic. As a tea drinker, I approve of the number of cups of tea consumed by everyone in this book! (As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I was less interested in all the bourbon consumption, but you do you!) Again, Parker’s descriptive writing skill is not in question—how she spins that into a story, unfortunately, is less rewarding for me.
Really all I can say about this book is that it feels full of missed opportunity, a garden planted and tended to with love yet never fertilized in a way that would let it flourish. I wish I could have been more excited by this book, because it’s a great concept. Parker could have done so much with this story. But the characters are flat, the plot overly simple, and the narrative unremarkable.
This one is a pass from me.