I’ve got to hand it to James Malone, he did a TON of research going into “Rainbow Gardens”. The events he describes of World War I and World War II are pretty spot on, but with enough liberty to take a historical twist that fits into his fantasy world, and that’s coming from the granddaughter of an Air Force pilot who served in the Pacific during WWII and the daughter of an Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, so even though I did not serve, I know enough to know when people just embellish or romanticize those events without doing their due diligence. So, first and foremost, this is a great historical fiction story that focuses on honor, family, and forgiveness. But it’s also a fantasy because, well, trolls.
The trolls are where the story gets a bit odd. I loved that Malone included them and the backstory with the alternate Christian creation myth was very thought out, but the trolls and their history often felt completely separate from what was going on with Henry, the main character, and his life. It was an interesting addition, but come the end of the book, I felt like I never got to see enough of the trolls. Sure, we are told how they came to be and their struggle with humans, we are teased with Troll Hunters and Seers spread out all over the globe, and told of this epic struggle starting at the creation of man, but you don’t really see much of the trolls themselves. We are just told about them and their desires, and their aversion to the sun, but we don’t see them as a society, we don’t see much of their interactions at all considering the length of Malone’s work. What we do get isn’t bad by any means, it’s all very interesting! But Henry’s story does end, and I don’t feel like the troll’s story ever really got off the ground.
I did enjoy “Rainbow Gardens”, I thought the historical fiction aspect of it was well done, and focused on parts of the war and our history that often don’t get enough attention. But the fantasy part felt like an afterthought compared to what Henry is trying to do, how he’s trying to live, and his struggle with being seen as an American rather than an enemy. I was far more invested in those elements of the story then I was with Henry’s involvement with the trolls. But the trolls were fun and kind of silly, and I enjoyed them as a whole, but given how the book ends, the troll’s story felt so incomplete by comparison to Henry and his family.
Malone weaves an elaborate tale where the backstory to every character he introduces is explained, it helps with establishing motivation and setting up for that character’s ultimate conclusion in the story, but I would have been willing to sacrifice some of that in order to give more attention to the present day trolls, their ultimate goal, and to make Henry and his wife’s relationship feel a bit more loving as I just never ended up falling in love the way Henry seemed to. There is just a lot of backstory thrown at the reader and not all of it is needed, for it does make the book excessively long. It’s well written to be sure, but it’s easy to lose what the true plot is given the sheer number of characters and background information the reader is presented with.
Given how the story plods along with all the information we are given, the ending comes a bit abruptly, and didn’t give me that warm, satisfied feeling I was looking for after such a long read. Again, don’t get me wrong, this book is lovely and deserves a read if you want a good historical fiction and have the time to devote to it, but me personally, I was left wanting a bit more in terms of a wrap up between Henry, his family, and the trolls (which is so strange to say given the length of the book)! But this was a solid 4 stars for me, so definitely give it a read!
The author provided me with a review copy, this in no way impacted my opinion on the book.