Thornfruit (The Gardener's Hand Book 1)

[Thornfruit] is well-written, original and diverse, and definitely one I would recommend.
Strange Horizons

There were two secrets in Varenx House, and Alizhan was one of them.

Alizhan can’t see faces, but she can read minds. Her mysterious ability leaves her unable to touch or be touched without excruciating pain. Rescued from abandonment and raised by the wealthy and beautiful Iriyat ha-Varensi, Alizhan has grown up in isolation, using her gift to steal secrets from Iriyat’s rivals, the ruling class of Laalvur. But Iriyat keeps secrets of her own.

When Alizhan discovers that she isn’t the only one of her kind, and that a deadly plot threatens everyone like her, there’s only one person she can trust.

Ev liked having a secret. None of the other girls in the village had a thief-friend.

Evreyet Umarsad—“Ev” to her parents and her one friend—longs to be the kind of hero she reads about in books. But the rest of the world feels impossibly far away from her life on a farm outside Laalvur. Ev will never lay eyes on the underground city of Adappyr, the stars of the Nightward Coast, or the venomous medusas that glow in the dark depths of the sea.

At least on her weekly trip to the market, Ev gets to see her thief—the strange young woman who slips by her cart and playfully steals a handful of thornfruit. When the thief needs help, Ev doesn’t hesitate. Together, they uncover a conspiracy that draws them all over Laalvur and beyond.

Thoughtful world-building with an underlying hard sf spin that hit the spot for me. Ev and Alizhan are rounded and believable, and their relationship to each other is utterly endearing. The antagonists are complex with too-understandable reasons for their decisions. I also really appreciated the excellent integration of a neurodivergent character’s perspectives. I can’t wait to read the next book and find out more about where the story is headed.
Bisexual Book Awards, 2018 finalist for Best Speculative Fiction

CONTENT WARNINGS AND TAGS

Warnings: emotional abuse (of a main character, while she’s a child, by a parental figure—mostly in backstory, but often referred to), manipulation/gaslighting (aided by magical memory alteration), kidnapping, pregnancy, an attempted coerced abortion, physical violence, mild gore (some minor characters get, uh, dissolved by a sea monster), murder, torture, unethical experiments on children, prejudice (mostly against people with magic, but also there are references to prejudices based on ability, skin color, foreign nationality, religion, sex, sexuality), arson, supporting character dies in a tidal wave, tidal wave causes general destruction

Tags: bisexuality, pining, F/F*, neurodivergent character, height difference, epistolary storytelling, female villain, family secrets, magic, mind-reading, sharing memories, altering memories, touch-based magic system, touch-starved character, secondary-world fantasy, intrigue, politics, conspiracies, the sun never sets, only one bed, minor cross-dressing, minor fake relationship, asexual supporting character, good parents, really really bad parents, sea monsters, handholding, slow burn, eat the rich

*The main romance of the trilogy is ultimately F/F/M (and the M in question is genderfluid), but Thornfruit is focused on the F/F relationship