I received a beautiful edition of this in the January Illumicrate box (pictured below). I can’t remember how I found out about this one (it was probably on social media!), but the premise sounded intriguing and I was super excited to read this Indian inspired YA fantasy.
Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.
Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power.
They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.
Graphic descriptions of dead bodies (specifically on page 1 & Chapter 6), high volume of discussion of grief and loss, death of family members (specifically parents–the deaths occur off page but are discussed throughout), recovering from trauma, blood, violence, emotional manipulation, alcohol, discussion of identity policing/microaggressions directed toward a biracial character, allusions to human experimentation, discussions of war/an invading country
First thing to note is how gorgeous the Illumicrate edition of The Ivory Key is. The orange cover, blue foil and blue sprayed edges…it’s an extremely pretty book!
On to the story itself – I really liked the concepts behind The Ivory Key. The idea of magic as a finite resource is one I haven’t come across much in fantasy (although I’m happy to receive any recommendations in the comments!) and I liked how it was woven into the general running of Ashoka. It was interesting to see how intricately magic was tied into the world and what the implications would be if an alternative solution couldn’t be found. I really liked the fact that the story touched on that and I hope it’s a theme that gets expanded further in the sequel – it made for some really interesting character dynamics and added a certain tension to the story.
I also liked that the story revolved around the four siblings – this is as much a story about family as it is anything else. Each of the four siblings gets a P.O.V chapter; as someone who doesn’t mind multiple P.O.Vs, I liked spending time with each sibling and I felt it added to the world building, particularly early on in the story. However, this is where I have a couple of quibbles:
- I wish there had been more chapters from Kaleb’s P.O.V. I found him to be the most interesting sibling and I really wanted to find out more about him and his story (namely how he ended up being falsely accused of assassination).
- I would love to know more about Ronak and Vira’s relationship – I felt like there were a few reasons for their rift but nothing that really explains it or goes into detail (I know there’s only so much an author can include, but as they are twins, I was genuinely curious to see what had driven them apart). I feel like understanding the root cause would have helped justify or explain some of Ronak’s actions.
While I could understand where Vira and Riya’s motivations came from, I couldn’t really grasp Ronak’s motivation. Sure, I get he wants to leave the palace and escape marriage, but I feel like there’s something more driving him and The Ivory Key only scratched the surface.
It was also pretty cool to see how the siblings were able to play to their strengths when they eventually go off in search of the Key. The realisations that they aren’t what everyone thinks they are is almost sad – these are estranged siblings who haven’t really had a chance to see who the others have become because of their own private issues. It’s almost like they have missed out on important milestones in each other’s lives and are having to relearn who each other are.
Speaking of the quest, this was a really fun part of the story, not only for the sibling interactions, but just for the pure adventure element of it. I loved the descriptions of the chambers they encountered and the lore (I love lore and mythology in fantasy novels) that was hinted at, but revealed during the quest. Again, this is something I hope gets expanded on in the sequel. While I didn’t particularly like how the quest ended, it does set up the sequel and I’m intrigued it see what impact it will have going forward.
To wrap up then: I liked The Ivory Key, despite the issues I had with some of the characters. The descriptions and world building were wonderful (the descriptions of the food in particular had me drooling) and it was easy to let myself be drawn into the story. I will definitely be picking up the sequel, only because I want to know what happens after that cliffhanger!