Title: Onyx & Ivory
Author: Mindee Arnett
Series: Book 1 in a trilogy
Genre: YA, high fantasy
Pub. Date: May 15th, 2018
Synopsis: They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals. But it’s this magic that she needs to keep hidden, as being a wilder is forbidden, punishable by death or exile. And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan massacred by nightdrakes in broad daylight—the only survivor her childhood friend, her first love, the boy she swore to forget, the boy who broke her heart.
The high king’s second son, Corwin Tormane, never asked to lead. Even as he waits for the uror—the once-in-a-generation ritual to decide which of the king’s children will succeed him—he knows it’s always been his brother who will assume the throne. And that’s fine by him. He’d rather spend his days away from the palace, away from the sight of his father, broken with sickness from the attempt on his life. But the peacekeeping tour Corwin is on has given him too much time to reflect upon the night he saved his father’s life—the night he condemned the would-be killer to death and lost the girl he loved. Which is why he takes it on himself to investigate rumors of unrest in one of the remote city-states, only for his caravan to be attacked—and for him to be saved by Kate.
With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin have to put the past behind them. The threat of drakes who attack in the daylight is only the beginning of a darker menace stirring in the kingdom—one whose origins have dire implications for Kate’s father’s attack upon the king and will thrust them into the middle of a brewing civil war in the kingdom of Rime.
As a member of the street team for this book, I couldn’t have been more excited to read it, especially when I got my hands on an advanced copy! Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say that it didn’t quite live up to all my expectations. This is definitely going to be one of those reviews that I struggle to write, because in some ways I absolutely loved this book, but in others I really had some issues with it.
First, let’s start with the good. I loved learning about the interesting magic system this book had to offer. It took a unique twist on traditional elemental magic, in a similar manner as the Grisha trilogy. If a person has a magical ability, they’re either categorized as a “magist”— in my mind, these were like Harry Potter wizards, they use spells and magical artifacts— or a wilder, with unpredictable and forbidden magic of the earth, sea, wind, or fire. The main conflict of the story surrounds Kate, whose particular wilder ability—to communicate with animals—I found to be a lot of fun. But wilders are considered to be too powerful and dangerous by the rulers of Rime, and therefore are subjected to the terrifying Inquisition.
“More than just words filled the command. Somehow, impossibly, she invoked her wilder magic. It was the deepest part of her, the truest part—and it refused to surrender.”
In case you didn’t catch on with the title of this post, Onyx & Ivory has a strong focus on animals, namely horses. I adored this element of the book, considered I’m a big animal-lover myself and it added so much to the story. The author clearly knows a ton about horses, given the detailed descriptions of horse care-taking and anatomy, which I thought was pretty cool. But don’t worry if horses aren’t your thing, because it’s still a very moderate portion of the book.
Overall, I was very entertained while reading this book. The pacing is nice and even, with a few unforeseen twists at the end. My breath wasn’t exactly taken away in surprise or suspense, but I still had a fun time trying to figure out what happens next.
By far my favorite thing, however, was the discussion of real world issues in a fantasy world context. This is probably the only YA fantasy I’ve read that openly and actively describes birth control! I loved how the author used her creativity not just to describe magic and sword-fighting, but also to address practical issues as well. There’s one court room scene that provides pointed commentary about our society through a debate over numerous problems in the kingdom, like unequal distribution of wealth. I could’ve used even more of that discussion!
The background history of the royal family and Kate’s past made up some of the most intriguing parts of the book. I can’t say much without spoilers, but I can’t wait to dig up even more magical secrets in the sequel!
I also really liked Corwin’s character, he reminded me of Elias from An Ember in the Ashes. His romance with Kate is a pretty small part of the book, but is fairly unique since it depicts how they manage to recover their childhood love and affection for each other, rather than the usual trope of finding love for the first time.
“Sometime later she heard him draw a ragged breath. ‘You are so beautiful, Kate Brighton. Did I ever tell you that?’ Once, she thought, her heart beating too rapidly for speaking. The first time you kissed me.”
Onyx & Ivory features a huge cast of characters and an expansive fantasy world, which allows for a ton of potential in future books. However, this brings me to the parts of the novel that I didn’t care for. Overall, this book is primarily an intro into the rest of the series. And while it’s a very strong intro, it still left a lot to be desired.
When it comes to character development, I felt like the surface was barely scratched. The side characters are funny and a great addition to the story, but I think a lot more work needs to be done in order to really understand their motivations and appreciate what happens to them. It further added to the feeling I had of just wanting more from this book. It was a lot of fun, but lacked the emotional depth that would’ve brought it up to four or five stars.
I also didn’t personally care for the writing style. It wasn’t bad, but at times it almost felt like the book was Middle Grade, given the dramatic dialogue and straightforward descriptions. There were a lot of unnecessary sentences that I wanted to take a pen to and cross out.
Finally, and this part I’m a little unsure of whether I should point out (given that I’m white and straight), but Onyx & Ivory is very much your typical white YA fantasy. It relies on a narrative of oppression, genocide, and rebellion, while including a main cast of only white characters with straight or unspecified sexual orientations, which rubbed me the wrong way. I think the world has a lot of these stories already, and I would’ve loved to see this book be a little more inclusive.
Would I recommend this book?
Definitely, especially to people who don’t read a ton of YA fantasy and are looking for something lighter. But be aware that a bulk of the book is set-up for the rest of the series.
What are your favorite YA books featuring some furry friends? Do you plan on reading Onyx & Ivory?
I read an advanced copy of this book, quotes may alter from the final version.