“The Ivory Key” is described as “a traditional YA tale of vanishing magic and the princess who must bring it back” (Akshaya Raman). One of my favorite tropes in fiction is that of “found family”, but there’s something so charming, special, and meaningful about stories where families come back together and find the love for each other that they had lost. “The Ivory Key” is the story of four siblings, all on their own paths in life, wanting different things, and willing to hurt the others to get it. In this book, there is magic, secret societies, dangerous secrets, puzzles and riddles, and political intrigue.
Vira is the maharani, the Queen of Ashoka whose kingdom is running out of magic and on the brink of war. Ronak is her twin brother who shirks his responsibilities and sells priceless artifacts to shady people to try and escape Ashoka. Kaleb is their older half-brother, imprisoned for the death of their mother by Vira, even though he continues to proclaim his innocence, and there was never any real evidence against them. Riya is the youngest sibling, who ran away before their mother died and joined a rebel group called the Ravens, desperate to prove herself as one of them. The relationships between them are fraught. Vira and Ronak are distant at best, hostile at worst. Vira literally imprisoned Kaleb and Riya was pronounced dead when she left. The only semi-good relationship is between Ronak and Kaleb. Ronak is trying to break Kaleb out and escape with him and is the only person who actually visits Kaleb in his cell. But even that relationship is slightly sour, as Kaleb has no hope to escape, and the thought of it makes him snappy and depressed. Watching how their relationship progressed throughout the entire story, despite the political and adventure elements, was definitely the driving force of this book.
One thing I especially loved about this book was the worldbuilding. The world is very clearly inspired by India, which was a new location for me to read about, as many of the books I read aren’t based in India. The culture of the kingdom was so vivid, every passage is chock full of culture, from the language to the clothing, to the food. While it might not have stood out to a majority of readers, since the book isn’t focused on romantic relationships, I did really enjoy how queer characters are treated. As early as page fourteen there is mention of a female character flirting with girls, and it’s so offhand that it shows that queer relationships are completely normalized in this universe. If it had been just that one time, it could be written off as an accepting friend group, but it happens again where a male character is told he could “settle down with a nice boy” (paraphrasing, of course). And it keeps happening, the queer characters just living their lives in the background of the story, it’s not the main focus, it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, they are just people living their lives, and they happen to be queer.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about found family, fantasy adventure, and reconciliation. Despite the fact that these characters are actually related, it feels like found family. This book is good for anyone that wants to read a new take on the classic YA fantasy.
I’ll be completely honest I did not see the betrayal coming. But to be fair, I don’t think any of us did. And isn’t that the true essence of a betrayal? As soon as I read it, I audibly gasped. This was the man that had told Vira that he could trust her, that he would always be there to protect her? It felt like a punch to the gut. The saving grace was that Riya had managed to make a copy of the Ivory Key, and they hadn’t lost everything in the betrayal. Despite what he did, I can’t help but think that maybe Amrit hasn’t actually betrayed him. I want to think that he is still on their side, that he actually loved Vira. That he’s just pretending to betray them, and he has a secret plan to continue helping them. But as of right now, the betrayal hurts.
Something I enjoyed about the worldbuilding that we learn later on in the story, is more about how the magic works. Something that not even the characters in the book knew about. I think it’s so interesting that for so long in the book, magic is a tangible substance that you work with, and mold into different items. This is so different from how so many books use magic. But then near the end, we learn that magic had initially been something that people could do, a part of the people that they could control at will. Learning the (admittedly little) history about it was fascinating. While I don’t really understand how it works, I don’t really need to, it’s just interesting in general.
Kaleb deciding to stay and become a sort of secret agent at the end is such an interesting thought. I had expected the siblings to stay together, but this gives Kaleb as a character some agency that I felt he didn’t really have before. It felt like everyone was making choices, except for him. Sure, he chose to help Vira figure out the riddle, but was that really a choice for him? He practically had to. By choosing to stay behind, he is finally taking control of his destiny in a way he hadn’t been able to before.