Book Review: ‘The Book of Ivy’ by Amy Engel

the-book-of-ivyOkay, so if you’re like me and you read a lot of YA fiction, you might be feeling a little bit of dystopian fatigue. Like paranormal romance before it, dystopian had a big moment in YA the past couple of years and it’s gotten to the point where we’re so saturated with dystopian that even a really good dystopian book can begin to feel old hat or cliche.

I say this because, as much as I try to be aware of these things and judge every book on its own merit, I could not help but compare The Book of Ivy to its predecessors in dystopian YA. But the thing is, a little repetition isn’t a big deal to me as long as the story still resonantes. I’ll admit there’s room for improvement in world-building as The Book of Ivy series progresses, but the dystopian setting did its job as a vehicle for the grander plot despite not being anything particularly new or different. This style might not work for everyone, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to get into The Book of Ivy despite my initial reservations in the early chapters.

The basic story involves Ivy, a girl from the poor part of town, who is in an arranged marriage with Bishop Lattimer, the son of the previously mentioned all-powerful leader. Ivy’s father is the leader of a resistance group attempting to take over power of their little colony, and Ivy’s new marriage is the perfect opportunity. With her access to Bishop, Ivy can play a pivotal role in aiding the resistance – ultimately by killing Bishop.

Oh, but of course there is a catch. As it turns out, Bishop isn’t the terrible human Ivy expected him to be but is instead quite thoughtful and open-minded. Ivy starts to feel a connection to Bishop that causes her to question whether she can actually go through with her father’s murderous plan. Most of the book is spent following Ivy as she settles into her new life as the wife of the President’s son, which mainly involves a lot of awkward encounters with Bishop. There are other things peppered in between – including a couple of little plot twists and a cliffhanger ending.

The interesting thing about The Book of Ivy is that even though it’s hard for me to really explain the forward momentum of the story, it’s actually extremely readable and about a third of the way through it became a downright page-turner for me. Credit that to Engel, I suppose – what this book lacks in dystopian world-building it makes up for with the addicting writing style. And as with most “first” books in dystopian trilogies, there is always room to fill out the world more clearly over time, so I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt there.

One of the things that really helped bring me on board was Ivy herself – she shows true character growth throughout the book and manages to avoid falling into the trap of terrible decision making based on stubborn but silly beliefs. This sort of thing happens a lot in YA, and while I have no problem with a teenager making a bad decision, it’s a lot easier to swallow when it comes from a strong character whose perspective you can understand, even if you don’t agree with it. Ivy is just that – even though her loyalties were misguided, I totally got why. Plus she wasn’t blind in her beliefs, but instead was constantly reassessing them and learning from her experiences. Now that I can get behind, and it goes a long way in making up for any other potential shortcomings with the story.

I’ll also give a shout out to the total lack of instalove in this book. Ivy and Bishop may have been married within the first couple of chapters, but their relationship was far from close, or even comfortable, and it evolved over time. I loved how even though Ivy logically knew she shouldn’t feel any stake in the relationship if she’s just going to kill the guy, she couldn’t help but feel awkward and embarrassed while she was getting to know Bishop. It was a cute, relatable tidbit that made the scenario feel much more realistic than you might expect.

In the end The Book of Ivy really did win me over and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series. As I mentioned, there is a cliffhanger ending and it’s hard to tell what direction the series will take, which I actually really enjoy. Nothing is worse than knowing where a series is headed and being either disappointed it doesn’t live up to your expectations or unmotivated to keep reading when you see it’s going in a direction you don’t like. No problem with that here! Readers who really prefer detailed world-building in their dystopians may be frustrated by this one, but if you don’t mind your dystopian a little on the soapy side with a bit of revenge, a lot of fun, and, of course, a love story, check this one out!

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