Before I fully launch into my review (which I've saved up for release day), I have to first say how totally excited I am that this book is going to finally going out into the world. I got to be on the ‘Street Team’, one of the 'Relay Riders', for 'Onyx and Ivory', which meant I helped get the word out for it on social media. BUT that does not play into my review of the book.
Happily though, I fell in love with Mindee Arnett's book. I've not read her other books but I have a feeling she is putting something different out here and pouring something of herself into this one. O&I is an epic fantasy that started off (I believe) as a germ of an idea for Mindee some 6 years ago now, and it became a novel that opens up a world of dark monsters, forbidden magic, and brings us characters that feel complex and vibrant.
The main character of the novel is Kate, otherwise known as ‘Traitor Kate’, named as such for her father’s actions, for trying to assassinate the high king of Rime many years ago. Her father had been master of horse to the king, but he was executed for his crime, one that Kate can’t believe he would have knowingly committed.
Now she hides the gift of wilder magic that allows her to touch the minds of animals that makes her so in tune with horses as her father was, but wilder magic is forbidden and punishable by death. Because of her father’s treachery, she has been relegated to being a Relay rider for Farhold, the imperial courier service, but there are these nasty monsters out there called ‘nightdrakes’ (deadly flightless dragons), that make her job intensely dangerous, and soon these drakes are attacking in the daylight, massacring whole caravans of people.
Now, beyond this basic plot of Kate and her forbidden magic, and the drakes, as a reader you are quickly immersed in a world where there is a lot going on. This is a book that is not fast-paced but it is totally absorbing: when I took my time to read it, I felt like I was settling in to fully entrench myself in the world of several sub-plots that weave together and a number of fascinating characters. They are key to enjoying this book.
To name some, there’s Corwin (Kate’s first love, and heir to the throne), Signe (her spunky best friend), Edwin (Corwin’s nasty brother and competition for the crown), and Bonner (long-time friend who knows her magical secret). Kate reunites with her first love Corwin, after saving him from an attack by drakes, and she and her counterparts must embark on a full-on quest to not only understand who tried to kill the king, but also who is controlling the daydrakes. Corwin must also prove he is more worthy to be the heir to the throne than his brother. Something that I particularly think that is important for a novel of this length, is that the characters felt fully realized and fleshed-out, so much so that I could imagine them all throughout the book like companions. While there seem to be a number of subplots going on in the book, Arnett proves she is a skilled writer because I never felt lost. When one part of the story wasn’t being written about, it was fine to just leave it for a while, and continue with another part, and then go back to the other one. I don’t want to say too much about the plot lines of the book because it is jam-packed, but somehow Mindee has threaded them all together, and they’ve culminated in an ending that begs for another epic book. As long as O&I is, I didn’t want the journey and the book to end!
There is so much great imagery and vivid world-building woven into the book, such as the different types of magic, the descriptions of clothing, and landscape; on Mindee Arnett’s Website, there is some beautiful artwork and images to represent the Land of Rime, maps that show political regions, all the magic descriptions, and way back to her original conceptual beginnings for the book; it’s all there if you want to see it in detail.
I highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a fantasy they can really dig into, not rush through; there’s action, complex subplots, strong friendships, magic AND monsters(!), depictions of females as positive, independent characters, and there’s also the questioning of judgement of others/hypocrisy with respect to the laws regarding use of magic. There may seem to be, at first glance, the usual tropes of ‘fighting for the throne’, and ‘childhood friend likes girl now she’s grown up’, but I didn’t feel like the book was covering old ground, particularly as I got further and further into it.
‘Onyx and Ivory’ really is an amazing book, and it’s already on my ‘best-of’ list for 2018. I definitely want to be there for the Relay Ride for Book 2!