This was a very interesting tale of four squabbling royal siblings who must come together to save their country, marred by some weird instances of under-writing. It’s certainly a page turner in the back half, and who doesn’t love a non-generic fantasy setting? Inspired by Indian mythology, with a distinct matrilineal bent, this is an inclusive fantasy that also features queer characters and, even more unusually in the YA genre, strict but not in-your-face vegetarianism.
Vira is the young maharani of Ashoka, thrust onto the throne after her mother’s death in battle less than two years earlier. As the eldest daughter, she always knew that the weight of responsibility lay on her head. Even so, she’s unprepared for how her council of twelve advisors, representatives of her various states and ministries, strive to bully her into following their edicts. The first of these, unfortunately, was for the immediate arrest and imprisonment of her older brother Kaleb, for conspiracy to assassinate the former maharani.
Kaleb willingly accepts imprisonment despite protesting his innocence. While his father was the former maharani’s consort, his mother was a noblewoman of Lyria (think Ancient Greece,) who died when he was a toddler. With Lyria aggressing on Ashoka’s borders, it’s easy to paint him as the scapegoat, despite the fact that his entire worldly ambitions have been to become as accomplished a scholar and mayaka (essentially a magic smith) as his late father.
Ronak, Vira’s twin brother, is deeply unhappy with her treatment of Kaleb. A devoted historian, he ventures way out of his comfort zone in an effort to free his brother, getting in touch with a criminal element in order to secure enough funds to both break Kaleb out of prison and start a new life for them somewhere far away from his sister’s realm. But will the price he’s expected to pay in return break not only him but Ashoka itself?
Riya, the youngest sibling, fled long ago from the castle after a final argument with her mother over wealth distribution and justice. Now she lives in the forest with the gang of thieves and rabble rousers known as the Ravens, until a chance encounter in the woods has her returning to her sister’s court, in search of a way to help her found family bring more relief to a suffering citizenry burdened by ever-rising taxes.
The way these four very different but incontrovertibly connected souls comes together once more is elegantly plotted, if entirely unsurprising. After a series of double crosses has them all grumpily on the same page to track down the titular Ivory Key, there’s an intriguing adventure plot that had me up till the wee hours, telling myself, “Just one more chapter!” I’m definitely very interested in reading the conclusion to this duology, even as I’m rather lukewarm about the characters, who are all various (understandable, if irritating) shades of angsty and dumb. Kaleb is probably the least annoying of them all, followed by Vira. Ronak is the absolute worst. But they all have their hearts in the right places, and seeing them all band together as a family unit once more is positively heartwarming.
This definitely reads like a debut novel, but Akshaya Raman shows loads of promise. Hopefully, she’ll just keep getting better and better as her writing career progresses.
The Ivory Key (The Ivory Key Duology #1) by Akshaya Raman was published January 4 2022 by Clarion Books and is available from all good booksellers, including