Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett

Although I am giving this a 4 out of 5 star rating, I have to admit that I do so more because Mindee Arnett’s writing is so strong rather than that I actually enjoyed the book as much as I had hoped. What I do like about her stories is that she is ‘show and tell’ – she doesn’t just give us a strong protagonist, she shows us WHY she is strong. That’s such a rarity in the shallow stories so prevalent in the YA shelves these days. But at the same time the characters felt overidealized and very unrealistic. As well, too many YA cliches were hit squarely on the head to really feel that we have something unique and original here. Add in some glaring logic holes and I came to the conclusion that while I can honestly recommend this series for others, I won’t be continuing the story.

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Story: Kate has had to deal with being ‘the traitor’s daughter” since her father was executed after attempting to kill the King. She’s scraped by using her skills with horses while trying to stay out of people’s attention. Corwin, meanwhile, is the second son of the king. He has been told often enough he is a failure/disappointment to the royal family and so spends time away from the court. Especially after the girl he fell in love with when he was younger, Kate, became the traitor’s daughter when her father tried to murder his. But as outside threats begin to squeeze the small kingdom of Rime, both Kate and Corwin will be thrown together – with Kate’s darkest secret lurking and there to destroy everything.

Right from the beginning, I became frustrated with the tiredest cliche of YA fantasy: unique speshul snowflake girl with super rare, super strong, ability or history – one that no one inexplicably tells her how to use/control despite it being in everyone’s best interest to do so. In Kate’s case, she has the (of course) super rare spirit magic/ability that could get her killed if she is found to use it. So instead of developing it in secret so she can control it/it can help her, why not keep it hidden so when she finds out its full scope, it causes all kinds of problems (usually deaths) for those around her? I’m heartily sick of this trope and it feels like lazy writing to not think through a better solution to cause dramatic tension in the story.

I also found Corwin to be so ‘good’ as to be overidealized, like nearly all YA love interests can be. Yes, he makes mistakes of the heart – but he’s the one who lets the pride down and approaches our prickly girl protagonist instead of her breaking the ice with him. Because yeah, that makes the girl seem like she has the power so that readers can say she’s a strong female protagonist. But for once, I’d like to see the girl use her wits to triumph through a situation rather than either a) the prince saving her or the situation, or b) the girl doing impulsive impetuous acts that are supposed to look brave but to any reader with half a brain are foolhardy, dangerous, and just dumb. Kate’s actiona – from doing stupid things when told she shouldn’t do them to just impulsively jumping into situations that should have killed her – aren’t strong; they are just stupid. And I’m tired of really doorbell stupid heroines who have ‘spirit’ but no brains.

That isn’t to say that author Arnett doesn’t give Kate moments of bravery and intelligence. We are given enough backstory to see that Kate has taken charge of her life and made best of her life as she could. And she is given a (very unrealistic) situation in which she can save the Prince’s life through acts of heroism. But it’s not enough to offset the blind stupidity of so many of her actions. I didn’t like Kate much and want to respect a main character for their intelligence and not because they are pretty or ‘spirited’. Especially since Prince Corwin was so bland as to be turnip for all that he contributed to the story.

The story has several twists but you will see all of them coming from a mile away. Sadly, this is the second YA Fantasy book this week I’ve read with the exact same plot twists. The only difference is that Arnett’s writing is so much more solid and her world building more interesting. Yet again, we have a world that doesn’t make sense – how so many people have magical abilities yet no one knows how they work or what they really do. I just don’t think you can wipe out complete knowledge of an ability when so many used it and can still use it. It’s just a storytelling tic to slowly trickle information to the reader at the expense of believability and logic.

For me, the thing that really put me off the story and the reason why I won’t be continuing this series are the glaring logic holes. From Kate worrying about being put to death for having a magic ability and then not running away immediate out of the City when her magic was discovered by the ‘enemy’ to the disbelief that she would forgive Corwin so easily after he let her father be executed over jealousy of her accidentally kissing his brother. It felt like a copout to have her cavorting with Corwin so easily, so easily betraying the rebellion’s secrets, and just not having a care about her well being or those around her despite the real threat of death/torture.

So in all, it’s a good series in that the writing is solid. Just the plot and the characters (yes, I know that sounds like I am contradicting myself) were problematic for me personally since I expect so much from Arnett after how much I enjoyed her Avalon series. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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