The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel(Cover picture courtesy of NetGalley.)

After a brutal nuclear war, the United States was left decimated. A small group of survivors eventually banded together, but only after more conflict over which family would govern the new nation. The Westfalls lost. Fifty years later, peace and control are maintained by marrying the daughters of the losing side to the sons of the winning group in a yearly ritual.

This year, it is my turn.

My name is Ivy Westfall, and my mission is simple: to kill the president’s son—my soon-to-be husband—and restore the Westfall family to power.

But Bishop Lattimer is either a very skilled actor or he’s not the cruel, heartless boy my family warned me to expect. He might even be the one person in this world who truly understands me. But there is no escape from my fate. I am the only one who can restore the Westfall legacy.

Because Bishop must die. And I must be the one to kill him…

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

At first, I thought The Book of Ivy would be a guilty pleasure read.  I’m a sucker for the failed-assassin trope, I’ll admit.  What I didn’t really expect was that it would have as much depth as it did.

In her debut novel, Amy Engel has created some truly amazing characters.  Ivy is one of the more memorable characters I’ve read in a long, long time.  She’s brave and not afraid to stand up for herself, but at the same time she can be weak and vulnerable when it comes to her family.  Not only that, she also knows how to act: she can hide her feelings from those around her reasonably well.  But when Bishop starts to worm his way into her paranoid heart, she starts to question all that her family has told her about the current regime.  It’s not perfect, but maybe the Westfalls don’t have Ivy’s best interests at heart.

Bishop was more than your typical love interest as well.  He’s kind and patient, waiting for Ivy to come around rather than trying to force his affection on her once he falls in love with her.  He knows that she doesn’t trust him and instead of saying “I am trustworthy”, he demonstrates it.  Some of his actions are rather shocking to our sensibilities, but in the fairly brutal future they make sense.  To his credit, he did the right thing but he is also disgusted about what he did in that case.  That makes him a memorable character as well instead of just Generic Male Love Interest.

The world-building is excellent.  There’s not much I haven’t seen in post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction but The Book of Ivy manages to combine old tropes with Amy Engel’s new take on them.  She paints a realistic picture of a horrible world where the survival of the fittest is very, very true.  Even within their community, there is always danger lurking around the corner and dissent is punished severely.  I would like to know a little more about the founding of the community, but Amy Engel manages to explain all of the essential things in the course of the book.  So I’m looking forward to learning more, but I’m not desperately seeking information in order to actually understand the book.

The only place that I felt The Book of Ivy was shaky was the plot.  Not the pacing, which was excellent for a largely character-driven novel, but the plot itself.  It was fairly fast-paced and the way Ivy changes is very believable, but I was a little annoyed at the end.  Ivy did some counter-intuitive things in order to advance the plot at the end and set up the next book The Revolution of Ivy.  I get that she needed to finally meet the rebels on the other side of the fence, but it could have been done in a more believable fashion.  Still, it’s a first book and it didn’t make me mad or even anything more than slightly annoyed.

All considered, The Book of Ivy is an amazing debut that’s better than the books of more established authors.  It’s one of the better post-apocalyptic books that I’ve ever read in the YA genre and considering how many I’ve read, that’s saying something.  I can highly recommend picking it up when it releases on November 11.  I can almost guarantee that once you finish it, you’ll be like me and become extremely anxious for November 2015 when the next book releases.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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