MINI REVIEW: Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

“There is strong danger in a person who can create such powerful deceit they can no longer distinguish their own lies from the truth.” – Julie Eshbaugh, Ivory and Bone

What intrigued me about this book, above all else, was its role as a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in the Neolithic era (the later part of the Stone Age, or around 10,200-4,500 BC) with genders reversed. My Grade 12 English teacher absolutely loved Pride and Prejudice – needless to say, we spent many classes reading and analyzing the book and watching various adaptations of the novel. Throughout that process, I too developed a, well not love, but healthy respect, let’s say, for the timelessness and power of the novel. I was excited to read this book, to see how Eshbaugh interpreted the tale.

Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives. As Kol gets to know Lo, tensions between Mya and Lo escalate until violence erupts. Faced with shattering losses, Kol is forced to question every person he’s trusted. One thing is for sure: this was a war that Mya or Lo—Kol doesn’t know which—had been planning all along.

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As this is a Mini Review (on account of summer camp eating up all my spare time and energy), I’ll be keeping it short.

Things I liked about Ivory and Bone:

  • The narration style was vary intriguing and definitely unique. Having Kol narrating the story to Mya in past-tense gave the book a unique feel – almost like the reader was actually being told the story directly, instead of simply witnessing it being told from the sidelines.
  • loved Mya’s character – tough, uncompromising and independent, she was a wonderfully real and powerful character who really drew me into the story. Honestly, towards the end, I was only coming back for Mya.

Things I Didn’t Like about Ivory and Bone:

  • As much as the narration style was unique and interesting, I felt that, at times, it detracted from the actual plot itself. Perhaps its simply because I, as a reader, am not used to reading a book written in that manner, but I really had a hard time wrapping my head around the story at certain points.
  • Kol’s sudden infatuation with Mya – because he apparently hasn’t seen a girl in years – was also just a bit too much for me. His instant crush never excited or interested me, even with the resistance on her part.
  • Ivory and Bone was downright boring most of the time. I feel that Eshbaugh simply spent too much time focusing on petty conversations that led nowhere, on nattering mothers, and on trivial relationship woes. Personally, I feel that the book would have greatly benefitted had the conflict escalated earlier, or been more fleshed out. As it was, I felt like I spent a whole lot of time reading about nothing, only to have the actual conflict thrown in my face with little build up, and then have it fizzle out as quickly as it came.

In regards to the “allusions” to Pride and Prejudice, many of them were very hand fisted – particularly the reversal of gender roles (i.e. the  Bennett sisters were portrayed as Kol and his 3 younger brothers in this book). While I certainly got the Pride and Prejudice vibe from the book, it just felt more like a ploy to draw attention to the story rather than a proper use of a good piece of literature. Anyone looking for a true Austen retelling won’t find it here, except in the very basic sense that there’s a romance and a silly misunderstanding. “Retelling” is clearly just a marketing buzzword when it comes to Ivory and Bone – simply a way to garner more attention and draw in readers.

In conclusion, this book simply failed to inspire – either love or hate – in me as a reader. It was mostly boring, dull and tedious. While the narration was unique and intriguing, it quickly became confusing and irritating. At best, it’s a dry, awkward narrative and makes the storytelling difficult to understand in parts. Furthermore, the “romance”, and it’s inevitable problems and dramas, all felt very forced. Truly, nothing about this book seemed to flow. Overall, I really wouldn’t recommend this read, but if you must, be sure to keep your expectations low.

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