Ivory and Bone is the debut novel by Julie Eshbaugh. It’s the beginning of a new young adult trilogy set in an approximated paleolithic era . When I first heard about this, I grew immediately excited. It was initially pitched as the Wildlings from Game of Thrones meets Clan of the Cave Bears. Knowing this, I was anticipating mammoth hunts and saber-tooth tigers fights set in The Land of the Lost, with YA dynamics.
This expectation was exceeded when I started reading the book and realized that it was so much more – it’s also a cross-gendered retelling of Pride and Prejudice.
Yes, you read that right. Pride and Prejudice set in pre-historic times. In an instant, I was sold.
Kol lives in the Manu clan. His three young brothers Pek, Kesh, and Roon hunt and fish and help their parents survive on the settlement. They try not to think about the fact that the tribe has no women of their age, which means no wives when they wish to marry. Trying to hide their concern, Kol’s parents, Arem and Mala, do what’s best for the good of the tribe. When three strangers appear from the Olen clan, Kol is immediately drawn to Mya; a quiet, yet intense young woman. Her sister, Seeri, seems drawn to Pek, much to the annoyance of her brother Chev, the High Elder of their clan.
All is well until a violent mammoth slaughter and a single night under the stars forces Chev and his sisters to flee. At first Kol does not understand. Once the clans were sworn enemies but now they seemed to be mending their anger towards one another. Why is the Olen clan so threatened by the Manu?
There is a lot of underlying romantic tension within this book. Suitable, of course, since it is a Jane Austen retelling. That was the part of the book that I was not expecting – the heightened romance. There is also a great deal of action, descriptive details of life in this time and setting, and back-and-forth power struggles between the principal characters. As such, the story works pretty well.
As I went on, I found myself growing weary of the rigid adherence to the origin plot. I wanted a little more flexibility but found that Eshbaugh’s tale was unyielding. The skeleton with the story is exact Jane Austen, to the tee. The elements that are added are great for flavour but, overall, don’t detract from that plot line. This provoked a reaction that I was not expecting – apathy. I found myself feeling tired in the last third of it, bored by knowing exactly what was coming up. When Eshbaugh did deviate in order to tell her own story, it was jarring and hard to recover from. I wanted a little…more…and also a little less.
What I did like was the gender-swap within this story. It made things so different and unique. Mya as Darcy was challenging, to be sure. Her aloof attitude could easily translate into unlikable. Eshbaugh did wonders to flesh her out, to make her appear softer than she appears, fragile and vulnerable. We understand on many levels why Kol is so fascinated with her.
Kol is also a well-drawn character – fearless but flawed and protective of those he loves. He never skews towards arrogance though he is very clearly the “pride” in this story. He always seems level-headed and real, full of fire and heart. I really appreciated how he came across. I believe that if I didn’t like both of them so much I might have set this down. And I would have missed so much if I had.
Provocative and lushly defined, this tale has a lot to offer. I am interested to see where this series goes and what Eshbaugh does next in the world. Will it be another retelling? More Austen? Something different? Only time will tell. For now I am curiously optimistic about how the next book will pan out. I feel like I will be thinking about this one long after finishing this review.
4 out of 5 stars.
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