fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Sarah Beth Durst Enchanted IvyEnchanted Ivy by Sara Beth Durst

One problem I often have with contemporary fantasy is its tendency to ignore the magic of the world around us in its longing for something Other. Enchanted Ivy avoids this problem by striking a nice balance. There’s certainly a great deal of otherworldly magic, as evidenced by the dragons and faeries and talking gargoyles and cute were-tiger boys. Yet I got a real sense that all this magic was inspired by the feelings the campus of Princeton genuinely evoked in Durst. I can actually picture the author looking at the great old buildings and the gargoyles and imagining they could come to life at any second. Otherworldly magic inspired by a place that is, to the author, already magical. So to speak.

Although Enchanted Ivy’s cast of characters don’t entirely jump off the page, they’re still strongly written and easy to like (or, in a couple cases, hate). As a main character Lily isn’t quite as interesting as I might like — she’s a bit too much of an everyday girl for that — but she’s likable, she doesn’t sit around whining and moping all the time, and she believes in the importance of college, unlike so many YA heroines these days. And she’s pretty tough, too. At one point Jake and Tye (the love interest and the red-herring triangle corner, won’t tell you which one is which) get into a pissing contest. Lily tries to get them to knock it off; when they won’t, she puts them in their place right fast, because she has a quest to attend to, thank you very much. I am so behind that.

Jake is the nice guy and Tye is the bad boy, but Durst never overdoes it. Jake isn’t perfect and Tye never stalks anyone or sneaks into their bedroom at night. And both of them treat Lily with respect, for the most part. There is one small incident, but I’d rather not spoil what happens. A lot of other characters aren’t on scene enough to make a very strong impression, but they do still come to life nicely when the story calls on them.

The plot is a bit predictable and most of the twists I saw coming. But even so, as adventure/quest stories go, Enchanted Ivy is a lot of fun. In particular, a college campus is a rather unusual setting for this sort of book, which really makes it stand out from the crowd (as does, you know, the whole lack of whiny, boy-obsessed heroine thing. Just saying.).

If I had any problems with Enchanted Ivy, the pacing would probably be one of them. It takes place over a span of only two days. Normally this annoys me in books because it is, all too often, two days of nothing happening. In this case, a bit too much happens. There’s so much packed in that I really can’t believe only two days go by. This is not exactly a terrible thing, mind you, as there’s always something happening and the book never drags. But it did occasionally mess with my suspension of disbelief.

The other thing would be Tye talking about how he and Lily are soul mates. The issue isn’t addressed or brought up very much, and overall I could mostly ignore the idea. It’s never really confirmed one way or another, as well. But even so, the phrase “soul mate” is like nails down a chalkboard for me. And in a book where these two characters (Tye and Lily) managed to have good chemistry together and a believable relationship even though only two days pass, it seemed kind of jarring. It was unnecessary and didn’t really fit in with the style of the rest of the book. It bugged me, but at least it wasn’t mentioned very much.

Enchanted Ivy promises magic, adventure, mystery, romance, and humor, and delivers on all accounts. I could easily see Sarah Beth Durst becoming a favorite author, and I look forward to more of her work in the future.

Enchanted Ivy — (2010) Publisher: What Lily Carter wants most in the world is to attend Princeton University just like her grandfather. When she finally visits the campus, Grandpa surprises her: She has been selected to take the top-secret Legacy Test. Passing means automatic acceptance to Princeton. Sweet! Lily’s test is to find the Ivy Key. But what is she looking for? Where does she start? As she searches, Lily is joined by Tye, a cute college boy with orange and black hair who says he’s her guard. That’s weird. But things get seriously strange when a gargoyle talks to her. He tells her that there are two Princetons — the ordinary one and a magical one — and the Key opens the gate between them. But there are moresecrets that surround Lily. Worse secrets. When Lily enters the magical Princeton, she uncovers old betrayals and new dangers, and a chance at her dream becomes a fight for her life. Soon Lily is caught in a power struggle between two worlds, with her family at its center. In a place where Knights slay monsters, boys are were-tigers, and dragons might be out for blood, Lily will need all of her ingenuity and courage — and a little magic — to unite the worlds and unlock the secrets of her past and her future.


  • Beth Johnson Sonderby (guest)

    BETH JOHNSON, one of our guest reviewers, discovered fantasy books at age nine, when a love of horses spurred her to pick up Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns. Beth lives in Sweden with her husband. She writes short stories and has been working on a novel.

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