A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The author draws inspiration from ancient India for the country of Ashoka and describes the clothing and food. The ruler is the maharani and her siblings are Rajkumaara and Rajkumaari.
Like in the first book, the duty to protect family and others when you have the power to do so, and not being defined by the choices of parents. More important in this book is the value of forging paths that are our own. Unfortunately, positive messages are delivered alongside negative examples of how mistrust, secrets, and self-interests mar relationships with few examples of how to repair those relationships.
Positive Role Models
All four siblings have chapters in their points of view and all four siblings struggle with trust and forging positive relationships, with each other and with friends and romantic interests. It takes them far too long to decide to confide in each other. On the more positive side, they are courageous and persevere when their country needs them and they all make life decisions in the end that are affirming of the people they want to become.
The author said in an interview on Diversebooks.org that Ashoka is modeled after ancient India. Characters in Ashoka have brown skin and Indian names and the leader of Ashoka is always a woman. The neighboring country, Lyria, is modeled after Greek and Roman empires. One Rajkumaara, Kaleb, is biracial -- half Ashokan, half Lyrian -- and is persecuted for it. He's also gay and starts a romance with a man. Two women talk about their upcoming wedding and another woman talks about a past relationship with a woman.
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Violence & Scariness
Skirmishes with arrows, daggers, curved swords (talwars), and magic in the form of pulses that knock people out and sometimes kill. A barbed, poison arrow to the arm with details on its painful removal. A stab wound magically healed. Characters are knocked out, kidnapped, and threatened with death. A man's neck is snapped. Many soldiers and politicians found murdered, other soldiers experimented on with magic until they fall unconscious. Talk of the assassination of the main characters' mother.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of kisses.
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"S--t" and "ass," both rarely.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drinking of wine and ale at parties and other gatherings and in bars and taverns. The maharani and her siblings are all in their late teens and early 20s and it's mentioned that they accept glasses handed to them but drink little or not at all.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Crimson Palace is the finale of The Ivory Key fantasy duology by Akshaya Raman. It takes place in Ashoka, a country the author models after ancient India, but with magic, and Lyria, a country modeled after Greek and Roman empires that desperately wants magic. Expect a few mild kisses, a little drinking, and "s--t" and "ass" uttered very rarely. Violence includes skirmishes with arrows, daggers, curved swords, and magic in the form of pulses that knock people out and sometimes kill. A barbed, poison arrow to the arm includes details of its painful removal, a man's neck is snapped, and many soldiers and politicians are found murdered. The four siblings at the heart of this story may lack trust in each other most of the time, but show courage and perseverance as they try to save their country.
Is It Any Good?
While this finale feels too rushed, the magical world and royal sibling characters are still worth rooting for. The main issue in The Crimson Fortress is the alternating narration of the four siblings. It's hard to really land in any one character's perspective. When it's, say, Vira's chapter, she's on a dangerous misadventure, sparring with someone she doesn't trust, gets only a moment to process the mayhem, and then there are three chapters before readers are back with her. Everyone could have used more time.
It's hard to say what suffered more from the too-broad focus, the romances or the magical treasure-hunting adventures. Character-focused readers will want to know much more about Riya and Varun, and the tension between the Lyrian prince and Kaleb could be its own story. More fantasy-driven readers will wonder how Kaleb keeps having magical epiphanies, just in time, with little explanation. The maze and puzzles at the end seem more in the way of the final showdown than exciting. And the characters split up to tackle the dangerous maze -- another time, as with the chapters, when splitting up is not the best idea. It's a good thing to want more of author Akshaya Raman's characters and her magical kingdoms. Let's hope she delivers more in-depth stories from this world in the future.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.