In this YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic future, a teenage girl is charged by her family with killing the president’s son—who is also her new husband.
Two generations ago, nuclear war almost destroyed the world. A small town of less than 10,000 survivors was founded by narrator Ivy Westfall’s grandfather, but President Lattimer’s father won the struggle for control. He now rules autocratically rather than heading up the democracy Westfall favored. Criminals are exiled and left to die. To soothe old wounds, the town instituted a tradition: Sons of the winning side marry the daughters of the losers, and vice versa. Now Ivy, 16, must marry Bishop Lattimer—son of the president, who had Ivy’s mother killed. Nervous as any young girl might be about marrying a stranger, Ivy has an additional burden: She has promised her family that she will kill her new husband so as to aid the rebellion. Ivy, outspoken and reckless, soon realizes that Bishop is gentle, thoughtful and guilty of nothing, which presents her with a terrible dilemma: “If I kill Bishop, my family will be in power, but Bishop will be dead and what will I be? A murderer.” When Ivy is given an ultimatum to poison Bishop, she faces a terrible decision. In her debut novel, Engel employs the first-person, present-tense style that’s almost de rigueur in this genre. Together with the emotionally fraught situation—simply having to share a house with a man is unsettling for Ivy—the book has immediacy, and there’s justification for plenty of teenage angst. Ivy is forced to question her family’s motivations as Bishop keeps surprising her, and she surprises herself with her growing feelings for him. The worldbuilding is mostly well-thought-out, with some complicated issues: Westfall lacks resources to make jewelry but can make electronic security systems? The pace becomes slow, too, and it seems as if the real drama is still to come in a planned sequel, which may frustrate some readers.
An intriguing start with a brave heroine; too bad readers must await the sequel for some real action.