Ivory by Steve Merrifield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Contains spoilers] I had read reviews about the slow pace, that it only picked up towards the end. This is true, but is not necessarily a flaw, more a matter of taste. I was happy to follow events in a slow-burn way, but it won't suit the impatient.

The novel is a strange mix. On the one hand there is some good writing, convincing detail ("shoved it whole into his mouth and gnashed bitterly at it, swallowing with self-loathing"), good use of painting as analogy/theme, professional plotting, and original ideas (the twist at the end caught me by surprise, having fallen for the red herrings as to the truth about Ivory).

The surprising downside for me was something easier to avoid, and therefore all the more frustrating - typos. They are nowhere near as frequent as I have found in other free books, but each one distracts, and the common errors are such an easy thing to avoid with extra proofreading. I’ll list some here but send the full list to the author in case they want to update the novel, so if you read Ivory in future this criticism may not apply any more. Some examples that stood out:

the hiss of the tires thrashing the puddles [UK writer and UK book, so tyres]
Within a few minutes they were into ardent throws / men and women in throws of violence [throes]
he lead the way with a determined step [led]
gradual decent of a jaw [descent]
the compliment of light and detail had to be right / this form of art to compliment my own [complement]
her mop of springy raven and died blonde curls / bangs of starkly died black hair [dyed]
Since she had bumbed into Gloria Denza [bumped]
He couldn’t bare the thought of her knowing [bear]
he knew the voice emenated from her [emanated]
sound in the air was faint and illusive in its direction [elusive]
draped the front’s of the houses / vehicles that the Eastern European’s had used [unnecessary apostrophe - plurals]

There are missed opportunities in places. For example the bit where the protagonist has sex with Ivory is skipped over at first. Although there is no need for anything gratuitous, when we are dealing with a being as alien as Ivory - and after having created desire in the protagonist for so long - it seems to short-change the reader if this is skipped over. (For me this point was proved by a later flashback to the good detail of her facial expression during sex when she doesn’t think she is being watched - the writer missed a trick by not making more of this kind of thing). Another example could be the possessed miniatures at the end. They provided menace that wasn't fully realised as it could have been. If I was to restructure the novel I would probably bring their part of the story forward and let them add to a rising sense of horror and danger over a period of days - and only then provide the Ivory-delivered coup-de-grace. This would help with the novel's pace, and some work on the first half could enhance that too. There is also some weirdness, such as Ivory leaving a locked house and returning, which the protagonist considers impossible - yet he glosses over this and it passes in a way that seems more convenient for the writer than realistic.

Although not related to the content of the novel, the cover would work better with less blood, and there is no need for the skull in the eye. Subtlety wins in some cases. Though I do like the way Steve uses a single tone for his book covers, it makes them distinctive and attractive.

So, overall, a novel that generally manages to avoid unintentional cliché and create a convincing world, with some excellent elements that show the writer's skill, yet missing greatness due to some basic errors and missed opportunities where the work could be improved. The novel is free, so one can hardly whinge that things aren't perfect, but the promise it shows, and the unique enigma at its heart, should be allowed to have full expression with no distractions. I'm certainly going to have a look at some of Steve's other work.

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