Ink In The Blood by Kim Smejkal
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 11th, 2020
Date Read: March 12th, 2020
Rating: 3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.
Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.
Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.
To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.
My thoughts on this are kind of all over this place, a bit like this book. It was chaotic, but interesting. Kind of weird, but also a pretty cool idea overall. As you can see this was a solid 3-star read for me. I usually rate 3-stars to books I feel are ok, but I didn’t exactly like or dislike it. That is the case with this book. It had a lot of things I didn’t like, but it was interesting enough that I didn’t hate it.
The contrasts in the book are notable and interesting. It had this light steam punky vibe while also being very dark. I thought it was really cool. The main character, Celia, wears a top hate and suspenders and rocks them. Loved that. But when I say it is dark I mean it. (As someone who really likes morally gray characters this was even a lot for me!) There’s child abuse, murder of innocents, and extreme forms of punishment. A lot of this occurs at the temple, but when they are traveling with the theatre troupe it’s so much lighter. There are so many cool costumes and characters and again really gives off a fun steam punk theme.
The contrasts between different parts of the book are really neat, but what I also found cool were the themes. A big theme in this book is choice. In this world parents don’t name their children. Instead children choose their own names when they get older. This leads into people choosing their pronouns. There is a lot of choice in your personal identity. But then the inklings (children who are marked to gain ink magic) have zero choice in the matter of becoming ink wielders. They are forced to carry out the orders of the temple and give people permanent tattoos that are again taking away choices. People do not choose to get tattoos, nor do they choose which tattoos they will receive. The only choice common people have is how to interrupt the tattoo they are given. They allow the tattoo to change the way they live their lives because they believe it to be the will of the all powerful Divine. I really love how the author uses both the idea of choices and the contrasting to shape this book.
I think the plot was where a lot of my issues with this book come from. It seemed jumbled at times. Like the author wasn’t 100% sure which direction they were going to take things. There was also not a whole lot of wow factor for me. The plot twists weren’t really surprises. I saw everything coming quite early on and I felt like the characters could have easily made different decisions. If a character is going to be forced to make those “tough decisions” I feel like there shouldn’t be other viable options laid out to the reader. It let me sitting there thinking but why didn’t they just…?
The characters were interesting, but I never felt all that invested in them. I did like the sense of family and friendship that they all built throughout this book. But again I think these characters made a lot of bad decisions and I never felt any connection to any of them.
I also thought a lot of this book was just too, for lack of a better word, weird. Even for me. It’s very hard to explain, but there were times when I was reading and I did not know what was happening. Like stuff was getting weird and I had to reread paragraphs multiple times in an attempt to make sense of it all. Maybe it was lack of explanation or improper world building? I’m honestly not sure. I just know a lot of strange things went on in this book.
I hope this review made sense, even if the book didn’t really. I thought the themes and symbols were cool, while basically everything else was either odd or boring. I really don’t see myself reading the sequel due to the fact that I don’t care enough about the characters to see where they go next, even if the magic is cool.
Thanks for checking out this review! Hope you’re doing well and staying healthy!
Happy Reading 🖤