I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Inked by Eric Smith
Published by Bloomsbury Spark on January 20th, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Tattoos once were an act of rebellion.
Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin.
And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can't escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.
But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.
Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.
Eric Smith takes you on a high-octane fantasy adventure, perfect for anyone who has dreamed of being different… only to discover that fate is more than skin deep.
It’s no big secret that I adore Eric Smith, who is not only awesome for all the work he does at Quirk Books, but also just an awesome social media personality (keep those puppy pics coming plzkthnx never change), and I personally greatly enjoyed his non-fiction book, The Geek’s Guide to Dating. So, when his YA fantasy debut was announced, it was pretty much a given that I would read it. Inked is fun and an imaginative visual experience, though it may sway to the younger end of YA.
Inked takes place in a world where as people come of age, they receive magical ink tattoos. These tattoos show them their profession or destiny: Dreya has flowers, telling her she’s meant to grow and sell flowers. Caenum is about to come of age but has his doubts about getting Inked. He doesn’t know what he wants to do, and now some magical ink is just going to determine it for him? Soon, it becomes apparent that there is magic and mystery in this world that has been kept hidden for ages.
I absolutely loved the visual aspect with these tattoos. The first section was a super engrossing experience in that sense, because those scenes were just so vivid in my mind. I could see colors and designs and imagine how lovely the whole setting would look. The mystery of where these tattoos came from kept me turning the pages, and I found myself sympathizing with Caenum’s fears of having his life predetermined by some magical thing that he doesn’t really understand. Right at the start, I also thought Caenum and Dreya were super cute. They’re clearly GREAT FRIENDS even though there are some romantic feelings bubbling under the surface. I very quickly found myself rooting for them. They’re super sweet, especially when they have this little POUNCE scene that seemed straight out of The Lion King, as Christina aptly pointed out.
But after a strong opening, my love for the book derailed a bit. The romance was cute but clearly writing romance was not Eric’s forte. He didn’t spend too much time on it though, so I could easily brush it off. The characters themselves seemed a bit underdeveloped. I particularly couldn’t get my head around Kenzi, who seems cunning and smarmy one second, and then frightened and nervous the next. It kind of makes sense because of his character arc, but it came off as very inconsistent. The writing was fluid and vivid though, so I kept reading, particularly keen to learn more about this world and its magic.
Ultimately, where I think Inked let me down is that it feels very rushed and underdeveloped. But this is often the case with standalone fantasy novels. There’s a reason why fantasies are usually extensive series of chunky monstrous books: world building, plot development, and character development take a lot of time – and all of those things are necessary for me to really care a lot about a fantasy. I think the first half of this book was really strong in that sense – I was sucked into Caenum’s discovery of his powers, his growing feelings for Dreya, and the conspiracy-like aspect of the government controlling people with these tattoos. But, around the midway point that was all just… done. They got to a relatively safe place, Caenum and Dreya were an established couple, and though the gears of mystery and conspiracy were still turning, Caenum kind of checked out of that. Explanations of where magic comes from and how their society works were just told to the reader, because I suppose there wasn’t enough room to offer more organic/shocking discovery scenes. Then there was a really brief battle that should have been really thrilling and exciting, but I was kind of confused at its sudden appearance and its declared importance. Twists about certain sketchy characters also didn’t surprise me and then… it was over.
This all doesn’t necessarily make this a bad novel, because I certainly still enjoyed it, but it makes me think it would probably do better on the younger side of YA readers. Those that are used to YA high fantasies will expect more development, more achingly beautiful romance, and a stronger plot. But for those transitioning to YA novels or taking a first foray into fantasy, this might well be a hit. Definitely all throughout reading it, I thought this would make an awesome Studio Ghibli movie or something because of the visual beauty of those tattoos and all the elemental magic.