Never judge a book by its cover, right? But we do. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but we still do it. In this book, they also judge a person based on their cover – tattoos on the skin, to be more exact. An appropriate book for the category, now that I think of it! It’s hard to see the details of the cover in this photo, but it’s flooded with coppery foiled images all over, much like a variety of tattoos. It’s really gorgeous and, honestly, what drew my attention to a book in a genre filled with imaginative covers.
Ink is a young adult dystopian fantasy, a genre I’m already over in so many ways. The protagonist, Leora, has just suffered the loss of her father. She and her mother are grieving but still have to forge their way through everyday life. Leora is about to graduate and has missed quite a bit of school while caring for her dying father. Her best friend, Verity, helps her with her studies and the two graduate with high marks, allowing them to obtain the jobs they’ve dreamed of for so long – Verity in the government, and Leora as an inker (aka tattoo artist in our world).
So, what’s so fancy and important about being a tattoo artist? In the world of Ink, people are marked with tattoos to recognize the events of their lives. Some tattoos are mandatory, like a name at two days old, a family tree on one’s back, lines and other symbols for accolades, accomplishments, or crimes. Other tattoos are self-chosen by individuals to reflect personal events or interests, and the inkers have to be talented and intuitive to bring all of these images together so that one’s life story can be read on the skin. It’s a really unique idea and I like that part a lot.
This is where it gets weird for me and I couldn’t shake the creepy factor for the rest of the book. When a person dies, like Leora’s father, the body is taken to a Flayer. This Flayer removes the tattoos carefully from the body and the skin remnants are stretched and bound like a page, and compiled in a book. So, the family has a book of the life of the deceased person and can remember them through the tattoos on the skin. The book as a whole is judged by the government and, if the person lived a good enough life, the book is placed in a library to be remembered. If the judgement doesn’t come out well, the book is burned and the person is forgotten. Turns out, Leora’s father is not who she thought he was and his book is brought up short in the judging process and burned. Leora finds that many people in her life are not who they seemed and she spends the remainder of the book trying to sort things out.
Because of who Leora’s father turned out to be, certain factions have been waiting for her to grow up and be used as a political pawn. The neighboring “enemy” are the Blanks, a group of people so full of shame and deviousness that they refuse to have anything tattooed on their skin and are surely working at this very moment to take over Leora’s world. So claims the government, anyway. There are the usual tropes of a young girl being plucked from obscurity and used in the name of rebellion and a 1984-style government that has fooled the people into believing everything they say. It’s done to death at this point. While I liked the idea of the ink telling the story of a life, the peeling off of the skin to be preserved in a book is just something I couldn’t get over. The end of the book was also very rushed and jumbled to me, with Leora vacillating very quickly from hating everyone who had deceived her and turning pro-government, to rebuking all of that and landing on the side of the rebellion. I just didn’t buy it and really never got on board for caring for Leora as a character. This is the first in a new series and one that I probably won’t be revisiting.
As always, read it for yourself and make your own conclusions. There are other reviews here, so you can see what others like and dislike about it. I found his link to an interview with Alice Broadway in The Guardian where she discusses her split with her faith that inspired Leora’s story, and another interview here where she discusses her writing process. I’m also including a link to some of the best in he YA dystopian genre. A few of them have been on my radar for awhile, and I’ll probably go ahead and read them despite being burned out on the category. You never know when the next great read will present itself!