Inked: An OK beginning went downhill fast

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsInked by Eric Smith YA fantasy book reviewsInked by Eric Smith

Inked, by Eric Smith, was a solid if uninspiring YA book for much of the first half, albeit with some grating issues, but a downturn in the latter part of the book greatly lowered its entertainment value, leading to a “not recommended” judgment. As usual in these cases, this will be a relatively short review, as I prefer not to pile on an author whom I’m sure put a lot of hard work and love into their work.

The story centers on 18-year-old Caenum and his best friend Dreya, who is slightly older. Their ages are important because in this world, people are “inked” at age eighteen — given magical tattoos that determine their role in society for the rest of their lives, whether it be farmer (one such has an apple tree tattoo on their back), a florist (ivies vining up one’s arm), goldsmith, or assassin. When Caenum’s turn arises though, the arrival of an apprentice scribe named Kenzi throws everything off, and soon long concealed secrets concerning Caenum, his long-gone father, and Dreya are unburied, forcing the three youngsters to flee agents of the corrupt government (the Citadel) and set forth on a quest for the hidden town of Sanctuary. There, they’ll learn the full truth about the government, magic, Ink, the Unprinted (those adults without Ink), and what happened to Caenum’s father.

Sequel

The various pieces, granted, are not all that original:  a government that forces citizens into particular roles, a rebellious teen, magical ink, an unknown parentage, young love, and so on. But in their combination, they worked well enough to hold my attention even if I noticed the lack of freshness. There were some writing issues — awkward shifts, unclear physical positions, some jarring language (referring to “oxygen” at one point, for instance) — and characters were fairly stock and thin, as was the world building. “Solid” as I stated, and I was willing to allow it might get better, might have some potential.

But things began to go off the rails for me once they reached Sanctuary, beginning with when Caenum asks, “How does this stay hidden?” and the reply is, “It isn’t really off the map. People are aware of us. It’s just no one wants to come here.”  Now, as mentioned, the world-building is very thin, nearly non-existent, but it seemed as if the travel time (also a bit cloudy and perhaps even contradictory) was not all that great, which made it more than a little implausible that nobody in their town had ever spoken about a huge fortress not that far away filled with dangerous people who could wield powerful magic and that everyone thought best to avoid. It also made the whole cryptic poem guidance they get from Caenum’s grandmother seem more than a little silly.

From that point on things continued downhill. The plot was overly rushed, characters didn’t really develop or acted far too abruptly, plot points seemed to be more and more random and more and more implausible, as when a large group of well-trained, much older, much more knowledgeable adults in a moment of crisis ask Caenum — an untrained, relatively oblivious teen — for “orders” and then install him as leader. I thought that was the worst moment until the ending scene, which I won’t spoil save to say try as I did, I just couldn’t get it to make any kind of sense.

There were other issues, but suffice to say that despite a not so bad beginning, Inked spiraled downhill relatively soon and never recovered. Not recommended.

Publication Date: January 20, 2015 | Age Level: 12 and up. Sometimes your only chance to survive, and what you most fear, is to be INKED. 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 fast-paced fantasy adventure, perfect for anyone who has dreamed of being different — only to discover that destiny is more than skin deep.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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3 comments

  1. The idea of a place that is “on the map” and even visible, but never spoken of except in whispers and riddles, can be interesting if it’s done well. (Kind of Gene Wolfe style, you know?) It doesn’t sound like that quite what the writer was going for, though.

  2. RILEY: I’ve lived in this town for four years and you know what I’ve never seen before?

    GILES: The castle?

    RILEY: The big ol’ honkin’ castle.

    (From Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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