Author: Victor Gischler
Title: Ink Mage
Series: A Fire Beneath the Skin 1
Genre: High Fantasy
Rating: Two Petals
On the Author's Website:
In the first installment of the A Fire Beneath the Skin trilogy, the city of Klaar has never fallen. No enemy has ever made it across the Long Bridge or penetrated the city’s mighty walls. Even when a powerful invading army shows up at the gates, the duke and his daughter, Rina Veraiin, are certain that it poses little threat.
But they are cruelly betrayed from within and, in a horrific spasm of violence, the city is brought to its knees.
With the help of her bodyguard, Kork, the battle-trained young Rina narrowly escapes the slaughter and makes her way to the lair of an ancient sorcerer—the Ink Mage—who gifts her with a strange, beautiful set of magical tattoos.
Now a duchess in exile, Rina sets out on a quest to reclaim what is rightfully hers, aided by a motley assortment of followers who will help her in her cause—some for noble reasons and others for their own dark purposes.
With the enemy’s agents nipping at her heels, Rina must learn to harness her new and startling magical powers if she is to assert her rightful place as ruler of Klaar.
I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Saying this book started slow is a bit of a misnomer, yet it is the exact impression I got while reading it. The initial scenes are action packed: there's an invading army to run from, sword training, preparations for war, and finally the battle alluded to in the summary. I took me a while to figure out why scenes that should have hooked me were unable to: everything lacked emotional weight.
When Tosh, a soldier, is running from the oncoming army and sees two of his fellow soldiers cut down, his only concern is that he forgot his cloak and was cold. He's fleeing for his life, not just bringing an urgent message of invasion, but I got none of the fear, horror, or even plain concern, from that scene. That is only one example from this story of places where emotions were cut away from the characters, leaving them feeling like hollow shells instead of real people.
The characters by themselves were interesting, but when they all came together I quickly realized that they were all the same type of person with different outer appearances. The soldier, the princess, the bodyguard, and even the stableman were all cut from the same cloth. I found them all to be exceedingly selfish, egotistical, and often vapid. I can understand Rina acting like a spoiled brat for much of the story--her life of privilege at least gave her character those stereotypes to fall back on--but Tosh whining about not being given a feather bed after his hard ride to deliver the urgent message or the stableman complaining that he had been put to work gathering laundry because he had been caught during an idle moment didn't fit with the characters they were supposed to be. The constant barrage of selfishness from every single character was grating and made the story almost painful to read.
I did think the world building was very interesting. The invading army versus the lands being invaded were well crafted with a good amount of detail to bring both sides of the war to life. I also really enjoyed the magic, but I wish there had been more of it in the beginning instead of first learning that magic exists in the world when Rina has to run for help. There was no buildup or foreshadowing. However, there was so much foreshadowing about the bridge that I felt like I was getting beat over the head with it. The balance was way off in this book.
I didn't particularly enjoy reading this book. I thought that every single character's personality was a carbon copy, the character's themselves lacked emotional weight, and the foreshadowing to portend what was coming was off balance. I therefore can't recommend this book.
Maggie reviews paranormal and fantasy novels and novellas. She also interviews authors and hosts giveaways.