Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good tattoo. I especially love it when tattoos become part of a story. After all, tattoos should have significance for their owners, especially because they can take such a long time to finish and hurt more than you might think. So, Jonathan Maberry’s newest story about tattoos that disappear along with their owner’s memories, Ink, caught my eye not only for its intriguing premise but also because tattoos were the stars of the story.
Sadly, I finished Ink more confused than impressed. I might adore magic, but I do like it when authors provide guidelines and explanations for the magic in their world. Mr. Maberry provides none. We get no explanations for why Owen can take tattoos and memories or how he does so outside of simply touching a person. We do get some hypothesizing of energy vampires (think What We Do in the Shadows), but there is nothing definitive to help explain the phenomenon.
Plus, only a few of the characters who become Owen’s victims lose their memories in their entirety. For every person we meet who has no memory of his tattoo or the story behind it, there are two others who not only remember the tattoo but also recognize that they are missing a memory. It all seems so haphazard because there is no logic to it.
To make things worse, not only do some of the characters remember their missing tattoos, some of the characters fight to keep their tattoos and memories. Again, this occurs without any explanation or understanding of this magic’s limitations. While it seems silly to get upset about this lack of understanding of something that is pure fantasy, it does not hide the fact that the lack of knowledge is deeply unsettling for it means that the author can use his world’s magic whenever he wants. Having trouble with the story? Throw some magic in. Can’t finish a character’s arc? Add magic. Good fantasy has rules when it comes to magic. I can’t say that Ink is an example of good fantasy.
When I looked at Ink by Jonathan Maberry as a potential review copy, I noted the sentence that said it was a standalone novel. After reading it, I can say that this is not completely accurate. It is a standalone story in the fact that all the action occurs within the story’s timeframe, but there are so many references to the Trouble and the town’s past to truly say that Ink is a standalone novel. I felt like I was missing something the entire time I was reading it, Not having the knowledge of what the Trouble was or how it impacted the characters who lived through it did impact my reading and understanding of those characters as they addressed this new threat.
The one thing I will take away from Ink is an absolutely killer playlist. Mr. Maberry is kind enough to give us a list of the songs Patty Cakes has on her playlist, something mentioned throughout the novel. I recognized enough of the songs on sight to want to check out the rest. The list is fabulous and really allows you to get to know Patty through her music choices.
Outside of a new playlist, there is not much about Ink that impressed me. I do wonder if I would feel differently had I read the original Pine Deep trilogy, if only because it would mean the end to constantly wondering what the hell the Trouble was. I can’t even say that Ink is all that terrifying. Yes, memories play a very strong part in our personalities, and to lose those memories would be tragic. Sadly, people lose memories every day, and sometimes those memories are significant. While Mr. Maberry’s version certainly leaves an impression, it is not the one he hoped.