Yep. That is a long headline. Nope. I don’t care. If you think you are shocked to read it? I am more shocked to have typed it. I really don’t know what else there is to say. My license plate, if you don’t know, literally says KAZ. I can’t give Ink in the Blood and author Kim Smejkal a higher compliment than that headline. Thing is? I am passionate about many books. And I mean every word of it. But THIS book. THIS BOOK? It is on THAT level with Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.
Oh. Wait. You need me to say more? Then THAT. Oh. Ok. I’m gonna have to break out a thesaurus because Ink in the Blood deserves English that I am not capable of right now. It has stolen my ability to vocabulary on the level of someone who has two master’s degrees should be able to vocabulary.
Let me clarify this piece. When I say that it is on the same level of emotional impact as SOC/CK that does not and should not equate to same content. They are two completely different books and sub-genres.
It is like all dogs are animals but not all animals are dogs. Both are fantasy, yes. It stops there. Ink in the Blood, to me, defines this term “Goth Fantasy” that has been flying around for a year or so now (as far as I’ve heard it discussed in mainstream conversations). Whereas SOC/CK kicked-off the “Heist/Squad Goals” sub-genre of fantasy. Two different breeds of cat. My comparison is in emotional impact only. I wouldn’t dare put one over the other. I can, honestly say, I haven’t been this broken since I read Crooked Kingdom. Without a doubt.
Next, I have to say thank you to HMH for the hard copy ARC because I didn’t know it when I started reading, but I have never needed the hard copy of an ARC so badly in my life. Why? The amount of tabbing I did throughout my reading is utter insanity. It got to a point that I had to do it from the side and top of the book.
By the time I got to chapter 22 (which is page 244- so you still have about 200 pages to go) I was basically tabbing whole chapters because… Smejkal, apparently didn’t want me to make it out alive.
Give Me Blood
I’ve talked quite a bit about books with a lot of “action” but not the typical definition of action. So, I’ve come to define it as psychological action. Make no mistake Ink in the Blood is a beautifully haunting, menacing novel. To say it is dark doesn’t do it justice. But there isn’t much in terms of actual gore. There is some but not a lot by any means. Quite literally, it is the magic system that defines the title. It is a magic system that takes dark, black, blood magic down a path I never saw coming. It interweaves throughout every theme, character and plot conflict Smejkal develops.
The masses receive tattooed messages that appear on their skin as divine interventions that serve in aiding their decisions. In reality, it is just the Profeta, a corrupted organization of zealots using inklings that are gifted with ink that runs through their blood. Through various forms of torture and mistreatment, inklings are kept in line to send messages passed to them via quills and blood-born infused ink to those chosen.
Anna (Anya) Burtoni and Celia Sand have always bent the rules, but as years go by tangible proof consecrates their beliefs that the Profeta have perverted what should be an ordained, religious guide into a submissive retraction of free will. And they are determined to break free.
There are found families and then there are FOUND FAMILIES. Anya and Celia have been each other’s salvation, let alone family for the entirety of their time with the Profeta. Smejkal rightfully spends time building the depths of their relationship. The ferocity of love they have for each other, their differences as individuals but also how they have intertwined and grown together sucks you in just so Smejkal can spit you back out through a meat grinder.
Without taking the time and emotional investment with both characters, you wouldn’t care enough to take a bullet for them, root for them and break with them.
When you are going on the run from a government agency that tortured you into religious manipulation for sixteen-years? There isn’t a better way than a cunning, subversive theater troupe called the Rabble Mob of Minos.
Rovers are impenetrable. Fiercely tight groups. You’re either in or out, there’s no in between.
Anya and Celia manipulate their gift as inklings to hone an act stunning enough to gain them entry into the Rabble Mob but also pits the Diavala (devil) vs the Divine (angel), in order to try and open the minds of Profeta followers. Enter multi-layered, breath-taking characters, exquisitely written artistic performances that play through your mind, and relationships that are realistic, elegant and deftly woven together.
While some characters play a larger part in the plot than others, each holds an important piece of the puzzle. If you let your mind stray? Or forget a character here or there? You will regret it at some point. Their personality quirks are masterfully sowed in between the lines. Demonstrations of the acting troupe’s talents serve as an intimate double entendre for their souls, lives, and heart.
Just as Smejkal builds the necessary foundations for you about Anya and Celia, the same is done for the relationships both within the Rabble Mob and as Anya and Celia become a part of this eccentric, intense, and cunning family. As we begin to entrust them with the care of the runaway inklings, we also grow protective and loyal to the troupe. Rooting for all of them as this atmospheric, yet macabre art pushes its insurgent tone, the rug is pulled out from Celia and… well…
Diavala And Divine
As the Profeta continue to try and track the girls, Celia’s worries loom, and Anya soothes her nerves. And as life would have it? Good things don’t always last.
When the Diavala finds Celia, she doesn’t just possess the body of one of her closest friends in the troupe. No. That would only be a punch in the gut and Smejkal isn’t that kind.
No. She threatens Celia very clearly. You do what I say… you use your gift, little inkling… you use this grand stage you now have… and you convince everyone you are the devil and spread the Profeta throughout the country, strengthen the faith. Either you do as I say, or I will burn it all down.
Everything you care about. Everything you love. EveryONE you love. Anya, the troupe, people you left behind. ALL OF THEM. Dead. Gone.
“Yes. Diavala. You can call me that. Or call me what everyone else does: your Divine. There is only me. I am- and always have been- either, neither, or both, depending on how you tilt your head.”
It was at this point that the bile roiled in my stomach and to my throat. I know I threw the book down because Pavel scrambled for his life and Liam got that resting bitch face on like. Oh, crap she’s making reading a contact sport. Me? I was not okay. Nope. Not. Even. Close.
When I realized what page I was on? It was then that I knew I was in for something I never bargained for and there was no turning back.
Depending On How You Tilt Your Head
Give me all my morally grey characters, gods and the darker the better. Ink in the Blood comes up with all that in spades. Mix in titanic sized themes that are going to stick to you like barnacles and hit like the iceberg that sunk that fateful ship? I….
Starting exactly at chapter fourteen? Every few pages I thought I was cool and then Smejkal just…
…and so I tossed the book down and stumbled away disoriented, destroyed and shook and then just came right back again. I was just a mess. Like I’m gonna need therapy because it has been two days. And I don’t even think this review is any good and these themes? Damn it to hell. They are haunting me. You just want to go back on them and reflect because what even are themes?
Once each is introduced, you can barely pull them a part. I know this because I tried… am trying. I want to put them in this section, so I am trying to list them out. However, they are surgically woven into this story with a scalpel rather than being beaten like the dead horse.
- Free will vs. destiny
- Illusion vs. reality (both on and off the stage)
- Whether truth sets us free or lies actually protect us
- Choices vs. Loyalty
- Does humanity and empathy make us strong or weak?
- Is the risk of pain humanity and empathy can cause outweigh embodying and nurturing its growth?
Each of these five themes are played out through the characters, the plot and the art seamlessly. There isn’t any point where one stops and one begins. There isn’t one character, story line or conflict where one is left off in order for another to come through. As each are introduced, they come together in a loop that circles together, deepening and enriching each. As such, the story becomes deeper, the path becomes darker and you become wrecked.
My Shortcomings And Lack Of Justice
I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not doing Ink in the Blood or Smejkal any justice. Part of that is because of all the spoilers that I can’t give away. I died more times reading this book than Nikki Sixx has in real life. When I said to the Book Bratz (check out their review, which is linked) that I just finished Ink in the Blood, and if My Chemical Romance was a book? This would be it. I meant it. The fact that their response was… that is the best explanation of this book.. made me beam. The fact that the evil genius behind Ink in the Blood, Kim Smejkal, herself beamed over the description was nothing short of maniacal. Because. I thought it was just me, of course.
For the last 100 pages of this book there were tears of sadness, aching sadness and shocking hope. There was desperation, anger, fear, beautiful heartbreak, and recoil from such a level of atrocity, but also tremendous pride.
Having to wait till next February for Curse of the Divine, less there be ARCs? OH PLEASE LET THERE BE ARCs! Is just cruel and unusual punishment.
With that, I’m going to leave this here because when My chemical Romance ended the Black Parade, they stepped on that stage one more time, in character and made it all worth it. They burned it all down…
I see you lying next to me with words I thought I’d never speak.
Awake and unafraid. Asleep or dead.
Is it hard understanding I’m incomplete?
A love that is so demanding I get weak.
I’m not afraid to keep living. I’m not afraid to walk this world alone.
If you stay, I’ll be forgiven.
I just hope I did some sort of service to Ink in the Blood. It is the least that it deserves.