Author: Dawn Metcalf
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: July 30th, 2013
Read: June 2013
Genre: YA-fae-urban fantasy
Where It Came From: ARC from the BEA*
Rating: 3 Out of 5 Signaturae
The Quick and Dirty:
16-year-old Joy has been dealing with the fallout of her parents’ divorce and her brother going to college, and thinks things are finally starting to normalize a bit—but how wrong she is! While out dancing one night, she spies a cute boy across the room—and then he comes over and slices her eye with a knife. She soon finds herself entangled in the world of the fae, accidentally bound to Ink, the boy who cut her eye. As the two get to know each other, they find themselves at the center of a fae political maelstrom with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. The fresh take on the fae mythos is interesting, and there are some really vibrant characters, but parts of the new mythology can be a bit muddled. An enjoyable read, but it didn’t quite capture me in a way that would bump it up to 4 stars.
The Wordy Version:
Overall, this was a pleasant read—well, as “pleasant” as a read can be with eye-slicings, brandings, and other sorts of mayhem going on! Maybe “enjoyable” would be a better word. Does that still make me sound ghoulish? This was definitely on the darker side of urban fantasy, but it still didn’t feel DARK-dark to me, despite the above-mentioned shenanigans. Does that make any sense? The beginning of the book was really genuinely creepy, after Joy gets her cornea nicked by a mysterious boy and is all WTF?? as the fae world closes in on her. The sort of mounting sense of dread was really cool, and had me jumping at sounds when I was reading it at night.
After it’s explained to Joy what’s going on, the creep-factor goes down and the story continues. I thought the author’s new additions to the fae mythos were really cool and even made sense—the fae coming up with a way to circumvent the power humans have over them (power gained from knowledge of the fae’s true names) with a symbol or grouping of symbols called a signatura to stand in for their name, and then the raw creation of a pair of new beings whose purpose is to dole out these signaturae, so the fae aren’t running around claiming humans willy-nilly via signatura for themselves.
These two beings are Indelible Ink and Invisible Inq, brother and sister not in the traditional biological sense, but in that they were created at the same time and for the same purpose. Their names are goofy and I was glad that they were most often called simply Ink and Inq, although that in itself would be interesting to see how an audiobook reader would handle. Ink, in slicing Joy’s eye (which he only did because he noticed she had the Sight and wanted to protect her by removing it), inadvertently makes her his lehman, which is a sort of a helper/slave/lover person. They have to pretend he did it on purpose, otherwise big bad fae won’t be happy to discover he’s making mistakes.
One thing I think could’ve been done better in this book was to be more clear and precise with info about the signaturae--what they look like, why they look that way, how they’re used, why they’re used, etc. Ink and Inq explain them to Joy on more than one occasion, but I still felt like the concept was quite murky and I was never quite sure what exactly their purpose was, how the claims stabilized the fae and human worlds, or what all symbols they were composed of. New information would shake out and I would wonder, why didn’t they mention that bit the first time around? I think that aspect could benefit from a little more clarity, especially since most of the plot revolves around signaturae.
There was also some murkiness surrounding Ink and Inq themselves. On the one had, I thought it was interesting and appropriate since they are rather murky beings—they were made rather than born to serve an express purpose for the fae, and they are capable of creating or altering themselves to look however they choose. They were also apparently kind of blank-slate-like, in that they didn’t seem to have much personality or emotion at their creation, and they only gained that (and the form they decided to wear) from their study of humans. They also couldn’t even feel, until they manifested the ability after some human-study. Inq seems to have gone wild, awakening to and enjoying all that humanity has to offer, while Ink is just becoming aware of these possibilities after meeting and spending time with Joy. But all of this made them seem kind of eerie to me—kind of like aliens, rather than fae-ish. And it brought up so many more questions—how did they look right after they were created, then? Why can they change everything about their appearance, but not their eyes? Did they have a seed of personality to begin with, or did it develop ghost-in-the-shell-like? Some of this mystery and creepiness served well for the atmosphere, but I think a little more clarity here would’ve been welcome as well.
As for some more positives, in addition to the cool new fae-lore, I thought there were some really vivid characters in the book. Inq is vivacious and complex and you never know quite what’s going on with her, which is fun. Graus Claude, the Bailiwick, a big, poisonous, rather well-heeled toad-fae intermediary between the fae and humans, is another one who was especially distinct and well-rounded. Our protagonists Joy and Ink are interesting enough, and their romance is cute.
With regards to Joy’s character, I thought the contemporary teenager issues she had to deal with were well done: Her anger at her mother for leaving their family, loneliness after her brother goes off to college and changes, and trying to navigate her altered relationship with her father. I also really liked how Joy appropriated Briarhook’s brand for herself as a way of her taking charge of herself and the changes in her life, rather than allowing herself to be victimized (although it felt like it was thrown into the story just for that purpose). When Joy uncovers the fae political maneuverings and anti-human conspiracy, they make enough sense that the Big Bad and climactic battle that follow make (enough) sense for the resolution of this chapter in the story.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and I appreciated the new ideas it contained and some of the risks it took. I think it could’ve been even better with a little more clarity and precision in some of the ideas and writing. I was entertained while reading, but I don’t think it quite captured me enough/had that certain subjective je ne sais quoi that I will read the sequels. Darker urban fantasy fans and fans of fae-lit might give ‘er a try. Has anyone else gotten their hands on an early copy of this one? Anyone planning on checking it out when it’s released?
*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.