Cover Image: Ink in the Blood

Ink in the Blood

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Member Reviews

I was a part of the Street Team for Ink in the Blood and had the opportunity to read an eARC of the book, so thank you Kim Smejkal and HMH Books for Young Readers!

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 🌟

To be honest with you, I had really low expectations going into this book because of the Goodreads rating, but that might have a blessing after all since I found this book to be such an emotional and refreshing ride for me.

Ink in the Blood follows Celia, an Inkling, which is some what of a servant for the temple, and how she and her best friend, Anya is trying to escape from their lives at the temple by joining a travelling theater trope. That's as far as I would go with the book synopsis and I'll just leave the rest of it for you to find out by reading the book.

I think one of the most beautiful aspects of Ink in the Blood was the friendship Celia and Anya had throughout the whole book. While their sexual orientation was never fully admitted, it was hinted that Celia was attracted to both man and woman. And yet her relationship with Anya was only of the most purest love between close friends. Celia and Anya's friendship expanded over a decade and I love how the author provided flashbacks of their friendship during those times, and we even get to see how they first met. While there was a romantic subplot in the story, I think the aspect of friendship was the one that truly stole my heart.

Speaking of friendship, the members of the Rabble Mob, which is the traveling theater group was another aspect that I liked. The Mob consists of a lot of people and it was definitely a risk to have them to be a part of the story. While I'm not as invested with them, I still think Kim did a spectacular job with these side characters. We don't get to know much about them beyond the surface level but in hindsight, I truly understood why the author went along with this choice. Either way, I still really liked all of them.

The magic system is definitely something I find to be REALLY refreshing. Tattoo magic? Definitely not something you read often in YA fantasy and I absolutely loved every second of capturing this new type of magic system. As for the story itself, I think Kim did a spectacular job with the plot and the promise, especially with the story she was trying to display.

And last but not least, THE DIVERSITY IN THIS BOOK. When I heard about how this was a queer book, I highly underestimated it. The book gave a new perspective on gender and this is definitely the first book I've ever read that included characters with they/them pronouns. Since it was my first time, I definitely needed some time to adjust myself to it but as I move forward, it became easier and something I truly admire the author for doing. Even the sexual orientation on this book was done so seamlessly that it genuinely felt as if it was just people loving people and nothing else, and that itself deserves my highest praise.

All in all, Ink in the Blood was such a surprising read to me, in the best way possible. I think Kim did a fantastic job with this debut novel and I am already highly anticipating the sequel.
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Celia, an Inkling for Profeta, Illinia's religion, spends her days tattooing divine ink on her skin and sending it to others and her nights sneaking out. When she and Anya escape the temple to join a Mob of rovers, their lives blossom and change, especially as they try to outrun Diavala, the evil side of their Divine. 

I really enjoyed this book. I wish there were more up-front world-building, and more tension and foreshadowing, but the darkness and carnivalesque writing wraps you in. Brilliant, and I can't wait for the second book.
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So this was a long awaited book for me, cause tattoos and magic? Plus a queer friendly world? Sign me up!

However, before we delve in, I have to give you the trigger and content warnings cause holy hand grenade Batman, this book has a lot of them.

Trigger warnings for torture, murder, blackmail, systemic oppression, self mutilation, alcoholism, family abandonment, body possession, children being sold into religious based slavery and supernatural haunting. I sincerely recommend a warm blanket and a good friend on speed dial if any of these things hit your brain in a rough way, cause this book is graphic in its description in places. 

Also, for those coming from Romancelandia, I will warn that this book, in my opinion, does not have a HEA or a HFN. Its one of my biggest gripes about the book and part of why my rating is lower.

Ok, now on to the meat of the book. The setting is super interesting, based in a world with a religion based on a child who had the power to create magical tattoos that helped guide people and make decisions. However, the child is (spoiler alert) murdered in said legend of the beginning of the faith. She eventually returns, but its complicated, as you can find out in the book.

What is left behind is a huge chest of magical ink and small children are ‘called’ into the service of this faith at a very young age by the presence of a tattoo.

Unfortunately, as we look further into the system and meet our main characters, Celia and Anya, we discover that this system is distinctly crooked and exploitative. There is little to no chance to escape and extensive torture of the children and teens for any possible infraction.

I won’t lie, I almost stopped reading at some of these places. Frankly, it got a bit much for me. At certain points, it almost felt as if it was trying to keep being as shocking as possible and didn’t seem to serve as much of a narrative purpose. I get proving that this temple and the faith are totally horrible, but after a bit it felt overdone.

But we move on as our main characters escape, through a series of cunning maneuvers. They join up with a local circus troupe and find their found family. This piece was some of my favorite parts of the book. Lots of trying to learn how to trust others, be with people and dealing with trauma and the realness of having to keep a secret when you want to share with people you care about. Tons of fascinating characters as well and amazing found family vibes as well as queer finding yourself vibes. I could have read a whole book about just this circus troupe.

However, their safe place becomes compromised and our two main characters become embroiled in a conflict that takes over the rest of the book and segways into the second. I won’t spoil this portion for you, as its a fairly significant part of the book.

Though this book has such incredible potential, I found myself disappointed. The gratuitous nature of the pain inflicted on the main characters and side characters really put me off at times. Maybe its because of 2020 or just life in general, but I’m so tired of seeing characters tortured to prove…something? How bad a place is? I don’t know.

Also, the queer and gender affirming stuff I had been sold on the cover? Sadly seemed somewhat perfunctory and only seemed to exist in the beginning part of the book. The friendship between Celia and Anya periodically seems like it might verge into a love story but never manages to make it there. The love story that does play out has major enemies to lovers vibes and is pretty interesting, but I wish we could have had less sidelining of Anya.

Gender wise, there are aura like creations called tenors that are part of how people read each other’s gender. However, most characters appear to be along the cisgender spectrum and minus one character, no one is shown as having a nonbinary or mixed tenor presentations.

Lastly, the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I found myself upset that what felt like the potential for a HEA or HFN is pulled out from under the reader’s feet at the last possible second to make room for a sequel. I felt cheated. All that pain, all that struggle and such a huge, intense final fight against the main villain with loss and intense feeling only for things to be unresolved at the very last second.

For that reason, though I love parts of this book, I’ve given it 3.5 stars. Such potential but it didn’t deliver how I hoped.

Your mileage might vary, especially if you like intense angst. And as always, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for writing an honest review.
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“Just when I think you’re my beginning, I find out you’re my end.”

This fierce, bold YA fantasy debut with so. many. feels!
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I was really rooting for this one.  I mean I have over 50 tattoos and so a book about them should have been right up my ally!!  Sadly though this one just didn't work out well.  I felt very confused as soon as the story started and that confusion just stuck throughout the title.  The plot felt like it was on a thin line and kind of non existent at all.  The gender spots in this one just felt forced and off and well I kind of wished they just wouldn't have been in there at all.  All in all it just lacked focus. 

Go Into This One Knowing: Gender Fluid, Magic, Confusing
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Actual rating: 4.5

THIS BOOK!!! This book slithers right between your ribcage and makes a little home there, unshakeable in how dark it is. Ink in the Blood has a lot to say and it says it all with so much grace and even more heart. 

Looking for found family? It has it in spades! One of the best found family relationship units I've ever seen--spanning from lifelong friends to a traveling troupe of misfits who love one another fearlessly. Characters you don't get to see often (because this cast is honestly huge) still make such an impact when they do appear and you come to care about every single one. How Smejkal juggles such a large ensemble is incredibly impressive, to the point that sometimes I didn't even want to hear from Celia anymore, I wanted to hear from Remy and Lilac and even Marco. 

Looking for queer rep? Well do I have a book for you. The rep in this book is both impressive in how vast it is and also so inspiring. The use of they pronouns, the subtle mentions of ex-girlfriends, the "my love" that comes out in the end both as a best friends (and maybe something more--this is heartbreaking BTW!) hits so hard in it's this is just the way of this world. We need so many more books that present queerness as the world, rather than it being something to overcome or something that makes the world peculiar or requires adjustment of some sort. These characters are allowed to just BE and I loved every second of it. 

Looking to have your heart ripped out and stomped on? Look no farther. This entire book is amazing, but the last 50-75 pages grab you by the neck, shake you violently, chew you up, and then spit you out. It is beautiful in its cruelty, and really brings home the motif "how lucky I am to have someone who makes saying goodbye so hard." Just GAHHHHHHH! And then when you think you can't take anymore, the last page slaps you across the face. 

Looking for a huge commentary on zealotry and blind faith? This book is for you. It addresses the idea of not questioning your beliefs in the most poignant and really visible (hello, tattoos!) way, and it forces you to decide for yourself why you believe the things you believe. It doesn't ask for proof, but it does ask for curiosity, and it makes you complicit under atrocities done in the name of faith. This book is incredibly meta and deep and the message will stay with me for an incredibly long time (forever maybe? Yeah, probably forever). 

Oh and if you read and struggle with your ship? Same, girl, same. Celia + Anya, Celia + Griffin, Celia + Dante, Celia + Vincent, Celia + Zuni. I DO NOT KNOW PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME TO CHOOSE. 

Just wow. This book is just wow. Can't wait for the next one. Inject it into my veins.
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This was more of a 3.5 star read for me but I will definitely be reading the sequel. Most of my dislike stems from the setting so that is not the books fault. I've found that the circus/carnival-y type of setting just isn't for me. The world building was great and the writing felt very smooth.
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I loved the concept of this book, and the overall story. I do believe there were some concepts that the author added that weren't hashed out, and led to be kinda insignificant? Like the auroras and some of the gender identities. I appreciate how open characters were, and maybe I read too many ads that focused on that, when it wasn't a major part of the book.  That said,  I can't wait for the second one, and I do love the originality of it all.
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Being the kind of person that I am, saving images of tattoos, watching tattoo competitions and drama shows on tv, I was pretty excited for this one! The magic system is literally centered on the idea that tattoos send divine messages and give direction to life choices.

Unfortunately, It was super-predictable, and lacked complexity. Though the style was really accessible (hello, yes I will keep reading from this author because of her writing). But it was so disappointing that despite a really interesting set up, everything was solved far too easily. I personally found the pacing to be on the slower side, it’s unfortunate that the author didn’t take more opportunity for character development rather than throwing in events that didn’t surmount to much. There are so many sub-plots that could have been pushed further.. Everything was too neat and tidy, and there were so many tropes. Some people enjoy tropes so heck if that's what you want then GET ON THIS.

The bones of this book though were really really interesting and if the book had been expanded, the boundaries pushed a little further, this book could have been absolutely amazing.
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love it, it was a fast read. The character where develope well and so fascinating. Great plot as well
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So I read so many reviews saying "if you like this you will love this" or. "Night Circus in the new!" 

DUDE so much better! It has everything you need from a good book. Plot twists and romance. Chemistry and tension you can cut with a knife. I seriously couldn't no, wouldn't put this book down! 

I was super apprehensive the it was over hyped and that with a kick ass cover like that this book would fall short. NOPE. IT WAS AWWEEESSSOOMMMEEE!

This book has all the feels. Its dark and twisty, very mysterious but not overpowering. The perfect amount of everything. AND THAT ENDING.

It was refreshing to have a protagonist I didn't have to work to love and connect with. Celia is everything. Complicated, funny, and she DEVELOPS. The character development is so fantastic in this book. I'm still shocked by how amazing both the world build and character development was in this book. 

Listen guys, I can gush for hours on this book. BUT instead of reading me yelling at you how amazing this book is, just try it! I definitely recommend this book! 

I received this book for free from Netgalley for read to review!
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This book was so fantastic! I enjoyed this world with the religion of Profeta, and how important it is to this story. Celia and Anya were amazing characters, and watching them go on this journey was just the best to read!

This world was pretty interesting, because if someone becomes an Inkling, has this ink put into their veins, if they do a tattoo, on themselves or a fellow Inkling, they can send it off to another person. And that's part of their religion, with the Divine, and Diavala. But Celia and Anya know the underbelly of the religion, but find that there's still more to learn. I just love it!

The way the crowd reacts to the Rabble Mob's performances-especially with Celia and Anya's new Devil in the Bell Jar act, well, it didn't quite make sense to me, but it's a part of their world, their storytelling. So that they got so engrossed in it, well, mob mentality is a thing!

That ending was just killer! I didn't know what to expect next, and their plan, not knowing what it was and watching it unfold, was so intense! And then it was over with a pretty quiet intense cliffhanger, I'm so excited and anxious for the sequel! 

Yeah, this book was fantastic, and I'm just salivating for the sequel!
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Ink in the Blood focuses on Celia Sand and Anya Burtoni, who have served the Profeta religion as "inklings" for a decade.  They can magically tattoo the Profeta faithful with images that offer divine guidance.  As the girls become disillusioned with the religion, believing there is no deity, only a mortal bureaucracy that seeks to subvert free will, they decide to flee. Joining a seditious traveling theater troop, the Rabble Mob, they use their abilities to create a performance where they pose as an angel and the devil and supposedly read minds.  They attract the attention of the Profeta Divine, a vengeful deity that actually exists. She hopes to expand her following by using their performances as propaganda and threatens their newfound theater friends if they don't cooperate.  The complex characters with a wide variety of gender identities and sexual orientations are sympathetically drawn. As the battle between good and evil plays out, readers will care deeply about the strong friendships and delicate romances that are threatened in this thought-provoking tale. The cliffhanger ending will leave them anxious for the sequel in this fantasy duology.
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WOW!! What a story. Kim Smejkal has succeeded in building a world that I want to read and read and read about.  With so many YA books recycling the same themes it was so refreshing to read a story that brought a fresh and engaging story about romance, faith, friendship, and more. Building a whole new world can't be easy for authors but Smejkal got it right! I loved the diversity and the strong female characters, Celia and Anya. 

Can't wait for the sequel.
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This was an utter joy to read. I thought the worldbuilding the author created was interesting unique and fresh. I am a sucker for theatrical or travelling tropes. I thought how the author incorporated aura in this case known as tenors to identify gender fluidity and that they are always changing. The romance authentic and if you have a thing for tension you are going to want to read Ink in the Blood immediately. 

Overall Ink in the Blood is a great addition to young adult fantasy with an atmospheric carnival undertones, If you  enjoyed Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus and Amanda Foodys Daughter of the Burning City you will love Ink in the Blood.
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Ink in the Blood almost had me. It was so close. But, alas, no dice.

To be clear, I liked this book. I might even pick up the sequel when it comes out but... I wasn't 100% sold. In the early chapters, I lost interest almost immediately despite finding the tattoo magic incredibly interesting. The book just didn't have that hook. But it wasn't enough to make me DNF as my interest grew as the plot moved into what I guess would be the inciting incident of this particular story.

Before dropping off again.

I loved the tattoo magic system. That's what drew me to the book in the first place and kept me on the line even when I lost interest in the plot. And I think if I had connected with the characters, I could have really loved Ink in the Blood despite the plot. The lyrical style of the writing and the world made me think of Erin Morgenstern's books a bit but where I couldn't help but be intrigued by those books' characters, I wasn't feeling the same connection here. The only thing I really found myself enjoying was the bond of friendship between Celia and Anya, which I thought was really well done.

By the time I got to the 70% mark, I was intrigued again but the fact that it took so long meant I wasn't invested enough to appreciate the twists thrown in the last quarter. I just don't really know how to feel about this book. I think if I went back and re-read it at a later date I might enjoy it more because I definitely think part of the problem was that I just wasn't in the mood for this story. And I will definitely consider picking up the sequel. So I'm going to say this was a combination of issues and perhaps come back to it again.

I think Ink in the Blood is perfect for readers seeking a new sort of magic in their YA fantasies so if that's you, definitely check this one out!
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4.5 stars

"Ah! You can speak truths. I was really beginning to worry it was a medical condition."

I absolutely loved how we're immediately introduced to the story, there's no staggering of any sort, we jump right into it. And Smejkal does that without compromising the world-building or the characters whatsoever. We see event after event unravelling and I really have to commend the author on building such a wonderful world where ink is revered and tattoos are regarded as blessings from the Divine. The plot was fast-paced in the beginning and slowed down just a bit only to throw a huge plot twist in your face.

I was actually a bit surprised at how quickly I got attached to the characters. Both Celia and Anya won over my heart in the first few chapters. They fiercely love each other and would do anything to protect themselves and their little theatre tribe. Speaking of the characters in the travelling theatre group, Vincent and the plague doctor were two of my favourites with Kitty Kay following close behind.
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Ink in the Blood is quite a ride. This dark fantasy novel is a unique and intriguing story that is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Melissa Albert.

This book combines magic, religion, gender fluidity and two strong (yet different) female characters sharing an amazing and deep friendship.

This story is beautifully written, though I had to read this book slower than usual because as a reader, to fully grasp the story, you need to take your time and enjoy the details. Once I slowed down, this story is simply amazing. The magic is simple, but unique in the way tattoos are used. 

The novel is also LGBT oriented with gender fluidity. This is the second book I read this month where the pronoun “they” is used to identify a neutral gender character. My brain is, fortunately, getting used to it even if I had to read it again to make sure the narrator was speaking to only one person. The main character, Celia, is bisexual.

Did I mention that the characters pick their own name? How cool is that!

Another part that I enjoyed was how spectacular and dark the story can be. Celia and Anya are forced to join a theater troupe to escape their life as Inklings where they early on discovered that the privilege hid a brutal way of life and a prison, all in the name of a deity.

The friendship between the two characters is beautiful. They go through a lot together and have each other’s back. The theater group is a very interesting group that brought colors to the story, especially the Plague Doctor. I loved him!

I can’t wait to read the second book. This book is a wonderful read and highly recommend.
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I struggled somewhat with this one. The concept was interesting. Smekjal has created a truly complex world here, inventing a religion that makes sense to the reader and creating sensible rules. Even the discovery of the truth behind their religion is more complex than you might expect. It's a story about the corruption of power and desperation both. I liked a lot of the elements in the book, toeing the subtle line between condemning corruption and recommending religion itself. My problems are mostly related to pacing. It felt very slow and very long.
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Okay so, this book was definitely a fun read! The characters are all quirky and unique. I remember them. I actually like and care about them. The characters are strong in this book! The magic system is also something I have never seen before. Tattoo magic? Hello, sign me up! 

The world building is also a strength of this book. The religion, the towns and cities, the atmosphere, it is all very tangible and believable that I found I could get sucked into the pages and appear right then and there in the middle of the story.

You have action, adventure, lies, mystery, a little dash of flirtatious romance and bam, you have an excellent book! The reason I am not giving it 5 stars is because it does take a little bit to set up. The beginning feels slow, despite the awesome information and set up you are getting. Still, this book is completely worth a read!

Thank you to NetGalley for the e-arc of this book!
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