Book Review: Nightmare Ink by Marcella Burnard

Nightmare Ink by Marcella Burnard

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Living Ink

Publisher: InterMix (April 15, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Whenever I encounter cool, interesting new concepts in urban fantasy, it’s always like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love vampires, werewolves, wizards and such, but it’s also nice to see something different every once in a while. And with this book, the idea of magical tattoos most definitely fits into the “that’s not something I see every day” category.

The unique properties of “Live Ink” is what serves as the foundation for the magic system in Marcella Burnard’s newest novel, in a world where tattoos are more than just body art. If integrated well, a Live Ink tattoo can enhance a person’s life and augment their skills. But when things go wrong, they can also turn on their wearers and even wind up killing them.
Protagonist Isa Romanchzyk and others like her who have the ability to manipulate Live Ink can either use that power to create or destroy, making her tattoo shop a destination for both the cops and the mob alike — or anyone who needs to get rid of a Live Ink tattoo gone bad. Isa’s approach has always involved “binding” the tattoo, effectively killing it in order to save the life of the victim. Until one day a desperate friend turns to her for help, and for the first time in years Isa works Live Ink, fixing the tattoo instead of destroying it. But what she doesn’t realize is that by interfering, she might as well have just painted a target on her back.
It goes without saying, when you take an interesting idea and throw in compelling characters, you get a winning combination. Nightmare Ink has this going for it. Isa’s enigmatic past and her connections with both the law and the gangs of Seattle make her interesting to me. I thought I’d seen and heard it all when it comes to urban fantasy protagonists and their shady backgrounds, but I guess not! Information about Isa’s history is doled out sparingly so you don’t get to learn everything about her straight away, and I found myself being surprised by the darker revelations of her past even once I was well into the final chapters of the book.
However, the uneven way details are revealed also presents a bit of an issue. I noticed the introductory chapters are heavier on the info-dumps, going so far as to have a character ask Isa about Live Ink so that she can not-so-subtly explain all the ins-and-outs. But information becomes sparser after this, leaving me with a lot of questions about tattoo magic. For example, why does Live Ink only take to certain people and not others? There’s also not much about the “etheric” world where a lot of Isa’s interactions with Live Ink tattoos take place. It makes some of the later scenes in the novel involving her relationship with her own Live Ink very confusing. It is also implied that the Living Tattoos come from another realm, but again we don’t get a lot of detail on that. There are many instances like this, and while it’s a very interesting world I only wish I knew more about it!
At the time of reading, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a series, but I see now that there is at least one future book planned. In any case, Nightmare Ink works very well as a stand alone. Isa and her friends are a fantastic group of people I wouldn’t hesitate to read about again, and the concept of Live Ink magic could definitely do with some expanding, fine-turning and polish that another book could provide. Despite some holes in the world building, this was overall a very entertaining read.

  A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to InterMix/Penguin Group!

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