Book Review: Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Ink & Sigil
Publisher: Del Rey (August 25, 2020)
Length: 336 pages
Move over, Atticus O’Sullivan, because Kevin Hearne fans are in for a treat with his new series spinning off of The Iron Druid Chronicles starring Aloysius “Al” MacBharrais, Scottish sigil agent extraordinaire. In his sixties and blessed with a fancy mustache, he’s part of an organization responsible for regulating and enforcing the rules of travel for supernatural creatures to and from our mortal plane. As one of only a handful of people on this world with the ability to create sigils from special ink, a big part of his job also involves work with magically binding contracts in addition to crafting all manner of spells.
But following the fatal accident of his seventh apprentice Gordie, our protagonist begins to wonder if there might be another reason for why all his students seem to meet untimely deaths. So, he starts digging. And as it turns out, Gordie had been living a secret double life, hiding his criminal involvement in an underground supernatural trafficking ring. It seems that fae of all types are being kidnapped and sold to buyers for a mysterious purpose, and Al is determined to find out why. With the help of a mischievous hobgoblin who calls himself Buck Foi, Al sets off on a mission to blow the whole fiendish scheme wide open, all the while trying to stay under the radar of the real world police who are starting to wonder why trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.
To kick off the analysis part of my review, I think it’s only appropriate to first talk about Al and what a unique, entertaining and complex protagonist he is. A sixty-something widower, he is a true rarity when it comes to urban fantasy leads, but I absolutely adored the refreshing perspective he brought to the genre. I also liked how Hearne mostly avoided falling back on clichés about older people, putting artful creative spins on his main character, like the fact he is cursed with a voice that makes others’ hatred for him grow the more they hear him talk. So to get by, he relies heavily on his spells, writing, and speech apps.
And goodness, this book was funny, so funny. If you enjoyed the sassy, light-heartedness of the Iron Druid series, I think it’s safe to say you’ll feel right at home. In fact, I often found the humor to be even more appealing in Ink & Sigil, possibly due to Al’s more genuine and down-to-earth personality, and the jokes are maybe just slightly less juvenile. His interactions with his staff are filled with wit and whimsy, and more than once I found myself chuckling at the clever banter. It’ll be tough to top the dynamic duo that is Atticus and Oberon, but dare I say it, Al and Buck might give them a run for their money.
The world-building was also intriguing and made me want to learn more. While Ink & Sigil shares its world with Iron Druid, it nevertheless reads like a standalone and feels completely separate—the way a spin-off should, I might add, barring a few cool cameos. There’s a whole new magic system to discover, and in true Kevin Hearne style, it feels both inventive and well thought out. Sigil-based magic is more than it appears, starting from the very specialized ink that sigil agents must make from rare specific ingredients. Once crafted, a sigil can then be used to manipulate the world around them, and some of their effects can be pretty wild.
Like a lot of mysteries in UF though, I found this one to be slightly lacking and unfocused in the plot department. There are quite a few distractions and side ventures, but this being the opening volume of a new series, a part of me understood the need to introduce as many aspects of the world and its characters all at once. There’s also the issue of the heavy Scottish dialect, and while I appreciated Hearne’s efforts at authenticity and to make his readers feel as immersed as possible, bottom line, some of it’s just a damn pain to get used to, and slowed things down as a result.
Still, as many of my favorite UF series also took a few books to find their feet, I’m definitely willing to give this one more time to smooth out any bumps and dents. All told, while Ink & Sigil is only the first book, I’m already liking where things are going. I believe fans of Kevin Hearne will be well pleased with this humorous and fresh novel, and if you’ve ever been curious about the author’s work, this would be the perfect opportunity to jump on board.