Book Review: Paper & Blood 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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Ink & Sigil
Publisher: Del Rey (August 10, 2021)
Length: 304 pages
Al MacBharrais is back in Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne, the follow up to Ink & Sigil which introduced our Scottish sigil agent extraordinaire who is in his sixties, but can still work ink magic with the best of them. All he needs is a pen and paper to work some amazing spells. He’s also part of a global network which polices the travel of supernatural beings to and from our mortal plane, which makes his skills come in handy as magically binding contracts are needed whenever these magical creatures go, and these can only be worked with certain sigils and special ink.
A new adventure begins as Al receives word that a fellow agent had gone missing in Australia while on assignment, leading our protagonist to drop everything and make his way to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to investigate the disappearance. Fortunately, he’s got help. Nadia, his accountant who is also a fierce pit fighter, has offered to lend a hand. And of course, this would not be a true sequel without the return of Buck Foi, the mischievous hobgoblin who has also decided to tag along. But the real surprise is perhaps the appearance of Atticus O’Sullivan, also known as the Iron Druid. The ancient one has arrived with his two dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, to join Al and the rest of them in the Australian wilds, determined to follow the trail of their missing colleague.
First off, I have to say this book was very entertaining, especially the setting and the world-building and the magic system. I loved Ink & Sigil, which made me want to know Al MacBharrais a bit better, not to mention learn more about the lore and fantasy aspects of his world. In this, Paper & Blood delivered exactly what I wanted. The main character also has a great sense of humor, which along with his Scottish brogue brings a kind of unique charm to this series. I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed Al’s genuine and down-to-earth personality, the fact that you don’t see many protagonists of his age and background in urban fantasy. His dialogue and interactions with the supporting cast were also delightful, and it was fun watching the shenanigans and clever banter fly between the members of this motley group.
Still, at some point, I had to wonder why the author felt the need to bring back Atticus O’Sullivan, the protagonist from his Iron Druid Chronicles, from which the Ink & Sigil series spun off. Here is also the part of the review where I will get ranty, because I’m a firm believer that while spin offs can be a great opportunity to continue or expand the worlds and stories we love, they should also come from a different angle and be entirely capable of standing on its own two feet. Otherwise, why bother creating a new series with new characters?
What I’m about to say next is also going to be an unpopular opinion, I think, but what the heck—I can’t stand Atticus! At times his snark can be a bit too much, and I can only take him in small doses. It’s also a huge part of why I abandoned the Iron Druid Chronicles after book three, and why I was so happy with the different tone and direction of Ink & Sigil, because Al was such a breath of fresh air. With the return of Atticus in Paper & Blood though, Al’s presence was diminished and he quickly began to feel like a guest in someone else’s world, playing second fiddle to Atticus’ larger-than-life personality. And it’s a shame, because I really felt Al was just starting to step up to the wheel of his own series. Until his role as main protagonist could be firmly established, or until readers could bond with the new characters, Hearne probably should have backed off on the cameos, or at least had Atticus play a smaller role. Instead, this felt too much like an attempt to write another Iron Druid book, or a blatant attempt to service Atticus fans.
That said, if you followed the Iron Druid Chronicles, I think you will have a blast with this one. My quibbles notwithstanding, I did too. New readers will still have plenty to delight in, as Paper & Blood is bang-up sequel for what it is, a rollicking continuation of Ink & Sigil which touches lightly upon the aftermath of the previous book’s events while featuring a new adventure that can generally be read as a standalone. I have a feeling it’s going to take while for this series to develop its own hook and overall flavor, but that’s pretty common for urban fantasy. Hopefully we can refocus our attention on Al and have him retake the reins going forward.