(Phenomenal cover art, isn't it?)
A little background. As I wrote in this post, I borrowed this book from the library with two misconceptions: that it was the first book of the series, and that it was interesting. I found that the first did not hamper my reading of the book at all (in fact, the characters that are prominent in the first book play a highly secondary role in this book) but the second, obviously, hampered my reading of this book quite a bit. I did in fact manage to finish the book, though I found it disturbing and not at all enjoyable, and it has taken me over a week to analyze just why this book was so repulsive for me.
I don’t often hate books. Why did I take such an intense dislike to this one?
I think the problem was the character motivations. The basic plot of Ink Exchange is this – Leslie, a human, by choosing to get a special tattoo done, inevitably ends up doing an Ink Exchange with Irial, King of the Dark Court, who wants to use this to be able to feed upon the darker emotions of mortals and therefore sustain his court. However, Ash, Leslie’s best friend and Queen of the Summer Court (a fact that is established in the first book, Wicked Lovely) will do anything to prevent this. She has Niall, a fairy from the summer court, guarding Leslie. However, Niall has feelings for Leslie beyond those that anyone considers safe (and a fairy-power that will make him irresistible to any mortal) and a long history with Irial.
One of the fundamental problems with this book was Leslie. Through most of this book, Leslie is attracted to Niall, mostly because he’s made irresistible through his magic (a concept which I find highly problematic in itself) and she’s also attracted to Irial because of the Ink Exchange (another example of slavery-through-love in this book) and with the combined influence of the two of them, most of this book is about her doing stuff that she doesn’t want to. This gives a surreal effect that disconnects you from Leslie, and since most of this book is from her perspective this can really take away the pleasure from the book.
Other, minor characters also have pretty stupid motivations. If Keenan (King of the Summer Court) and Ash knew what was going on, why in the world didn’t they true to stop Leslie from getting the tattoo done? (After all, there was a way, as Niall established later.) If they knew what was going on at her home (lets just put it this way – a dysfunctional family does not begin to explain Leslie’s family) why didn’t they, as her friends, ever try to save her? Through most of this book we have Ash and Keenan saying, “We’re your friends, Leslie,” but not really doing anything which proves that they are really her friends. (And frankly, I was left unsure of whether or not Keenan is a villain. I thought so, reading the description of the first book, and the second book left me thinking that Keenan was a horrible guy.)
Irial, frankly, is the only compelling character in this book. He knows what he’s doing and why. He’s ruthless, dark, and not afraid of it at all. He’s doing the ink exchange because it’s the only way to save his court. Other minor characters that appear during his chapters are also better – Gabriel is quite interesting, and more of the characters are unapologetic and devoted to what they think is right, which is refreshing. This book is Irial’s story, and frankly Irial is the reason that I even finished this book. He’s the ‘villain’ of the book, I guess, but frankly he’s the only likeable character out of the whole bunch, and even here I’m left in doubt as to why he falls in love with Leslie in the first place. (I didn’t understand whether this was because of the ink exchange or because of some other, unexplained reason, but either way it didn’t gel).
The writing, frankly, is not horrible, but it’s not all that compelling either. The book is written is a way that makes you feel like you’re floating above the characters and you never really get a chance to know them the way you want to. The novel, in my honest opinion, is also a little too adult for the target audience (which in my mind is the 14-16 year old) and though I’ve read far more graphic descriptions (Song of Ice and Fire series, among others) I found it mildly disturbing in this book, mostly because of the lack of free will.
Final thoughts: If the idea of a fairy-human romance really appeals to you, if you can deal with ideas of being forced to love someone, and if you can handle characters so gray that you often have no idea who the real hero of the story is, then you might like this book. Everyone else can just give this book a miss.