This year, I decided to set myself a reading challenge on Goodreads because, thanks to some books sales at work where there was a set price of 5 paperbacks for £3(!), I found myself with a surplus of physical books. Anyone who is an avid reader will know that this is always the case – the pile of “to read” always, always towers over the “read” pile, particularly because it’s so easy to go back and reread a favourite. It was about time that I did something about my ever growing pile and ever growing list of recommendations, so I signed up to the 2017 challenge.
My target is set at 50 books in one year, so just over one book per week, and the book I’ve decided to review today was my eighteenth: Ink.
Ink is the first in a series called ‘Skin Books’, though no word yet on a date for the follow up, written by Alice Broadway. It follows the story of Leora, a teen in the dystopian world of Saintstone where everyone’s every accomplishment or failure, their age and occupation, their spouse and family, is literally inked onto their skin. This way, there is no way to hide one’s truth, and truth is the cornerstone on which this society is built.
As with most Young Adult fiction set in a dystopian reality, there is a strong “us versus them” vibe with the Marked, those living in Saintstone, being opposed by Blanks – people who were banished from mainstream many, many years previously due to their refusal to permanently mark their skin.
The Blanks represent the unknown, and the fear of them seems to stem directly from a very old folklore (which I won’t detail as it adds some colour to the story and ought to be something you read for yourself if you choose to read this book!) that is told to children as a fairytale but then later proven to be mostly fact. These Blank people are frightening in their plainness and their refusal to adhere to the rules and, most of all, because they are unreadable. With that, I’ll move neatly onto talking about why this series is called “Skin Books”.
So, when a Marked person dies, they have their wonderfully tattooed skin removed (yes – removed) and made into a book for their family to keep. Forever. On a shelf. Next to all the other dead relatives. Now, this is probably supposed to be a nice thing – keeping your loved ones with you and being able to peruse their lives at your leisure – but even while I was reading I just could not get over the fact that these were books mades of literal human skin. If anything has a serial killer/Silence of the Lambs-esque vibe to it, it’s keeping a book made of someone’s skin.
If you can get past that slightly freaky concept, then let’s carry on and talk a bit more about Leora. She’s the main character, she’s a plain-Jane who likes to study, and has always dreamed of being an Inker – aka a tattoo artist, and the fun kind that does tattoos that people have chosen, not the governmentally issued ones that show a person’s age or job. I actually rather liked her as a protagonist; she had flaws and some teenage wobbly morals, and most importantly she didn’t let a certain boy distract her (too much) from her general storyline.
Having been raised as a Marked and also the daughter of a Reader (someone (super)naturally gifted with the ability to read marks and the meanings behind them), tattoos and the rules of Saintstone are incredibly important to Leora. So when her father dies and there is a delay with his skin book being returned home to her and her mother, her world as she knows it begins to turn on its head. She juggles finishing her exams and her assessments to become an Inker with frantic worries about her father’s apparently secret life and some dark secrets that she comes to find out along the way. Some of these secrets and how they link up to other plot points are a bit obvious and can be seen a mile off as a reader, but if anything this made me just feel smug about figuring it out before Leora did rather than making me dismiss her and the plot.
As YA fiction goes, I found this book’s storyline to be very original and refreshing. Once I got past my own squeamishness (books made of skin you guys!), I got really into the plot and the characters, the latter of which are all diverse and richly conjured, and sure (I hope) to be explored much more in the sequel. The writing is wonderfully descriptive without being too boringly detailed, and there are wonderful little excerpts of Saintstone folklore dotted in amongst the chapters to really paint the picture of how the city came to be as it is.
If you’re a fan of YA literature and are looking for a new world to invest yourself in, I do recommend Ink. Judge this book by its gorgeous cover and give it a go!