I’m not a big children’s lit reader. There are a variety of reasons why this is, but it largely boils down to them not appealing to me. At this point in my reading, I crave complexity that’s often lacking in children’s literature. So, though I’ll try to make sure to temper that and take this book for what it is, I’m making it known so that you might better contextualize my criticisms.
Inked takes place in a world where your future is tattooed onto your skin in magical ink. You are then bound to a trade assigned to you, largely arbitrarily. Caenum is about to be Inked and to have his future set before him. He’s resentful, scared, and planning to run. An encounter with the Scribes (those who tattoo others) leads Caenum to fun not just because he doesn’t want his future chosen for him, but for his life. With his best friend Dreya and a young would-be Scribe now turned runaway, Caenum must flee to the Village of the Unprinted, all the while struggling with forbidden and extremely rare magical powers that have emerged.
I have the feeling that Caenum is intended to be in his mid- to late teen years, but he reads very much to a younger audience. I initially pinned his age as around ten or 11. His interactions and approaches to problems read young. Caenum does have a “love interest” in his friend Dreya, but their relationship is very G-rated, again, indicating a younger age. It was, in fact, hard to register romantic interest in their relationship overall, with the exception of a few overt attempts to indicate that it exists.
When Caenum and his friends leave, they are pursued by townspeople and the kingdom’s knights. The recently revealed powers of a member of Caenum’s friends have marked them as to-be-hunted. The next third or so of the book follows a series of run-ins, attacks, and escapes through the countryside. Eventually, the group comes to realize that all of them are, in fact, imbued with magic. This, to me, was easily the biggest disappointment in the book. At first, I was excited to see that the magical (read: powerful) character was not the hero. It was exciting because it would have showcased some really great power dynamics and built up relationships, essentially, it would have been a fantasy novel, for kids, from the sidekick’s point of view.
Unfortunately, this did not last.
Not only are all three of these kids magical in a world where magic is so rare that an eleven year old didn’t know that humans could really have magical powers, they find one another in a remote rural town. It just was disappointing. That all of them had powers means that the story has little to offer in the way of jealousy over natural ability and skill. Though this isn’t necessarily a theme that Smith has to go for, by forgoing it, the story seems lacking in some ways , namely in a level of complexity that reflects the reality of most students’ lives (be they ten or 25).
The plot itself is fast-paced enough that it would hold the interest of a younger audience, though at times it seems Smith is trailing on tangents or hasn’t really integrated all of the plotlines together in a smooth way.
The characters could have used some development all around. It often seemed that there wasn’t a lot of the underlying frustration and fear that, given their situation, I would expect to be present even during down-times. Dreya in particular was disappointing. She often was a damsel in distress for the boys to save or be frustrated by not being able to save her. She screams. A lot.
Overall, I don’t think I’m in love with the book and I’m a bit doubtful that it will be a book that a 12 year old will read and then reread when he’s 15. But, for a younger-aged audience, I think it’s fun and action-packed. It may be a good starting point into fantasy and an approachable enough read to interest a reluctant reader.
I’m not going to rate this one. I’m not sure I know where it would fit into my scale and I wouldn’t want to be unfair or inaccurate (rating systems of 5/5 stars aren’t my favorite anyway).
I received this book for free as an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.