Ink in the Blood is a book that captivated me in the last quarter. Seriously. It was like a light bulb went off and I couldn’t put it down. Keep reading to check out my book review where I talk queer characters, circus/performance settings, and ink.
Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.
Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.
To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Until about three quarters of the way through Ink in the Blood I liked it, but I wasn’t obsessed. Sure I loved not only the circus/performance setting (having only read Caraval and being in sore need for another similar setting) and the ink magic, but I was missing that Wow factor. But then somewhere around the last thirty or twenty five percent, it become a book I couldn’t put down. All the themes, little bread crumbs of story, and characters that were dancing around each other, started to come together.
Ink in the Blood is about the magic of tattoos and ink coursing through your veins. But more than that, it’s a story about freedom. About religion that stifles our sense of choice. The resistance and rebellion in theater. And bonds stronger than words and chains. Ceila and Anya’s relationship was, by far, my favorite part of Ink in the Blood. I want more of these fierce, stand by you, female friendships. They’re a team and they don’t let anything stand in their way.
My second favorite element in Ink in the Blood might be the world building. Not only did I love the performer vibes, but the concept of these inked tattoos, these inked omens, is so fascinating. Ceila and Anya these tattoos artists whose job it is to draw and interpret the tattoos. They are fiercely punished and regulated, their lives not belonging to themselves. At the same time, the tattoos feed into a whole magical religion which reaches its hands out and latches onto Ceila and Anya.
I mean…can you even wrap your hand around that? Throughout Ink in the Blood we are exposed to the conflict between religion and the religious. Enacted by people, spread through words, and therefore subject to the cruelty of people. Ceila and Anya have been hardened by their training and within Ink in the Blood we wonder if they can truly let anyone else into their world. I do wish we were able to get to know more of the side characters. It’s firmly rooted in Ceila’s POV and I do wish we could get to know more of the Mob characters too!
There are so many queer characters in Ink in the Blood. Not only is the MC pansexual, but they have this concept of a Tenor. The Tenor is like an aura that surrounds you and shows people what your preferred pronouns are. It’s a concept that can be constantly shifting, but I’m also in love with this idea. They are able to choose their own pronouns and even their own name when they come of age! They have so many casual non-binary characters and queer side relationships. And everyone seems to be either pan or ace.
Ink in the Blood begins with a performance that promises the whisper of an escape. It’s a story that celebrates the transformative power of theater as social community, as rebellion. The beginnings of the book set up a lot of the tension of the last sections, but throughout it all is a steady friendship between Ceila and Anya. The way their relationship strengthens them, holding their essence together when they lose their way, but also weakens them – being each other’s weakness. I am so excited for the next one and I cannot wait to see where it goes next.