There are no secrets in Saintstone. From the second you're born, every achievement, every failing, every significant moment are all immortalized on your skin. There are honorable marks that let people know you're trustworthy. And shameful tattoos that announce you as a traitor. After her father dies, Leora finds solace in the fact that his skin tells a wonderful story. That is, until she glimpses a mark on the back of his neck . . . the symbol of the worst crime a person can commit in Saintstone. Leora knows it has to be a mistake, but before she can do anything about it, the horrifying secret gets out, jeopardizing her father's legacy . . . and Leora's life. In her startlingly prescient debut, Alice Broadway shines a light on the dangerous lengths we go to make our world feel orderly--even when the truth refuses to stay within the lines. This rich, lyrical fantasy with echoes of Orwell is unlike anything you've ever read, a tale guaranteed to get under your skin . . .
The First in a New Dystopian Series
Sixteen-year-old Leora's dad is dying, but Leora and her mom, Sophie, take comfort in the fact that he'll live on through his book--the story of his life that is told through the tattoos he has acquired to commemorate special moments, deeds, and beliefs. Everyone in their town of Saintstone tattoos themselves in this way, and after death, the skin is flayed, tattoos are removed, and a book is created from them. During a special ceremony, the government determines if a person has a good life and will be immortalized, or if they will become one of the Forgotten. Leora isn't worried because her dad was one of the best people she has ever known. He was a friend to many, an accomplished flayer, and an amazing father and husband. And then....
INK by Alice Broadway starts with the end of Leora's dad's life, and it follows Leora's transition from a protected daddy's girl to a naive and socially awkward apprentice, and her growth from apprentice to pawn to a young woman with a mind of her own. The world in INK is a fascinating dystopian world where people's lives are on display through their tattoos, and the government has declared this to be for the best because secrets can hide evil and rebellion. There are those in the world who choose not to get tattoos, blanks, and children of Saintstone are raised to fear anyone who would choose to hide themselves behind un-inked skin.
Leora's story is told in the first person, and that's the perfect vehicle for a character who is forced to challenge firmly held personal beliefs. There are also fairy tales and fables woven into the narrative, and those thankfully add depth to the plot rather than detract from it. Leora's character is well-formed, and even when she's annoying, I was still rooting for her to do the right thing. The other characters in INK are less well developed, but there's hope for them to come into their own since this is the first book in a series.
The pacing of INK is sometimes slow, and the world building in it leads to some confusion--partially because the building is necessarily done through Leora, and she spends a lot of time confused. As clarity begins to come to her toward the end of the book, the pace picks up, and my view of the book's society sharpened. I admit that I also had to work through the ickiness of the skin-flaying/book-making aspect of the story.
Ultimately, INK is a promising start to what promises to be a good series. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beautiful jacket art and design, and the terrific overall page design. Shout out to the creative folks responsible for a job well done.
My thanks to the publisher and YA Books Central for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
Beautiful cover and page design
An interesting new dystopian world