But Asra’s peaceful life is upended when bandits threaten Ina’s village and the king does nothing to help. Desperate to protect her people, Ina begs Asra for assistance in finding her manifest—the animal she’ll be able to change into as her rite of passage to adulthood. Asra uses her blood magic to help Ina, but her spell goes horribly wrong and the bandits destroy the village, killing Ina’s family.
Unaware that Asra is at fault, Ina swears revenge on the king and takes a savage dragon as her manifest. To stop her, Asra must embark on a journey across the kingdom, becoming a player in lethal games of power among assassins, gods, and even the king himself.
Most frightening of all, she discovers the dark secrets of her own mysterious history—and the terrible, powerful legacy she carries in her blood.
People do inadvisable things for love. Some of us publicly embarrass ourselves, but Asra uses her life-draining magic to help her girlfriend Ina find the animal she’ll shapeshift into and inadvertently kills Ina’s entire village. To stop Ina from killing the king and destroying the entire country of Zumorda by doing so, Asra leaves her mountain home for the first time and races to the capital alongside her fellow demigod Hal. There’s a lot to like about this novel, but the romance between Asra and Hal might be the best part. Both of them make mistakes with each other and Hal makes some heinous ones, but he more than earns Asra’s forgiveness and his respect of her boundaries is admirable.
One of the weaknesses of Coulthurst’s previous Stars-verse novel was the threadbare worldbuilding, but if that’s something that troubled you too, Inkmistress doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls. Rather than trying and failing to worldbuild for three separate nations while neglecting all the important history between them, Inkmistress is only painting a picture of one kingdom: Zumorda. The magic system is intriguing as well; humans take a manifest to shapeshift into a specific animal and demigods born of the Six Gods have a variety of gifts but some come at a cost, like Asra losing years off her life when she writes the future and Hal collapsing when he uses his gift of influence too much.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
This is a fantasy that’s more based in the adventure and the journey than any politics like the previous novel as well. While that keeps the story moving and does more to establish Zumorda, Asra and Hal’s time on the road is also when the novel slows down the most and loses reader interest.
Inkmistress is a vast improvement on Of Fire and Stars and its ending has me excited for Of Ice and Shadows. Gay fantasy is always a delight and even this prequel novel is the only one in this series you choose to read, you’ll have a fun time. Demigods, blood magic, shapeshifters, and a sheltered young woman coming of age–what’s not to like?