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Synopsis: From Amazon
After suffering a terrible trauma at the hands of her brother's dealer friends, Leslie becomes obsessed with the idea of getting a tattoo -- it's the one thing that will allow her to reclaim her body, renew her self-confidence. And when Rabbit, her local tattoo artist, shows her a secret book of his own designs, she finds one of them irresistible. Soon, her back is adorned with a pair of mysterious eyes, framed by black wings. Leslie feels good -- more than good. Nothing bad can touch her. But what she doesn't know is that her new tattoo binds her tightly to the faery whose symbol she chose: Irial, the exquisitely dangerous king of the Dark Court!
A 'sort-of' sequel to Wicked Lovely. I loved the use of one of the peripheral characters from Wicked Lovely becoming the protagonist in this story.
The story is slightly more frightening and darker than Wicked Lovely which is to be expected when dealing with not only the darker side of faeries but also the darker side of life.
Melissa Marr's descriptive writing literally jumps off the page and brings vivid pictures to your imagination (again this is not good when you have a phobia of snakes and there is an in-depth description of the pet boa constrictor!)
Wicked Lovely had well developed characters but Ink Exchange takes them a step further. Especially the two male protagonists, Keenan and Seth. However, I would have liked to have seen the same sort of development applied to the central female character from Wicked Lovely, Aislinn. I would have also liked information on the events surrounding Donia as she is only briefly mentioned in Ink Exchange, even though she is essential to the plot (I suppose there is only so much you can fit into a book and it leaves the reader wanting more).
Although I do not personally have a tattoo (I am too much of a wimp) I can truly admire the artistic talent involved and this was well documented within the story.
The idea of wanting an emotional abyss was very thought provoking, who hasn't wanted an escape from reality when things are tough, the idea of not feeling hurt, anger, pain, only happiness sounds very appealing in principle.
The ending was a big surprise, but I loved it.
I adored the glossary of character names given at the back of the book, it really added an extra dimension to the plot. I wonder how long it will be before these names start showing up on the list of top ten baby names.
For those of you who dismiss reading a Faery Story try the Wicked Lovely series and be surprised, these are faeries like you have never seen before.
This is the story of Aislinn who has got the Sight; meaning that she can see the faeries that surround humans all the time. She has been taught several rules by her grandmother that help her to hide the fact that she can see these faeries, as her life would be in danger if they ever found out about her Sight. However, Aislinn has attracted the attention of a faery called Keenan who is none other than the Summer King, and he is on the lookout for his Summer Queen. Once Keenan has singled a girl out as a possible Summer Queen there are only two options - to become a Summer Girl, a type of faery who drinks and dances and doesn't have a care in the world; or to try their chances at becoming the Summer Queen. However, if the girl is not the Summer Queen, she will be filled with Winter's Chill until the next girl tries for the crown.
Aislinn is a very strong female character. What I like about her is the fact that she is not willing to compromise on her life as she knows it just because a faery king is chasing after her. I also really liked the character of Seth, Aislinn's best friend, who obviously has feelings for her. On first impression, he is a bad boy covered in tattoos and piercings who sleeps around. However, he is a good friend to Aislinn and wants to help and protect her from the faeries who are after her. I really liked the romantic tension between Aislinn and Seth. They have feelings for each other but Aislinn is unwilling to get involved as she knows about his past romantic encounters and is worried that he will only want a one-night stand, which would ruin their friendship. She is not prepared to lose his friendship so she tries to keep her distance from him.
I loved the world as it was described by Marr, although it is a dark and sinister world. This is the first faery novel I have read and the faeries were far from the Tinker-Bell type that I was expecting. They were cruel and vicious, often playing tricks on humans. Aislinn obviously sees them as very dangerous creatures and is scared of them.
There are three main faery characters in this story: Keenan, Donia and Beira. As I have already said, Keenan is the Summer King and he has been searching for his Queen for centuries. He is a strong and confident character, who is trying to right the wrongs in the faery world - he doesn't believe that faeries should behave in the cruel ways that they do. Once he has found his Queen he will be strong enough to start taking action against others. Donia is the last woman to try to become Summer Queen and, as she was unsuccessful, she is filled with Winter's Chill. She is portrayed as strong and willing to take risks to help others. Beira is Keenan's mother and also the Winter Queen. She is trying to stop Aislinn from attempting to become Queen as she believes that Aislinn is the one and once the Summer Queen is found, Beira will no longer be as strong as she is. She is an evil character who murders others and will stop at nothing to keep her power.
I really enjoyed the story but I have to admit that there was something about the way it was written that meant that I did not find it an easy read. It's nothing I can put my finger on but I just found it slow-going. I had to push myself to read it as I was intruigued by the storyline and I wanted to see how it ended. But I am glad that I perservered as it was a brilliant story.
Leslie's life is not much fun: her father is a drunk and a gambler, her brother uses (and deals) in drugs and it's up to her to maintain a façade of normality and find the money to pay the bills the father misses with her waitressing job. She doesn't confide in anybody and, increasingly struggling with her own feelings after her brother spikes her drink and allows her to be raped by his dealer friend, feels compelled to get an elaborate tattoo as means of regaining control of her body, and her life.
At the same time the fey of the Dark Court are suffering: since the truce between the Winter and Summer courts there aren't enough strong faerie emotions for them to feed on - and they can't directly pick up human ones. Their king Irial instigates a process of Ink Exchange which might help the situation.
It's Irial's eyes and wings that Leslie, unknowingly but surely, picks up for her design: and it's a beginning of a bond between her and Irial that will, at first, make her confident and pain-free again, but which will gradually reveal itself to be an addiction more disempowering than anything that had happened to Leslie before.
There is also Niall, a Summer Court faery with a somehow complicated history with Irial's court and Irial himself, and a nature than makes his embrace deadly addictive to humans.
Set in the same world (and the same, pretty grim and desolate, town of Huntsdale) and more or less immediately following in time the events of Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange takes some of the secondary characters from the first novel and explores their emotional conflicts on the background of the political machinations of Faerie courts.
Love, sex and their associated dilemmas remain among the main subjects of Ink Exchange (and concern 17 year old humans as much as hundreds-of-years old faeries), but the second major theme of the novel is reactions to traumatic experiences and addiction.
I would also add self-harm as the desire to get tatooed and pierced seems intensly slef-mutiliating to me, but I had a strong feeling that tattoos and piercings were depicted as essentially positive and thus I can't impose my own ideas about what does and what doesn't constitute mutilation.
Faerie courts and faerie lovers notwithstanding, I suspect that for most of the target audience, it's likely to be the emotional journey of Leslie that will be the most convincing and the most moving: from unbearable suffering to the narcotic-like dulling of all feelings achieved, in her case, by magical rather than chemical means, to, eventually, reclaiming her own emotions, including the pain.
But it doesn't mean that the two other narrative voices are without interest. I enjoyed the way that a deep connection via the Ink Exchange of the title with a mortal girl changes the Dark King Irial himself, his political struggles in the complex and cruel world of faerie politics; a glimpse into the way Aislinn of Wicked Lovely copes with her role as the Summer Queen; a conflict between the loyalty to the court, his own nature and the pull of his feelings for Niall.
If there is a more philosophical underlay to Ink Exchange it is about making choices, freedom, becoming your own person, taking responsibility and letting go - of your own demons, but also of other people, especially those that we love: themes important to all of us, but of perhaps particular interest to older teenagers/young adults who are working out first serious relationships.
I did detect a very slight whiff of the addiction/co-dependence nonsense, but in all honesty it is probably more to do with the fact that it would be very hard to write a novel dealing with any aspect of addiction without, at least to small extent, absorbing some of the ideas about the subject that are taken virtually for granted nowadays.
Ink Exchange is a darker tale than Wicked Lovely, naturally because the faerie part of the action centres on the Dark Court (whose more horrible exploits are hinted at an briefly described, but without making a big point about it), but also because of Leslie's traumatic rape experience (which is never detailed, but oft mentioned) and the way the two link together in the story of Leslie's falling into the thrall of Irial as the way to medicate her own pain.
Similarly to Aislin in the previous book, Leslie hungers after respectable normality and it's the circumstances and her traumatic experiences rather than desire to question authority or push boundaries that compel her into the labyrinths of Irial's world.
The ending, alas, is a bit disappointing, not necessarily because it's a happy one for the main character, but because the redemption is perhaps a little bit too universal. I think readers ready for the narrative and themes of Ink Exchange could have coped with something more in keeping with the slightly menacing feel of the whole novel.
Still, those who like this kind of thing, will enjoy this novel which ticks all the boxes that a dark modern fairy tale should. The intensely emotional character of the story (it is all about emotions, pretty much, and the imagery of the intertwined worlds is at times excellent) makes it one mostly for the girls. So does the dominant role of the female protagonist, even though two out of three points of view are male - or as a 17 year old female could imagine a male point of view to be.