Group Review — Nightmare Ink (Living Ink #1) by Marcella Burnard

nightmare ink by marcella burnardPublisher: Penguin InterMix
Where did we get this book: e-arc from the publisher via NetGalley
Release Date: April 15, 2014

With her art and magic, Isa Romanchzyk has the power to create or destroy. In her tattoo shop, Nightmare Ink, Isa helps those in need by binding the power embedded in their Live Ink—the magical tattoos that can enhance the life of the wearer, or end it. But binding tattoos has earned Isa the contempt of her fellow artists—including her former lover Daniel.

When a friend comes to the shop with a tattoo on the verge of killing him, Isa can’t turn him away. For the first time in years, she works Live Ink—something she swore she’d never do again. But a broken vow soon becomes the least of her problems.

The real nightmare begins when she’s abducted and inked with a Living Tattoo against her will. Now, saddled with a powerful, amoral entity willing to do anything to win his freedom, Isa must fight to keep her Living Tattoo from consuming her completely…

*Blurb from Goodreads

Our Thoughts:

Cass: All thoughts were just removed from my head by my first glimpse at this horrid cover.

Okay, back on track. I jumped at the chance to read this book as soon as I we were told it involved DRAGON TATTOOS COMING TO LIFE. It really takes very little to get on my must-read list.

It is correspondingly evil to throw me into a rage-induced-book-boycott. I utterly hated torture porn Marcella Burnard subjected us too during Isa’s abduction. I want to plaster the book with trigger warnings. I’ve sat through countless recitations of sexual assault that were less rapey than Isa’s abduction scenes–which did not, if I recall correctly, involve any actual rape. I was disgusted and stopped reading until Marlene prodded me with her reminder that this review was due.

Sadly, forcing myself to finish the book did not improve matters. Did any of you enjoy anything about this book? Other than the dragons.

Lou: Now I had some issues with the book but overall I enjoyed it a lot more than you Cass. That scene was horrible to read about but it didn’t stop me from reading the book. I did enjoy the story of Live Ink (tattoos) being alive and how if not done correctly, they can eat and kill their way through their host and end up escaping onto the streets. I think the idea behind it was awesome but I did have issues with the worldbuilding which never really felt solid to me. How did Isa, and other Live Ink tattooists use magic and pull these creatures from another supernatural plane? Where did their magic come from? How did the creatures survive on the other plane before being pulled into Earth? The worldbuilding foundation was a shakey but I did think it was something a little unique compared to other UF books.

What did you think about the heroine, Isa? At times I felt as if she was pushing people away needlessly, and other times I had sympathy for her. I suppose my favourite part of the book was Isa and Murmur (her Live Ink) battling for control over her body and mind, and living to co-exist with one another.

Marlene: I think I fall in the middle on this one. It wasn’t just the torture porn that bothered me, it was the way that Isa became a victim and stayed a victim for most of the book. She was “pity poor me” for about ⅔ of the story. Not that she didn’t have plenty to feel sorry for herself after the lengthy torture porn episode, but I want my heroines to be in more charge of what’s happening to them more of the time. Isa was not only beaten, but she continued to beat herself up for most of the story.

I agree with Lou about wondering where the magic came from, and how it worked. Also more about how it was discovered. It was fantastic that Live Ink wearers didn’t seem to age, but it also seemed like one too many superpowers for something whose origin wasn’t explained.

Also, it took me forever to locate the references, but there are two other books that use “magic tattooing” as major parts of the story; The Iron Hunt (Hunter Kiss series) by Marjorie M. Liu and Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti. I picked up Nightmare Ink because I liked both of those, but I think they did better with their worldbuilding and making sure the heroine kept her agency.

Cass: I agree that the entire premise of Live Ink was fascinating (that’s why I wanted to read!), but it was not executed very well. There were too many gaps in the world-building for the magic to feel real. Nothing was properly integrated in the story. Sometimes an author will tease this kind of information out over the course of a series, but I did not think that was the case here. The Mean Cop Lady was a perfect personification of this. She clearly had no comprehension of how magic worked, Isa’s role in their society, or why the police referred cases to her. She was a cardboard antagonist. There simply to throw up pointless roadblocks in the investigation because she…..

  • Hates Isa – who she never met before, or
  • Distrusts Isa – despite her expertise and long-standing history of working with the police to keep the city safe from Rogue Ink, or
  • Has no idea how Ink works – despite being in charge of the Magic Division.

Notice how none of those options make any sense?

As for Isa, she’s a goddamn idiot. Too Stupid To Live. I enjoyed her interactions with Murmur, because he kept challenging her idiocy, but otherwise? Ugh. Let her die already. I have no interest in her continued blunders. “Oh here’s this cop that hates me, I will tell her something completely out of context that makes me sound like a Demon From The Lowest Bowels Of Hell. Seems like the thing to do when we are in the middle of a crisis!”

Lou: Oh, you’ve hit the nail on the head with The Mean Cop Lady. Why was she so mean and hateful towards, Isa? The police department have a magical investigation team but they outsourced to Isa to deal with Live Ink. What I didn’t understand is how could Anne be in charge when her knowledge was so poor, and she had a raging hard-on for Isa. When Anne goes to hit Isa, in the police department, and she doesn’t get reprimanded or sacked? There were a lot of gaps in the worldbuilding because I’m not entirely sure if Live Ink are demons or angels?

LOL. Isa did make some choices that were slightly questionable but I suppose I overlooked these because I was enjoying the idea of Live Ink so much. I understood why she wanted to move away from her friends because she was afraid that Murmur would take control and harm those surrounding her. I did enjoy Gus and Ilyria, the two little fuzzballs. I wondered how did they know where to find Isa when Daniel kidnapped her? Also, what other magic do Natasha, Steve, Oki and Troy have? It didn’t seem grounded.

Marlene: There were two caricatures, The Mean Cop Lady and the Thug. Anne, the MCL (mean cop lady, one more time) seemed like she was there to be an obstacle, and to represent the facelessness of bureaucratic stupidity. She never felt like a person, and I couldn’t understand why she acted the way she did. Or why the cops left her in any management capacity. She seems to represent the faceless secret police, or The X Files version of cops who can’t be trusted. And of course, she couldn’t.

The thug Ria was another blank. His purpose was to be thuggish and to use his friends in low places to find the criminal mastermind at the right time.

Lou: Talking about Steve, what did you think about the romance? I did enjoy it but at times I felt as if Steve felt faceless. He seemed to react just for the purpose of Isa. Am I making sense?

Cass: I was actually surprised when she and Steve hooked up. He was pretty firmly Friend-Zoned. They aren’t going to last.

Marlene: I was shocked too. Absolutely Friend-Zoned. And when he suddenly wasn’t, it felt like retconning, as if she changed her mind because the author needed an unattached male for the requisite sex scene.

Lou: I did wonder if there was going to be a love triangle between Daniel, Steve and Isa but Daniel’s murdering cray cray showed quite early on. I do worry if Steve and Isa will last because there did seem to be a hint of something between Isa and Murmur towards the end. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it’s not something I did see coming. Overall, I did enjoy Nightmare Ink but I did have some issues with the worldbuilding. Saying that, I would definitely pick up and read the second book in the series when it’s released.

I give Nightmare Ink a C.

Cass: Despite everything, I enjoyed Murmur. Which keeps this from being a flat out failure. I give Nightmare Ink a D+ for DRAGON.

Marlene: I got love triangle vibes at the end too. There seemed to be way more intimacy between Murmur and Isa than Isa and Steve. It could just be that Murmur felt more like a real character than Steve. Although the kitty warrior princess Ikylla was my absolute favorite character.

Also, it took me forever to locate the references, but there are two other books that use “magic tattooing” as major parts of the story; The Iron Hunt (Hunter Kiss series) by Marjorie M. Liu and Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti. I picked up Nightmare Ink because I liked both of those, but I think they did better with their worldbuilding and making sure the heroine kept her agency.

I also give Nightmare Ink a C.

3 thoughts on “Group Review — Nightmare Ink (Living Ink #1) by Marcella Burnard”

  1. Nice review ladies, thank you. For now, I am passing on this one. I do have the Marjorie M. Liu books to read on my shelves. After two, I am still not sure if I actually like them. Miss Liu does not write much humor or sarcasm or witty things in her books.

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