Review: Ink Mage (A Fire Beneath the Skin #1) by Victor Gishler

Having reviewed mostly sci-fi books in the last stretch, I decided to go with a fantasy work again this time. I picked out Victor Gishler’sInk Mage” as a fairly popular book on Kindle Unlimited with an interesting sounding premise. In part, I was also testing the Kindle Unlimited service, to see if the books it grants access to are worth the $10 monthly fee. So far I’m not impressed, but time will tell if that remains the case. At any rate, on to the review.

I really really, really wanted to like this book. I’ve always liked the idea of magical tattoos, clear back to my first encounter with the concept as a D&D player. Sadly, I’ve seen very few people run with the idea in a novel format. It is thus no real surprise that I was excited about the idea featuring heavily in “Ink Mage.” For that matter, I can say right up front that the handling of the idea in this book is good. Very good. It might well be the best single interpretation of the concept I’ve seen in novel form. In addition to that, the main character (Rina) is quite well written. I thoroughly enjoyed her, and I thoroughly enjoyed the setting too. However, I didn’t like the book, and can’t give it a very high rating in good conscience. I crawled through it in fits and starts, taking nearly three times my usual turn-around time for a novel of its length. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons.

First and most critically, when it comes to my struggle with the book, is that the while Rina was a very strong and well-written character, her perspective only makes up maybe 1/3rd of the novel’s content. Unfortunately, the other four major perspectives (Yes, FOUR, plus a few minor perspectives as well) followed much weaker characters. Some of these prominent characters were so horrible (and frankly stupid) that every time the story flipped to their perspectives I wanted to put the novel down. I refuse to skim when I read novels for review and that fact resulted in me dragging my feet. I didn’t want to read about those characters, so I would put the book down for days before forcing myself to pick it back up again. If it hadn’t been for how amazing the main character was, the book almost certainly would have joined my very short list of “Didn’t Finish” books.

The second issue is related to the above. The weak character perspectives are made much worse by the author not being up to the task of juggling so many of them. While they did all come together in the end, they didn’t do so with any smoothness. Victor Gishler is no Robert Jordan or Tom Clancy, and badly needed to pare down the extraneous perspectives to something he could actually handle. As most of the perspectives were extraneous, and could have been cut out without the reader missing anything, I’m not inclined to be overly understanding about the inclusion of these weak perspectives that detracted from the main character and her awesomeness.

The last detracting bit is a personal pet peeve of mine, rather than an overall weakness. Namely, that the novel is very clearly only setup material for later books. There is no real climax, just build up and a weak finish that is clearly intended to lead into the next book. I personally detest this. While I understand the need to span books with an epic plotline, there should always be a major climax (not THE major climax, but A major climax) in any book. “Ink Mage” didn’t do this, and what climax was present was honestly pretty washed out and unbelievable. The result of too many plot lines trying to force their way to resolution in a few short pages.

Ultimately, while the basic plot was sound, the setting quite solid, and the main character quite good, the other pieces of the book acted as a millstone around the novel’s neck, dragging it down into a mire of inadequacy.


Final Rating Breakdown:

Setting: 7/10

Characters: 4/10

Plot: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

Score Adjustments for Misc:
-1 for too many extraneous, unneeded, and boring perspectives

Final Score: 5/10

Personal Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you have Kindle Unlimited. Then you could probably pick it up and skim past the bad bits. You won’t lose anything if you do, and the main character’s story is actually fairly good when separated from the dross.

1 Comment

  1. The story was ok. It moved but nothing truly drew me in. There is one point where I thought things would get exciting knowing Rina was going to have a showdown with another powerful ink mage but that was over and done with so quickly I was surprised.


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