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REVIEW: Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

Dear Ms. Marr:

I was blown away by your debut book, Wicked Lovely, and thus my expectations for Ink Exchange were quite high. While the smooth narration and elegance of prose are still present in Ink Exchange, the storyline didn’t deliver for me.

Leslie, friend of the protagonist in Wicked Lovely, lives a very sad existence. Her mother is gone. Her father is a drunk who occassionally remembers to pay the bills but often does not. Her brother has a drug habit and has, on at least one occassion, used his sister as currency to support that habit. Leslie’s response to her situation and her past trauma is to supposedly to respond in increasingly sexual ways, although this is simply alluded to through slurs and innuendos and not something of which the reader sees evidence.

The story is quite complicated and I think that without having read the first book, readers might be quite lost as to the interplay between humans and the faery world. While Leslie plays the role of the outsider, the entirety of the story is not narrated from her point of view. Instead the point of view of the two other leads, Irial, King of the Dark Faery Court, and Niall, member of the Summer King’s court, flesh out much of the story. Niall and Irial thrive on the darker emotions of humans and helpless faeries. Irial and his court is suffering from his lack of ability to feed. Leslie decides to get a tattoo which is the symbol of Irial and through it, the Ink Exchange, Irial is able to feed off humanities despair through Leslie. Of course, this means Leslie must feel it as well.

I think that you use the cover of the faery world to tackle some serious issues that teen or young adult might face. In Wicked Lovely, there was an implied rape scene where Keenan, the Summer King, uses the elixir of the faeries to intoxicate Aislinn. In this, the core of the story is of young Leslie, growing up the victim and repeatedly exposed to abusers. She suffers her father’s neglect, her brother’s betrayal. Niall and Irial and a host of others take turns using Leslie for their own purposes. The goal of the story seems to be Leslie’s reclaming of self, of gaining self actualization and ceasing to become a victim.

One of the problems, however, is that in the power struggle between Leslie and her abusers, Leslie never gains power because the worldbuilding dynamic is set up in such a way that mere humans are pawns. These pawns can either be treated well or they can be treated poorly, but the power rests solely in the hands of the faery world. The only protection Leslie has is not within herself but external. In many real ways, Leslie’s life would be the same regardless of what choices she makes.

For all that this story is about Leslie finding her personal strength and recovering from past tragedies, she is still victimized in the end, saved only by the choices of others. This story particularly highlights that there is little in the control of a human and that unseen others, more powerful, ultimately decide our fate. This message is at odds with purpose of Leslie’s story.

If it was intended for Niall and Irial to represent a forbidden something, whether it be drugs or sex or alcohol, it seems that the message that was sent was that no matter how greatly you are self directed, the other something can defeat you. To that end, I felt that the story failed in its delivery, no matter how beautifully it was written. B-

Best regards,


This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells. No ebook yet.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. katiebabs
    May 12, 2008 @ 20:49:13

    I met Melissa at the NYC Comic Con a few weeks ago and was able to get Ink Exchange, which is my next TBR. :) After Wicked Lovely, she is a welcomed author for the YA genre. I have a thing for fairies. :D

  2. Heather Loy
    May 12, 2008 @ 21:23:23

    Thank you! I was blown away by Wicked Lovely and greatly anticipated the release of Ink Exchange only to be disappointed in the story. After such a strong character in Aislinn, Leslie didn’t truly measure up. Also, to me, her decision to get a tatoo seemed more of self-mutilation (same as cutting) as a way to gain control over her own body.

    You were more generous in your rating, I’d have given it a C-

  3. Jane
    May 12, 2008 @ 21:38:48

    Heather – I felt like the prose was so strong that even though the story itself was weak, it wasn’t an average book but I can see justifying any grade for this book because of its failure to deliver on its message.

  4. trisha
    May 13, 2008 @ 00:02:04

    I read the book differently. Not as “Leslie's reclaming of self,” but as a story of survival. And not just on the part of Leslie, but also Irial, in his desire for the Dark Court to be strong and to not fall to any of the other courts, and Neal, coming to terms with his past, with what he did and what he’s capable of.


    I will agree that in the end, Leslie is free because Irial chooses to let her go, but didn’t she decide that she didn’t want to live in the haze of the Ink Exchange? Don’t have my ARC anymore so I can’t check, but I thought that was partly why Irial let her go, because Leslie wanted to live again? Leslie chooses to survive.

  5. loonigrrl
    May 13, 2008 @ 03:21:12

    Wow. Just your review alone depressed the heck out of me. I don’t necessarily need to read completely uplifting stories all of the time, but this sounds seriously heavy. I’m not sure I’d be able to enjoy it AT ALL.

  6. Heather Loy
    May 13, 2008 @ 09:33:17

    Loonigrrl, don’t let our reviews sway you, the book IS worth reading and up until the second half of the book I was enjoying it. I guess my problem is that I’m a happily ever after girl and the end didn’t quite make it for me. For me it was just not up to par with Wicked Lovely plot wise, though I agree with Jane that the prose and world building were spectacular.

  7. Jane
    May 13, 2008 @ 09:37:13


    I see where you are coming from, Trisha. I agree that it is a survival story as well, but a tragically flawed one due to the inherent power disparities between Leslie and the faeries. I think it was strongly implied that without the choices made by Irial that Leslie would still be a target regardless of her burning off the tattoo. Niall obviously could have harmed her but choose not to before he became part of the Dark Court. I think Marr’s worldbuilding lacks balance because humans have no defense thus any human survivor story becomes illusory.


  8. Anon
    May 14, 2008 @ 08:13:14

    Thank you! I was beginning to think I was going crazy, reading all these reviews that talk about what a powerful story about “choice” this is, while the main character is a pawn — in a trance — for most of the story. I thought the first book was mediocre at best, but I’m like Heather: C-, or even D. I was beginning to wonder if my copy was missing chapters.

  9. Tereza
    Aug 10, 2008 @ 16:34:07

    After reading this, i have to say that in my opinion, Ink Exchange was better than Wicked lovely, which is no small feat. I don’t know what exactly, but the story, darker than the first one really got me reading till 4 am :-)

  10. Jen
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 20:58:42

    I never read Wicked Lovely, didn’t even know it existed until now, and was confused in the beginning. I picked up Ink Exchange in my high school library, and after reading it wondered why it was there in the first place. The book is definently below the high school (ages 14-18) reading level. The ending was most definently a let-down. It was like a slow build up, climax, and then boom, the end. It could use a another chapter, something to give more description about the ending of conflict between Irial, Niall, and Leslie. Hell, it could use more description all throughout the book. I’m not one to need everything spelt out for me, but in this case, it could use a lot more detail. But then again, if this book it meant for twelve year olds, then I guess the level of detail was okay.

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  13. Rachel
    Aug 20, 2013 @ 12:05:37

    Hiiii people! ^_^ I just wanted to mention something. Or at least this is what is seems like in my opinion. This book, is meant to be a telling of the faerie world in the modern world. You can see all the allusions to modern day life if you’d like, but the way that I saw this book is that it is a complete work of fiction (unless you believe in faeries and all that). She shows what happens if you were to get tangled up in that world with that assortment of characters. It was not meant to be kind or light and romantic, but rather, dirty and gritty and real, not like the fairy tales and Disney movies we used to watch as kids. If you look at the lore and myths behind every faerie written into this book, you will see that they are actually very dark characters in real life and I believe that’s all she was trying to show. Sorry if that seems a little harsh in anyway or whatever. I just wanted to put that out there, because this was my FAVORITE book out of the whole series.

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