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-