ARC Review: Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal

Title: Ink in the Blood
Author: Kim Smejkal
Publisher: HMH Books For Young Readers
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Hardcover, 448 Pages
Publication Date: February 11th, 2020

Summary: Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison. Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further. To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

When I first received an advanced copy of Ink in the Blood, I wasn't entirely sure what to think, since I'm not a huge fan of fantasy books and I often have a hard time getting into them. I have nothing against them at all, I just tend to be more of a contemporary/rom-com reader, so I felt really out of my element when starting this book. However, it turns out that I had absolutely nothing to worry about, because I ended up LOVING this book ten times more than I ever thought I would! So without further ado, let's get into my review:

As the summary explains, Celia is an Inkling, one of the few chosen by the Divine to inscribe messages of both praise and warning on the followers of the religion. But life as a servant of the Divine is not as incredible as the outer public may believe, and Celia finds herself running away for a better life and a chance to escape the torture that plagued her childhood...but what she gets when she meets up with a traveling band of actors is definitely not what she bargained for. However, are these new people willing to help her tear down a sinister institution that is actually idolized by its people? (There are definitely a lot more details that you should refer to the originally summary for -- which is right up at the top of this post -- because there are tons of super-specific details that I'm not good at explaining because, as I just said, I tend to not be a big fantasy buff, so those explanations are kind of hard for me, LOL.)

You guys, I don't think I could say it enough times: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I was kind of hesitant at first because there was a lot of world building and information to set up the story, which was totally necessary but still felt a bit heavy and overwhelming to me at first since I'm not often reading fantasy. However, as the story went on, I found myself more and more hooked, to the point that I was reading this book during the walk between classes, on the train to work, and every spare second that I had in between my various club meetings and homework assignments. Kim Smejkal manages to weave an intricate, intriguing, high-stakes story that you never want to look away from -- the nearly 450 pages of the book passed by in a total blur because I just kept flipping and wanting to find out what was going to happen next!

The entire world of the Inklings and the Divine and having the tattoos being inscribed on people as both messages of prophecy and also warning was also a really interesting concept that I hadn't ever really read before in a book, so I was intrigued about that from the very start. The world with all of the high-ranking officials, the Inklings, the Mob, the fleas, etc., was all very elaborate while also being very easy to understand. As someone who tends to be timid when it comes to world building (because contemporary novels that I read often don't require much, if any, of it), I ended up not being as overwhelmed and confused as I thought I was going to be. And I actually ended up getting a really intriguing story out of all of it!

Something that I particularly ADORED about this book was the increasing amount of sexual tension/flirtation between Celia and the plague doctor. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm a huge rom-com fan, so just having that whole "enemies to potential friends to potentially something more" trope with all of their interactions and their increasing sexual tension that they both refuse to acknowledge was seriously giving me so much life. The plague doctor himself was really just my favorite character and I loved swooning over him every time he was on the page. I have such a weakness for mysterious, masked, dark, brooding, sexually-frustrating characters. He gave me major Phantom of the Opera vibes in the best of ways, and I am not ashamed to admit that I was blushing almost every time he was on the page.

Overall, I absolutely adored Ink in the Blood, and I can't sing its praises enough. I'm really glad that Kim Smejkal is a 2020 debut so we can do some more work with here on the blog (be on the lookout for that!), because this is definitely a story that needs to be getting into as many hands as possible. According to Goodreads, there should be other books coming in a series after this one, so I'm going to be eagerly awaiting those for sure! If Ink in the Blood wasn't on your TBR yet, it definitely should be now!


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