Ink & Sigil #2
Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Del Rey; August 10, 2021
304 pages (ebook)
3.5 / 5 ✪
I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Beware Spoilers for Ink & Sigil (maybe read this one first, eh?)
Fresh off the Case of the Trafficked Fae and Stolen Whisky, Al MacBharrais and his hobgoblin Buck are thrown into another mystery involving missing sigil agents, a rising body count, and a untracked god appearing in the south of Australia.
It all begins with a mysterious, god-level event in the Dandenong Mountains, a range just north of Melbourne, Australia. Sigil agent Shu-hua goes to investigate, only to disappear without a trace. Another sigil agent, Mei-ling, and her apprentice set out shortly after to attempt to find Shu-hua, only to suffer the same mysterious fate themselves. As folk keep disappearing Down Unda, Shu-hua’s apprentice Ya-ping frantically contacts Al, desperate for some help finding her missing mentor.
Now it’s up to MacBharrais and his wee pink hob to travel to Southern Victoria and find the missing agents, people plus whatever’s been taking them. Oh, and he invites the Iron Druid Connor (formerly Atticus)—who has taken up residence just south in Tasmania—to come along for the ride.
Thus the adventure begins, with Al, Hob and Ya-ping joining forces with Connor, Oberon and Starbuck to find their brethren and foil whatever nefarious forces are at work. There will be plenty of time for fun along the way—with a plethora of guest stars, cameos, heists, and stories to distract from all of that ass-kicking that is sure to commence when the team hunts down their prey.
I found this adventure a good read; fun, exciting, and interesting in all the right ways. As with the first book in the series, I enjoyed Al in a way I never did Atticus. Therefore I was initially disappointed when the Iron Druid showed up—but forgave the choice as he proved to be a much more mellow, far less superpowered god as I remembered. The same core characters from Ink & Sigil return as Nadia, Buck, and of course Al reprise their roles, much to the same tune as last time. However, except for a little piece of backstory on Buck, we really don’t learn anything especially new or interesting about them. Ya-ping is a welcome relief as the apprentice sigil agent is funny but deep, interesting, and relatable without being too wise for her age. I even enjoyed the Iron Druid, after a fashion. Unfortunately that doesn’t hold true for Gladys (MacBharrais’s secretary from Book #1), who returns with a bit of mysterious backstory. I found her as unlikely as she was unlikeable, and the whole concept of her surprise reveal stupid.
While it’s a good, fun read, Paper & Blood is far from perfect.
⎡ [They want to bag a druid, and not just any Druid: They want the Iron Druid.]
“So many reasons!” Buck said, spreading his arms wide but keeping his voice low. “A Lot of human violence is committed over the idea of proprietary sex partners. Could that be it?”
First off, as the story itself comes directly after Al’s realization that he’s the victim of not one but two curses, I really would’ve thought we’d’ve focussed on that more. But other than a little tidbit at the very end, we end back where we started. It’s like… So, the spinoff was a hit. Episode 1 ended on a high note and we’re all invested in the mystery and can’t wait to see where it leads in Episode 2. But instead of any continuation of what must be the overarching season plot, Episode 2 is a self-contained story that has very little to do with anything (although it’s all well and good and interesting in its own right), only to spend the last minute or two refocussing everyone on what happened at the end of Episode 1 and where the story’s sure to be headed now. In short, while Episode 2 was good, we made no season plot progress from #1 but end the episode assuring the audience that we’re totally going to come Episode 3.
Now I realize that this might’ve been an attempt to expand the world, the lore, or more firmly establish the connection to the Iron Druid universe. And it does two out of the three—though doesn’t teach us anything more about different sigils—the connections and lore being leaned on heavily. The lore was particularly interesting, as it expands the world, the pantheons, and their capabilities.
Additionally, within this self-contained adventure, there are a few (three) “campfire stories” that didn’t seem to connect to anything. Okay, okay—I’m sure you could come up with some connections, but they’re tenuous at best, and at worst have nothing to do with either the plot of Episode 1 or 2 and are just included to waste time. Combined, the three take up roughly 15% of the book. I found the first one (3%) interesting, the second (2%) boring, and the third (10%) especially pointless.
All in all, I left Paper & Blood feeling a bit annoyed, but overall pleased with my time spent within its pages. After waiting on it a few days however, mostly now I just feel that while the story was entertaining, it was didn’t leave any lasting sense of accomplishment. Nothing happens that relates to the overarching plot of the series: Al’s curse. It’s a self-contained adventure that—while interesting and entertaining in its own right—is pretty much just a waste of time. I’m not saying Paper & Blood wasn’t good—it was! It told a fun, ofttimes exciting story, but related to fuck all of the story from Book 1. If you enjoyed the Iron Druid series, it’ll probably just be worthwhile to see Atticus again. If you thought Ink & Sigil thinking that it was a lovely time, full of laughter and fun—you’ll probably like Paper & Blood. But if you like a bit more substance out of your series, you’ll likely still enjoy your time, but leave feeling a bit disappointed.