Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

Goodreads review, published July 24, 2013

On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive.

Oh, "Ink". Oh, oh, oh, "Ink".

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review via Netgalley. I'm criminally late in doing so, but no monetary compensation has been given in exchange for this review.

Another full disclosure: I love anime. I love the Japanese language. I love Japanese culture. I'm quite adept at eating with chopsticks and shop at Asian supermarkets (because where else can you buy not only miso and wakame, but dashi, mirin, abura-age or even a steamer basket?) I don't quite qualify as a weebo, although, who knows, I just might be one. 

What I'm trying to say is, I'm a geeky, awkward fan of Japanese culture, and so whenever something even remotely Japanese-themed hits the YA market, I instantly get excited. I was super-pumped about Stormdancer, although subsequent reviews (and the price for the UK hardback) chilled my ardour, I was still very excited about Ink.

I was also very excited to get the galley, even if it was in the middle of a reading drought which had me so emotionally exhausted I could barely look at a book. I picked it up in May, fully intending to gobble it up and review it and...

I couldn't do it. I only got about 25% through until I threw in the towel and went to make some curry. Because, honestly, after reading page upon page of it, Katie's adventure succeeded only in making me hungry.

And it's not like stuff doesn't happen. It does. Creepy drawings! Fights! Fiesty action girls! Seriously, Katie's anything but passive - she doesn't let people bully her, she stands up for herself, she learns kendo diligently, (and you can tell the author did her homework here) but I just couldn't get into it.

What I mean to say is... there was just not enough tension, damn it! We follow Katie as she slowly gets to know Tomohiro and learn his secret and fall for him (and yay for interracial romance!) but the overarching plot about the yakuza and the Paper Gods doesn't truly appear until about halfway into the book.

And that's a problem for me, because, as much as I love romance and mystery, it loses some of its charm because I don't feel like the characters are in any sort of real danger. As humans, we like a challenge, and the harder we work for something, the more fulfilled we are when we finally get it. 

That's not to say there aren't great moments in this book - there are. They merit the extra star. One thing I love about Amanda Sun, she actually seems to acknowledge that losing a parent is traumatic and can have real consequences. Tomohiro makes a great point about grieving, and how nobody should tell you what's the right way to feel, and I see this in YA.

Also, kudos for the way the romantic catalyst is brought on. You know - the one event which makes the heroes overcome their emotional barriers and finally admit their feelings for one another? One of my big hang-ups about YA is that the event is usually threatening the heroine and having the guy come in an save her (see my review of The Iron King for more specifics). 

Not so much here. In Ink, the bonding event happens by way of a dragon which Tomohiro draws in an attempt to impress Katie, and both of them almost get eaten. I like that for two reasons:

1/ It doesn't bring the heroine's sex into the equation, which is a nice touch. Guys and girls can be equally threatened, and it doesn't place Tomohiro on a pedestal as the Brave Prince riding in to Save The Damsel in Distress. If anything, Tomo is the damsel, which brings me to....

2/ This isn't some external force that randomly picks on the heroes because Things Like That Just Happen. The disaster is Tomo's own doing, and it shows the essential flaw of his character - he's repressed his feelings for so long, when they finally come out, he's incapable of controlling them. He pretends to be in control, when in reality, he's everything but. He needs Katie, and the book doesn't even pretend it to be otherwise. 

It's moments like these that make me truly love Ink. I see an empowering romance with wonderful characters and equal rights. I see a fantasy set in a mythos I'm itching to know more of, one that is innovative and respecting of the source material. 

And it frustrates me, because the technical bits that drag it down could have been so easily fixed. Cut the padding in the first half, start the subplot about the yakuza and the Paper Gods from the beginning (or, hell, the start of the second third) and develop more on the theme of loss and sacrifice. 

I don't know if I'll be picking up the sequel, but there is so much more to this story than we see, and I'm just. So. Frustrated! Please, please, please, let this be one of those series that get even better with subsequent books! Another Delirium! Another Elementals! Another Iron Fey even! I know it's possible!

Note: Image and synopsis via Goodreads.

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