Ink and Sigil by Kevin Hearne
Orbit, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
When Sigil Agent Al MacBharrais loses yet another apprentice in a freak accident, he starts to think there might be more to his curse than he realised. Not being able to speak aloud is one thing, but seven dead apprentices is more than he can handle. When he starts to investigate Gordy’s death, he realises Gordy may also have been more than he realised and the caged hobgoblin in his bedroom is only the beginning.
This book has everything you might want from a modern fantasy: an ornery old man who likes hitting people with his cane, a gothic lesbian couple, a fondue altar to a made-up demonic entity, very real faerie entities wreaking havoc in Scotland (including a very grumpy and mischievous pink hobgoblin), and lots and lots of gin. The overall tone of the novel is completed by the slightly crass humour and the frequent additions of unapologetic ridiculousness.
The brilliant medley of unique characters in this novel is perfectly presented, with wacky details creating very vivid visuals. For example, the character of Al MacBharrais is comedy gold with repeated references to his perfectly groomed moustache bringing his character to life. Hearne includes the ideal amount of personal information and human emotion for us to centre ourselves into Al’s life, and form a connection with his character, without detracting from the adventure focussed narrative. Similarly, the character of Nadia is most memorable by her signature mohawk and, later, by the added detail of her ‘wizard van’. Her personality is an endearing combination of aggressive and protective, making her into a surprisingly well-rounded and believable character despite the craziness of her backstory.
The plot itself is similarly well developed, with the ideal combination of mystery, mayhem and magic to keep me hooked all the way through. The slightly more wacky elements of the narrative are well-balanced with everyday references and scenarios to ground us in reality; the Sigil Agents are balanced by the existence of real-life police officers, the magical characters are balanced by an accompanying human cast, and Al’s secret life is balanced by his interaction with the real world of gin bars, libraries and print shops. Even the shady criminal elements of the magical society are given alongside their all-too-real human counterparts. This balance keeps the plot believable, with a certain amount of imagination, and brings a weightier authenticity to the darker undertones of the narrative.