Ink: Beauty is as Beauty Does

Publishing House: Harlequin Teen
326 pages
Publication: 25th June 2013
Review written by Lady Entropy
Book 1 in the Paper Gods series

Ink is in their blood.
On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must 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.
When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school’s kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they’re near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life.
Somehow Tomo is connected to the kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan—and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.

Review of an ARC copy gently given by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 Stars

Ink (the first volume of the Paper Gods series) has a lot to like, and a lot to be improved on.

I wrestled a bit with how to grade this: 3 stars or 4 stars – it’s definitely a cut above most of the YA books I read, even if it plays with the usual elements (orphan girl, mysterious boy that falls in love with, romantic triangle). However, it still left WAY too many questions unanswered — important questions. And I hate when I book does that to me to trick me to buy the next volume, instead of cutting off some of those useless scenes of “Let’s look at the daily routine of the protagonist”.

It is a gorgeous book, design-wise, showing the type of care that comes only with writing something you truly and absolutely love. Or just having an amazing designer. But judging from the tiny details (from the HUGE extra contents section, the interviews with the artists, to the flipbook animations on the book pages) it seems to be something that the author had a hand on. On a time and age where people go out of their way to grab stock photos for covers left right and centre, it’s amazingly endearing to find a book with a cover style so unique and so suited (and so pretty) to the book.

My only complaint? The girl in the cover looks like a 25-year old woman, not a 16-year old teenager. I’m not sure what references the cover artist used, but she should at least be able to make her look younger. The internal art isn’t that pretty either. No “Time-Travelling Fashionista” here, folks.

That being said, the book has a solid structure, but the story itself isn’t amazing and neither are the main characters. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them well enough, and Katie is a nice person, with flaws but who still tries very hard. Half the time, however, she sounds not like a teen girl — she sounds like an adult woman, and I wondered if that meant that she is the author’s self-projection character. I did have a problem with her, and it was the fact that she cried. A LOT. If I had a drinking game for this book, if I took a shot every time Katie cried, I’d be drunk halfway into the book. She seems to cry at least once per chapter, and in one chapter, she actually cries twice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I expect tears to happen. Tears are a strong, powerful display of emotion, and when they’re used they should be a “big deal”. And no, don’t give me the whole “She’s young and her mom died and she’s in a different country”. She doesn’t cry about that, most of the time. When she cries about her mother, it’s actually quite moving, but most of the times, she’s crying over her boyfriend or how she doesn’t understand what is happening. So I have to end up agreeing with Ishikawa: she is weak. She shows some spurts of spine here and there, but whenever she starts crying, she loses me.

That being said I think the main weakness of the book is that it raises a lot of questions but answers very few. If you weren’t going to reveal just what Katie is and why she can affect the ink, then you shouldn’t raise it here. You should leave it for the end of the book, or the next book. I think this book is too much an introduction and setup for the series, and that weakens the book as a whole.

That being said, I liked how it explores a different culture and setting, and the notion is actually quite fascinating and interesting. I like books that teach me new things, and while this didn’t bring me anything new (I’m a big Japan-nerd), I can see how it would teach younger people a lot of cool new things. And for being refreshing and different in a sea of same-sameniness, it gets a half star for the effort.

I’m still going to buy and read the next books, because, let’s face it, I’m immensely curious. Hey, I know I said I didn’t like that tactic. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t work!


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