Friday, 6 December 2013

Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Ink Black Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts is the third book in her Mocklore Chronicles but is written to be accessible to readers who have not read the first two books. I personally read book one, Splashdance Silver, about a decade ago and have only dim recollections of it. I don't think I ever got the chance to read the second book, Liquid Gold, back then either. So rather than re/reading the first two books before starting the third, I thought I'd approach it by itself to see how well it stands alone.
 Kassa Daggersharp has been a pirate, a witch, a menace to public safety, a villain, a hero and a legend. These days, she lectures first year students on the dangers of magic, at the Polyhedrotechnical in Cluft.

Egg Friefriedsson is Kassa's teenage cousin, a lapsed Axgaard warrior who would rather stay in his room and draw comics all day than hang out with his friends. If only comics had been invented.

Aragon Silversword is missing, presumed dead.

All the adventures are over. It's time to get on with being a grownup. But when Egg's drawings come to life, including an evil dark city full of villains and monsters, everyone starts to lose their grip on reality. Even the flying sheep.

Kassa and Egg are not sure who are the heroes and who are the villains anymore, but someone has to step up to save Mocklore, one last time.
It's easy to compare every comic fantasy book to Terry Pratchett. When I read Splashdance Silver, I think I remember comparing it to the earliest two Discworld books (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic). In the case of Ink Black Magic, I can honestly say that only the start — the set up for the rest of the story — put me in mind of Pratchett. And not early Pratchett either, more like middle Pratchett, with Moving Pictures springing to mind as an obvious comparison (with bonus thematic parallels). But once the story in Ink Black Magic really gets going, it becomes very much Tansy-ish and not at all Pratchettesque.

The initial premise is that Egg starts drawing the first comics in Mocklore, and then his dark city that needs hero-saving comes to life and tries to take over the world. (See what I mean?) I found the introduction of Egg and Clio to be a compelling hook, more so than when we first meet Kassa Daggersharp, the heroine of the previous books. I have to emphasise that this was a personal reaction because I couldn't remember why I should like Kassa — due to not remembering the earlier book sufficiently well — but that quickly evaporated once Kassa started being awesome (ie pretty much straight away).

One of the interesting aspects of Ink Black Magic was the structure of the narrative. Instead of the story building up to one obvious climax from the very start, the nature of what the world needed saving from changed several times throughout. The problem was never quite what it seemed, taking the story from "oh, no, doom!" to "well that doom's gone away" to "oh dear, a different doom a-cometh". This is one of the main things (along with the characters and humour) which sets it apart from other books. I ultimately enjoyed the form, although it was a little disconcerting at times not to be able to accurately guess what was going to happen next. (That feeling might come from having read a little too much YA of late...)

Anyway, Ink Black Magic was a fun read and I definitely intend to go back and re/read the first two books. Although that will be interesting since Rayner Roberts' style has definitely changed between Splashdance Silver and the Creature Court trilogy. I was about to say that Ink Black Magic lies somewhere in between — which it does — but it occurs to me that it's not actually that far from A Trifle Dead, except in location. (And of course I'm overlooking a lot of short stories in this comparison as I've only read some.)

So I would recommend Ink Black Magic to all fans of comic fantasy and anyone who has enjoyed the author's work in the past. As should surprise no one, I'll definitely be keeping an eye on her future works.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2013, FableCroft Publishing
Series: Mocklore Chronicles, book 3 of 3 (but can be read without reading the earlier books)
Format read: e-review copy
Source: the lovely publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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