“I was older than all my friends when I got my first tattoo.”

I don’t have any tattoos, and I don’t think I’ll ever get one. I’ve nothing against them, and obviously I’ve no problem with other people having them, but I don’t think I could commit to having something to permanent on my skin. I’d want to change it after a while. If I had to, however, I know exactly what I would have. Ink takes place in a world where tattoos take on a whole new meaning.

Leora Flint lives in Saintstone, a town where everyone’s deeds are tattooed onto their skin. A dot on the hand for every year you’ve lived, your achievements on your right arm and your failures on the left, a family tree on your back showing where you’ve come from. There are no secrets in Saintstone, and everyone can read exactly who you are and what you’ve done with your life. Not long before graduating school and beginning her new career, Leora’s father dies and his skin is bound into a book so that future generations can read about him and have him never be forgotten.

Saintstone, however, has a new mayor, and he’s got some radical ideas, beginning with wanting everyone to register exactly what tattoos they have and what they mean, and bringing back the idea of marking criminals “forgotten”. Anyone tattooed with a crow will have their skin book burnt and it will be illegal to talk about them after they’ve gone. When Leora sees a man get marked with the crow for stealing someone else’s skin, it brings back a memory of her childhood that she’d blocked out. She remembers her father having that very same tattoo, hidden on his scalp under his hair. Leora realises that her father should be forgotten, and she’s determined to make sure his book comes home with her. As she delves into the family history, however, she soon discovers that the world is far more complicated than she imagined, and sometimes fairy tales are truer than the population believes.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. I had assumed that it was a world where tattoos made it impossible to have secrets because they appeared on your skin by magic, but nope, it’s a very mundane practice done by people called inkers. Every tattoo has a meaning, and the way this is all set out is very cool. Everyone has a family tree on their back, but if someone’s name has been replaced by a tattoo of a cuckoo, it means they’ve been forgotten. Fallen, dead leaves at the tree’s roots represent miscarriages or children who died in infancy. Every single symbol is layered with meaning, and while there are official marks, there is plenty of freedom for people to use the remaining space to decorate their bodies as they see fit. Everyone does, and it is considered weird and antisocial to keep your skin clear. The fear of the “blanks” – those people who choose not to tattoo themselves – are seen as untrustworthy with something to hide. It’s just an example of fantastic racism, but it works very well.

My main complaint is a lack of pacing in places. Occasionally weeks or months pass with little development in characterisation when there really feels like there should be some more exploration of people’s feelings, motives and interactions. Leora is also quite a flat character in places, having no personal tattoos but an innate ability to read and ink others like she was born to do it. The other characters are often more interesting, including Obel who trains her, Mel the town’s storyteller who has the people’s history inked on her skin, and even Leora’s parents.

It’s a thought-provoking book with some interesting concepts. I’m sure I’ll carry on with the series at some point.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!