Review: Ink by Amanda Sun (Paper Gods #1)

Ink - Amanda Sun

Pre-read:The cover on this is so beautiful, and I love the premise. I'm looking forward to reading it when it comes out.

Post-read: Review to come. This is one of those times when I think I deviate quite a bit from the majority of opinions on this book, and hopefully I can explain that in more detail in my full review. I thought it was decent and well-researched. The novel held my attention throughout, but there were parts of the story that grated on me. I'm definitely willing to see where this series goes in the longer scheme of things, though.

This is probably either going to get a 3 or 3.5 star rating from me.

Full review:

I think Amanda Sun's "Ink" might be one of the surprise reads for me this year because I went into this book thinking that I would not like it and came out completely surprised - both by the book itself and my reaction to it. Sun did a great job with the research into the Japanese terminology and mood of the work. I was very impressed by that (I didn't really even need to use the glossary that much because I knew what the terms meant in the romanji that was provided.) But if there's something to be said about Sun's first installation into the "Paper Gods" series - there was something missing in this narrative, and I couldn't quite figure what exactly it was.

The way that I think of this novel feels a lot like the J-dramas (or even romance anime series) that I typically watch and find myself complusively drawn into from time to time. The scenarios feel familiar, sometimes cliche, but ultimately I follow them because I like the mind of them, and the stories engage me for some form/fashion that I genuinely enjoy returning to. "Ink" really felt like a J-drama in itself, about a gaijin girl named Katie who moves to Japan from the West and has to adjust to the customs and society away from her family. It's difficult enough to deal with the aftermath of her mother's death and being away from her family, but moving to another school in another culture in which she's still adjusting is difficult in and of itself.

Katie connects with a friend quite well (Yuki), but also finds herself in the company of the resident brooding bad boy (Tomohiro Yuu). It would not be surprising that these two would often meet and clash with each other given the typical structure of such a story. I was okay with Katie trying to get her feet wet in the beginning and standing up to Tomohiro, especially when the guy seemed like an obvious jerk for what he did to someone he knew and figured out was pregnant with child. Tomohiro's not that likable, particularly in the beginning, but it seems he does have reasons for pushing people out of his relationships and keeping his distance. Not just with respect to being an artist, but what he can do with art as it's revealed over time. The moving art focus and selective pieces featured in the book were beautiful and had a talented pen hand (even in my digital copy).

But Katie has a way of showing up in convenient places with Tomohiro, which is kind of a staple of J-dramas as well (hero and heroine often end up running into each other and clashing in ways that mimic the antagonistic and later turn affectionate, even just by tolerance of vicinity). Some of this is coincidence, some of it is intentional, as Katie's trying to figure what Tomohiro's connection to the moving art is. I took it as more of her headstrong personality in the pursuits and incidental coincidence, but I was not surprised to learn that Tomohiro accused Katie of being a stalker.

Did I think of this story in the romantic sense? Ehh. To be honest, I didn't really think of Ink as a romance, more like in the stages of becoming one that hadn't been reached yet, and even by the end of this novel, it still hadn't reached a point where I felt like Tomohiro and Katie really reached that point. Sure they have chemistry and you can tell they care for each other, but their relationshilp has yet to be realized, much like the first episode of an ongoing series. That both makes me curious and also weary because it felt like it was incomplete, even with the drama. I think it had romantic elements, but I don't think it really reached beyond a drama with some supernatural and whirlwind collision points (especially considering Katie and Tomohiro are on the run from the Yakuza in one part of the narrative.)

I'll admit that I felt like there were parts of the story that could've been more vetted out, such as the history of the Kami and perhaps more of where Tomohiro's link to the dynamic ink was concerned. Especially since that would've helped flesh out the supernatural links more to make it feel fuller. The environment, setting, and dynamics were drawn well for culture, but it still felt like the story didn't realize its fullest potential, and I still felt like saying "I can buy these elements, but you still need to bring more to the table to make it stand out more."

I don't know if I can explain my thoughts on it better than that, but for what it was worth - when considering the whole of "Ink" - I liked it, but I still think it could've offered more to the table. I'm intrigued enough to see where the next installment goes, and I'm optimistic that it'll step up the stakes since this was just the stepping stone into the series.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Harlequin TEEN.