Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

Thursday, June 20, 2013
Title: Ink
Author: Amanda Sun
Genre: young adult, supernatural
Series: The Paper Gods #1
Pages: 377 (ARC edition)
Published: expected June 25 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

I looked down at the paper, still touching the tip of my shoe. I reached for it, flipping the page over to look.

Scrawls of ink outlined a drawing of a girl lying on a bench.

A sick feeling started to twist in my stomach, like motion sickness.

And then the girl in the drawing turned her head, and her inky eyes glared straight into mine.

On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is 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.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive.

First off, I have to get the following off my chest. Hooray for multicultural YA -- ones that feature a POC as a love interest, even! I want to explain those 2.5 stars - I did like Ink. Marginally. But there are a lot of things that could've been done a whole lot better. The characters need some serious work. The writing needs quite a bit of polish. The storyline was decent, but not as good as it could have been. It all could've been tighter, more involving, and with fewer diversions from the intriguing aspects. This is clearly a debut novel, and Sun has some steps to take in order to get this series back on the right track.

All in all, Ink wasn't as bad as I feared, but nowhere near as good as I hoped.

There's so much going on, superficially,  for Ink. I must say that the marketing department hit it out of the park with this one. Many kudos to Harlequin for advertising something seemingly-original so strongly.  From the cover to the hype to the synopsis, Ink has been steadily garnering attention for several months now. It's another paranormal teen love story, but the things that set it apart - the setting, the magic, the POC as important characters even if they don't make the cover - made it really seem like there was a possiblity this could be a truly special novel.

And the series could still get to that special place. But as it is, the first entry in the Paper Gods series is a bit weak, slightly generic, and all-too-focused on the romance angle at the detriment of the plot. The characters aren't cardboard, but they're not as developed or as complex as they could've been. Main character Katie is a struggle to invest in, or even to like. She's brave, sure, but she's really not all that dynamic of a protagonist. Her narration suffices to tell the story, but her utter passivity, creepy tendencies, and unhealthy obsession with a mysterious boy do her already-suffering presentation no favors. 

Her love interest and victim of her stalkerish ways, Yuu Tomohiro, kendo star and artist extraordinaire, is... kind of wooden. Katie is very into him from the start, and the audience is just supposed to buy into his desirability. For me, it just didn't work. His ability with pen and paper are what really set him apart, but his actions throughout the novel are very problematic. He has his reasons for being standoffish, but they never really ring true, and nor does his all-too-fast relationship with Katie. Tomo is sadly reminiscent of a lot of young adult love interest - potentially dangerous, has a difficult/hidden past, and is full of secrets he keeps from his girlfriends for far too long. There were some genuinely fun or funny moments between him and Katie within the novel, but they were too few and too far between for me to root for them as a couple.

Authenticity is a problem with all the characters of the novel, honestly. Katie, her aunt. Ishikawa Sato, Takahashi Jun, Yuki (of course!) -- none really felt as dimensional as they should be. Katie receives the bulk of the attention and growth as the main character, and as a result, too many of her friends and secondary cast felt like set pieces to reinforce the Japanese setting. Tanaka and Yuki especially seem to pop up to reassure readers that yes, Katie does have friends and is not just completely obsessed with Tomo. Also, subtlety is not known in Ink. From character motivations, to plot developments, a lot of the content in Ink can be predicted ahead of time with relative ease. The originality of the magic of the novel is what stands apart, and yet isn't explained enough to come across as entirely believable.

Sun is an author who clearly wants to pay homage to several genres with Ink, and from my limited experience with those genres, she succeeds. The author clearly knows her audience, her subject, and her themes well. The time she spent in Japan is obvious in how enveloping the Japanese culture is presented throughout the novel. There is a strong sense of place from the first chapter to the last. Peppered with Japanese sayings, culture and mythology, Ink doesn't read as a whitewashed version of the real thing. I could have done with more detail about some aspects of what she is trying to create with Tomo and the Kami, but there are two more books in the works to do just that.

2.5 may seem like a harsh rating, or like I didn't enjoy Ink. I can't say that I wholly did - there were times I struggled to get through the plot or Katie's unfortunate choices, but it's not all bad here. This is clearly a debut novel, and there's room for Sun to grow. There are kernels of greatness within Ink's pages. A bit of practice, time, and a little finesse will help Amanda Sun to strengthen her talent and create a better book for the next outing of the Paper Gods trilogy. I will keep reading to see what happens, and I will hope for a better experience with book two. 


  1. Great review! I'm getting pretty mixed reviews about this book..Most people either love or hate it. It's nice to see some one who's kinda in the middle(:

  2. It's always such a disappointment when a book is good, but has the potential to be great and simply...isn't. However, I do have to agree that YA is becoming a lot more multicultural, which is a HUGE step, especially with books like The Book of Broken Hearts that bothers to explore the struggles of immigrants, who reside in every country. I'm hoping the next book in this series is stronger since I'm curious enough to want to give this a try. Great review, Jessie! :)


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