Aloysius MacBharrais is not leading a quiet life, despite his age. Blessed with mystical knowledge by the goddess Brigid herself, Al can create spells with his inks and sigils to protect modern day Scotland against any deities or any of their minions that disrespect the borders between worlds. A job made all the more difficult by a curse which causes anyone who hears his voice to hate him irrationally and violently so relies on text-to-speech software to communicate.
For years, Al has been trying to train up an apprentice to take over his patch. He hasn’t had much luck. When his seventh apprentice dies in yet another explicable but strange accident, Al begins to suspect something is up. But is it another curse or was his late apprentice hiding something? Al must use all the supernatural friends and favours he has gained in his long career to find out the truth and keep himself out of the clutches of mundane law enforcement.
Set in the same world as Kevin Hearne’s ‘Iron Druid’ series, ‘Ink & Sigil’ is easily accessible for the new readers. There are references to and small cameos from characters from ‘The Iron Druid’ series, these are explained sufficiently and place Al into a wider mythos.
The dialogue in this book is written in the dialect of Glasgow. At times, this dialect might seem somewhat earthy. The first lines of dialogue had me raising my eyebrows in disbelief. I generally dislike reading dialects. I skipped a chunk of ‘Dracula’ to avoid reading a conversation in dialect. But Glaswegian is such a great form of the English language for being annoyed in that I read parts of this book out loud to my cats. They weren’t impressed but I was amused.
Luckily, I have a captive Scottish expat who tells me that that sort of language is legitimately Glaswegian. She only read the first lines of dialogue but, combined with the assurances of the author at the end of the book, I can only suppose that this is what actual conversations in Glasgow sound like. But that is the dialogue. The text surrounding the speech is from Al’s point of view and feels a touch more Canadian/American. Is it ‘two hundred sixty or ‘two hundred AND sixty’?
The former is the American way, the latter British. The lack of an ‘and’ gives away the authorial voice. This disparity between the internal and external voice continues throughout the novel. Al thinks ‘dug’ (dog) and ‘heid’ (head) but the rest of his internal voice is generic American English.
‘Ink & Sigil’ is a great book for commuting and other such times when you need to read in fits and spurts. It’s easy to pick up and put down. It’s good, but I never really got lost in it. It gives a tourist’s view of Glasgow without giving me a sense of the city as a whole. I could appreciate the gin bar Al frequents and the plush, whiskey-filled interior of his office, but never quite managed to fit those places into the wider world. Perhaps that is the issue with the language or perhaps it is the first person point of view. Perhaps it’s the larger than life characters and places that populate the story.
The whiskey drinking mage. The larcenous goblin. The angry goth. Each character feels like they’ve been written up as a series of roleplaying characters and not quite blended together into one story. Which is a shame as it’s Al’s story we’re reading.
If you liked Kevin Hearne’s ‘Iron Druid’ series you’ll probably like this one. It has a similar feel and style. I might pick up the next one if I ever need to commute again, but for now I am not wracked with anticipation.
(pub: Del Rey/Random House. 336 page hardback. Price: $28.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-98482-126-3)