Fiction Reviews

Ink and Sigil

(2020) Kevin Hearne, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 336pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51523-6


From New York Times bestselling author Kevin Hearne comes the start of a hugely entertaining new series set in the world of the 'Iron Druid Chronicles', which at this point consists of nine novels and two novellas, but this is very much a standalone, off-shoot of the series so readers new to Hearn donít need to worry about not being familiar with the series.

Ink and Sigil concerns an eccentric master of magic solving an uncanny mystery in ScotlandÖ

>Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails, and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective, while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice's death will take him through Scotland's magical underworld, and he'll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he's to survive.

Oh, dear, I thought, heart-sinking to read that this book was set in Scotland, even worse there is an authorís note at the start of the book with an explanation of Scottish dialects, and certain words and how they are pronounced, and the differences between Glasgow and Edinburgh. One of Herneís sources of help in all-things Scottish was Amal El-Mohtar. Like me, Amal is a member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, and although she no longer lives in Glasgow, there is no escape, you can never leave the Circle, and all credit to Hearne that he made the effort and did actually come over to Scotland to research his novel.

What is refreshing is our hero, Al, isnít your regular fantasy hero. He is in his sixties, a widower and his built up his own series of quirks and foibles over the years, not surprising as he is also cursed. Ink and Sigil is funny and fast Ė given that it has 30 chapters, 2 interludes and an epilogue, itís my sort of book. The physical world building represents central Scotland well, and the magical world-building is clever right down to the use of inks protecting magical sigils, even though in places the story has grim undertones given that in places we are dealing in the trafficking of magical creatures, and some of these creatures arenít going to come to a happy ending, but at least after investigating the untimely death of yet another apprentice Ė his seventh, in fact, Al gets the chance to free a goblin called Buck Foi who is handy to have around as the jeopardy builds.

As a newcomer to Hearnís world, this was a highly enjoyable starting point, leaving me intrigued enough to tip my toes further into the depths of the 'Iron Druid' waters, and by the looks of the listings of Hearnís previous work, this seems to be the start of a series so hereís to more adventures in the company of Al and Buck.

Ian Hunter


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