Ink Black Magic [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the third book in Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ Mocklore chronicles. I haven’t read the first two, but that wasn’t much of a problem. While there are a few references to earlier events, the book pretty much stands on its own.
How to describe this one … well, let’s start with this snippet from the official description:
True love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Happy endings don’t come cheap.
All that magic is probably going to kill you.
You really can have too much black velvet.
That sums things up surprisingly well.
Basically, you’ve got Kassa Daggersharp, legendary ex-pirate and professor of magic; and Egg Friefriedsson, a university student whose comics come to life in the form of the foreboding and fashion-challenged city of Drak. And also a guy who’s currently a winged sheep. And Aragon Silversword, who’s in the midst of an identity crisis of his own. They have to save their home from Drak, which is expanding and transforming everyone it touches into dark, foreboding, sinister versions of themselves, all of whom dress like Neil Gaiman.
Other reviewers have compared this book to Pratchett’s work, and I had the same reaction at several points while I was reading. There’s a healthy appreciation for the absurd, and a lively cast of ridiculous and entertaining secondary characters. It doesn’t have the same laugh-out-loud moments of funny, but it didn’t feel to me like Roberts was aiming for that. So I didn’t see this as a flaw, merely a different flavor of comic fantasy.
The plot was surprisingly layered, with mystery after mystery to be peeled back like an onion in which every layer of the onion is magical and might kill you or rewrite your mind or un-kill you or make it rain seafood. Or all of the above. While this made for a more complex and ambitious story, the pacing toward the end felt a little off to me, as if there was just too much to wrap up. But that could be a quirk of my personal taste.
Overall, a fun read and a nice change of pace.