Review: Ink and Shadows by Rhys Ford

ink and shadows by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: paranormal M/M romance
Series: Ink and Shadows #1
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: DSP Publications (Dreamspinner Press)
Date Released: July 7, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Kismet Andreas lives in fear of the shadows.

For the young tattoo artist, the shadows hold more than darkness. He is certain of his insanity because the dark holds creatures and crawling things only he can see—monsters who hunt out the weak to eat their minds and souls, leaving behind only empty husks and despair.

And if there’s one thing Kismet fears more than being hunted—it’s the madness left in its wake.

The shadowy Veil is Mal’s home. As Pestilence, he is the youngest—and most inexperienced—of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, immortal manifestations resurrected to serve—and cull—mankind. Invisible to all but the dead and insane, the Four exist between the Veil and the mortal world, bound to their nearly eternal fate. Feared by other immortals, the Horsemen live in near solitude but Mal longs to know more than Death, War and Famine.

Mal longs to be… more human. To interact with someone other than lunatics or the deceased.

When Kismet rescues Mal from a shadowy attack, Pestilence is suddenly thrust into a vicious war—where mankind is the prize, and the only one who has faith in Mal is the human the other Horsemen believe is destined to die.

My Review:

Ink and Shadows is a paranormal romance of the angels and demons school. Well, sort of. Lots of demons, no angels in sight.

As the first book in a series, Ink and Shadows spends a lot of its narrative introducing the world that the author has created for the series. And it’s one hell of an introduction.

Not quite literally Hell, although I think you might be able to see it from there.

In Ink and Shadows, the world is the one we know, with one, big giant exception. The elemental concepts, Death, War, Faith, Hope, etc., have been embodied into beings that live behind “the Veil” and come to humans when someone calls them. It’s their duty, and this story is about the conflict between some incarnations that serve their calling willingly over the centuries, and some who are corrupted by the humans they serve and observe. That corruption is not always or necessarily intentional.

So the story is about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, except that they are no longer “horsemen”, they aren’t all men, and they predate the Christian vision of the Apocalypse. Death and War have a conversation where they describe how they came into being. ‘When the first human looked around and realized that some day he wouldn’t be there, Death was conceived. And when the first human looked at the second human and thought to himself that he wanted what the other guy had and was willing to fight him to get it, well, that’s when War was born.’

They are still around, along with Famine and Pestilence. The difference is that Death and War are the same “people” using a very loose term for “people” that they have always been. Over the millennia, there seem to have been several incarnations of Famine and Pestilence, as the beings in those roles have become tired or depressed and have chosen to go back to wherever incarnations go when they cease to exist.

Famine is the only female in this group. Death and War, as the two oldest “horsemen” have a long-term case of mostly unresolved sexual tension. Death is afraid to let anyone get too close, out of fear that they will, well, die. War doesn’t care, he lives for today because tomorrow may never come, although since they are all immortal it probably will.

That Death and War love each other makes a certain amount of existential sense, too.

But Mal, the new Pestilence (and it’s never quite established how new Mal is) is still learning his role. He’s also still quite a bit human in his sensibilities. And he’s lonely.

Kismet Andreas is a part-time tattoo artist and sometime junkie who needs heroin to keep him from seeing the shadows all around him. The shadows populated with very scary creatures who want to eat him – and the ghost of his little brother, who still hasn’t figured out that he’s dead.

Kismet thinks he is crazy, seeing things that aren’t there, using the drugs to keep those things away. But he isn’t crazy, those things really are there. And someone is using his addiction to get him to cross over from our world to the Veil that the immortals inhabit. He’s a guinea pig, and now that the experiment is nearly complete, the mad scientist (read sorcerer) wants to grab his experimental animal out of the cage and take it apart to analyze what made it tick.

Experimental animals do not survive that type of testing, and neither will Kismet. If the magus and his allies catch him, that is.

Mal and the rest of the Horsemen end up intervening in Kismet’s mess, because whatever was done to him has worked so well that Kismet has become an immortal without a calling, but with a whole pack of shadowy demons on his trail.

The Veil between the worlds has been shredded, and it’s up to the Horsemen to end the threat before everyone can see the demons – and get eaten by them. It’s happened before and this is not a piece of history that the Horsemen are willing to see happen again.

Even if they have to break more of the rules to get the job done.

Escape Rating B+: There is a lot of set up to this story, but the payoff in the last third makes it definitely worth it.

The idea of embodying universal concepts so that they can act independently has been done before. This is, after all, the idea behind the character “Death” in the Discworld. Piers Anthony did something similar in his Incarnations of Immortality series in the (OMG) 1980s. Anthony used Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil and Good.

Death and War seem to be the constants. While I suspect the Anthony series doesn’t wear well (it’s been decades since I read them) the idea struck me as very similar to the Horsemen (and other immortals) in Ink and Shadows.

The world behind the Veil is much bigger than we imagine, and the Horsemen aren’t the only ones out there who deal with humanity. There are hints that there are lots of these “Fours” around. The one that comes into this story is the Four that consists of Faith, Charity, Hope and Peace. In spite of who or what they are, all is definitely not well at their end of the Veil.

You could say that this story is the result of humans corrupting the immortals. We do awful things to each other, and having to watch us takes a stronger stomach or higher moral fiber than even some immortals manage to possess.

Going with the theme of Kismet’s addiction, Ink and Shadows serves as a terrific gateway drug – for those who love angels and demons type paranormal romance or urban fantasy it is a great way to dip one’s romantic toe into the waters of male/male romance. For those starting from the M/M side, it’s a good way to introduce them to paranormal and urban fantasy.

And it’s a great gateway drug for everything Rhys writes. Count me an addict.

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