While twenty-year-old FTM Hemingway is making an excellent living as a tattoo artist in a near-future version of Hell’s Kitchen, the rest of the country is splintered and struggling in the wake of a war gone on for too long. Technology has collapsed, borders rise and fall overnight, and magic has awakened without rhyme, reason, or rule, turning average unwitting citizens into wielders of strange and specific strands of magic.
Hemingway’s particular brand of magic has made him a household name. Not only is he a talented artist, but his work comes to life. Literally.
When NYC’s most infamous serial killer—the East River Ripper—abducts Hemingway’s best friend, Grace, he has only days to save her. Hemingway teams up with his stoic cop roommate to hunt for the killer and rescue Grace before she becomes the Ripper’s latest victim. But as the duo chase clues to the serial killer’s identity, Hemingway begins to fear the magic he and the Ripper share might eventually corrupt him too.
Book Title: Earnest Ink
Author: Alex Hall
Publisher: Nine Star Press
Published: October 14, 2019
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Genre/s: Queer Spec Fic, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller/Suspense
Trope/s: Found family
Heat Rating: 1 flame
Orientation: Asexual, Pansexual
Identity: Cisgender, Trans
Warning: Depictions of Trauma, Blood, Violence, Murder, Eating disorders, Body hatred, Transphobia, PTSD, War
Length: 72 100 words/244 pages
It is a standalone book.
I work without speaking because that’s the way I prefer it. The vibration of my machine, the softer buzz of the fluorescent lights overhead, the tap of my foot on the pedal—it’s the best music in the world.
When I hit a ticklish spot, the girl I’m working on gasps, jolting in my chair.
“Don’t move,” I say. And then, with a salesman’s false cheer: “Almost done!”
The girl is sweating down the crook of her neck. She’s got silver glitter paint on her eyelids and cheeks, a new fashion trend I just can’t quite get behind. Under my lights the mix of perspiration and makeup looks like a blurry constellation.
She wanted a bee inked onto her collarbone, one of those tiny honeybees you find on good tequila bottles. Easily done, and she met the cash requirement. She’s eager, nervous, and breathing in and out in little puffs.
I can’t remember her name, but that’s fine. Customer relations is Eric’s job.
There’s another kid leaning over my glass counter, watching eagerly as I work. “Does it hurt?” he asks. “When the magic happens?”
The bee’s fat yellow thorax wriggles from side to side as it begins to wake, fighting the pressure of my needle, hungry for life.
“It looks like it hurts,” the kid says. I ignore him.
One minute more and—thanks to my peculiar magic—this bee will fly free.
I’m perched on a swivel stool, a wet paper towel in my hand to wipe away ink. It’s too hot in my studio, even with the industrial fans whirling overhead and the door propped wide open. Evening light slants in through the door and the north-facing, floor-to-ceiling window panes that look out onto West Forty-Sixth. It’s muggy, too warm for New York in October, and all of Hell’s Kitchen is wilting, including my client.
“What does it feel like?” the kid demands. He’s leaving greasy fingerprints on the surface of the glass as he strains to get a better look at what I’m doing. I study him out the corner of my eye, wiping sweat off my nose with the back of my wrist before it drips on my customer. He looks like one of the street punks who have taken to running in packs near the cruise terminals, sleeping in old, abandoned cargo containers and panhandling up and down the marina.
He’s skinny and tall, hair dyed an unsettling violet and styled into spikes all over his head. He’s got a silver ring in his septum and more hoops in his ears; his eyelashes are coated with purple mascara to match his hair. Green glitter paint sparkles on his lids. His T-shirt and jeans are torn and dirty, and he’s got a pack of black-market cigarettes rolled into one sleeve against his upper arm.
I am trying to branch out more. Take on a book to review that maybe I normally wouldn’t automatically reach for.
Earnest Ink is not a book I would automatically grab. It is a dystopian serial killer mystery. And I am glad I took a chance. In fact, I want more.
The blurb says Hemingway is a FTM trans tattoo artist. Honestly, except for representation, him being trans has no bearing on the story at all. There are a few passages throughout the book about it, but it isn’t an overall theme at all.
Instead the themes are serial killers, magic, friendship and a really messed up world post- World War III.
The East River Ripper kills on a schedule. He is very methodical about kidnapping someone, holding them for a few days, using magic to literally suck the life out of them before slicing their throats and throwing them in the river.
Hemingway almost seems like a bystander in this story that is at it heart, his. He just wants to create art. His magic turns his tattoos three dimensional. But he is sucked into this murder mystery by his roommate who is obsessed with it since her brother became a victim. And because there aren’t a lot of people out there with magic and they are under the watchful eye of the government.
The first 25% at least of the book was world building, but much of it seemed self indulgent. Prose with fifty cent words to describe a scene on the street. It got to be a bit much. But after that we got more into the different characters and the meat of the story.
And it was a good story. Well thought out with interesting characters that didn’t just take up page space. I actually wanted more story behind what exactly happened to the United States that fateful day that changed everything. Instead of describing the entire trip to meet his therapist, more time on what actually happened to leave the country in a shambles.
But don’t take that to mean I didn’t like the book. Because I did, very much. It was so different from anything I’ve read. Once I really got into it (past that first 25ish%) I didn’t want to put it down.
If you are a fan of dystopian, you will really like this. Even if you aren’t, give it a chance.
4 Pieces of Eye Candy
Sarah Remy/Alex Hall is a nonbinary, animal-loving, proud gamer Geek.
Their work can be found in a variety of cool places, including HarperVoyager, EDGE and NineStar Press.