Fans of Kevin Hearne’s popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES will be thrilled to learn that Hearne has a new spin-off series: INK & SIGIL. The first novel, Ink & Sigil (2020), introduces Al MacBharrais, an older widowed gentleman who has a unique talent. He uses special inks to create sigils that hack the brain through the ocular nerve. For example, the Sigil of Porous Mind makes the target open to suggestion, the Sigil of Certain Authority makes the caster appear to have the authority to do whatever they’re doing, and the Sigil of Quick Compliance makes the target want to do whatever the sigil writer asks.
Al is ready to retire, but every time he’s got an apprentice nearly trained up, the apprentice dies in some freak accident. As Ink & Sigil begins, the latest apprentice (number seven, to be exact) has choked on a scone. During the investigation, Al discovers that his apprentice was using sophisticated sigils that Al hadn’t yet taught him and that he was involved in some dirty deeds that need to be uncovered and prosecuted. Al also learns that all those bizarre apprentice deaths are probably not just bad luck.
Though he’s not as charming as Atticus O’Sullivan (the Iron Druid), Al MacBharrais is a pleasant protagonist who has a really cool talent. What makes him even more interesting is that he’s been cursed — the longer he talks to people, the less they like him. This has caused major problems in his personal life, including estrangement from his son. Once he figured out what was happening, Al started using a text-to-speech app that uses a slightly stilted London accent. This makes for much humor when listening to Random House Audio’s version narrated by the skillful and hilarious Luke Daniels. (Daniels does all of Hearne’s books and I wouldn’t even consider reading them in any other format.)
Al’s manager, a lesbian who might be a demigod and likes to spend her time in fight clubs, is also amusing, as is Al’s new assistant, a hobgoblin named Buck Foi, and the basement-dwelling hacker who styles himself “Saxon Codpiece.” IRON DRUID fans will be happy to see cameo appearances by Atticus and Oberon. It turns out that their stories are tangentially linked, but there’s no need to read the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES first.
I’m looking forward to following Al’s story in the next INK & SIGIL novel.