Angel’s Ink: The Asylum Tales
Harper Voyager / October 16, 2012 / $14.99 print, $8.99 digital
Looking for a tattoo—and maybe a little something extra: a burst of good luck, a dollop of true love, or even a hex on an ex? Head to the quiet and mysterious Gage, the best skin artist in town. Using his unique potions-a blend of extraordinary ingredients and special inks-to etch the right symbol, he can fulfill any heart's desire. But in a place like Low Town, where elves, faeries, trolls, werewolves, and vampires happily walk among humanity, everything has its price.
No one knows that better than Gage. Turning his back on his own kind, he left the magical Ivory Tower where cruel witches and warlocks rule, a decision that cost him the right to practice magic. And if he disobeys, his punishment-execution-will be swift.
Though he's tried to fly under the radar, Gage can't hide from powerful warlocks who want him dead-or the secrets of his own past. But with the help of his friends, Trixie, a gorgeous elf who hides her true identity, and a hulking troll named Bronx, Gage just might make it through this enchanted world alive.
Jocelynn Drake, author of the Dark Days series of urban fantasy novels, creates a different world for Angel’s Ink, the first volume of her new series, The Asylum Tales. Two tie-in e-novellas, prequels, are available as well, exploring the novel’s secondary characters, Bronx the troll and Trixie the elf. I was new to Drake’s work so cannot speak to whether the new series is very different from her previous work.
Angel's Ink is a little hard to classify; though it seems to be intended as Urban Fantasy, with its gritty first-person narrator and ongoing conflict built into the worldbuilding, it can also be considered a Paranormal Romance, because of the strong focus on the romance between the first-person narrator, Gage, and Trixie, an elf who has been hiding her nature. Gage’s crush on Trixie is established early on, and their relationship becomes much closer in the second half of the novel. It seems likely they will continue together in future installments.
The most interesting part of the story for me, however, was the use of tattooing as a vehicle for magic.
Sure, some customers just wanted a little ink. But most wanted something extra. They wanted the tattoo to do something for them, and whether it was a burst of good luck, a dollop of true love, or even a hex on an ex, we could get it done—for a price.
…Guessing what kind of tattoo would fit a person’s unique personality was like trying to guess what kind of person they would marry.
…Lined up along three of the walls were additional wood cabinets holding more volatile and rarer items. Some I had been lucky enough to inherit, while others were purchased on the black market. All of them were for my exclusive use, and they were what made me the most successful tattoo artist in town. When you wanted something done right and had the cash to pay for it, it was all about the ingredients in the ink rather than the design on the skin.
I especially liked the mixture of real-life details about tattooing with the paranormal elements.
While Bronx was shaving away the bristly hair from the area on the arms of the satyrs where the tattoos would go, I selected three small plastic caps and spooned in a bit of the potion that I had mixed up. I then squirted in black ink. The potion didn’t need to go into all of the colors unless you were weaving a more complex spell and then it was different potions in different colors so that the spell created an interesting tapestry of power on the person’s skin. In this case, the outline of the mushroom tattoos in black was the only part that actually needed the potion. I was pulling out the needles and scooping out dollops of petroleum jelly to put on small Styrofoam plates, which would help to control the bleeding during the tattooing process, when Trixie reluctantly entered the room to show off her two designs.
There’s even a magical bureaucracy. The magical authorities keep a close eye on magical potions and tattooing, so Gage faces ongoing conflict when his customers are unsatisfied or when a magic-laced tattoo does not operate as planned. These issues have an impact on his relationship with Trixie, as he is hiding his magical abilities from her, and she is hiding things about herself, as well, not knowing that Gage’s magical abilities allow him to see through her glamour.
I think Angel’s Ink would appeal to readers who might be tired of grittier urban fantasy and are looking for some blending of that sub-genre with Paranormal Romance; there’s also the unusual factor that the romance is seen through the male character’s eyes. There’s plenty of unexplored space in Drake’s worldbuilding, so it should be interesting to see where this series goes next.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.