Score again for shelf-browsing time burning selection from the local library! I had a few minutes to spare, had to stop by the local library to pick something else up, went shelf-browsing and found this: Ink & Sigil. This was fantasy fun at its best, not only because of the characters, mechanics of the magic, and intrigue of the plot, but also because of the reasonably integrated exploration of a real world serious problem, in this case human trafficking.
Let’s back up a sec to the general narrative: Al MacBharrais is what’s called a sigil agent, a human with some magic ability that when trained lets him use sigils to help keep the peace between the human and Fae/folkloric worlds and realms. He’s based in Glasgow, Scotland, and the author helpfully provides a general pronunciation and dictionary guide which is useful given that he writes a good of the story in quasi-dialect. Since I’ve been to Scotland and spent some time there, I had a lot of fun running the dialogue in my head. Anyways, Al has a couple of problems: first his apprentice has just been murdered or at least died (something that seems to happen around him alarmingly often) and he needs to figure out who dunnit, said apprentice may have been up to something behind his back which is how Al meet the hobgoblin who prefers to go by Buck Foi (yes, there are a lot of puns of this nature in the book, but it’s entertaining and helps mediate some of the serious themes including grief and trafficking), and Al also has a curse upon him that causes anyone who hears his voice enough to suddenly, violently hate him; Al would like to know the nature of this curse, who cast it, and have it removed so that he can, among other things, get his adult son to talk to him again. Al and Buck become a bit of an odd couple as they try to navigate the murder investigation and whatever the dead apprentice, Gordie, had been involved in.
Several other characters really play key roles: Al on the surface makes his living running a printing company, and his supposed accountant/manager Nadia doubles as his supernatural bodyguard since she’s a battle seer, meaning she has the ability to see what her opponent is going to do next in a fight. She’s pretty entertaining herself, being Goth, queer, smart, and generally kick-butt. My other favorite side character goes by the name of Saxon Codpiece. He’s Al’s go to hacker who is either a sex worker who moonlights as a hacker, or a hacker who does some sex work on the side. Saxon is the one who brings up the concerns about trafficking, and suggests he’s had some experience with the human part and he asks Al as a favor to help out some probable human victims; Saxon’s perspective is actually pretty well and realistically addressed, especially in looking at the stigma often associated with people trafficked for sex. This could come off as forced except that it also gives Al the idea that maybe trafficking of another sort might be the key to solving the murder of Geordie, which everyone else seems to think was death by raisin scone. Al, or maybe Kevin Hearne, seems to have an unexplained hatred of raisins; I can’t think of any folkloric reasons for that.
While the overall mystery is solved, I hope this becomes a series; there is enough here to explore that I’d really like to see, like the whole curse thing that even the goddess Brigid can’t fully explain, as well as what ends up happening to Saxon when he disappears himself about 2/3 of the way through the novel, as well as further adventures of Buck, Nadia, and Al.