Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

Darkness Forged

SPFBO #6 Finals Review

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

The Angel of the Crows


Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

Black Stone Heart

SPFBO #6 Finals Review


Fire Beneath the Skin by Victor Gischler – Series Review

Fire Beneath the Skin by Victor Gischler – Series Review
Book Name: Ink Mage, The Tattooed Duchess, and A Painted Goddess
Author: Victor Gischler
Publisher(s): 47North
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 29, 2014 / July 7, 2015 / January 19, 2016

Game of Thrones meets Ink Masters.

Ink Mage (cover)Despite his award-winning literary career, Victor Gischler was an unknown to me—beyond the fact that Amazon always recommended his Ink Mage in its incessant emails. Though the cover grabbed my attention, I never read past the first two paragraphs of the blurb before tossing it onto the slopes of Mount TBR.

Had I read to the third paragraph, I might have picked Ink Mage up earlier: I’m am embarrassed to say, that despite the book and series title, and the sequel titles The Tattooed Duchess and A Painted Goddess, I hadn’t guessed that the story combined two of my favorite things: magic and tattoos.

The more common magic system feels like Dungeons and Dragons—wizards memorize spells and forget them as soon as they are cast. However, with the right stencils and materials, some wizards can ink tattoos that confer magical abilities. The most important, and also one of the rarest tattoos, is The Prime—a design that runs along the spine which allows an Ink Mage to tap into their spirit. It, alone, gives them full body awareness and maximizes their potential; it also allows them to make use of other magical tattoos, whose stencils are scattered about the world.

The Tattooed Duchess (cover)This does not come without a cost; an Ink Mage is drained by tapping into their spirit. The more they use it, the more they want to. It also turns them into covetous paranoids, who want more tattoos and don’t want to share knowledge of their own. It’s all part of beautifully built world, filled with mystical histories, aggressive empires, past cataclysms, and more.

In a remote, backwater corner of this world is the Duchy of Klaar. It’s a seemingly insignificant part of the Kingdom of Helva, but to the Perranese Empire, it’s a beachhead for an invasion. With a soft spot for pampered princesses forced to become heroes, I was enamored with the story from chapter two, when we meet Rina, the heir to the duchy. When the Parranese capture the supposedly impenetrable castle with the help of a traitor, and murder her parents, Rina becomes first a refugee, then an Ink Mage.

In her quest to liberate her homeland, she is joined by a colorful supporting cast: Alem, a stable boy and love interest; Brasley, a rakish baron with political acumen; Tosh, a disgraced soldier of Klaar who hides out the foreign occupation in a brothel, training prostitutes to fight; Maurizan, a Roma girl who feels Rina cheated her out of her Prime tattoo birthright. All have distinct personalities, brought out by their interactions and snappy dialog. They are part of a large cast of viewpoint characters—both allies and enemies—who give a broader view of the lush story.

A Painted Goddess (cover)It is all told from a close narrative distance, where the narrative becomes the characters’ thoughts and observations. As such, it feels very in-the-moment, with a sense of urgency. Contributing to this is, that like another literary mass murderer, George RR Martin, Gischler doesn’t hesitate to kill or maim favorite characters.

While Ink Mage is relatively isolated to a small region, the succeeding books expand to epic scope. The Tattooed Duchess brings in court intrigue while expanding to neighboring countries, and A Painted Goddess ties global conflicts to struggles among the gods.

With the clever worldbuilding and fascinating magic system, combined with an intricate plot, excellent tension, and a memorable cast of characters, I rate the Fire Beneath the Skin series as an 8.75 out of 10.

Note: With my new Kindle Unlimited subscription, I was able to listen to the audiobooks for free. At times, the narrator enunciates as if she’d studied from the William Shatner School of Non-existent Commas. However, it is still well done, and she captures the characters with unique voices and accents.

Note Two: I am currently three-quarters of the way through Warrior Prime, a standalone sequel which takes place twenty years after this trilogy. It follows an enslaved Ink Mage girl on her quest for freedom. So far, I’m enjoying it even more than the original series.


Leave a Comment