Spark, the highly anticipated sequel to Ink, is a beautiful, thought-provoking story about stories, beliefs, and different perspectives. I absolutely adored it and I hardly know where to start reviewing.
I wasn’t blogging when Alice’s first book Ink came out. I saw a lot about it on Twitter, I bought it, and for the first time in longer than I could remember, I sat and read a whole book in one sitting. When Spark came out, I took the day off work so I could devour it. If you haven’t read Ink yet, do so now. This review is bound to contain a spoiler or two for the first book, and it happens to be an outstanding story. I guarantee that ending will have you reaching for Spark.
“I rested my hand on my chest, where my mentor, Obel, had inked the magnificent crow. I became a person with power that night, when I revealed my mark and spoke the names of the forgotten – and I knew that was why they wanted to see me. I was a threat: exactly what I wanted to be.”
Leora ended Ink with quite the revelation, and she starts this second novel feeling strong and powerful. After she revealed the giant crow on her chest and spoke the names of the Forgotten at the end of Ink, how could she not? But her joy is short-lived. Not everyone in Saintstone was so thrilled with her actions: she is called in to answer to Mayor Longsight and the town Storyteller. They tell her that the blanks have stolen the stories of the marked and twisted them, that Leora could be the one to bring them back to the right path. They want her to go to Featherstone and report back. Leora is initially reluctant but an event involving her mentor Obel sways her, and she decides that she might find some answers amongst the blanks. After all, her biological mother was a blank and this is a part of her heritage that she wants to understand better.
For a book largely set amongst those without marks, Leora reflects a lot on her own markings, how they chose her and the first mark she chose for herself. In Ink we saw her agonise over the decision: wanting to choose her first mark soon to prove herself to the community, but also anxious to make the right decision. In Spark, we learn what her first chosen mark was, how she went with her best friend Verity, and how she was the one to make Verity’s mark. It is a bittersweet memory: their friendship is in a very different place in this second book, largely because of the events of the last one. The distance between the two girls is interesting to see, but the decline in their friendship gave me many sad feels.
She makes new friends in Featherstone, but there is still a Verity-shaped hole that can’t be filled. Her blossoming friendship with Gull is beautiful though, and helps to ease the pain a little. Gull is a lovely, but very vulnerable character and Leora tries to protect her the best way she knows how, leading to some unexpected consequences.
Leora initially finds the blanks difficult to be around, and even to look at. They are not like her: they don’t wear their stories on their skin; they have meetings and make their decisions as a group. Everyone has a say in how things are run in Featherstone. Their ceremonies and beliefs are different: they collect stones and walk into a lake to atone for their sins and when they die they are buried under the tree they have chosen. Their customs are alien to Leora, she itches to mark their skin, to turn them into skin books. She wants the blanks like her, to believe the things that she does, but she knows that this is problematic, and she struggles with her feelings. More than anything else, she struggles with the differences in their stories.
“The difference between our stories is like the light refracted through a diamond. The same prism, but the light thrown and scattered in different directions”
Stories have always been a big part of Leora’s life, but the stories in Featherstone are different: they are twists on what she is used to hearing. The overall story is the same, but the emphasis and the small details are different. She had been warned about this, but she wasn’t prepared for how strongly she would feel about the differences. I adored seeing the stories I was so fond of in Ink retold from the perspective of the blanks. Alice has done something really wonderful in reworking those stories and I really hope you all enjoy them as much as I did.
Leora learns a lot in Featherstone, not just about the blanks, but about herself, her mentor Obel, and her biological parents. She also learns some truly horrifying things about Saintstone and its history:
“In this room, there is a whole world of history that I didn’t know – history that was kept from us, untold, reworked, suppressed. And it is a horror story like none I’ve ever heard.”
In Ink, Leora grew stronger and more confident in her beliefs. In Spark, everything she has ever known is challenged in the hardest possible ways. I loved this so much. Seeing Leora so confused and hurting wasn’t nice, but to see her taken out of her comfort zone and really made to look at someone else’s point of view and start to see that other people’s perspectives and beliefs are as valid as her own, and that whilst the blanks and the marked have different takes on the same story, it’s possible that neither of them are completely right.
Of course, Alice has given us another utterly soul-destroying ending. It wouldn’t be an Alice Broadway novel if she didn’t, would it? Roll on book three. I cannot wait to see what Leora does next.