The magic’s in the fine print in ‘Ink & Sigil’

Aloysius MacBharrais has a problem. Every apprentice he’s taken on to learn his job as a sigil agent — essentially a human who “writes and enforces magical contracts using sigils, which are symbols infused with power that do some remarkable stuff” — has died in one type of accident or another. Seven of them, in fact, the most recent being Gordie, who choked to death on a raisin scone. What makes this latest setback a more serious problem is that it seems Gordie was trafficking Fae creatures like the hobgoblin he had caged in his apartment when he died.

(Let’s pause here to get this out of the way: Different from pure goblins and more mischievous than outright malevolent, hobgoblins were extraordinarily difficult to capture as a rule, since they could teleport short distances and were agile creatures as well, with impressive vertical leaps aided by their thick thighs. If you didn’t know, now you know.)

What was Gordie up to? Who was he selling the Fae creatures to, and for what nefarious purpose? It’s up to Al to find out, before the delicate détente between the Fae and humans is broken forever.

That’s the set-up for Kevin Hearne’s highly entertaining fantasy novel, Ink & Sigil (2020). It’s the first in a new series (the next book set to be published in August 2021), but it’s set in the same universe as Hearne’s previous Iron Druid Chronicles series. Sadly, Atticus and his amazing Irish wolfhound Oberon have only a cameo appearance here, but I found the new cast of characters — Al, the Scot who runs a printing company in Glasgow between writing sigils for interactions between humans and Fae; his indispensable assistant Nadia, who has her own secret abilities; even that hobgoblin, a three-foot tall pink creature who goes by the name Buck Foi — a fun bunch to hang out with, and I was fully engaged in how Al would solve the mystery at the book’s heart and set things right.

The pen-and-stationery aficionado in me loves the idea of specially formulated inks imbuing drawn symbols with power. I could use a few Sigils of Agile Grace myself, to be honest. It’s especially pleasing that one doesn’t need to be a magical creature one’s own self to do magic — it can be learned, like any other skill. I hope Al acquires a new, less evil, apprentice in a future book and we get more details of the way sigils work.

And while this new cast stands well on its own without needing to lean on guest appearances from the Iron Druid or Oberon, I can’t help hoping we get more glimpses of them in future volumes. Although at least we did get this lovely canine tribute in Ink & Sigil:

“He survived because of a very good dug named Oberon. Dogs are beings of pure love and devotion and broadcast hope to those of us who have only memories of such things, for they demonstrate by their existence that love and devotion still walk abroad in the world, and therefore it’s worthwhile to live in it.”