Glenn Benest and Dale Pitman’s Ink is a paranormal romance…and a horror novel…and a work of dark fantasy…and, overall, a piece that transcends categorization. There truly is something for everyone here. I was initially drawn to this book because of the interesting premise: Brian Archer, a famous graphic novelist struggling with agoraphobia, falls in love with fellow artist, A.J. Hart, and they begin to collaborate, their work enhanced and their characters brought to life (literally) by a mysterious black ink that is delivered to Brian’s door one day—but there is more depth to the story than I originally anticipated.
I was momentarily thrown at the beginning, as the novel opens up with a first person account, dictated by a character known as The Highwayman. He is a spectral creature, often referred to as “The Wraith,” who helps the recently murdered exact vengeance upon their killers. The voice of The Highwayman is hypnotizing. He is so honest about his pain it is difficult not to feel for him. He has no memory of who he was when he was alive or if his current purgatorial existence will ever end. He is a servant to the recently murdered, carrying a heavy sense of loss and futility. By the end of the first chapter, I was ready to follow The Highwayman as he carried out his bloody duties.
But chapter two takes us into Brian Archer’s studio, and we learn that what we have been reading is a chapter from Archer’s most recent graphic novel. My disorientation was short-lived, however, as Brian has a great deal in common with his fictional counter-part, The Highwayman, and his sense of isolation and longing for love is just as intense and sympathetic. The authors’ prose is smooth and clear as they describe Archer’s lonely predicament, his will to change and embrace life, and the crippling fear that keeps him inside, tucked away from the world. There is a great deal of energy and anticipation in these early chapters.
Archer completes his novel and meets his future lover, A.J. Hart, at one of his own book signings. He has spent the better part of the evening hyperventilating in the bathroom, and Hart sees the panic on his face and leads him outside, away from the crowd of leering fans. They hit it off, and from here, the love story begins.
The love story is where the novel loses me a little. Not because it’s poorly written. It’s not. But because the tension drops off. Archer is finally happy. He’s not struggling for anything. He and Hart have begun working together and she is slowly curing him of his agoraphobia. The mysterious ink has arrived, and it has certainly given their artwork a noticeably lifelike glint, but they acknowledge this quickly and move on with their romance. I kept wondering when the ink was going to come into play, but the middle section of the book is used more to develop Archer and Hart’s relationship. For a chunk of the novel, it feels like Archer has all he wants, based on what we know of his character up to that point. Aside from Hart’s jealous ex making the occasional appearance, there is no sense that anything of note is on the horizon. I knew there was some crazy, paranormal joo joo on the horizon based on the book’s description, but I didn’t feel it layered throughout this middle section of the story.
But then I realized this was the authors laying out a nice pretty carpet for me to stand on so that they could then yank it out from under me. I don’t want to spoil the story, but the final third of the novel picks back up with a vengeance. And, honestly, the middle section, the thoroughly developed love story, feeds the final chapters. The love between Archer and Hart is intense. By the time the story takes its dark turn, there’s no denying that. And you’re right there with Archer as his character grows and rises to a new, incredible destiny. He is weighted down by his former, heavy heart, but a new, scrambling hope moves him forward. We’re left there at the end of the novel, with the promise of a sequel to come.
I found this to be an impressive novel. It is at turns exciting, heartbreaking, and even inspiring. It deals with every day, human dilemmas, but lets them play out in a fantastical and often bloody adventure that promises to be the first installment of a successful series.
You can check out the original review in The Horror Zine HERE.