This book write-up should probably come with a bit of a warning, as I think the weird part of my make-up that makes me very uncomfortable with McKinley's Beauty (almost the default book you WILL love if you're a fantasy reader) made me even more uncomfortable with this book. I'd been looking forward to reading for a while, and when reviews of the third book in the series started showing up (as on Bookshelves of Doom), I was even more anxious to read it. The thing I especially liked about Wicked Lovely was the way Marr set up a threatening, quite rigid system of rules and powers with which Faerie operated, and didn't give her heroine any easy out when she was caught up in this. However, Aislinn could accept what couldn't be changed while still retaining the power to choose for herself things that were within the rules but had never been conceived of, let alone done before in Faerie. It wasn't Fire and Hemlock (nothing is), but it does seem a similar kind of thinking outside the 'chilly logic' of a Faerie-to-be-feared, and I love that.
Everyone said Ink Exchange was darker than Wicked Lovely, and it is that. From the back cover:
After suffering a terrible trauma at the hands of her brother's dealer friends, Leslie becomes obsessed with the idea of getting a tattoo -- it's the one thing that will allow her to reclaim her body, renew her self-confidence. [...] Soon, her back is adorned with a pair of eyes, framed by black wings. Leslie feels good -- more than good. Nothing bad can touch her. But what she doesn't know is that her new tattoo binds her tightly to the faery whose symbol she chose: Irial, the exquisitely dangerous king of the Dark Court...
This wouldn't ever have been a book I enjoyed much, whatever about my queasiness about the moral ambiguity about the binding to Irial. The book is told from Leslie's perspective in part, but also in part from Irial's, and Niall's - another fey who left Irial to serve Keenan in the Summer Court centuries before. It would never be much fun to read from Leslie's POV, given that terrible trauma (being raped by her brother's drug dealer and pals as payment for one of his debts). But the reader knows from the prologue that her seemingly empowering move in getting the tattoo is actually going to be the act that allows her be violated by Irial, and this time it may well be fatal. Even Niall, who fights against his own attraction to Leslie, as he knows how dangerous it would be for her to get close to him - is watching her - desiring her - trying to protect her (from himself too) - but having the power of knowledge she lacks.
I found the passages in which Leslie repeatedly is shown to be thinking that she should be terrified and angry but isn't and realises she should be afraid that she's not afraid but isn't, got really tedious. But just now writing it down, I'm even queasier than I was about the narrative set-up, which comes perilously close to making the reader a voyeur at this how to describe it? -- it's almost an enforced strip-show, with Leslie being viewed by these two powerful fey and soon seen by them (and others) to be possessed by Irial without knowing it until very late in the story. (And of course the nature of her binding is that she can't care by the time she knows.)
The part with the spoiler coming up now.
Once the tattoo is finished, Leslie is in a terrible position - Irial can feed on the negative emotions of humans through her, and pass this nourishment on to the Dark Court. (They're essentially starving because the Summer Court is so chipper now that Keenan has Aislinn, and things are good in Faerie. A war would work, but the other courts don't want that, and the Dark Court will be increasingly vulnerable to even darker than dark fey.) But it's not enough to use the existing fear or anger or greed, so they let the nasties at humans and half-humans and fey they can catch for exceedingly ugly torture as entertainment. And Leslie is barely aware of what's going on, with horrified moments of awareness - and then everything is so appalling that only sex with Irial can allow her to endure it. The resolution and her escape is a bit rushed - even easy, though I couldn't have taken any more drawing out of things by then, admittedly.
There is one sense in which Leslie does at least participate in her own rescue (though it's only possible because of Irial's actions), but the degree of empowerment seen in that is to my mind very much taken away by the fact that she still 'cares for' Irial after all the effect of the ink exchange is gone. Now, I'm all for the moral complexity myself, but this...? Here's an indication of Irial's nature - when he sees the damage done to Leslie by her brother and his druggie 'friends', he thinks to himself that without their having raped Leslie, she wouldn't be filled with the fear and loss of sense of autonomy that allows her to be possessed by him, but still plans to destroy them for hurting 'his' mortal.
There's a lot of good stuff in here, and I may still choose to read Fragile Eternity, which returns to Aislinn and Seth (in this book, though not the main characters), but I may not too. I know many people have read this differently than I have, and not seen it as disturbingly 'but she came to care for her rapist' as I did. I'd be very interested to hear dissenting opinions, though I may not be easily persuaded out of mine...