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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Poison Ink" by Christopher Golden

Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A prolific and bestselling writer of horror, fantasy, and suspense for adults, teens, and young readers, Christopher Golden’s bibliography includes The Veil Trilogy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Hellboy tie-in books, Ghosts of Albion (w/Amber Benson), The Hidden Cities series co-written with Tim Lebbon, and “Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire”, co-authored with Mike Mignola, which they are currently scripting as a feature film for New Regency. Christopher has also collaborated with Thomas E. Sniegoski on The Menagerie series, the OutCast novels, the comic book miniseries Talent, and the new comic book miniseries The Sisterhood—the latter three have all been acquired for film adaptation. Other upcoming works include “Soulless” for MTV Books, “British Invasion” for Cemetery Dance Publications, “Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman”, and “The Map of Moments” (w/Tim Lebbon).

PLOT SUMMARY: Juniors Sammi, TQ, Caryn, Letty, and Katsuko are floaters. They don’t fit in with any of the groups at Covington High School—just with each other. One night, to cement their bond, the girls decide to get matching, custom-designed tattoos. But when Sammi backs out at the last minute, everything changes.

Overnight, Sammi is an outcast and her friends are behaving like total strangers. They smoke, skip school, fight, taunt, and are the subjects of some of the juiciest rumors Covington High School has ever heard. But when they attack Sammi for trying to break up a brawl, Sammi spies something horrible: the original tattoo has grown tendrils, snaking and curling over her friend’s body like something alive. What has happened to her friends? And what—if anything—can Sammi do to get them back?

CLASSIFICATION: Using movie terminology, “Poison Ink” is part contemporary teenpic, part suspense thriller and part supernatural horror—think Mean Girls meets Disturbing Behavior with a little bit of The Craft mixed in. Rating-wise, the book is mostly PG-13, but there are a few brutal scenes that are borderline R, so even though “Poison Ink” is aimed at a younger audience, I’d recommend readers to be at least thirteen. Adults meanwhile shouldn’t be afraid to pick up the book since “Poison Ink” is not only smart and entertaining, but also surprisingly tragic.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 288 pages divided over seventeen chapters and a Prologue/Epilogue. Narration is in the third-person exclusively via Samantha “Sammi” Holland. Story is self-contained, but definitely leaves the door open for a sequel. July 8, 2008 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Poison Ink” via
Delacorte Press. Cover art provided by Chad Michael Ward.

ANALYSIS:Poison Ink” is the first YA novel that I’ve ever read by Christopher Golden, and from start to finish, I couldn’t be more impressed. As usual, the first thing that stands out is the author’s top-notch writing. Which in this case encompasses his ability to convincingly adopt the personality of a sixteen-year-old female high school student; faithfully capture domestic, social and high school life—including different cliques, lunch ladies, texting, flirting, and peer pressure—and a gift for witty banter:

My Clever plan for world domination failed.”
So what next, evil overlord? What’s Plan B?"
No Plan B. I met this girl. Makes me think maybe it’s time to leave world domination schemes to my flunkies, stop and smell the roses, blah blah blah. Want to hang out Saturday night?
Well, if it means preventing world conquest by a tyrannical madman, it would be selfish of me to say no.”

Characterization is also superb, for both Sammi and her friends. Of the latter, TQ, Caryn, Letty, and Katsuko each have their own distinctive traits—TQ is tall, quiet and shy; Letty is a Puerto Rican lesbian with a bit of a rebellious edge; Caryn is artistic, but has anger management issues; and Katsuko is serious and a bit snobbish—all of which comes into stark focus when they suddenly start behaving completely out character such as cheating, smoking, shoplifiting, dressing slutty, doing lines of coke, and so on. Sammi meanwhile is wonderfully developed, extremely likeable, and has her own set of individual characteristics—I particularly liked Sammi’s love for music which provided numerous opportunities for dropping familiar musical references including Jack Johnson, the Shins, the Strokes, Jason Mraz, Keane, Josh Ritter, the Beatles, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, etc. At the same time, Chris also does a great job of exploring Sammi’s thoughts and emotions, like the hurt, loneliness and anger she feels when she’s shunned by her friends; the joy she experiences when she’s around Cute Adam; or the dismay & betrayal she suffers from her parents’ separation.

Structurally, “Poison Ink” is an incredibly well-crafted novel. There’s an opening fast-forward prologue that immediately sets the tone; characters and plot are given plenty of time to develop even though the pace is page-turning; the middle act is intense and shifts into the second part of the story—which ventures into more horrific/supernatural territory—without any problems; and the dramatic finale is breathtaking, all the more so because Christopher doesn’t flinch away from the harsher aspects of life. In other words, blood is spilled, characters die, love is lost and not all endings are happy…

The only quibble I had with the book was its central concept of tattoos and their link with the paranormal. Considering how popular tattoos are in this day and age—heck, even I have a tattoo :)—I thought this was a really cool idea. However, aside from a couple of facts about the history of tattoos, some magical symbols and grimoires, this concept was never really explored to its fullest potential. Then again, considering how “Poison Ink” could be considered a cautionary tale against tattoos, especially if you're under eighteen, I can understand if the author didn’t want to glorify body modification :)

CONCLUSION: From The Veil Trilogy to “Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire” and “Mind the Gap”, Christopher Golden has consistently delivered smart, creative and entertaining storytelling that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages & tastes, and “Poison Ink” is no exception. In fact, I actually enjoyed “Poison Ink” more than some of Christopher’s other adult efforts, and highly recommend the book to teens, Christopher Golden fans, and anyone in the mood to be thrilled, chilled and entertained…


Chris, The Book Swede said...

I believe I have read one of his Buffy tie-in novels, and very good it was too :)

What tattoo do you have?! I keep meaning to get one, then I can't decide what to get. I want something literary and cool, something that will look good even in fifty years time... :S

Anyway, sorry to hijack your very good review to blather! :D

Anonymous said...

I agree with you - Poison Ink is fantastic. I hope that you will check out more of his works published in YA. Based on your reviews of his books, I think you'll like Prowlers and the forthcoming Soulless (coming out in October!)

Robert said...

Chris, I have a tribal dragon symbol on the back of my left shoulder :) Maybe I'll post a pic in the future! I'd love to get more and have several different designs I'd like to use, but my wife is against them ;)

Slayground, I definitely plan on reading more of Christopher's YA titles and actually have a copy of "Soulless" :) So thanks for the recommendations!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy! :)


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