Book Review: Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne
Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne
Series Number: 1
Published: 25 Sep 2020
Page Count: 336
Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails - and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.  But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.  But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective - while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice's death will take him through Scotland's magical underworld, and he'll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he's to survive.
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I was waiting for Ink & Sigil for a long time and was really happy when the opportunity to review it popped up on NetGalley. I devoured it within a few days. Putting my thoughts in order took much longer and my conditions contributed to delaying this review. It’s here now though and just in time for Ink & Sigil’s release in paperback today. It’s also on special for 99p on Kindle right now so go grab an awesome book for a great deal!

I hope you’ll enjoy my thoughts about the first book in the new Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne set in the same universe as his popular Iron Druid Chronicles series.

This book was provided for free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Little, Brown Book Group UK for the opportunity to review this book!

First Impressions

Ever since Kevin Hearne announced he was a new series spinning off from his fantastic Iron Druid Chronicle series I kept up with the updates. When it was revealed by Hearne that it was going to be set in Glasgow I was even more excited, especially when he and his wife visited the city on a research trip. I knew that the city I had come to call home was in good hands.

Although set in the same universe as the Iron Druid Chronicles series it was announced that this new series does not require any new previous knowledge of that series. As I am familiar with it I can’t not give my thoughts on what information the summary offers about the shared universe.

In this world, every myth, every pantheon, exists. From Christianity’s Jesus Christ to the well-known pantheons of Celtic and Norse gods, to the smaller ones of Slavic gods. The protagonist of the Iron Druid Chronicles, Atticus Sullivan, has various run-ins and interactions with all sorts of gods and mythical creatures. They seem to do what they please without any recompense, however, the summary for Ink & Sigil suggests otherwise.

Reintroducing Al MacBharrais, a character who had previously appeared in a short story in the collection Besieged, the summary tells us that there’s actually someone who is watching out for our world. Al has the magical means to protect it from “rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae”. We’re only offered the basic information about what Al does, and it only gets more tantalising as we find out that his apprentices keep dying in circumstances.

The latest death is where Ink & Sigil picks up, and adding to another dead apprentice is the mystery of what this one was up to before he passed away. It’s a great way of leading us into the world of Al MacBharrais, a man cursed and blessed, who stands as a protector between the pantheons of the world and the human world. As he follows in the footsteps of his apprentice we’ll be getting a guided tour through a familiar universe, but from a completely different perspective and I’m really excited to learn more! 

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

The Review

I mentioned that I knew that this book was in good hands after following the progress of this book, including Hearne’s research trip to Glasgow. I didn’t realise just how extensive that research was or how good those hands were until I flicked to the first page on my tablet and found myself smiling as started to read the “Author’s Note”. You seem, Hearne hasn’t just written a book set in Glasgow and ignored the fact that Scotland has its own language and dialect. Much like the Disney film Brave, he fully immersed his new series in it and it’s delightful.

The Author’s Note is his introduction to the reader about the language, with personal anecdotes and accurate information. That’s the important thing to me, not just as a Brit, but as someone who lovingly calls Glasgow home; accuracy. For those who don’t know I’m not Scottish by birth (heritage, very much so) and I’m originally from London. My fiance is from Glasgow and even now after 13+ years he still comes out with some words that I’ve never heard from. So when I say that Scots is a language I’m not just talking academically, it is very much a living language. I thus found the pronunciation guide to be great fun to read especially as it’s all about Glaswegian. Most people when they write Scottish people tend to go for a typically Edinburgh accent, which brings me to my next point;

Another point in the authenticity column for Ink & Sigil is that the level of dirty language is not toned down. No one curses quite like a Scottish person and there are some absolute beauts in this novel. I’ve seen some comments by American readers who are either amazed about it or comment about how “violent” the language is. I’ve not put a trigger warning up for it because while it could be considered “violent” or even “abusive” it’s actually just about being expressive. Here’s one of my favourite examples;

“I’m supposed to have the day off. If you make me late for my brother’s wedding, Nadia warned, I’ll have your bollocks slow-roasted and served with mayo.”

Threats like that are commonplace in Glasgow and can be found throughout Ink & Sigil, the banter thrown back and forth with ease between characters whether they’re friend or foe. Hearne wields Glaswegian like a natural Glaswegian and you’ll be too busy crying your eyes out with laughter to be actually offended by anything. If you thought you’d heard creative insults before just wait until you’ve not heard a Glaswegian hobgoblin do it.

Language and dialogue are just two of the things that add to the charm of the characters of Ink & Sigil. Each one has a very individual personality and well developed history that draws the reader to them. While there are some similarities between Al and Atticus, the protagonist of the Iron Druid Chronicles (both care about the world and their duty to protect it), he is a very different type of character. Nevertheless, as I followed him through his investigation of his recently departed apprentice’s criminal activities, I became just as fond of Al and his companions as I did of the cast of the original series. That includes a particularly foulmouthed hobgoblin with a fondness for pranks who I dare you not to like.

We find out that the that allows Al to protect against rogue members of pantheons is a skill taught to a select few mortals by the Celtic goddess Brighid. Combining a pre-existing form of sigils with druidic bindings, Brighid created sigils. Unlike druid training which required twelve years to complete, the new system could be taught much easier. This was during the nineteenth century when only one druid (Atticus – read his story in the Iron Druid Chronicles 😉 ) was alive and in hiding, so introducing Sigil Agents provided a working system that did not rely on the druids, who had been hunted to near extinction.

Sigils are a completely new type of that will be really intriguing to urban fantasy fans, stationery lovers and alchemy. Hearne goes into lots of detail about the preparation of inks, the ingredients and the way they need to be made and/or sourced. These interludes include anecdotes from Al’s past and his training, continuing to connect the dots between past and present while also acting as a momentary pause in the action. Unlike other books where I’ve seen authors use the interlude to throw more information at the reader, Hearne’s style gives the reader a moment to catch their breath, if you will, and collect their thoughts before picking the story back up. It’s only ever a few pages long and succinct, always leading straight back to the point with a comment from Al that links everything together. It’s a great way to provide a behind the scenes look at sigil agents’ work without making it ridiculously tedious for the reader.


Overall Ink & Sigil is a fabulous read whether you’ve read the Iron Druid Chronicles or not. Hearne has done a great job of making it fit alongside the original series and help it stand up on it’s own. One thing I particularly liked was the inclusion of the short story from Besieged which originally introduced Al MacBharrais. Hearne doesn’t include the entire thing, instead he retells it briefly from Al’s perspective as a memory. It’s just enough to connect the two series, to introduce Atticus and his Irish Wolfhound to the readers of Ink & Sigil, and to make those of us who know the pair already smile.

I actually have Besieged sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read and purposefully put it to one side until after completing this review because I didn’t want it to alter my perspective for this review. I’m interested to see how the original short story compares, and if you are too keep an eye out for my mini-review of the short story collection!

I’ve briefly touched upon the originals of sigil agents and their role in the world of Ink & Sigil, however, I’d like to point out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As with every element of this book, it is well researched and developed, and the result is a truly magical world set in a remarkable city which has been lovingly and respectfully brought to life. The characters, while fictional, are as real as any you will meet on the streets of Glasgow.

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne
Kevin Hearne
Meet the Author

Kevin Hearne

Kevin is the NYT bestselling author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, as well as The Seven Kennings, an epic fantasy trilogy, and the Tales of Pell, a humorous fantasy series co-authored with Delilah S. Dawson. INK & SIGIL, a new urban fantasy series set in the Iron Druid universe, was released in 2020.

You can find out more about his work over at his website. You can browse his books on Goodreads. Or connect with him on social media; he’s on Twitter and Instagram!

Over to you

This was a difficult review to write because I loved this book so much, and sometimes trying to convey that in actual words that aren’t just wordless squeeing or capitals screaming ‘THIS IS AWESOME, GO READ IT NOW!!!!’. Hopefully, I’ve managed to give you an idea of how the author has recreated the city I love and imbued it with and interesting characters that you’ll want to read more about. Book two of the Ink & Sigil series, Paper & Blood, is due out this summer. So now is the perfect time to add the first book to your TBR lists!

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