One of the cool things about attending a writing convention is the big pile of free reading material one comes away with. Writers and publishers pay to put their work in the hands of influential readers, hoping to generate buzz. Some are worthy of notice, others… not so much. Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti was in my pile of goodies from last Autumn’s World Fantasy Convention, and it looked promising. My sweetie got to it before I did, and enjoyed it. So, with expectations high, I picked it up.
The Amazons in question are straight from the Ancient Greeks, a tribe of fierce and magically adept women. They have lived among humanity since the ancient times, secreting themselves in out-of-the-way places (like Wisconsin). They live a long, long time, and perhaps that’s why they’re still using swords while the rest of the world has moved on to more lethal technology. They keep to themselves and while they have a lot of rules, there is one that tops all the others: No boys allowed.
Melanippe’s first child was a son, but that was a long time ago. She has not forgotten what happened to him. She no longer lives with the rest of the Amazons. She has gone into de facto exile in the city.
Mel has a reasonably comfortable life there, raising her teenage daughter — who knows nothing of her heritage. Mel’s not looking forward to that discussion. Melanippe herself is an artisan, a skilled tattoo artist, able to apply the traditional markings to young amazons. These markings are more than decoration, they are deeply personal and bind power and kinship among the clans. Mel’s also been dabbling in sorcery on the side, and she’s been getting pretty good at it.
She’s going to need all her skill now. Someone’s killing young Amazons and leaving them on her doorstep, with their tattoos carefully cut off. Whoever is doing it knows who they are. Melanippe must juggle a teenage daughter who is a ticking time bomb, cops who think she knows more about the deaths of the young women than she’s letting on, a mother and grandmother who are not shy about providing their opinions, and on top of everything else she must deal with a lot of very angry women with swords.
In a way this story is thematically kindred to The Delicate Dependency — a superspecies of humanity, a tiny minority, has been living among us for thousands of years, but now they are coming to realize that technology is fundamentally upsetting the balance between the races. Mere mortals can use machines and science to undermine the innate superiority of the few. In the case of the vampire story, they were dependent on humanity for sustenance; in Amazon Ink the main thing they need from mortals is sperm. Melanippe’s position as an exile has allowed her to straddle the two societies and see clearly that the time has come for change, even while most of her peers are content to live tucked away from prying eyes.
There’s romance (single mom, not even 100 years old yet, very fit, seeks…), plenty of mystery, and some great plots twists, all hung on a well-drafted framework of Amazon society. Some obstacles succumb to brute force, while others require wit and craft. As the story progresses you begin to sense that something else is going on, something no one has recognized. Some people don’t quite fit in the world as it’s being painted by the narrator. Some twists I saw coming from far away, while others snuck up on me. Overall it was a lot of fun to read. My expectations were high going in, and I was not disappointed.
This book is set up to the the first in a series, but Ms. Devoti went about it the right way — putting a full and complete story between the covers. There are still unresolved issues at the end, but that’s how real life works. I’m interested to find what comes next for this four-generation all-female family and the odd assortment of characters that have become attached to it.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback. You really should. It’s a good book.