The Ink of Elspet (Book Review)

  • Author: JD Peabody
  • Series: Inkwell Chronicles, book 1
  • Publisher: Worthy Kids
  • Available Now!
  • Synopsis: After their father’s unaccountable disappearance, Edward and Bea are thrust into an adventure involving a mysterious ink.
  • Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own.

Scripture Connection

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient to these things?

2 Cor. 2:15-16

I think this verse does connect well with the plot–particularly a certain moment toward the end– though there aren’t really really references to Christ, in the book.

Spiritual Themes

J.D. Peabody is a Christian author:

The children’s father, Marcus, is a minister and we see him praying at times. I believe I also recall a reference or two to a hymn or Bible verse.

We also see the theme of inspiration, although it isn’t eplicitly divine inspiration. However, there is a clear dilineation between good and bad creative ventures, which I appreciate. There’s also a clear good vs. evil theme, which is fundamental to understanding the Christian faith, with the understanding that good WILL triumph.

The characters demonstrate integrity, even when it would be much more convenient not to. (Or learn from their mistakes).

What I Liked

The brother-sister dynamic between Bea and Everett felt realistic. Although Everett isn’t the most likable character, he’s there for his little sister when it counts. I will say that I liked Bea more. She’s an eight-year-old escape artist who’s both intuitive and optimistic. In all honesty, though, Everett was more relatable. I’ve been guilty of the same sorts of negative behaviors and attitudes.

This is a children’s book and I feel that Peabody did a good job with the villains, making them sinister enough to be threatening, but silly enough that they’re not too scary to read about. On a similar note, I liked that there were clearly good and bad characters. The wealth of literary references in Ink of Elspet reminds me of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but in that series, there’s a bit of discussion on people being “mixed,” as in both good and bad. And while I agree with the nuance of human characters, I like that these nonhuman bad guys are shows to be simply bad (especially with the rise of media that sympathizes with villains).

I did enjoy the literary references, throughout. While I did have some knowledge, beforehand, about what I would be encountering, I think I would have picked up on several of the allusions on my own, albeit a bit slower. I could see these references sparking discussions, for those who are able to recognize them, or interest, for those who investigate further. (I definitely recommend the author’s page of commentary about the historical inspirations behind the characters and settings in the book.)

The plot was highly engaging and captured my interest. The premise was intriguing and I enjoyed the general thrust of the adventure. It was also neat to see so many genre elements combined in one story. It’s speculative and historical, with strong fantasy elements and an underlying “spy story” sort of thread. The whimsy and adventure of the novel also reminded me a bit of The Phantom Tollbooth.

Although the spiritual content is very light, there is a strong good vs. evil emphasis, which is such an important element in children’s books. As Ronald says, “Ink is the source of all the stories where good triumphs over evil.” We know, as Christians, that Christ, “all the fullness of God” (Col. 2:9) is triumphant!

The book is explosively creative, in terms of demonstrating both the author’s and the characters’ creativity. Characters are consistently placed in situations where they must manufacture a way out, whether that is through drawing, writing or innovating. This makes for a very twist-and-turny plotline, and while there were moments that felt a bit too convenient for me, the events of the story (and the many magical properties of the ink) do make sense in the world that Peabody has created.

Content Notes

There is a scene with a completely vile woman behaving flirtatiously and bestowing a gross kiss on an unwilling villain. Although the kiss is presented as being undesirable, this might feel out of place for certain readers, in a children’s book. It was a funny scene, though.

A biracial Indian, British character goes by Trey. His real name is Purushottam. Bea “sympathet[ically]” remarks that “Trey is much easier.” I feel that this is a realistic portrayal of how a child would behave in that situation, though it’s not the most culturally sensitive.

There’s a device alternately referred to as a “witching stick” or a “divining rod.” While Marcus (Bea and Everett’s dad) rejects the idea that this device is used for witchcraft, I felt that the term “divining” also bore negative connotations. As a note to readers who avoid magic, there is magic content in this book, but it tends to stem from the ink– the source of creativity.

Recommendation Status

Although published by a Christian publisher, The Ink of Elspet is not an overtly Christian work. However, it’s a book that I would have no trouble recommending to its intended audience. In addition to having some good themes, it’s also a wholesome read for kids! Recommended especially to highly creative and imaginative children– though the literary references make it a fun choice for adult readers, too.

Published by Stephaniesninthsuitcase

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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