Leslie has a fairly miserable life. Her mother has absconded. Her father is an alcoholic. Her brother Ren is a drug addict who allows his sister to be raped to get money. Leslie resorts to a tattoo as a symbol of change in her body and her life. But of course the tattoo proves to be a more complicated arrangement than she thought. The tattooist, Rabbit, lives in the mortal world but has faery blood. His friend Irial arranges that the tattoo uses ink which binds Leslie to the Dark Court, one of three faery courts – the others are the Summer and Winter Courts – in a state of undeclared war with each other.
The tattoo has more consequences than might be expected. It suppresses Leslie’s ability to feel negative emotions, a phenomenon that sounds attractive but proves otherwise. She discovers that her friend Aislinn, previously believed to be an ordinary girl, is the Queen of the Summer Court. Aislinn has an adviser, Niall, a renegade from the Dark Court, who also befriends Leslie to protect her from Irial. The book recounts Leslie’s struggle to free herself from Irial, to counter the influence of the bad ink.
The narrative power of the book is impressive. When the author describes Leslie’s confusion over her lost feelings, the reader is drawn into the pain. The book has an allegorical intent, mirroring the experience of being a gang member or a follower of a cult. It depicts the kind of desensitizing influence such membership can have, and the rapid and fundamental change that can unbalance a life.
For this reader however, the plot is excessively complex and there is a disturbing amount of rather gross violence. The Dark Court feeds on blood and misery and few punches are pulled. The redeeming feature of the book is Marr’s demonstration that even from the deepest misery, a way back can be found.