Author and Illustrator: Imène Mebarki
Translated into English by Galatea Laudouar
Originally Published in 2020
Review by Miriam Atkinson
Straightaway let me say that The Inkspot Mystery by Imène Mebarki features one of the most original concepts that I have ever encountered.
Aimed at teens and young readers, the story is about the angel Ryna – a character who has lost her story. Ryna has lived on the pages of a dictionary for as long as she can remember. After uncovering the mystery of the inkspots she decides that the time has come to leave. She ventures out of the book in the hopes of finding her own story. Along the way she has several interesting encounters with the objects and entities that make up our own human world.
In the world Mebarki has created, everything is alive. I utterly enjoyed concept of whenever a book is closed all of its words, phrases, numbers and punctuation marks all come to life and move about and interact with each other. It is then up to the title and the table of contents to keep order within the book and ensure everything is back in its proper place when a human decides to read the book. I can easily imagine young readers, upon finishing The Inkspot Mystery, trying to peek between the pages of books in the hopes of seeing a word scurry across the paper into its proper position.
As well as writing the book, Mebarki also illustrated her short story. Her fun sketches really helped me to visualise what Ryna was seeing as she travelled through the paper and human worlds. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations depicting Ryna’s encounters with the philosophy book and the clock. Both images were detailed and fun and really managed to encapsulate those sections of the story.
The Inkspot Mystery is a story two halves. The first half features the strong fantasy elements of the book world while the second half, while still designed to entertain, has the purpose of educating its young readers. Through the examples of a rose and a candle (to name just two examples), Mebarki introduces her readers to several topics. Under the overarching concept of life and death, the book examines the ideas of change and impermanence and how endings are a normal part of life yet nothing truly disappears so long as they are remembered. The book definitely went a lot deeper than I was expecting and I think this shift will surprise a lot of readers. Nevertheless Mebarki does well to discuss these topics in a way that is accessible to younger readers while still being entertaining.
I personally preferred the earlier chapters set within the dictionary. I also really liked chapters where Ryna meets and walks through the philosophy book and the war book. On these journeys she learns more about the human world and I wish there had been more examples of Ryna learning through this medium.
I was a little disappointed that the inkspot mystery itself was actually resolved and concluded quite quickly. The mystery (and its reveal) is important as it motivates Ryna to leave the dictionary but, considering the title of the story, I was expecting the mystery to feature more within the plot.
That being said, The Inkspot Mystery has a wonderfully original concept and manages to both entertain and inform. Mebarki had created a memorable protagonist in Ryna and I am sure that many young readers will be enchanted by her story.
‘The Inkspot Mystery’ was published on Reedsy Discovery in July 2021. This review is also available on Discovery’s website.
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