Peter S. Beagle, better known as the author of The Last Unicorn, is a relatively famous face in the world of fantasy. Yet I had never read any of his books until I picked up a copy of The Inkeeper’s Song and as of writing it is still the only book of his that I’ve read. The book follows a number of characters. There is Tikat, who is searching for his lover whom he whose resurrection from the dead he witnessed first hand. Then there are the three women whom he must pursue, whom all have secrets of their own. Their stories are linked through a distant inn, and the innkeeper Karsh, plus stable boy Rosseth, have to deal with the consequences. All their destinies are tied to an old dying wizard and the man who brought him to this state, a man who is said to be the heir to powerful magic.
The novel is surprisingly complex, and that is part of its problem since it seems to follow a large number of characters for a novel of its length. My edition of the book is not particularly long and it certainly doesn’t feel long as I’m reading it, yet it is clear that the book has an awful lot of point of view characters. As a result of this some of the characters seem underdeveloped since nearly every major character gets a point of view segment at some point in the novel. There are some, like some of the three women and the innkeeper Karsh who could have their segments cut entirely. I did however enjoy the stream of consciousness narratives of the fox, though at the same time I felt like the fox was an irrelevant character who didn’t need a point of view segment.
It also has a negative effect on characterisation. I felt like Tikat was treated like a side character for most of the novel, even though I believed him to be the protagonist. Once the three girls came onto the scene their plot line seemed to take prominence, making me question what Beagle wanted the story to be about. I also felt like the use of first person was confusing since the narrative was constantly switching between characters. Although the name of the characters were above each of their respective characters, I still found myself confused at times if I didn’t pay strong attention to who was speaking at the start of the chapter. I often found myself confusing the three ladies in these instances, and at times I would also confused Tikat and the stable boy Rosseth. In these cases it is because the characters are generic enough that it is sometimes easy to confuse them with one another.
There are a few parts of the book which I’m not keen on. There is a foursome, which seems to be thrown in for the sake of it. While I do like sex scenes in books, I prefer it if they have some kind of bearing on the plot. The foursome did not, and the plot could easily have functioned without it. The characters as a whole also feel rather bland thanks to the point of view switching, which does not help the sex scene since it is hard to empathise with a character’s needs and desire when you’re switching between around ten of them.
Regarding the book as a whole, the plot itself isn’t that bad but the technical aspects of the book leave a lot to be desired. Not only does Beagle use too many point of view characters, and possibly too many named characters in the narrative to begin with, but the first person narrative makes the switches very confusing. I was confused by what the main plot was, since I thought at first that the story was about Tikat finding his lost love, but that seemed to go to the sidelines until near the end. The Inkeeper’s Song, suffers from a crisis of identity and it doesn’t know what story it wants to be, which is why I didn’t like it end the end. I can’t say whether this is typical of Peter S. Beagle since I have yet to read any of his other works but I’ll admit this book didn’t leave me with the best first impression.
IN A WORD: DULL