Trinculo “Trinket” Gao has decided to surprise his boyfriend, Siebold “Zee” Li by getting a tattoo of a quote from one of their favorite books. The men have been together officially for two years, but were close friends and partners before that. Getting a tattoo is somewhat out of character for Trinket, who currently has none, but the idea of marking himself with something for Zee turns him on, and he knows it will turn Zee on as well. In fact, the whole tattoo experience is hot for Trinket, made all the more so by his alluring tattoo artist, Mini. Trinket gets incredibly turned on while getting the tattoo, and when Mini makes it clear he is more than happy to do something about it, Trinket lets him.
Zee is just as into the tattoo as Trinket expected. In fact, he wants Trinket to get even more, to mark his body with tattoos that only Zee will see. And Trinket is eager to agree. As he continues to return to Mini for more work, he continues his sexual affair with the tattoo artist as well. Mini pushes Trinket in ways he has never experienced, urging him to try new things and to act on his desires so long hidden. Trinket’s newfound confidence and interest in experimentation carries over to his relationship with Zee as well. He finally works up the nerve to ask for what he wants, to tell Zee all his secret, hidden desires, and their sex life becomes explosive in a way it has never been before. Trinket and Zee are growing even closer, forming a bond that transcends their previous relationship, not to mention making them so hot for each other they can barely keep their hands off one another. But at the same time, Trinket is continuing his affair with Mini.
Trinket knows he should feel guilty. He knows what he is doing is wrong. But both Zee and Mini give him things he has long desired, things he is not ready to lose. He finally has learned to speak up for what he wants, and what he wants is both men.
Ok, before I go too far into the details of my review, there is a lot of background that is important to understand about this book. First off, The Taste of Ink is the first book in the revised Taste of Ink trilogy. The series was first published as a set of seven books, and this story comprises what was originally the first three. According the front matter, the new trilogy has been lightly edited with a minor character name change and an extended ending. However, the majority of the story remains the same as the original. The books make up one long story for these characters, so while they are broken up into a trilogy, you will want to read them all for the full journey. Second, as is hopefully clear from my overview, this book features a significant cheating plot line. While I would argue that at its heart, this book is about Trinket’s personal journey coming into his true self, the overall plot to this first book is almost exclusively focused on these two parallel relationships he is having with Mini and Zee. I’ll get into this more later in the review, but the bottom line is you need to be comfortable with a book that uses cheating as its major plot device. And third, this book features a lot of dirty, kinky sex, again as a vehicle for advancing Trinket’s journey. I wouldn’t say it veers into full on BDSM territory in this first book, but it is discussed, and Trinket definitely recognizes his own masochistic tendencies. That said, if you can work with all of that, definitely read on with this review, because I think this story is totally worth the ride.
So as I said, I think at its heart, this book is really about Trinket and his progression from someone who is self conscious, shy, and uncomfortable reaching out for what he wants, to a man who is willing to claim his needs and accept himself. We quickly learn that Trinket keeps a lot bottled up and hidden, and it becomes clear early on that while he loves Zee and he is content with their life together, there are things that Trinket wants and needs that he would never ask for. When Trinket gets his tattoo, he gets turned on (something that Mini encourages) and when Mini offers up sex, Trinket lets it happen. And I use that wording, because Trinket is almost passive about it all. He has this tendency to not voice his wants or needs at this point, and just sort of passively allows things to move around him. We learn about the first time Zee and Trinket had sex, and that while Trinket was uncomfortable (as it was his first time ever having intercourse), he never spoke up or shared that with Zee. So there is an interesting parallel set up between his first real sexual experiences with both men in that he just sort of ends up in these situations, without really actively speaking up either for or against the encounters.
After his first time with Mini, something really sparks within Trinket. Mini is hard, rough, and challenges Trinket. While Zee loves Trinket and cares for him, he is gentle and sweet in a way that doesn’t always fit with what Trinket needs. The experience with Mini incites something in Trinket that carries over to the next time he has sex with Zee. He shows Zee what he really wants, and Zee loves it. So it is like these two relationships are fueling one another. Trinket gets fired up with Mini, which leads to him asking for what he needs with Zee, which leads to him pushing even more boundaries with Mini, and so on. So we see that even as Trinket is clearly violating his relationship with Zee by sleeping with Mini, it is actually changing his dynamic with his boyfriend in profound and positive ways. That is not to say the cheating is ok or justified, just that it sets up a really fascinating dynamic that changes Trinket personally, as well as changing his relationship with Zee.
Speaking of the cheating, another thing I found interesting here is that Trinket really feels very little guilt or remorse for his actions, despite his clear love for Zee. Again, I think it shows such a fascinating aspect of his personality, as so much of Trinket’s journey here is moving from being held back by thoughts and fears and anxieties to just acting on his emotions and feelings and desires. And it works for the good, in that it allows Trinket to act on what he wants and needs, as well as for the bad, in that he never takes much time to reflect on what he is doing to Zee. While there are occasional blips of guilt, most of the time, Trinket doesn’t think much about the fact that he is not only having an ongoing affair, but that he is having unsafe sex and subjecting Zee to numerous risks. It is like the more things escalate, the more caught up Trinket gets. So again, this is not the moral high ground here by any means. It is just a fascinating story to approach as a reader as we watch all this transpire.
My only real note here is that this first book feels quite long. Trinket, Zee, and Mini are the only real characters and we rarely see them interacting with anyone outside this little trio. We are exclusively in Trinket’s head, so this is all a close POV with extreme focus on three people. Much of the time they are together, these guys are either having sex, or talking about having sex (particularly with Trinket and Mini). So while I was fascinated with these relationships, I also found that it is a lot of the same type of scenes repeated across a rather long book. I think this may be a consequence of the fact that it was originally released as three separate installments, so there was more of a natural break in the action, whereas here it reads as one long story. I think the book could have been pared down here and tightened up without losing the important story elements. I will be curious to see how it plays out in future installments (which appear to be as long or longer as this book).
I don’t want to say too much about where things end or where this is all going. May does make clear the future of the relationships in the blurb (check out the spoiler if you want to know:), but nothing is resolved here. I found myself really drawn in by this one and it is just a fascinating story. It is certainly high heat and super sex heavy and kinky, but at the same time, it is most definitely a bigger story than that. Even after finishing this book, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I am very eager to see how the story plays out in the next two books, which will both be released by the end of May.
While I know this story might not be a good fit for everyone, if the set up appeals to you at all, I’d definitely encourage you to check it out. I found this story really interesting and I am very much looking forward to more.