Inkheart (2003) by German author Cornelia Funke is the first of three in the Inkworld trilogy. Its plot focuses on Meggie, a 12-year-old girl who is in love with books. Her father Mo (short for Mortimer) is a bookbinder and the two move around in the world to wherever his work is. Her mother is, in true YA fantasy fashion, out of the picture – and it’s all a big mystery (which the 12-year-old does not seem to have too much interest to solve…).
The story begins as a peculiar man, Dustfinger, appears on Mo and Meggie’s doorstep and he seems to know things, strange things, calling Mo ‘Silvertongue.’ As you might imagine, a whole new side of Mo unravels as the central problem arises: Capricorn, an evil man with a heart as black as they come, wants something desperately – something Mo has in his possession.
This book has some excellent characters and a neatly pleated plot to accompany them. Names such as Dustfinger, Capricorn, and Basta taste like melting chocolate to the reader and Funke has really hit the bulls-eye in baptising her fictional population. At times their characters are over-stated, explained to excess in a psychoanalytical manner, not leaving much for the reader to deduce him/herself. Some dialogue between them thus becomes clumsy with explicit statements belonging more in a 90s soap opera than a 00s fantasy novel: You’re afraid of fire, aren’t you? Because of that time Capricorn made you set that house on fire and you didn’t get away in time (not an exact quote, but you get the idea).
It is also noteworthy that even though Meggie is the main character, she seems strangely passive. Most of the time she’s merely leaning back, watching the other characters in action.
Funke offers a discussion on the practice of writing and the activity of reading which is interesting to follow both within the text and on an exterior level. The relationship between author and character, character and reader, and how stories are affected and can be affective, will appeal to readers who have read any book previously in their lives. Inkheart intertwines its literary existence with previous published works, thereby situating itself within the canon. The quotes introducing each chapter were at times long and seemingly disconnected from the story, but easily ignored so not causing too much trouble.
Overall I enjoyed this highly original novel, despite some slow moments in the plot. It’s an easy read and fitting for all ages. My greatest regret is that Funke resolves the story in this first novel – the trilogy continues but only as an extension of the future fates of the remaining characters! There is no incentive to read on unless you are besotted by Meggie and want more of her character (a passion to which I cannot make claim). Of course that’s no reason why Inkspell, the second installation, might not be worth exploring, but a little cliffhanger would have been nice nonetheless.
Links to Inkheart:
Amazon UK / US