Bridgette Redman's Reviews > Inkspell

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
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Feb 01, 2012

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Read in January, 2006

Not only will I finish a book that I don’t like, but if I find anything redeeming in it at all, I’ll not infrequently pick up the sequel in the hopes that it gets better.

That’s certainly the case with Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart and Inkspell stories. My encounter with the first book was an audio recording that I listened to while my son and I were taking a long road trip. The narration on it was fantastic and I can still hear many of the character’s voices and the lilting delivery of the actor. But the book itself, I was annoyed with. The highly intelligent characters often acted as stupidly as if they were in a horror movie. The delightfully drawn personalities were slave to the plot and acted outside of their own motivations way too often.

Nonetheless, I saw the sequel, Inkspell, the other day and decided that maybe I was just being grumpy about the series. I had yet to encounter anyone else who had read the book that didn’t thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, Inkheart spent months on the high end of the children’s bestseller lists. Perhaps I was being too hard on it. So I bought Inkspell.

Even though I’m still disappointed with the book’s execution, I know that I’ll pick up the third book just to find out what happens.

See, the premise is a great one and the characters are really interesting. What is the premise? The premise is that there are some people in our world who are so good at reading books that when they read them aloud, they can read people into and out of the worlds of the book. Now, this can be done only with really good books. The books must be those books that seem to come alive off the page when you’re reading them. Inkheart and Inkspell makes that “seem to come alive” literal rather than metaphorical. In Inkheart, several villains from the world of a fictional book called Inkheart come into our world and start causing trouble.

In Inkspell, we find the heroine of the previous novel, Meggie, longing to visit what she calls the Inkworld. It is the world in which her father Mo (also called Silvertongue) accidentally read her mother, Resa. There Resa was enslaved and unable to return home. This was where I had my first hang-up. Why would Meggie want to go to the place where her mother was taken as a slave? It is because of this world that she didn’t have a mother for most of her life.

But there isn’t a story if Meggie doesn’t want to go there, so she pines away for the world of Inkheart. We also see Dustfinger, still stranded in our world, finally finding a way home. He gets Orpheus to read him and Farid, the boy from Arabian Nights who was read into the first story, back into the Inkworld. Orpheus tricks him, though, and leaves Farid behind. Farid finds Meggie, reveals Orpheus’ secret for writing people into stories, and the two of them are off to Inkworld. Others soon follow them and the story takes up there.

Inkspell is far better than its predecessor. It shares the same cleverness and interesting characters. It is still infused with a love for literature and books. This time, though, the characters are more strongly motivated. The things that they do make far more sense and there is a deep connection between the characters that push them to take dangerous risks.

It’s also a more enjoyable book because of the wonderfully drawn Inkworld. It isn’t a place that I’d personally want to visit (there may be a lot of fairies and mythical wonders, but the government stinks and the mortality rate is as high as any medieval society), but it is fascinating to read about. It is a complex society that is peopled with characters ranging from good to evil.

Dustfinger the fire-eater is especially endearing. Like Mo, he is a devoted husband and father despite being frequently absent and not always quite up to the task. We see his devotion to Farid, a boy who has become his apprentice and whom he treats like a son. While he came across as cowardly in the first novel, in this one we see him having great depth of character.

Another fascinating character is Fenoglio, the author of the book within a book. He was read into his world and he adores it. He’s taken on the role of a bard and views his creation with benevolence until it starts misbehaving. He grows increasingly frustrated with the world he created as it goes in directions that he never intended. He is also taken to task for being a little too fond of his villains before he had to live with them.

The 635-page Inkspell ends on a cliffhanger with all of the characters still stranded in the Inkworld and facing decisions about what to do next. The next book in the trilogy, Inkdawn is due out in 2007. Meanwhile, New Line Cinema bought the movie rights to the first book and has begun casting. So far they’ve lined up Brendan Fraser to play Mo, Paul Bettany to play Dustfinger, Jim Boradbent to play Fenoglio, and Kathy Bates to play Elinor (who disappointingly had a rather small part in Inkspell).

Given the wealth of interesting characters and the multiple plot lines, Funke spends a lot of time switching perspectives and giving intricate descriptions of people and the world. There are times when this causes the book to drag. It’s a heavy tome that is filled with delightful nuggets that sometimes have to be dug out of oft-repeated themes and emotions.

It is written for ages 12 and up, though it will help if the young people are good readers because the text can sometimes be challenging (which could be considered a point in its favor). There is also a fair amount of violence and distressing scenes. This is not necessarily a bad thing—books are a pretty safe way to expose children to violence and its consequences—but it is something for parents to be aware of. They may wish to read the book for themselves before giving it to a child.

At any rate, I’ll read Inkdawn when it is finished and translated into English from its original German, but I can’t say that I’m eagerly looking forward to it. It’s a story and a world that I like enough that I want it to be better than what it is.
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