Meggie’s father Mo has an unusual gift — he can read characters out of books. Unfortunately, he accidentally discovers his ability while reading from the book Inkheart about a perfectly villainous pair of evildoers, Capricorn and his right-hand man Basta. Meggie and Mo, along with some friends — and another character from Inkheart — must try to combat these villains and repair the damage that Mo’s ‘talent’ has brought about.
Cornelia Funke has been called “the German J. K. Rowling” — her books are bestsellers in Germany and proving popular in the U.S. as well. I certainly enjoyed this book’s celebration of books. From the centrality of books to the plot, to the constant book-related imagery, books are the feature in this fun novel. “Is there anything better than words on the page? Magic signs, the voices of the dead, building blocks to make wonderful worlds better than this one, comforters, companions in loneliness. Keepers of secrets, speakers of the truth . . . all those glorious words.” One of the characters — an author — rejoices in his craft, and for booklovers like me, his words ring true.
The book also at least superficially looks at some interesting and fun ideas. It doesn’t pretend to be the same book as the Inkheart within its plot — Funke isn’t about to attempt the complexity of fellow German Michael Ende, although she has obviously read his work — but it does have some cool moments. I particularly liked scenes where the author of the novel’s Inkheart meets his characters brought to life. He was mighty proud of having created such an evil villain as Capricorn, but meeting him in person is another story!
Unfortunately the book isn’t as well-written as it might be. The characters are mostly pretty flat (Dustfinger, a hero from the novel who finds himself unsure whether to stick with Capricorn, who is from his world, or oppose him because he’s evil, is an exception). Superficial attempts to create complexity in the characters mostly fail. The book’s main issue, however, is that it’s far too long at 534 pages — some condensing of the rather repetitive and slow-moving plot would have improved it significantly. I can’t comment much on the writing itself, since I don’t know German, but in this translation it’s acceptable though not shining.
Morally the book leaves no real impression either way. The villains are characterized by causing fear and enjoying pain; the heroes are characterized primarily by opposing the villains rather than by having particular ideals of their own, although courage is upheld. (For a traditional fantasy tale, traditional fantasy morality is quite a bit less clearly emphasized than I expected.) An awful lot of lying goes on between Meggie and her father, for no particular reason sometimes, which bothers me in a book meant for kids, but they do have a good father-daughter relationship. Meggie says at one point that her father says God and the devil are imaginary.
A side note: this is the first book I’ve read that makes passing references to Tolkien’s books as classic works of literature — on a level with Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland — without even mentioning the books’ names. I liked that!
Content note: this children’s book contains mild bad language.