Anyone who loves to read can remember the books that were watersheds in their literary lives. This is one of the true joys of reading: encountering a book that becomes a magical, life-altering volume. With Inkheart, German author Cornelia Funke has created just such a story—a work that could well become a children's classic, similar in stature to A Wrinkle in Time or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Funke was already a popular author in her native Germany when she made her English-language debut last year with The Thief Lord, a wildly imaginative adventure featuring a group of orphans who manage to survive in modern-day Venice. The book became a bestseller and went on to capture the 2003 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for children's literature, as well as the American Library Association's Batchelder Award for best translated book for children. Expectations have been high for her next book, and Inkheart will not disappoint Funke's new fans.
The novel tells the story of young Meggie, her father Mo and a stranger named Dustfinger who shows up at their doorstep on a stormy night. What happens next is a dark reflection of every child's experience when he or she discovers that parents are more (or less) than they seem to be. In Meggie's case, her father has been keeping a secret—he is not just a simple bookbinder, and he harbors a special talent, one that defies understanding: under the right circumstances, when he reads aloud from a book, he can bring the characters in it to life! Unfortunately, Mo did this once too often and inadvertently conjured up the evil Capricorn, who escaped into the real world and has been tracking the father and daughter ever since.
Things come to a head with the appearance of Dustfinger, possibly the most appealing character in Inkheart and certainly the most complicated. This fire-breathing juggler and trickster is a man of mixed loyalties, coping with a world he doesn't quite understand. And then there's Meggie's great-aunt Elinor, a connoisseur of books who comes to the aid of Meggie and her father.
Inkheart is a magical book, but it isn't a Harry Potter imitation. This is a story about the real world and what could happen in it if fictional creatures came to life. Funke writes with knowing warmth; she isn't shy about using literary allusions, even though they might be over the heads of the average sixth-grader. Her "stormy night" opening is reminiscent of the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time, and there are quotes and characters from such works as Peter Pan and The Odyssey sprinkled throughout.
While Inkheart is rich in characters and complicated in plot, it is also a wonderfully visual reading experience. Funke conjures up vivid images of Elinor's foreboding, book-filled home, of the dreary village where Capricorn holds sway, and of the beautiful Italian countryside, where the majority of the action takes place. And—from the moment Meggie glimpses the dark figure of Dustfinger standing in the rain outside her bedroom window—the action doesn't stop. There are quiet moments, to be sure, but they are only breathers in this fast-moving, book-filled fantasy. Inkheart is an engrossing novel that children will treasure for years to come, as much for the paths it opens to them as for the path it leads them down.
James Neal Webb writes from Nashville. Copyright 2003 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Spring
Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that many years ago, while her father was reading the novel [cf2]Inkheart[cf1] out loud, his voice somehow brought many of its characters--including the evil despot Capricorn--Ă´slipping out of their story.Ă¶ Now Capricorn wants MeggieĂ†s father to summon a malevolent, immortal character called the Shadow from the pages of the book. This tale of adventure and fantasy reaches an especially satisfying conclusion. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2004 #1
Who hasn't dreamed of it--characters leaping from the pages of a book to interact with the reader? Or, better yet, the reader transported--quite literally--into the make-believe world of a novel? In this tale of adventure and fantasy by the author of The Thief Lord (rev. 11/02), twelve-year-old Meggie and her father Mo live in a house overflowing with "small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new." But it's one particular book that brings a stranger named Dustfinger to their house one rainy spring night. Meggie learns that many years earlier, while Mo was reading aloud a novel called Inkheart, his voice somehow brought many of its characters--including Dustfinger and the evil despot Capricorn--"slipping out of their story like a bookmark forgotten by some reader between the pages." Now Dustfinger (who longs to return to his fictional origins) wants Mo to read him back into the book, while Capricorn (who likes it here just fine) wants Mo to use his powers to read gold and riches out of stories such as Treasure Island and summon a malevolent, immortal character called the Shadow from the pages of Inkheart. Thanks to Harry P., kids may not be scared off by this volume's heft, though they may wish the pacing wasn't quite so leisurely--even the novel's many chases and hostage-takings are related in a deliberate fashion. But bibliophiles will delight in a story that celebrates books (each chapter begins with a literary passage ranging from Shakespeare to Sendak), and the conclusion is especially satisfying. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2003 September #2
It is hard to avoid preciosity in books about books, but here Funke pulls off the feat with vigor. Meggie, an avid reader, lives alone with her father, a bookbinder; her mother disappeared years before. When a disturbing stranger named Dustfingers intrudes on their peace, she gradually discovers that the barrier between books and the real world is permeable and that an ill-fated read-aloud years ago unleashed Capricorn, who "would feed [a] bird to [a] cat on purpose . . . and the little creature's screeching and struggling would be as sweet as honey to him." Funke takes her time with her tale, investing her situations with palpable menace and limning her characters with acute sensitivity; she creates in Meggie a stalwart heroine who never loses her childish nature even as she works to contain the monster and bring her mother back. Master translator Bell takes the German text and spins out of it vivid images and heart-stopping language that impel the reader through this adventure about narratives-a true feast for anyone who has ever been lost in a book. (Fiction. 10+) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2004 January
When we read great stories, a book comes to life and the characters leap off the pages. Can you imagine that really happening? It does here. Dustfinger appears and brings an ominous warning to Mo, a book restorer, and his 12-year-old daughter Meggie that Capricorn wants his book, Inkheart. Mo takes Meggie to her eccentric, curt adorer of books, Aunt Elinor, to avoid Capricorn and his notorious men. However, Dustfinger betrays Mo, and they are all taken to Capricorn's village. Meggie discovers that her father was the one who read Capricorn into this world and sent her mother instead into the book of Inkheart. Her father's "gift" was the reason why he never read aloud to her as a child. Capricorn soon discovers that Meggie also has the gift, and he wants her to read his "Shadow" from the book. With the help of the Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart, they discover that they can destroy the perfectly evil Capricorn. Each chapter begins with a quote from another book, which gives insight in o what will take place within that chapter. Many similes are used, which add more depth to Meggie's feelings, giving normally bland descriptions animation and intense feelings. There is adventure, suspense, anxiety, hope, love, and strong family bonds that all strengthen this adventure about the love of reading books. Highly Recommended. Eileen Wright, Reference Librarian, Montana State University, Billings Â© 2004 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 July #3
In Funke's (The Thief Lord) delectably thick and transfixing fantasy, 12-year-old Meggie learns that when her bookbinder father, Mo, reads a book aloud, the characters and other objects appear in the real world. Nine years ago, Mo accidentally brought out evil Capricorn and his loyal man, Basta, from Inkheart (as well as the "fire-eater," Dustfinger), and they are hot on his trail. Capricorn wants to destroy Mo's copy of the book so that Mo can't return Capricorn to his fictional life, and Capricorn wants the bookbinder to read out treasures (as in "gold") for him (as well as a murderous "friend" from Inkheart known as the Shadow). While the specifics of how the magic works remain a bit fuzzy, the characters are wonderfully complex, from tragic Dustfinger, who would stop at nothing to return to the world he misses, to the superstitious Basta who remains loyal to his boss even after the villain sentences him to death. Readers will quickly find themselves entranced by the well-orchestrated plot, commiserating with Meggie's great-aunt Elinor when Capricorn's men burn the bibliophile's library of rare books, and jumping when events take a suspenseful turn. Funke plans every exquisite detail: chapters begin with quotes from books such as The Wind in the Willows, setting the stage for this book about books, and bookworms will appreciate the opportunities to identify with the characters (e.g., Dustfinger does not want to learn the ending of Inkheart, both Mo and Elinor warn Meggie of the dangers of fire to those who surround themselves with pages, etc.). Meggie makes a triumphant heroine and in the end discovers her own secret talent. Funke once again proves the power of her imagination; readers will be captivated by the chilling and thrilling world she has created here. Ages 11-15. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2003 October
Gr 4-8-Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie, 12, has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. Things change after a visit from a scarred man who calls himself Dustfinger and who refers to Mo as Silvertongue. Meggie learns that her father has been keeping secrets. He can "read" characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released Dustfinger and other characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie's mother disappeared into the story. Mo also released Capricorn, a sadistic villain who takes great pleasure in murdering people. He has sent his black-coated henchmen to track down Mo and intends to force him to read an immortal monster out of the story to get rid of his enemies. Meggie, Mo, Dustfinger, and Meggie's great-aunt Elinor are pursued, repeatedly captured, but manage to escape from Capricorn's henchmen as they attempt to find the author of Inkheart in the hope that he can write a new ending to the story. This "story within a story" will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters. Pair this title with Roderick Townley's The Great Good Thing (2001) and Into the Labyrinth (2002, both Atheneum) for a wonderful exploration of worlds within words.-Sharon Rawlins, Piscataway Public Library, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2003 December
The author of The Thief Lord (Scholastic, 2002, (c)2000/VOYA April 2003) produces another magical novel that is sure to be popular. Mo is a bookmender keeping a secret from his daughter. For as long as she can remember, twelve-year-old Meggie habeen on the move with her father, often fleeing in the middle of the night. When an odd character shows up on their doorstep with a mysterious book in hand, warning them to hide, she demands some answers. Mo confesses that his work is related to thabsence of Meggie's mother, who disappeared nine years ago. He solicits the aid of an eccentric aunt to watch Meggie for a while, but soon they are all captives of a diabolical crime boss named Capricorn. It is revealed that Mo accidentall"released" several characters from Inkheart by reading out loud to his wife on that long-ago night. She disappeared into the book when they emerged, and Mo has spent the last decade trying to send the reluctant characters back. Capricorn and hihenchmen have other plans Secrets, surprises, and exciting escapes ensue as Mo enlists the help of Inkheart's author and a crew of sympathetic characters to outwit the bad guys. Meggie proves to be a courageous, clever girl who discovers a gift of her own. The story iunveiled as if peeling layers off a slightly twisted onion. Readers will thoroughly enjoy the excitement. The book's length might be a put-off for some or a great alternative to the Harry Potter saga for others, but it is highly recommended for alyoung adult collections.-Kevin Beach 5Q 4P M J Copyright 2004 Voya Reviews.