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Review Revisited: Cornelia Funke – Inkheart

January 7, 2009

Re-read. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (2003)
Inkworld Trilogy, Book 1

Length: 548 pages

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Started: 17 March 2007 / 31 December 2008
Finished: 28 March 2007 / 03 January 2009

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Been on my re-read pile since I heard there was a movie coming out, and particularly since I finished Inkdeath in November.
Verdict? Better on a re-read; still a keeper.

Summary: Twelve-year-old Meggie lived her life surrounded by books – her father, Mo, is a bookbinder, and there’s never been a time when books haven’t been her friends and companions. But there’s one book that’s different… Inkheart. For Mo’s voice has the power to read characters out of their books, and when Meggie was young, he accidentally read three characters out of Inkheart – and read Meggie’s mother into the book. When the mysterious fire-breather Dustfinger shows up again one rainy night, warning her father that the villain Capricorn wants Mo’s copy of Inkheart, they must run, for Capricorn not only wants to gather all remaining copies of Inkheart, but also wants Mo’s voice for his own purposes… and Capricorn always gets what he wants.

Original Review: This was a book that I think suffered because it couldn’t decide what age bracket it was for. The concept – that there are people with the ability to read characters out of their books and into the real world (and vice-versa) – is fascinating, and the characters Funke creates are memorable and multi-faceted. However, it felt like it skewed slightly more juvenile than I would have hoped. A lot of the intricacies of what it means to be read out of your story, and the metaphysics of how much of a story exists beyond the book, etc. were not explored in enough detail, if at all. Similarly, most of the characters’ multi-dimensionalities weren’t really expounded upon, just hinted at and then dropped (in particular, Dustfinger, Farid and the author Fenoglio, but to some extent for everyone).

It also felt as if it were way too long for the age group it was geared towards – it seemed like there were many, many repetitions of the good guys a) being threatened by Capricorn’s men, b) being taken to Capricorn’s village, c) enduring confinement, and then d) escaping. In retrospect, that cycle didn’t happen that many times to any one character, but the combining and re-combining of which good guys were in danger at any one point made it feel repetitive and longer than it should have been. So, overall, interesting concept, and charming story and characters, and a good book for people who love reading, but it felt like not enough depth and/or not enough action to keep me invested for the whole time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

On a re-read: This book definitely improved on a re-read, especially after having read its sequels. Knowing more about the characters, and about the Inkworld, definitely helped flesh out a lot of the motivations in this book, and answered a lot of the questions I had the first time I read this.

It’s my understanding (although I can’t remember where I heard this, and may have made it up out of whole cloth) that Funke originally wrote Inkheart as a stand-alone, not as the beginning to a series. This may or may not be true, but having read the sequels, such seemingly innocent bits as Mo saying “You always liked robber stories, Meggie.” or a magpie sitting in the bushes outside Elinor’s house suddenly take on many more layers of meaning that I never would have picked up on a first read.

I agree with my original review that the cycle of capture/confinement/escape happens too many times (and, as a friend pointed out, the “Oh, we’re like at least five miles away from the bad guys, clearly we’ll be safe here.” attitude of the characters gets a little grating.) I also still think it doesn’t properly target its audience – its level of plot complexity is about right for middle-grade or youngish young adults, but its length, level of writing, and thematic complexity is more appropriate for older YA or adults.

Still, I really enjoyed re-reading it, and am tempted to bump its rating up to 4 stars, although I think that’s mostly due to the knowledge of what comes next in Funke’s world, not due to Inkheart‘s own merits. If you’ve read Inkheart and are feeling at all ambivalent, let me encourage you to keep going – the other books in the trilogy get more complex, have a wider world in which to explore, and are just fantastically absorbing – and worth slogging through the parts where Inkheart‘s a bit slow.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: A Life in Books, Things Mean a Lot, Muse Book Reviews, Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books, Nothing of Importance
Did I miss your review? (I know I must have missed some.) Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2009 4:17 am

    I won’t be reading Inkdeath until the paperback is published (I had bought the first two books in paperback, so I want my books to match), but after your review I think I’ll have to re-read Inkheart and Inkspell first :)

  2. January 7, 2009 8:47 am

    Everyone seems to love this series. I’m not a big fantasy fan, so I still haven’t decided whether to tackle it or not.

  3. January 7, 2009 11:13 am

    marineko – I want my books to match, too, but luckily I could get Inkdeath from the library. I also think (re)reading them in close succession is a good idea – I let a year pass between Inkheart and Inkspell, and about 8 months between Inkspell and Inkdeath, and I’m sure a lot of the details got lost.

    bermudaonion – Hmmm, that’s a tough call. Inkheart‘s the lightest of the series when it comes to fantasy elements, but it’s also my least favorite… but I like the others more precisely *because* they open up into a more typical fantasy world. It might be worth a shot, but if you find that the fantasy elements in Inkheart bug you, then the rest of the series probably won’t be for you.

  4. January 7, 2009 4:55 pm

    Yes, yes, I NEED to read this one. I am always giving my husband BIG hints to get it for me, but he fails every time.

  5. January 7, 2009 6:15 pm

    That was great to read both of your reviews on Inkheart. Glad to see it improves with a re-read too. I’ve got to get this read before the movie comes out.

  6. January 7, 2009 7:48 pm

    Lenore – Go get it from the library, bring it home, and (lovingly) smack your husband with it. It’s a big book – it should leave a big hint. :)

    Joanne – Reading it this time, I couldn’t help but picture the actors from the movie as I read. Normally that would bug me, but they’re all so well cast that it was fine! The only one who doesn’t really match their description from the book is Andy Serkis, but I’m willing to overlook that on the fact that it’s Andy Serkis. :)

  7. January 7, 2009 8:55 pm

    Vicki, I’m new to your blog but I want to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog! I also presented you a Butterfly Award! :)

  8. January 7, 2009 10:31 pm

    This series has been on my “to check out” list for a while now because the concept sounds intriguing. I wonder if some of the trouble with not targeting its audience correctly is actually a case of something getting lost in translation.

  9. January 8, 2009 11:19 am

    Melody – Welcome, and thank you! That’s so thoughtful!

    Laura – It certainly could be a translation problem, or maybe cultural differences in what’s expected from a book geared towards various age levels. The two sequels, though, I believe have the same translator, and they’re a lot more consistent in terms of matching length and level.

  10. January 9, 2009 4:26 pm

    I’m glad you still liked this one as a re-read. I’m a bit nervous about the movie – it looks very different – but maybe going in knowing that it’s different will make it “ok”

    And, I thought it had been written as a stand alone too – it’s interesting that there are references to the rest of the trilogy throughout.

  11. January 9, 2009 5:26 pm

    It’s good to hear this one was better the second time around. Maybe I’ll revisit it too after I read the rest of the series.

  12. January 11, 2009 2:49 pm

    KT – I have a feeling that the movie is going to wind up like The Golden Compass – visually wonderful and accurate, but the plot will wind up missing the spirit of the book… but I’m going to remain optimistic. If nothing else, it’s filled with a bunch of actors I really enjoy. :)

    Nymeth – I think the problems in this book were still there, but I was more willing to forgive them on a re-read, because I loved the characters and the sequels so much.

  13. April 11, 2009 7:02 am

    Landed up on your blog looking for book reviews of Inkheart. Am currently reading the book now, and I agree with most of the points you have made here.

    Hoping the rest of the books in the series will be better…

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