I was excited to get an advance copy of Inkdeath at ALA last month. Inkdeath is the final book in Cornelia Funke's Inkworld trilogy, after Inkheart and Inkspell. I'm not going to give you a plot summary, since I don't want to spoil the book, but I am going to offer up some thoughts about Inkdeath. If you aren't familiar with the series, go and read Inkheart and Inkspell, and then come back here when you're finished. Don't even think about reading the books out of order.
I liked the first two books in the Inkworld series a lot (I didn't review them because I listened to them on audio, but I enjoyed them both immensely). This makes it very difficult to admit that I actually had a hard time getting through the third book. It seemed long, and not in that "falling into the book" way. It was like Funke didn't want to let go of the Inkworld herself, and so she introduced new wonders (giants, people living in nests up in trees), and a whole new castle, with a long journey through the woods to get there. Even though I like the Inkworld, I still thought that the book dragged a bit.
But the real problem that I had with Inkdeath was that, even though this is a children's book, the primary child character, Meggie, doesn't really do much. She mostly waits around for her father (who is off being brave and doing great things), in case her voice is needed to read something into being. Her most interesting situation in Inkdeath is her love triangle (she has two suitors), and even that is pretty passive. It's not that there aren't things happening in the book - there is a lot of drama and sadness and tragedy. But Meggie is mostly a spectator, or a motivation for others, rather than being an initiator. And I think that's a shame, this being a children's book with a spunky girl character and all.
I still enjoyed the book, and I'm glad that I had the chance to read it (and appreciative of the people at Scholastic for giving it to me). It's encouraging to read about so many characters (Mo, Meggie, Elinor, even Violante and Orpheus) who simply adore books. And the Inkworld is lovely and scary and intriguing, filled with things like little glass men, blue fairies, and the white women of death. Occasionally, the book makes you stop and ponder larger philosophical questions (What if someone is writing our story? If someone writes the skeleton of the story, do you still have free will?). It also tackles emotional issues like loss, and family, and love, as when Roxanne (Dustfinger's wife) wonders if "perhaps memories were sometimes worse than nothing."
Mo is a great lead character, brave and good-hearted, but vulnerable. I've heard it said that the author had Brendan Fraser in mind when she came up with Mo, and that is probably true (he plays Mo in the upcoming Inkheart movie). But in this book, he bears more of a resemblance to Jesus (there's a very direct parallel that I can't discuss without spoilers). In general, Funke doesn't shy away from making her characters complex, each with a mix of good and bad traits. Some, like Violante, can't even be classified for sure as good or bad, and one character completely surprised me at the end of the book. Even Orpheus, who does truly terrible things in this book, shares this memory, which made me almost feel sorry for him:
"Orpheus couldn't count the slaps he'd earned over his forbidden passion for reading. One every tenth page was probably about it, but the price had never seemed too high. What was a slap for 10 pages of escapism, ten pages far from everything that made him unhappy, ten pages of real life instead of the monotony that other people called the real world?" (Chapter 42)
I also quite enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They were always apt. The quotes included came from a mix of new and classic works, and it was neat to see books like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Chapter 5) and The Book Thief (Chapter 25) already quoted in this title. I especially liked this quote, from the start of Chapter 42:
"You cannot fully read a book without being alone. But through this very solitude you become intimately involved with people whom you might never have met otherwise, either because they have been dead for centuries or because they spoke languages you cannot understand. And nonetheless, they have become your closest friends, your wisest advisors, that wizards that hypnotize you, the lovers you have always dreamed of." (Antonio Munoz Molins, "The Power of the Pen").
I like Cornelia Funke's poetic writing, with passages like this:
"Morning came hesitantly, like ink mingling with milk, and Mo couldn't say how long he had been sitting there, waiting for Fenoglio's world to tell him what ought to be done next, when a familiar voice quietly spoke his name." (Chapter 20)
What really kept me reading Inkdeath, though, even when I felt that it was dragging a bit, was that after reading the first two books I wanted to know how the story ended. Do Mo and Meggie and Resa survive as a family? Do they stay in the Inkworld, or go back home to the "real world"? Does Dustfinger come back from his tragic turn at the end of Inkspell? What happens to Farid, the boy read from the Arabian Nights?
I'm happy to report that I found the ending of Inkdeath rich and satisfying. It even leaves the door open a tiny crack, I think, for a future story (though a very different story, with different main characters). In the Inkworld series, Cornelia Funke has create a unique premise (people being read in and out of books), a fascinating setting (the Inkworld), and three-dimensional characters that the reader will care about. And so, I recommend that fans of the series definitely read the third book.
And even if you're not a fan of the series yet, if you enjoy fantasy or you love books, you should try out this series. It's a bit dark in places - I'd say equal to or slightly darker than the later Harry Potter books by this third book - so use your judgment in giving it to kids younger than 10 or so. I still wish that the author had given Meggie a more active role in the series conclusion, but I remain glad that the Inkworld series exists. And I'll be more than ready to see the movie when it comes out (currently scheduled for January of 09).
Publisher: The Chicken House (Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 7, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes and observations are from the advance copy, and may not reflect the final, printed book.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.