Author: Cornelia Funke
Series : Third book in the “Inkheart” trilogy
In Short: A compelling story set in a glorious fantasy world. This is a dark, grim book about difficult choices, lit with moments of beauty.
Other books by author: “The Thief Lord”, “Dragon Rider”.
Background: Inkdeath is the final book in the trilogy which began with “Inkheart”. It follows the story of the book restorer Mo and his young daughter Meggie. Early in Inkheart we learn that Mo has a very special talent: when he reads out loud, his voice beguiles the characters to step right out of the story into our world. And sometimes, people are swept from our world and into the book…
This series got darker with each successive book. The first book, “Inkheart”, was an adventure story, with a couple of comfortably scary characters as the best children’s literature must. Then followed “Inkspell” and things got serious. The characters were faced with some very grown-up choices. While I loved it myself, Inkspell is not a book I would recommend for a young reader.
Inkdeath continues further along the dark path where “Inkspell” left us. Meggie, Mo and Resa have entered into the story world of the book Inheart, having read themselves into its pages. Happily, this book is set entirely in this fantasy world, the “Inkworld”. There are few authors who have succeeded in creating that sense of awe that I crave from a fantasy book. JRR Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, Ursula Le Guin and a couple of others. Inkdeath is another such a book. This is a description of the landscape surrounding the robber’s camp:
One could still find giant’s footsteps in the ravine where the camp lay. The rain of the last few weeks had turned them into ponds where gold-spotted frogs swam. The trees on the slopes of the ravine rose to the sky, almost as tall as the trees in the Wayless Wood. Their withering leaves covered the ground, which was cool now in autumn, with gold and flaming red, and faries’ nests hung among the branches like over ripe fruit.
If you looked south you could see a village in the distance, its walls showing pale as mushrooms between the trees, but it was such a poor village that even the Milksop’s greedy tax-gatherers didn’t bother to come this way. Wolves howled by night in the surrounding wood, pale grey owls like little ghosts flew over the shabby tents, and horned squirrels stole what food there was to steal among the camp fires.
But while there is beauty, the characters are seldom left in peace. Meggie and her family are faced with some hard choices. Is it all just a story, and what responsibilities do they have to the other characters? Mo in particular gets “sucked deeper into the story” as he fights against injustice. He does not want to leave, because if he did, who would fight in his place? Here is Resa, Mo’s wife, longing to come home to her own world again:
Resa watched the strange creature go, and abruptly straightened up. “it’s all lies”, she said. Her voice shook on every word. “This beauty is only a lie. It’s just meant to take our minds off the darkness, all the misfortune, and all the death”
Darkness, misfortune and death are strong in this story. Unlike much fantasy, Cornelia Funke does not spare her characters the complexity of adult life. They have to make some hard choices. Guilt, jealousy, spite, selfishness – these are not just felt by the villains.
I was reminded again and again of “The Neverending Story” ( the book, not the movie). As in that book, we have the characters living in a story inside a story, and the exploration of the importance of fantasy, truth and morality. But this is a much more complex take on that issue. Lies and stories are twisted up together with no way of untangling them, and at times it seems that Cornelia Funke herself questions the act of creating and manipulating character’s lives through stories.
The story is complex, and I wished that I had taken the time to re-read “Inkspell” again before diving into “Inkdeath”. At times, the book feels very long. There are relentless passages where the sadness threatenes to overwhelm the plot. This is a bleak, dark jewel of fantasy for grownups.
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