Funke, Cornelia. (2003). Inkheart. United Kingdom: Chicken House. ISBN-13: 9780439709101.
Meggie loves books. Maybe the only person who loves books as much as she is her father Mortimer—or as most call him, Mo—who is a bookbinder of the classic variety. Meggie and her father have lived together alone since Meggie’s mother disappeared mysteriously nine years earlier, but that was so long ago, Meggie seems to only know life with her father and with their precious books. Not only do they love stories, but they see the physical book as sacred. But as much as they worship books, Meggie can’t understand why her father refuses to read aloud to her.
One night, during a storm, Meggie notices a man outside their house. She runs to tell Mo, but is interrupted by a knock at the door. She overhears her father talking to a man he calls Dustfinger and is perplexed as to why the stranger keeps calling Mo Silvertongue and talking about an evil man named Capricorn.
Early the next day, Mo packs up everything of value they can carry and sets off to spend some time with his wife’s sister, Meggie’s Aunt, Elinor near the south of Italy. While Mo says they are going away for vacation, Meggie knows that they are fleeing the pursuit of this mysterious Capricorn—though she has no idea why Capricorn would want her father.
Upon meeting Elinor, Meggie does, in fact, finally meet someone who loves books as much as Mo and herself. Elinor is a rich book collector. But she is moody and stern. And when Meggie overhears her father entrusting a very coveted book to Elinor’s secret library, she begins to become very suspicious, but she soon discovers what the mystery is about.
While Dustfinger, who has hitched a ride with Mo and Meggie, is giving them a performance, Capricorn’s men show up at Elinor’s house. They take Mo and the secret book—or so they think… Elinor switched it out. But now it’s up to Elinor and Meggie to save Mo. With Dustfinger’s help, they find Capricorn’s secret lair. They also discover the great secret of why Mo won’t read out loud—and why he is referred to as Silvertongue—because when he reads, characters from the stories come alive into the real world. But there’s a catch: There must be an exchange. A character comes here, but a real live person is taken to live in the story. This is how Meggie’s mother disappeared.
Through a long series of dangerous misadventures—and with the help of both Dustfinger, Fenoglio, the original author of Capricorn’s story and Farid, a boy Mo has brought from the story of 1001 Nights—Meggie finds a way to trick Capricorn, saving her father and finding her mother (who had been read back OUT of the story by another silvertongue, though one not as proficient in the art as she was recreated without the ability to speak). And she discovers that being a silvertongue is hereditary—she has the amazing ability herself!
This was a LONG book. Its plot had many twists and turns (so many that had it not been so exciting, might have come off as repetitive and tedious) and there were MANY peripheral characters with whom we spent maybe a tad too much time; but, in spite of its length, the tension never dulled and as a reader, I felt constantly swept along by the action and intrigue.
I was surprised to find out that this book was a translation and I have one word to say: Bravo! It was amazing story with rich description and powerful suspense—if translations are faded comparisons of originals, I’d hate to see how stimulating the original German version was. I can’t imagine it being much more exciting… they’d have to put a warning label.
Now, there are some things about it which made me scratch my head. At the beginning (actually, probably all the way through) I had a difficult time finding where the story was set historically. My first images were of a medieval house, but the next morning, I was surprised to see them jump into a van and drive away—where was the horse and carriage? Later, when we get to Elinor’s mansion, she has a security system complete with motion detectors and flood lights; she talks about having a cell phone; she reports the robbery of her house to the police.
The confusion only gets worse when we get to Capricorn’s compound. It’s supposed to be an abandoned village in the south of Italy, but it was hard to imagine an abandoned village having, again, a security system and floodlights and high-powered firearms along with dungeons and old stone cathedrals, etc.
Even when they go in search of Fenoglio, who’s supposed to be the modern-day author of the story from which Capricorn and the other characters have sprouted; he seems very medieval in his dress and language.
The other thing was Meggie’s age. Her speech and behavior at times made her seem much younger than a twelve-year old girl. Sometimes she seemed closer to nine or ten, then at other times, she seemed to react like a normal pre-teen. This impression forces me to think that perhaps this book would be better for juvenile readers. It is Potter-esque in its movements and length, but maybe the language is sometimes a little too archaic. Still, I’m not sure how many actual teens would get into the book since most kids like to read books where the protagonists are clearly slightly older than them.
It only makes me wonder if these things are inherent to the book, the story itself, or if perhaps these can be attributed to this being a translation. Either way, they were MINOR speedbumps in the tale. I was very envious of the power both Mo and Meggie had and would LOVE to be able to “read alive” many of the characters from the books I’ve read.
Reviews of Inkheart (via Amazon.com):
From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8-Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. ...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.
Gr. 6-12. One dark night, a mysterious man called Dustfinger appears at the house where Meggie lives with her father, a bookbinder. Dustfinger's arrival sets in motion a long, complicated chain of events involving a journey, fictional characters brought to life, dangerous secrets revealed, threats of evil deeds, actual evil deeds, a long-lost relative found, and the triumph of creativity and courage. Despite the presence of several well-developed, sympathetic characters, the plot is often driven by the decidedly menacing, less-convincing villains. Although Meggie, one of the few young people in the book, remains the central character, she is not always in the forefront of the action or even on the scene. The points of view of sympathetic adult characters become increasingly important and more fully developed as the story progresses. Like many other fantasies, this will appeal to a broad age range, though the writing is far less child-centered than it is, for example, in the Harry Potter series.
Heart-stopping language that impel the reader...a true feast for anyone who has ever been lost in a book.
2004 Booksense Award