Nov 25, 2008

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

The protagonist of this story is a twelve-year-old bookworm named Meggie. Her father, Mo, is a bookbinder. Or, like Meggie likes to call him, a book doctor – he makes old books well again, after all. Meggie’s life changes when one night her father receives a visit from an odd man who calls himself Dustfinger and addresses Mo as Silvertongue. The very next morning marks the beginning of an adventure that involves her eccentric great-aunt Elinor and her fantastic library, the mystery behind the disappearance of her mother nine years before, and a very important book by the name of Inkheart.

Where to begin? There’s so much I want to say about Inkheart. This is undoubtedly a book for book lovers, and I had a lot of fun with it. So I hesitate between explaining why first and leaving the “however” for the end, or just getting it over it and then going on about the many things Inkheart has going for it.

I think I’ll start with the good: Inkheart is a story about (and for) book lovers, and it’s filled with a deep appreciation of not only storytelling, but also of books as physical objects – their texture, their smell, their shape, the way they feel in our hands, the way they fill our houses until we trip over them wherever we turn. I think this kind of appreciation (or indeed obsession) is something most of us can relate to.

The whole book, particularly the first few chapters, if full of passages about the reading life that made me smile, nod understandingly, or both. Take this, for example:
He was probably right, but there was another reason why Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange – familiar voices, friends that never quarrelled with her, clever, powerful friends, daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had travelled far and wide. Her friends cheered her up when she was sad, and kept her from being bored when Mo cut leather and fabric to the right size, and re-stitched old pages that over countless years had grown fragile from many fingers leafing through them.
Meggie herself is a very likeable heroine (though I did feel we never truly get to know her beyond her love of books, but more on that later), and the plot, or rather the premise, is for me the book’s greatest strength. I don’t think this is exactly a spoiler, as it’s revealed relatively early in the book, and plus pretty much everyone must know it by now. Basically, in Inkheart we have book characters walking out of the pages of their stories into our world. The main ones are from a fictional book, but we do get to see Tinker Bell from Peter Pan, a boy named Fadir from one of the stories in the Arabian Nights, and we escape an encounter with Long John Silver from Treasure Island.

I loved the fact that Inkheart is full of nods to other books. In fact, each chapter begins with a quote from another story, and these include The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, and many others. Cornelia Funke is clearly aware of the storytelling tradition she is now a part of, and she pays tribute to it.

So as a bookworm, and particularly as a great lover of children’s literature, how could I not enjoy Inkheart? And I did, I honestly did, but unfortunately I didn’t love it. And I really wanted to. The reason? Well, I find myself agreeing with Eva and Susan: I thought that the characters lacked a certain depth. The "bad guys" in particular, but the same could be said about the good characters to a lesser extent. Like I said, I felt that we never truly got to know Meggie, or Mo. I’m sure that there’s more to them than what was revealed in this book, and maybe we get to see it in the rest of the series. But not in this book.

As for the villains, I found Capricorn and company too…cartoonish for my taste. I guess it makes sense that they’d behave like storybook villains because, well, that’s exactly what they are, but even in stories, even in children’s stories, I like my villains to be a little more complex than that. They were too obvious, their motivations were too simplistic, and that kept them from actually ever feeling menacing. They were too predictable to be truly scary. The funny thing is that I got the impression that even the rest of the characters didn’t really take them seriously. We are told that they are scared of them, but they don’t behave as if they really are. For example, after Mo and Meggie and Elinor escape from Capricorn’s village for the first time, Mo and Meggie stay at a hotel nearby and Elinor goes back home, knowing that Basta and the others know where she lives. How could they expect not to get caught again?

But enough complaining. And because I really did have a lot of fun with this book, let me end with something positive: I was happy that Inkheart has a proper ending even though it’s part of a series. Apparently Cornelia Funke originally meant it to be a stand-alone book, which is why it works perfectly as one. So yay for that. I do want to read the rest of the trilogy (even because Fyrefly says the other books are better) but I’m not sure when I'll get to it, so it was great not to be left with a cliffhanger.

A few more memorable passages:
‘Mo, I’m twelve!’ Why do grown-ups think it’s easier for children to bear secrets than the truth? Don’t they know about the horror stories we imagine to explain the secrets?

‘Perhaps things have changed after all. Perhaps there’s another, much larger story behind the printed one, a story that changes just as our own world does. And the letters on the page tell us only as much as we’d see peering through a keyhole. Perhaps the story in the book is just the lid on a pan; it always stays the same, but underneath there’s a whole world that goes on developing and changing like our own.'

Meggie tugged him along the corridor so impatiently that he stubbed his toe on a pile of books, which was hardly surprising. Stacks of books were piled high all over the house-not just arranged in neat rows on bookshelves, the way other people kept them, oh no! The books in Mo and Meggie's house were stacked under tables, on chairs, in the corners of the rooms. There were books in the kitchen and books in the lavatory. Books on the TV set and in the closet, small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed Meggie to breakfast with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay when the weather was bad. And sometimes you just fell over them.
Other Blog Reviews:
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
A Striped Armchair
Nothing of Importance
Here, There and Everywhere
Dolce Bellezza
Working Title
Read Warbler
Becky's Book Reviews
A Garden Carried in the Pocket
Educating Petunia
The Written Word
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Muse Book Reviews
Book Addiction
In Search of Giants

(Please let me know if I missed yours!)


  1. I've been reading so much about the Inkdeath series that I'm going to have to add it to my wishlist.

  2. Sounds like you'd recommend this but don't bring too many high expectations and all will be enjoyable, yes?

  3. I think the problem you identify is common to a lot of these books about characters from other books. I had the same issue with the first Thursday Next book. For me, it was enough of a problem that I never sought out the later books in the series.

    I've been curious about this series, but your review has convinced me that it should remain a low priority for me. So, in this case, thanks for not adding to my TBR list. :-)

  4. I am really looking forward to reading this. Will bear your comments abot the villians in mind though. I think it is just my kind of thing with lots of bookish references.

  5. Oh, Nymeth, another excellent review!
    and I am selfishly happy that you agreed with me and Eva, if only because it means I wasn't too hard on Inkheart, always a fear when so many others love it. I might eventually give book 2 a try, but it is not a priority. I do love the love of books in the book!!
    It's good to be back!

  6. Bermudaonion: I hope you enjoy it :) It's a fun book regardless of its flaws.

    Care: Exactly. Well, you can expect a fun adventure and a gripping and charming book, but not much in terms of character development or "depth".

    Teresa: That's too bad about the Thursday Next books. Though I think I'm still curious enough to give the first a try someday.

    Rhinoa: All the bookish references are the best thing about it for me! I remember that you said the same is the case with Here, There be Dragons, which is one of the reasons why I'm looking forward to it so much.

    Susan: lol, I understand being selfishly happy :P I don't think you were too hard on it, no. Or maybe we both were! It's good to have you back :D

  7. Nymeth, I read this years ago and I remember loving it. I don't really remember the depth of the characters but I did really like Mo. I have the second book and I want to get the third. I've often thought of going back to that story as I did like it so much.

  8. Glad to hear you liked it, great review. I like it when the book plot includes reading.
    I feel like I can relate to that.
    Very cool that the chapters start with book quotes. Thats another thing I enjoy, quotes.

    I'll be reading this one soon :)

  9. I just read The Thief Lord, as you know since you left me a nice comment. I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to reading Inkheart, although I'll try not to have TOO high expectations. It's interesting that you say the characters lacked depth, because it was the characters I loved in The Thief Lord.

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nymeth! I'll still be checking out this book in the near future but I'll take note on the things you've mentioned. I love it when books featured quotes. And I love that passage about the reading life. I know this is part of the series and never know it can be read as a standalone too... I think this is good for me since I won't feel pressured to read the others if it happens that I don't enjoy it.

  11. I've noticed other reviews have said the same thing about the characters. Still, it sounds like such fun I'm keeping this one on my TBR.

  12. You make me feel better about giving a similar review! On the plus side, since I'm not particularly attached to the book, I totally want to see the movie when it comes out. :D

  13. I really enjoy this review, Nymeth, especially the passages you've selected. This book will be read in 2009 listed in the "999 Challenge" I'm participating. I saw the movie trailer in the cinema and it's way too cool. :D

  14. Lovely review Nymeth, as always.

    While I enjoyed reading Inkheart I also know that I just like it. Like it enough to get the second book Inkspell....

    I couldn't get around to reading that one. I tried and not just once :) I think I blogged before that the sequel seemed forced to me. More like yes, some of the characters came from a book so maybe they don't get to learn lessons, so to speak. I think I stopped without even reaching the 50th page :(

    I'll wait for your post on Inkspell though. And catch up on Fyrefly's reviews to see what I'm missing :)

  15. I didn't read your review because I plan on reading this one really soon :/ But I'll come back and read it right after I'm finished!! I'm sure it's a great review though :p

  16. this sounds like a lot of fun - and it would seem the best way to read it is in a very light-hearted frame of mind. i'd imagine that one will then not mind the lack of depth as much.

    is it short? is it breezy?

  17. I enjoyed Inkheart very much, but I too thought that the characters lack depth, and that the villains were nowhere near menacing enough. I still recommended it to my sister & mom, but they couldn't even finish it! They had no problem with the characters, but couldn't stand the booktalk and said that it was too "heavy" to be a children's book.

  18. ohhh my, I am sorry you didn't enjoy this more! I've read it twice now and loved it both times.. I do hope you get to read the rest of the trilogy!

  19. I recently watched the trailor for the movie on the net. So I'll watch the movie instead, I think.

    But this is a cool review and I would have certainly read it inspite of the problems, if the movie wasn't releasing...

  20. Oh, I'm so sorry you didn't enjoy this more. :(
    I personally adored it...and I think part of the reason I did was because it was really my introduction to fantasy. It was the first book I read for OUaT, and I was totally enchanted by this new discovery of world of books that was so totally different from what I'd read for years on end. It sort of opened a door for me, if you know what I mean, and for that reason it will remain close to my heart.
    (And I'm afraid I have to admit that Basta just totally creeped me out.)

  21. This is one of those books that I've had on my shelf unread for far too long. I'm going to have to try to get to it next year.

  22. I first heard of this book from other bloggers and I'm really looking forward to reading it. It sounds like I'd like it despite the 'howevers'. :-)

  23. I've had this on my list forever, but have been hesitant to start it. I didn't know why, but now I think I do -- it's such a great concept that I don't want to be disappointed! Now I think I can take it on with expectations that aren't too high. Thanks!

  24. I tried this book once, but I gave up. Unlike you, I thought Meg was annoying and I thought the plot (as far as I got) was too unrealistic for me to accept it. Don't you just hate to dislike something so many people enjoy?

  25. I read this when it first came out and I remember thinking that I wanted to read more Cornelia Funke. It's the only one I've read so far but I'd love to read them all after reading your review and the other comments. Thanks for the review!

  26. Dar: I really wanted to love it too! But I did enjoy it still :)

    Naida: Can't wait to hear your thoughts on it :)

    Charley: Maybe I'll read The Thief Lord next then!

    Melody: Exactly. Sometimes if a book ends with a cliffhanger I feel like I have to read the next one for closure, even if I didn't like it all that much :P

    Jeane: It's definitely fun regardless :)

    Eva: I hadn't thought of that, but that's indeed a plus! And I'm glad I made you and Susan feel better, lol :P

    Alice: I actually haven't seen the trailer yet! I'll have to look for that.

    Lightheaded: Thank you, my dear :) And that's too bad about the sequel! I think that when you write unplanned sequels there's always the danger that they'll feel forced, at least until you start building the continuity maybe it gets better after a while? Ah well, I'll find out at some point :P

    Chris: I really look forward to your thoughts on it!

    JP: Alas, it's almost 600 pages long :P Though it does feel shorter. Still, it took me a while to read it, and I think that if it wasn't for that I'd probably have been less demanding in terms of character development.

  27. Marineko: I did wonder if all those book-obsession bits that so delighted me would be annoying for people whose lives didn't revolve around books to the same extent :P

    Deslily: I really wanted to love it! But I'm still glad to have read it. I spend some very pleasant hours reading it, and that's no small thing :)

    Violet: I really have to look for that trailer!

    Debi: I still enjoyed it, though! And I didn't remember this had been your introduction to fantasy! Mine was The Hobbit, and it's very very special for me also :)

    Tanabata: I hope you enjoy it!

    Joanna: Yes, I think you probably will :)

    Robin: I totally understand that. And I think the concept is well executed. I just wish the characters had felt more real to me!

    Booktrash: I do hate makes me feel like I'm missing out on the fun. About the plot, I read a lot of fantasy, so I no longer pay much attention to how unlikely a story actually is :P

    Pardon My French: You're welcome! I don't know when I'll get to the others, but eventually I will.

  28. I think you hit the nail on the head with this review. I'll just reiterate that a lot of the problems you identify get better in the next two books - the world opens up, the characters get the depth that's hinted at but not really on display in Inkheart, and the plot and themes get more complex than "bad guys catch them, they fret about being in captivity, they escape/are rescued, lather, rinse, repeat."

    To be honest, I was underwhelmed, and even a little bored at times by Inkheart, but I enjoyed Inkspell and Inkdeath so much that I think it's worth pushing through the first book. Hopefully when you get around to reading them, you'll agree - 'cause otherwise I'll feel like a jerk for pushing them so hard if you wind up hating them. :)

  29. I loved this book but I read it before the two sequels came out (which I still haven't read) so I'd like to do a re-read first.

  30. I started this and didn't feel too pushed so I put is aside. Doesn't sound like I should make a rush for it but I'd like to read it one day.

  31. Fyrefly: lol, don't worry, I won't think you're a jerk even if I hate them. Which I'm sure I won''s rare for me to hate a book :P Even this, with its flaws, was worth reading. Anyway, I'm very glad to hear the characters get more depth in the other books!

    Ladytink: Yes, that's a good idea...I always enjoy the sequels more if the original book is fresh in my mind.

    Valentina: It's oddly comforting to know I wasn't the only one not to fall in love with it :P But anyway, I agree it's worth reading someday.

  32. I have found in the past that some fantasy books, both childrens and adult alike, have little character development in the first installment. I remember thinking exactly that about the Wind Singer when I first read it, but the rest of the series improved on what was missing. I really enjoyed Inkheart, but agree that some of the characters are a little two dimensional. I have heard very good things about Inkspell, and the cover of Inkdeath is gorgeous! I shall definitely be reading the rest of the series at some point, and I'm keeping my eye out for the film.

  33. So as a bookworm, and particularly as a great lover of children’s literature, how could I not enjoy Inkheart? And I did, I honestly did, but unfortunately I didn’t love it.

    I felt much the same about THE THIEF LORD, which I read last year. It's made me rather reluctant to pick up another of Cornelia Funke's books, despite all the glowing reviews I've read. Yours has convinced me that I ought to get to it someday, but it'll still stay as a low priority for now.

  34. I am going to read this one of these days in the original German.

  35. That's too bad that it wasn't as spectacular as you had hoped. I have a problem with shallow characters as well (maybe flat is the better word). I think I'll be skipping this one for a little longer.

  36. I have read this one. Here is my link

  37. Hey Nymeth!! Here's my review:


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