Saturday, June 10, 2006

"Inkspell" by Cornelia Funke

Have you ever found yourself, while reading a particularly wonderful book, wishing that you could slip into it and experience it with every sense? In Cornelia Funke's "Inkspell" the characters have done that, but the experience isn't always pleasant in the Inkworld.

I can't tell you about this excellent sequel without some background on its predecessor, "Inkheart." In it, a young bookbinder reads a story out loud to his wife and small daughter, but accidentally reads his wife into the story, while reading three of its characters into his world.

It's such a fascinating concept. I thought Inkheart was very good, except for my complaint that there was too much back-and-forth with the characters imprisoned by the bad guys and escaping.

Inkspell shifts the setting and with it, the atmosphere. This time around, instead of story characters being trapped in our world, our "real world" characters have been taken into the Inkworld. As with many fantasy stories there is magic, a villain, and a road trip. The characters have a chance to really develop now, given shadings and backstory that really fill out questions left unanswered by the first one.

The author of the fictional book Inkheart, Fenoglio, in now living in the world of his making. To his surprize, the story has gotten completely out of his control. He attempts to rewrite it as it progresses but the results are not always what he expected or wanted. As in the first one, his creations have odd feelings towards him. I personally, as someone who fancies herself a writer, had to stop and think about some of the characters I've created.

I found this story more enjoyable, maybe because this world is different and special. The characters struggle to decide which of the two worlds they belong in. Many of them can't decide anymore where it is that they belong. How many of us can relate to that?

I was pleased that the most compelling figure in the story, Dustfinger the fire-eater, got more focus this time around. He was not ever intended by his author to live very long. Always aware of his own impending death, Dustfinger is back in the world he loves so much, but can't ever let himself enjoy it.

Saying anything else about the plot will spoil it for you if you want to read it yourself, which you should if you enjoy fantasy stories. This volume is very much like The Two Towers, because it takes place in a very beautiful world but bridges the gap between two worlds and two stories. Yes, there will be a third installment from the Inkworld.

When you get these books in your hands, take the time to appreciate the artwork. Each of the cover illustrations has significance and is beautifully done. The packaging looks like a fantasy story should look. Each of Inkspell's chapters starts with a quote from another book, and ends with a small illustration.

A central theme is the way books are treated and handled. Silvertongue made his living by "healing sick books" and there is always a conflict between those who are careless with books and those who gasp in horror every time a page is wrinkled. I'm a freak about my books. I don't let them get dog eared or let the spines crack. A creased cover on a paperback damn near puts me in tears. I felt the pain every time a book was mishandled! It was torture! Thankfully books are treated with nearly worshipful respect in many places in this story. The passage describing the creation of a new book with leather-wrapped wooden covers was a bonus.

Keep in mind when you read this book, and its prequel, that the author, Cornelia Funke, has written them in German, and then they were translated into English. Considering some of the delicate sentences and images, the occasional awkwardness can be excused.

Reading this out loud with my kids was an interesting experience, because this is all about the power of reading aloud. Silvertongue won't do it anymore because he is afraid of his unwanted gift, but his daughter Meggie is using it for all she can. As with many talents, it's a blessing and a curse.

It's a beautiful story that will not only stay with you for a long time, it may change the way you think about reading, and about the power of words.

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