I was first recommended Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, when I fell in love with Princess Tutu. Thus, I knew the book had some metafictional aspects, but I wasn't quite sure what they were.
Which put me in a good position at the beginning, as it reminded me of The Golden Compass in the way that a young girl witnesses a strange event and immediately begins to investigate what is going on. What is going on is slowly revealed over the course of several chapters, but the general premise of the book is not a huge shock (those come later). Meggie discovers that characters from a book called, of course, Inkheart have been brought into the real world. These characters have fantastical names like Capricorn, Dustfinger, and Basta, but they are human, a fact I had trouble remembering because their names are Capricorn, Dustfinger, and Basta, for fuck's sake. Capricorn is described as the evilest evil that ever eviled, so that's how you know he's the villain. Can Meggie, her father, Mo, and her bibliophilic aunt, Elinor, defeat him?
I hesitate to say any more about the plot because this is a book that surprised me at every corner. I rarely had any idea where the story was going, and when I thought I knew, I was usually wrong. I loved the characters, especially Meggie, who asks all the questions I want the answers to, Elinor, who finds her inner badass on a journey away from her precious books, and Dustfinger, who is torn between two loyalties. And a hat-tip to Basta, who is a more complicated villain than the evilest evil that ever eviled.
There is much to love about Inkheart, beginning with the conceit that characters can be read out of books. What does that mean for them and their stories? How would they react to the real world? Is this a power you would want to have? What if you wanted to hang out with Harry Potter but instead you got Voldemort? Inkheart is a story about stories and storytelling, the power and magic of words, the love of books. It has an almost absurd reverence for books and stories at times.
Lynn Redgrave makes an excellent reader, but I did find myself distracted throughout the narrative, which I cannot hold completely against the book itself. It is a bit oddly paced, and the story can feel choppy at times when it jumps between characters. And even though I didn't really know what to expect, I had some expectations that were unfulfilled, but it's not the book's fault that it didn't tell the story I thought it was going to tell.
Besides, there are still two more books to go, and I have no bloody idea what to expect from them.
I enjoyed the metafictional fun of Inkheart, which featured characters who came out of books, but I did always suspect that at some point the characters would go into a book, and wouldn't that be awesome?
Sadly, it was not.
Inkspell (full Goodreads review) takes Our Heroes into the Inkworld, the fantasy world written about in Inkheart. There is a lot of potential here, as some characters don't belong there and some are returning home.
Unfortunately, I was coming off George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and concurrently reading N.K. Jemisin's Dreamblood books, so, by comparison, Funke's fantasy world with political intrigue was incredibly generic and boring. This felt like the first book in a totally different series rather than the second book in a promising trilogy. Funke spends so much time building the Inkworld when I didn't care; I wanted to know how anything affected the characters I was invested in. Not this prince or that prince or whoever.
The book also suffers from the same pacing issues as the first book, but with the additional problems of having even more POVs scattered about and not having a clear motivation for each character. The middle of the book gets far too bogged down in Inkworld politics, and the momentum of the characters' stories was lost. What did they want? What were they trying to do? Admittedly, I lost interest eventually and wasn't paying a lot of attention, which made everything even harder to follow than it already was.
Brendan Fraser, however, has a hell of a lot of fun reading the book, reading passages as if they're dramatic monologues, infusing character-specific emotion into the third-person narration. And he also does sound effects and fairy chittering; it's adorable.
There were some good, clever moments that used the metafictional concepts established in the first book, but I wanted the book to be over several discs before it ended. I wasn't even sure I wanted to read the third book, but then some developments near the end piqued my interest again. I hoped it had an amazing payoff because I was disappointed that this was such a middling middle installment.
And then I skimmed the Wikipedia summary for Inkdeath and, nope, I was not going to enjoy that. So for one of the only times in my life, I quit. I did not bother reading the third book, and I don't really care.