Funke - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Dragon Rider
Cornelia Funke
The Chicken House
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: The last dragons of Europe, holed up in a valley of Scotland, are about to be driven out by humans. The eldest dragon tells them of a hidden sanctuary, the Rim of Heaven, which no human may ever find, but most of the dragons don't believe such a place exists except in the elder's dreams. A young male named Firedrake believes in the legendary valley, and with his brownie friend Sorrel he sets out to find it. They pick up the orphan human boy Ben in the city where they stop to get a map (created by a clever rat), and together set out for the Himalayas to seek the Rim of Heaven.
They aren't the only ones searching for the legendary dragon sanctuary. A golden beast called Nettlebrand, created by a long-deceased alchemist for the sole purpose of hunting dragons, also wants to find it, so he can continue the hunt he was designed for so long ago. Does the Rim of Heaven even exist? If they find it, will Firedrake and his companions find salvation there, or will they lead an old, unstoppable enemy to the last dragon stronghold on Earth?

REVIEW: This reads like an old, classic children's book. Aside from the mapmaking rat's laptop, it could have been written thirty or more years ago; there's a nostalgic feel to it, not in a bad way. The characters don't have much depth or background, but come to life in their own way, having memorable encounters and adventures. Nobody is excessively stupid or whining deadweight, and everyone has to pull together to lend their own talents to the climax. The many short chapters and ink illustrations make this an ideal book for bedtime reading.

You might also enjoy:
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville, YA Fiction - A boy buys a dragon egg in a mysterious magic shop)
How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell, YA Fiction - Misfit Viking boy Hiccup struggles to train a stubborn dragon to avoid shaming his chieftain father)
Hatching Magic (Ann Downer, YA Fiction - A medieval wizard's tame wyvern heads through a magic bolthole to modern Boston to lay her egg)
Dragonsdale (Salamanda Drake, YA Fiction - At a riding academy for dragons, the stablemaster's daughter is forbidden to ride or fly by her father)
The Dragonling series (Jackie French Koller, YA Fiction - A boy finds a newborn dragonling in the pouch of a slain dragon)
George Grove and the Dragon (LJ Lawry, YA Ficton - Three South London boys find a dragon's egg)
The First Dragoneer (M. R. Mathias, YA Fiction - On an ill-fated hunting trip, a peasant boy discovers his destiny)
The Fablehaven series (Brandon Mull, YA Fiction - A brother and sister discover a magical sanctuary on a relative's estate)
Eragon (Christopher Paolini, Fiction - A farmer boy finds a dragon's egg)
The Dragonology books (Dugald A. Steer, editor, YA Fiction - Notes on dragon species from around the world)
Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy (Tui T. Sutherland, YA Fiction - Five sheltered dragonets are supposed to fulfill a prophecy and end a war... but the world may not be ready for peace)
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell, Joseph Nigg "editor", YA Fiction - The art and science of dragon ownership)
The Dragon Machine (Helen Ward, YA Picture Book - A young boy starts seeing dragons everywhere)
Dragon Girl (Jeff Weigel, YA Fiction - An orphan girl discovers a cave full of dragon eggs, even as a dragon-slaying knight lurks nearby)
Kasey And His Dragon (E. H. White, YA Fiction - A modern boy finds a dragon's egg, sweeping him off to his destiny in another world)
Dragon Keeper (Carole Wilkinson, YA Fiction - A girl in ancient China finds herself appointed guardian to the last of the Emperor's dragons)
The Dragons of Ordinary Farm (Tad Williams and Deborah Beale, YA Fiction - Two children discover a magical secret at their great-uncle's farm)
The Woodland Folk in Dragonland (Tony Wolf, YA Picture Book - An evil gnome uses a poor dragon for revenge, putting their worlds on the brink of war)
The Pit Dragon Chronicles (Jane Yolen, YA Fiction - A slave boy on Austar IV steals a hatchling dragon from his master)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


Inkheart
(The Inkheart trilogy, Book 1)
Cornelia Funke
The Chicken House
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*****

DESCRIPTION: Twelve-year-old Meggie's father, Mortimer, is a "book doctor," restoring old volumes damaged by time and wear, so she has always been surrounded by printed words and the worlds they contain. While Mo actively encourages her love of the written word, hehas never, ever read aloud to her. Meggie never though too much of it, or her own mother's unexplained disappearance when she was only three years old, until the night she sees the stranger outside her window, a stranger who seems almost familiar. The man, Dustfinger, has a peculiar interest in Mo, as do some far less savory characters. Characters they are indeed, for Mo read them to life out of a fantasy tale called Inkheart, with Meggie's mother vanishing into the pages of the book at the same time. Aside from Dustfinger, Mo also read to life, on that fateful night, a black-hearted villain named Capricorn and his servant Bascha. Settling into his new world quickly, Capricorn continues his evil schemes, creating a new network of followers with Bacha's help. Now, the foul man wants Mortimer to read more wonders to life. He's used to getting what he wants in any world, and is willing to do anything to anyone to get it - even young Meggie, who may have inherited her father's special talent.

REVIEW: This book is about books; the love of books, the love of stores within books, the love of worlds within stories. From the actual printed ink on paper to the images conjured by the written word, Inkheart shows a true devotion to the magic of stories and the power of books, a power some people seem to fear. Everyone here is bound to books or stories in some way, and most of them must re-evaluate those bonds over the course of the story, as reading about (or writing about) evil things is a much different thing than encountering them in person. Anyone, young or old, who has ever had a world leap to life in their minds as they read a beloved tale, or who ever wished to enter that world themselves, should love this story. Of the three Funke books I've read thus far, this is the deepest, and the best.

You might also enjoy:
Dream a Little Dream (Piers Anthony and Julie Brady, Fiction - When a world created by human dreams is in trouble, one of their own must travel to the real world)
Chloe and the Lion (Mac Barnett, YA Picture Book - An author's attempts to tell a story are interrupted by his illustrator and his heroine)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - The boy who refuses to grow up leads three English children to the magical island of Neverland)
The Journey trilogy (Aaron Becker, YA Picture Book - A girl's magic red pen allows her to enter and explore a world of wonders)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
Ink and Bone (Rachel Caine, YA Fiction - In an alternate near-future, a son of book thieves applies to join the Great Library that controls the global flow of information)
The Neverending Story (Michael Ende, YA Fiction - A storybook pulls a schoolboy into the world of Fantastica)
The Coldfire trilogy (C. S. Friedman, Fiction - An alien force on a colony planet turns one's wants and fears into tangible forms)
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines, Fiction - A man who can pull items out of books must save the world)
Librarian: Little Boy Lost (Eric Hobbs, YA Fiction - A bookish boy discovers secrets and dangers in a mysterious library)
Teller (Chris Howard, YA Fiction - A teen boy learns he can manipulate reality with stories and paintings)
The Quill Pen (Michelle Isenhoff, YA Fiction - Oppressed by his strict father, a boy in elder-day New England discovers a magical quill pen that may write him a new future)
Fairy Quest: Outcasts (Paul Jenkins, YA Comic - In the fairy-tale realm of Fablewood, forbidden friends Red and Woof must escape the totalitarian rule of Mister Grimm)
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup, YA Fiction - Writing stories in a special journal makes them come to life, for good or ill)
Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (Rahma Krambo, YA Fiction - A housecat must help defend a powerful book from evil forces)
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, YA? Fiction - A teen girl attends a boarding school for children traumatized by adventures in magical worlds... where students start turning up dead)
Griffin's Castle (Jenny Nimmo, YA Fiction - A lonely girl summons stone guardians to help protect herself and her home)
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson, YA Fiction - A boy discovers that the true nature of the world has been kept hidden by an insidious cult of evil librarians)
The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson, YA Fiction - In a world where gifted Rithmatists infuse chalk lines with power, an ungifted academy boy is drawn into danger when students begin vanishing)
Endymion Spring (Matthew Skelton, YA Fiction - An American boy in Oxford discovers a mysterious old book with ties to a dark cult and the roots of history)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The Forbidden Library (Django Wexler, YA Fiction - A girl finds dangers, wonders, and her own magic in a library of magical books)
The Otherland quartet (Tad Williams, Fiction - The near-future of the internet provides a place where worlds, dreams, and nightmares take on startlingly realistic lives)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


Inkspell
(The Inkheart trilogy, Book 2)
Cornelia Funke
The Chicken House
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: A year ago, Meggie and her father, the bookbinder Mo, used their gifts for reading stories to life to defeat the foul Capricorn, himself lifted from the pages of the ill-fated book Inkheart. In creating his nemesis, they inadvertently sent the book's author, Fenoglio, into the story. The Inkworld-born fire-dancer Dustfinger was left behind in the real world, though at least he is no longer alone. His new apprentice Farid, was once a background character in A Thousand And One Arabian Nights until Mo read him to life. Still, Dustfinger yearns to return to his homeworld and the people he left behind.
After much searching, Dustfinger found another gifted reader named Orpheus to read him back into the Inkworld. Farid, left behind, discovers that Orpheus was in league with Dustfinger's enemies Bascha and Mortola, fellow Inkworld natives with a score to settle with Meggie and Mo and Dustfinger himself. Farid must warn his beloved teacher of the trap they have set for him. To save Dustfinger, he and Meggie manage to read themselves into the Inkworld.
Here, things are not going as they were intended. The Laughing Prince has become the grief-consumed Prince of Sighs after the death of his beloved son Cosimo, the terrible Adderhead stands ready to crush the entire land under his iron fist, and not even the author Fenoglio's best efforts can keep the story from trying to tell itself in a way he never intended it to. Meggie and Farid, and eventually Mo and his wife Resa, find that their own stories are inextricably intertwined with those of the characters - the people - of the Inkworld.

REVIEW: First off, a warning: there is one more book in the series, and the ending is a cliffhanger. That said, I greatly enjoyed this book, for all that I didn't think Inkheart needed a sequel. Whereas the first book was about bringing stories to life in the "real" world, this one moves the action mostly into the Inkworld created by Fenoglio's fantasy Inkheart... but does his written word truly hold sway in this world, especially now that the author himself is caught up in the middle of a story he didn't intend to write? Fenoglio seems particularly at a loss, at once the supposed creator of this domain and a helpless pawn of powers greater than him, a flow of events that has gathered its own momentum. It's not a dry philosophical debate, but the theme underlies everything that happens, as people rely on written words and their own wits in an attempt to give the Inkworld a happy - or happier - ending. The concept of fate verses free will, or will versus words, takes on a whole new meaning when one is actually walking in a world created by ink and paper, a world that is every bit as real as the one Meggie and Mo came from, a world like the one Fenoglio wrote and yet deviating from the original story, because of - or in spite of - the effects of the "outsiders" wandering through it. Whereas Inkheart explored the power of the written word to create worlds and characters that seemed so real they came to life, Inkspell turns the idea around as "real" people find themselves walking through a beloved story, not in the skin of a character or in their imaginations but in the flesh-and-blood waking world. Both are very much about a love of books and the joys and perils of the stories contained in them. If you are at all familiar with those joys, you owe it to yourself to read both books.

You might also enjoy:
Dream a Little Dream (Piers Anthony and Julie Brady, Fiction - When a world created by human dreams is in trouble, one of their own must travel to the real world)
Chloe and the Lion (Mac Barnett, YA Picture Book - An author's attempts to tell a story are interrupted by his illustrator and his heroine)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - The boy who refuses to grow up leads three English children to the magical island of Neverland)
The Journey trilogy (Aaron Becker, YA Picture Book - A girl's magic red pen allows her to enter and explore a world of wonders)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
Ink and Bone (Rachel Caine, YA Fiction - In an alternate near-future, a son of book thieves applies to join the Great Library that controls the global flow of information)
The Neverending Story (Michael Ende, YA Fiction - A storybook pulls a schoolboy into the world of Fantastica)
The Coldfire trilogy (C. S. Friedman, Fiction - An alien force on a colony planet turns one's wants and fears into tangible forms)
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines, Fiction - A man who can pull items out of books must save the world)
Librarian: Little Boy Lost (Eric Hobbs, YA Fiction - A bookish boy discovers secrets and dangers in a mysterious library)
Teller (Chris Howard, YA Fiction - A teen boy learns he can manipulate reality with stories and paintings)
The Quill Pen (Michelle Isenhoff, YA Fiction - Oppressed by his strict father, a boy in elder-day New England discovers a magical quill pen that may write him a new future)
Fairy Quest: Outcasts (Paul Jenkins, YA Comic - In the fairy-tale realm of Fablewood, forbidden friends Red and Woof must escape the totalitarian rule of Mister Grimm)
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup, YA Fiction - Writing stories in a special journal makes them come to life, for good or ill)
Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (Rahma Krambo, YA Fiction - A housecat must help defend a powerful book from evil forces)
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, YA? Fiction - A teen girl attends a boarding school for children traumatized by adventures in magical worlds... where students start turning up dead)
Griffin's Castle (Jenny Nimmo, YA Fiction - A lonely girl summons stone guardians to help protect herself and her home)
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson, YA Fiction - A boy discovers that the true nature of the world has been kept hidden by an insidious cult of evil librarians)
The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson, YA Fiction - In a world where gifted Rithmatists infuse chalk lines with power, an ungifted academy boy is drawn into danger when students begin vanishing)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The Forbidden Library (Django Wexler, YA Fiction - A girl finds dangers, wonders, and her own magic in a library of magical books)
The Otherland quartet (Tad Williams, Fiction - The near-future of the internet provides a place where worlds, dreams, and nightmares take on startlingly realistic lives)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


Inkdeath
(The Inkheart trilogy, Book 3)
Cornelia Funke
The Chicken House
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**

DESCRIPTION: When the bookbinder Mortimer first read the fantasy Inkheart years ago, he had no idea that his skilled voice would read to life the villianous Capricorn and the hero Dustfinger… or that his wife Resa would be pulled into the Inkworld. With Capricorn dead and his wife returned, life should have gone to normal, but now he’s in Inkworld himself, along with Resa, his daughter Meggie, and Fenoglio, Inkheart’s author. Thanks in no small part to their interference, the Inkworld is in shambles. The Adderhead, dread ruler of Argent, has conquered the peaceful land of Ombra, placing it under the rule of the foppish Milksop. Worse, the evil man might well rule for eternity: he forced Mo and Meggie to bind him a magical book that keeps him forever safe from the White Women, daughters of Death. The hero Dustfinger lies dead, but his loyal apprentice Farid refuses to give up hope of resurrecting his fire-taming master; after all, Mo returned from the White Women's clutches, and he's not even a native of the Inkworld. Now, another “silvertongue” has arrived, Orpheus, who has learned the trick of writing his own wishes to life by stealing Fenoglio’s words and usurping his world. As Fenoglio drinks away his misery, Mo takes on the dangerous alter ego of “the Bluejay,” robber-hero of the downtrodden people, and Orpheus sets himself up as a sorcerer granting the Milksop’s extravagant wishes, it looks like the Inkworld is headed toward a very bad ending, indeed... and if the Inkworld’s tale ends badly, so will the tales of the real world visitors stuck there.

REVIEW: As promised, the trilogy concludes in cataclysmic fashion in this volume... eventually. The wash of names and places and alliances and rivalries from the first two books grows exponentially more tangled here. Characters old and new spend chapter after chapter whining and moaning about their given situations, burdened under pages of flowery language and metaphors, without actively advancing the plot. When things actually moved forward, I felt an almost ecstatic rush of elation, like creeping another half- block in a rush hour traffic jam. I remember some of that in Funke's previous volumes, but it seemed more blatant here; I don't remember having to consciously will myself to keep reading before. She also ramps up the story's sexism, though she defends it by blaming it on Fenoglio's prejudices. Even when the women step up and prove instrumental in saving things, they get short-shafted. I found it all the more annoying because Funke kept having Meggie, Resa, and Aunt Elinor (who turns up in the Inkworld for no reason other than to be irritating) harp on the fact that women never get strong roles in Fenoglio's works. Beyond that, the Inkworld continues to be a fascinating place to visit, full of magical details, and Funke continues to play with the idea of writers and readers wandering through fictional realms that may not be so fictional after all. Unfortunately, a neat setting and some interesting background ideas can't bail out this sinking ship. As for the ending itself... without getting into spoilers, I can't be specific, but I found myself less than fully satisfied with how it all wrapped up. It also smells supiciously ripe for future volumes. Overall, while Inkheart's still worth reading if you've ever loved a story, I can't say the same for the trilogy on the whole, much as I wish I could.

You might also enjoy:
Dream a Little Dream (Piers Anthony and Julie Brady, Fiction - When a world created by human dreams is in trouble, one of their own must travel to the real world)
Chloe and the Lion (Mac Barnett, YA Picture Book - An author's attempts to tell a story are interrupted by his illustrator and his heroine)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - The boy who refuses to grow up leads three English children to the magical island of Neverland)
The Journey trilogy (Aaron Becker, YA Picture Book - A girl's magic red pen allows her to enter and explore a world of wonders)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
Ink and Bone (Rachel Caine, YA Fiction - In an alternate near-future, a son of book thieves applies to join the Great Library that controls the global flow of information)
The Neverending Story (Michael Ende, YA Fiction - A storybook pulls a schoolboy into the world of Fantastica)
The Coldfire trilogy (C. S. Friedman, Fiction - An alien force on a colony planet turns one's wants and fears into tangible forms)
Libriomancer (Jim C. Hines, Fiction - A man who can pull items out of books must save the world)
Librarian: Little Boy Lost (Eric Hobbs, YA Fiction - A bookish boy discovers secrets and dangers in a mysterious library)
Teller (Chris Howard, YA Fiction - A teen boy learns he can manipulate reality with stories and paintings)
The Quill Pen (Michelle Isenhoff, YA Fiction - Oppressed by his strict father, a boy in elder-day New England discovers a magical quill pen that may write him a new future)
Fairy Quest: Outcasts (Paul Jenkins, YA Comic - In the fairy-tale realm of Fablewood, forbidden friends Red and Woof must escape the totalitarian rule of Mister Grimm)
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup, YA Fiction - Writing stories in a special journal makes them come to life, for good or ill)
Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria (Rahma Krambo, YA Fiction - A housecat must help defend a powerful book from evil forces)
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, YA? Fiction - A teen girl attends a boarding school for children traumatized by adventures in magical worlds... where students start turning up dead)
Griffin's Castle (Jenny Nimmo, YA Fiction - A lonely girl summons stone guardians to help protect herself and her home)
The Takers (R. W. Ridley, YA Fiction - 13-year-old Oz Griffin wakes from a fever to find that invisible monsters, escaped from a dead boy's comic book, have devastated the world)
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson, YA Fiction - A boy discovers that the true nature of the world has been kept hidden by an insidious cult of evil librarians)
The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson, YA Fiction - In a world where gifted Rithmatists infuse chalk lines with power, an ungifted academy boy is drawn into danger when students begin vanishing)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The Forbidden Library (Django Wexler, YA Fiction - A girl finds dangers, wonders, and her own magic in a library of magical books)
The Otherland quartet (Tad Williams, Fiction - The near-future of the internet provides a place where worlds, dreams, and nightmares take on startlingly realistic lives)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List


The Thief Lord
Cornelia Funke
The Chicken House
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+

DESCRIPTION: Twelve-year-old Prosper and his five-year-old brother, Bo, ran away from their rich, snooty aunt and uncle. Their late mother told them wondrous stories of Venice, lending it a magical air, so the boys have come to the city of canals in the hopes of finding sanctuary. They do, in a way, falling in with Hornet, Riccio, and Mosca, homeless Venetian children who survive partly on thievery and partly due to the benevolence of their mysterious leader, the Thief Lord. Little more than a boy himself, the Thief Lord has his own secrets to hide. One day, a wealthy count offers the gang a very tempting commission to steal a seemily worthless wooden wing, a wing that may once have belonged to a long-lost magical artifact. Prosper and Bo's relatives have also come to Venice, hiring the softhearted private detective Victor to help find the boys. Between them all, great secrets will be uncovered.

REVIEW: This seemed to drag more than once, and I occasionally found the characters irritating, but on the whole they had more depth and realism than those in Dragon Rider. Funke writes Venice as a magical, yet dangerous place, transforming it from real-life city to an ageless fairy-tale land of bridges and canals and backwaters. The story moves slowly at times, but it takes some interesting turns and wraps up its loose ends fairly well. All in all, a fun read.

You might also enjoy:
The Water Mirror (Kai Meyer, YA Fiction - A girl lives in an alternate-reality Venice with magical mirrors and living stone lions)
Mairelon the Magician (Patricia Wrede, YA Fiction - A homeless thief girl in elder-day London finds herself entangled with a fugitive wizard and the quest for stolen magical artifacts)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List

Return to Brightdreamer Books Home

Brightdreamer Books is created and maintained by TBW, a.k.a. "Brightdreamer."
E-mail: tbweber AT comcast DOT net. Remove spaces, replace AT with "@" and DOT with "." - please put "Brightdreamer Books" in the subject line, or your e-mail may be deleted as spam! Thank you!