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Inkheart by Cornelia Funke translated by Anthea Bell

01/04/2009. Contributed by Vikki Green

Buy Inkheart in the USA - or Buy Inkheart in the UK

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pub: The Chicken House. 544 page illustrated paperback Price 6.99 (UK). ISBN 978-1-904442-21-9.

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'Inkheart' opens on a rainy night when Meggie spots a strange man standing in the bushes outside the house. When she tells her father, Mortimer, about the stranger he is not happy and becomes quite taciturn with her. Mortimer, or Mo as he's known throughout the book, invites the stranger in and they talk.

Meggie overhears some of the conversation and realises her father knows the stranger, whom he calls Dustfinger, from the night her mother disappeared. The stranger warns Mo, whom he also calls Silvertongue, that Capricorn knows where he is.

The next morning Mo and Meggie leave their home, not the first time they have left in a hurry like this. Meggie begins to connect their itinerant lifestyle with Dustfinger and decides she wants some answers, which he gives, despite Mo's opposition. They only serve to deepen her curiosity. Much to Mo's annoyance, Dustfinger cadges a lift from them as they leave for Italy.

They all end up at Elinor Loredan's, an eccentric book collector and bibliophile living in northern Italy. She is also Meggie's great aunt. Elinor is initially sniffy about Meggie being there, but warms to her as she get to know her. Book collecting, book-binding and the sheer love of books are beautifully represented in Elinor's character, a dusty eccentric who prefers her books to people. She distrusts Dustfinger who has remained with them. They spend some time with Elinor until, one night, Mo disappears with some of Capricorn's thugs.

Meggie and Elinor persuade Dustfinger to take them to find Capricorn, the villain of the piece and Mo's captor. Over the next few days, Meggie becomes embroiled in the mystery of her mother's disappearance and her father's involvement with Capricorn. The adventure leads to a remote village and one of the most convincing psychopathic villains I have ever read. During the subsequent events, Meggie gets her answers, discovers her own inner strength and a lot more than she had hoped for.

'Inkheart' is aimed at the younger end of Young Adult readership. Having said that it's a good read for all those who enjoy a good story. An interesting section at the back of the book has some short educational notes about book-binding, books, martens and other subjects that come up in the story. Each chapter starts with a quote from a classic book - 'Peter Pan', 'Watership Down', 'Fahrenheit 451' are some of them. The quotes are well chosen and clearly reflect the subject of the chapter. Each chapter ends with a vignette engraving, a lovely touch as so many books these days don't have a decorative element.

I did find the way it is written a little strange at first. It is translated from German and the feeling probably stems from a slightly different storytelling milieu rather than any fault in the storytelling itself.

A lot of information is buried in the text, the information on book-binding alone is staggering but it is so interwoven with the actual story and characters that it doesn't intrude at all. The knowledge is bound up in the fact that Mo is a book-binder by profession and has passed his love of books and the materials they are made from to Meggie. The culture of reading, book-binding and writing are so bound up in Meggie's character and those of her father and Elinor that they are part of the fabric of the book's soul.

In this story, the heroes can read and the villains can't. A running theme throughout is that reading broadens the mind. The villains are frightened by those who can read and equate it with a form of magic. Which is what reading turns out to be in the tale.

The villain of the piece is a nasty piece of work. He is also very well realised, there is nothing cardboard about Capricorn. He is quite frightening, though the nastiness is suggested rather than shown. His chief henchman, Basta, is also chilling. The atmosphere becomes menacing when he appears.

'Inkheart' does takes a little while to get going, but it is worth persevering with as it becomes absolutely involving. None of the characters behaved quite as I expected them to which is something I found very refreshing. It is a strange world but well realised and feels perfectly natural. Nothing felt out of place or implausible. I couldn't put it down.

Vikki Green

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