« a few questions for GRs | Main | 2005 Movie Wrap-Up »

Book Report: Inkspell

My inclination, in writing about Inkspell is to start with SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS and then to SPOIL the damned ending, only there isn’t any ending to spoil, damnit. Not only does it leave off with a here’s the beginning of the next book bit, which is very annoying, but it’s even bad taken on its own terms. That is, even as an ending of the first part of the longer book, it’s awful.

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote an interesting essay about the series novel, and the challenges of making each book complete in itself, while still making each book move the series arc forward. You can argue how well Ms. Bujold succeeds in that, but anyway she lays out the problem pretty well. You don’t want people finishing a book all cross because there is too much left over. If you do put a cliffhanger of sorts at the end of a book, it has to be a satisfying one, and it can’t prevent the main plot of the book from coming to a proper close. On the other hand, you can’t wind up all the loose ends too neatly, or you’ll have to start all over again. Also, in a series novel, the continuing characters have to change each book (by virtue of the plot working on them), but still be the characters you like. And, of course, there’s all the stuff about how much backstory to include, how much to put in for the new readers of each book, how much for the old hands, etcetera etcetera. All that stuff? Not relevant to this book. It could have been, but it isn’t. Because Ms. Funke didn’ t write a novel in a series of novels, she just wrote six hundred pages of an open-ended ramble.

Not that there aren’t lovely bits in it. I mean, there are lots of lovely bits, and some of the plot points are particularly nice. Having the writer, within the novel, base a new character on a fellow he knows from our world, and then have that fellow come into the world of the novel and have to take on attributes of that character, well, that was all both very clever and very nicely handled. I like her writing, on the whole, and if I enjoyed this book less than the other three of hers I’ve read, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

One other point. One of the ways in which Inkheart charmed me was by having, at its heart, this magnificent book, Inkheart, which we had never read because all the copies were destroyed, and which was so marvelous that when a particularly gifted reader read from it, the characters could break through into this world. We actually learned very little about the book. Well, glimpses, here and there, but mostly the book was mysterious, the object of the hunt, and it was easy to believe that there was, somewhere, this marvelous magical book. And, in fact, it was easy to believe that when Silvertongue read aloud from this particular magical book, anything could happen. When the ability to read people into and out of books opens up wider, it still seems to apply only to certain books, and when, in the climax of that book, the writer of the original book is enlisted to create more book to read from, it has that logical constistency that makes it work, for YHB, anyway.

Now, in Inkspell (oh, and by the way, the original title is Tintenblut, which I think is Inkblood, a much better title), we are in this magical book, which means it had better be pretty damn magical indeed, and it isn’t. Oh, it’s fine, but it’s nothing special. And, in fact, as if in recognition of that, the power to read people in and out of books becomes more general, so that Meggie (and Orpheus) can effectively read people into and out of scraps of rubbishy scribbling. That cheapens the power, but most of all, it cheapens the original book, which doubles the disappointment of finding ourselves actually in it. What I’m saying is, the whole thing is a mistake from beginning to end, and I’d rather Ms. Funke wrote something else entirely next. Of course, from the end of this one, it’s clear that she isn’t going to.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


Just found this old entry, which apparently I had never read. I actually thought it was strongly implied in the first book that a Reader can read stuff and people out of any book, not just Inkheart or a select few others. After all, Mo had never read anything aloud to Meggie; that seemed to imply that he expected that it would work on any book, or at least that he had no way to tell what books it would work with and what it wouldn't.

And maybe part of why the first book worked for you and didn't for me was that you saw Inkheart, the book-within-a-book, as something really magical. To me, it sounded like a fairly generic fantasy novel, with fairly uninteresting villains, one interesting rogue (Dustfinger), and a reasonably scary Big Bad Monster (the Shadow). And part of why it didn't seem like anything special to me was that we never learned anything about it. I wanted the plot and world of fictional-Inkheart to be front and center in the story, but even when Meggie had a chance to look at the book, she never read any of it; as a result, it felt curiously blank and empty to me, rather than magically marvelous.

Obviously you and many many others disagreed about that; not saying I'm right, just musing about my reactions.

I haven't re-read the book (any of them), so it's plausible that my reading was idiosyncratic and that your inference is clear. Dunno. I certainly had the sense from the beginning that the book-within-the-book was Something Special, but I can't really remember why that would have been. I agree, though, with your assessment that if I hadn't bought in to the Maguffin, I wouldn't have enjoyed the book nearly as much. I much prefer the idea that the magic only happens when a remarkable talent comes in contact with a remarkable book, and the other examples I can remember from the first book are from remarkable writers (Hans Christian Anderson, Shel Silverstein) so I'm counting them towards my viewpoint.

I'm glad you liked the movie, by the way; I was disappointed it was such a bomb, commercially speaking, and was holding out some hope it would be entertaining. I will keep it in mind as a possibility, most likely when it shows up at my local public library.


Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.