I have to admit that I’ve found Cornelia Funke’s works for the most part to be wonderful concepts whose execution never quite matched their potential. Dragonrider I thought was her most successful work so far, mostly because it didn’t reach quite so high. With Inkspell, however, Funke has finally meshed concept and execution together perfectly, creating her best piece of work so far.
Inkspell picks up about a year after the events of Inkheart, opening with Dustfinger finally achieving his long desire to return to Inkworld, the “book” world of Inkheart. In short order many of the major characters from Inkheart — Basta, Mortola, Meggie, Mo, Farid, and Resa also are read into Inkworld, though at different times and places. Meanwhile, Fenoglio, the author/creator of Inkworld has been living there for the past year, watching his creation veer oddly out of his “control” in ways big and small, the worst being the growing influence of his villain Adderhead. As one might guess with so many characters appearing in so many places, the book has a number of storylines: Will Adderhead take complete control of Inkworld; will Basta/Mortola get their revenge on Mo, Resa, and the others; will Dustfinger reconcile with his wife whom he hasn’t seen in ten years; will Fenoglio regain authorial control over the day to day living of Inkworld (if he ever had control); will Dustfinger die as was written in the original book; will Meggie reunite with Mo and save him from the horrible wound given him by Mortola, and many others.
Funke does a masterful job of juggling these storylines, creating and maintaining suspense in each throughout the whole book, keeping them clear and easy to follow, and then tying them together neatly and smoothly toward the end, allowing some to be resolved happily, others not so happily, and leaving others either appropriately unresolved (as much of life is) or to be resolved in book three (fair warning — this book can certainly be read on its own but its ending really requires one to go on). The characterization is stronger than I’ve seen in other Funke works, the setting details are richly done (similar to Thief Lord), but the most impressive aspect is the book’s various levels of emotional depth and complexity. There is a tinge (and often more than a tinge) of sadness and realistic grittiness to nearly every aspect of the book that deepens its impact throughout. Time and time again Funke creates memorably poignant scenes — Meggie going into Inkworld fully aware that she is breaking her father’s heart in doing so, Resa refusing at one point to be rescued and knowing Meggie expects such a refusal, Dustfinger literally looking his predicted death in the face and smiling, Fenoglio coming face to face with the reality of his “creation”.
Inkspell could have been simply a wonderful fantasy tale but Funke offers up plentiful exploration of relationships, of coming-of-age, of responsibility/obligation, and of course, given the premise of the series, of the power of words/language/creativity. Inkspell is, I think, her most mature and most impressive work and I look forward eagerly to the next one in the series. Highly recommended.