Inkheart and its sequels     Did you ever read a book that was so good you wanted to step right into the story and become one of the characters? Did you ever wish that the hero or the heroine could leap out of the book and join you for a chat? Of course one of the nice things about reading a book is that you can always set it down and come back to it later. You can set it down and go get a snack or visit a friend, and come back to it later. Or if you’re reading late at night and the story gets too scary you can set it down and turn on some more lights or decide to do something else and go back to reading in the daytime when the villain doesn’t seem so threatening.

And it’s always nice to have someone to read you a story. Especially if they’re a good reader with a voice that can just brings things to life. 

Inkheart      Inkheart / Cornelia Funke; read by Lynn Redgrave

Meggie loves books. Her father, Mo, has made her a box, painted bright red as a poppy, to take with her whenever they go on a trip. It’s a decorated wooden chest to hold her favorite books. The lid proclaims it as Meggie’s Treasure Chest. They do a lot of traveling; Mo says that as a bookbinder he’s often called to libraries, the shops of antique dealers, and the homes of wealthy collectors across Europe to repair old and valuable books. Meggie takes her books along because they are, “familiar voices, friends that never [quarrel] with her, clever, powerful friends—daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had traveled far and wide.” They were her home.

One rainy night when Meggie is twelve a strange man with a strange name, Dustfinger, appears at their door in the middle of the night. He calls her father by a strange name, “Silvertongue.” Meggie wonders who would call on the services of a bookbinder in the middle of the night, and why? Who is this stranger; where does he come from, and what does he want with her father? She eavesdrops. Dustfinger warns her father that Capricorn and his men are coming soon, and that they will do anything to obtain it. As soon as he leaves, Mo orders Meggie to pack her clothes and treasure chest. They have to leave immediately. As they are packing she sees her father wrapping a book in plain brown paper. When he sees her, he hides it behind his back. He doesn’t want her to know about this book at all.

It turns out to be not an old book with an expensive binding, but a modern sword and sorcery novel titled Inkheart. It’s set in an enchanted world full of fairies, knights, heroes, and some very evil villains, including one called Capricorn. As Meggie learns what this book is, she also learns where Dustfinger came from and where her long-lost mother disappeared. Her mother went into the book when Mo accidentally read Dustfinger and the evil Capricorn out of Inkheart and into Meggie’s world.

Funke has a talent for bringing the fantastic plausibly into the contemporary world. She displays it brilliantly as literary characters and treasure are brought out of books and into a criminal gang’s hideout in modern Italy. And what more cold-hearted capo could lead such a gang than Capricorn, the man whose heart is as black as ink. Redgrave’s eerie reading brings a spine tingle to life in this capture and escape tale to as skillfully and Meggie’s father can bring a character out of the Arabian Nights to life.
Inkspell      Inkspell / Cornelia Funke; read by Brendan Fraser
Desperate to return to his own world, Dustfinger finds a reader, a pale, flabby oaf with a magnificent voice, who’s willing to send him and his apprentice fire-eater Farid there—for a price. But when Farid is left behind, he goes to Meggie in the hopes that she has inherited her father’s gift and can send him after Dustfinger. Because she so wants to see for herself the exotic world that her mother has described to her, she takes them both there and immediately regrets her decision.

In Inkheart characters from the book sprang to life in this world. In its sequel people from this world are transported to the richly imaginative fantasy world of the book. Funke’s characters are vivid and distinctive in both worlds and Fraser’s superb acting ability makes this an excellent realization of her work. 

Inkdeath      Inkdeath / Cornelia Funke; read by Allan Corduner
In the aftermath of the disastrous attack on the Castle of Night, in a city occupied by hostile forces, Orpheus is struggling to find a way to bring his hero Dustfinger back to life. He hopes that the bookbinder, Silvertongue who was mortally wounded, and so close to death that the White Women, the daughters of death, came to take him, will be able to bring them close to Orpheus. He wants to bargain with them. But Death sets its own conditions for Silvertongue, and they are quite different from the ones that Orpheus so desperately wants.

Allan Corduner’s narration meets the high standard set by Lynn Redgrave’s reading of Inkheart and Brendan Fraser’s reading of Inkspell. Funke’s well-drawn characters give verisimilitude to her fantasy novel set in a fantasy novel. It’s one that can be reached and changed by the most skillful of oral readers. In addition to a marvelous adventure yarn she gives a thoughtful portrait of death and the prods the reader to wonder about the nature of reality.