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Why didn’t someone tell me I needed to read this one sooner? I know I’m late to this party, but I’ve only recently read Inkheart, but I enjoyed it immensely. Sure, I had heard of it when it first came out, and what I heard sounded interested, but I never took the time to pick up a copy. That was an error.

Spoilers follow.

A bookish young girl, Meggie, lives with her bookbinder father, Mo, and is plunged into a series of adventures when her father’s past catches up with them. Mo, you see, has an unusual talent: he can “read” characters out of books into our world, though he can’t quite control his ability. Years ago, he accidentally read several characters from a fantasy novel (the eponymous Inkheart) into our world and they want to have access to Mo’s talents. Unfortunately for Meggie and Mo, several are real villains who will stop at nothing to force Mo to do their bidding. The father-daughter team are helped along by a crabby aunt – who has an amazing home and book collection – and a trickster-esque figure of uncertain loyalties called Dustfinger. This is nominally a young adult novel, though it’s fairly grim (though not gory or graphic) at times, and I think that adults will enjoy it as well. Bibliophiles of all ages will enjoy the loving way that books and libraries are presented – the protagonists’ books are important characters in their own right, and their lavish descriptions will delight.

Presumably at some point in the sequels, we will actually venture into the fantasy world of Inkheart. I kept expecting that it would happen in this book, and to be honest, it’s a little disappointing that it didn’t. This brings me to one of what I consider one of the failings of the book: it’s just not “fantastic” enough. We have all the set-up we need: people with the magical ability to transfer people and things from a fantasy setting depicted in a book into the Real World. But the people brought through into our world reveal no magical powers of their own (why not, for example, have Dustfinger be a minor magician who can actually manipulate fire?), and until the finale of the book, the only “magical” creature we see is a marten with tiny horns. That’s a little weak, I think.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5, and look forward to reading the next sequel. I think it has some missed opportunities. I’d have liked to see Funke dial up the fantastic elements and increase the amount of action, frankly, and I think that had she done so, this one could have been a bigger blockbuster. But it’s a fun book, and one that should appeal to adult readers as well as bookish young adults.

Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers