Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord is one of the best children’s books from the early 2000’s. In my opinion, anyway. I read it when I was 12, and I’ve been a fan of her work ever since (though apparently it was only published in English in 2002, but had been out in German since the late 90’s!).
Three or so years ago, Reckless came out. I read it right away, and while I forgot most of the plot until re-reading it this week, the one thought that stayed with me was “This is NOT a children’s book.”
The second book in the Mirrorworld series, Fearless, came out earlier this year. I bought it on a recent book buying binge, and decided to re-read Reckless before tackling the sequel (and it’s a good thing I did!).
Here is the book jacket synopsis for Reckless (I’m not including the summary for Fearless because it kind of spoils the ending for book 1):
“Ever since Jacob Reckless was a child, he has been escaping to a hidden world through a portal in his father’s abandoned study. Over the years, he has made a name for himself as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. He’s also made many enemies and allies–most important, Fox, a beautiful shape-shifting vixen whom Jacob cares for more than he lets on.
But life in this other world is about to change. Tragedy strikes when Jacob’s younger brother, Will, follows him through the portal. Brutally attacked, Will is infected with a curse that is quickly transforming him into a Goyl–a ruthless killing machine, with skin made of stone.
Jacob is prepared to fight to save his brother, but in a land built on trickery and lies, Jacob will need all the wit, courage, and reckless spirit he can summon to reverse the dark spell–before it’s too late.”
Both novels are full of references to fairy tales, which I definitely appreciate. My favourite allusion was to a carousel that can change the age of the rider – which is a major plot point in The Thief Lord!
But after reading both, my initial reaction remains the same: these are not children’s books. I’d put it more on the “young adult” half of the spectrum, if only for some of the dark imagery and language (for example, one of the antagonists in Fearless is nicknamed “the Bastard”. Try explaining THAT to an 8-year-old). Also, parts of it (particularly Fearless) are quite violent. I don’t have a problem with violence – IN BOOKS, I mean – but there seemed to be an excessive amount of blood spillage.
Out of the two, I prefer Reckless (and not just because it’s one of my favourite words/song titles!). It starts off at a rapid pace and there are only a handful of slower moments. I read it in two days, if that’s any indication of how fast-paced it was. At times, this is a bit of a detriment: you learn about the high stakes so early (I believe it’s mentioned in the first chapter post-prologue), but you don’t get a chance to really meet Jacob and Will. Personally, I like getting to know the characters a little before I have to start worrying about whether they’re going to still be alive by the end of the book.
Fearless, on the other hand, started strong (one of the upsides to sequels is that the characters are familiar enough for you to immediately empathize with their situation), reeled you in…and then plodded on for a hundred and some odd pages…before picking back up, hitting a few bumps, and then sprinting to the end.
I find – and I say this with the utmost respect for her – that Cornelia Funke’s sequels rarely live up the first book (in terms of plot, execution, etc). I remember feeling the same way about her first trilogy – I loved Inkheart, but I was disappointed with the other two.
Overall, they were interesting (and quick!) reads. I liked how old fairy tales were incorporated and there’s a lot of potential for the third book. Even if I don’t love the last book, I’ll still always admire Funke’s way with words (though I guess technically they are her translator’s words).