By Cornelia Funke
Published by Chicken House
With her three best-selling Inkheart novels, Cornelia Funke showed herself to be a major imaginative force in the world of young adult fantasy fiction. A couple of works for younger readers followed, but now Funke is back spinning a story that is definitely not for pre-teen readers.
Reckless is big, dark and at times plain scary. The opening chapter sets things up for the shadowy events that follow, and Funke packs so much into the plot and the atmosphere that there's no chance to put the book down once the twisted tale has begun.
The novel's prologue introduces Jacob Reckless, a 12-year-old who is disturbed by his father's sudden disappearance. Jacob should be looking after Will, his younger brother, during this troubled time, but he's more focused on finding answers for what has just occurred. Jacob knows that something in his dad's study holds the secret of what has happened to his dad.
The story jumps ahead 12 years, and Jacob now knows more or less where his father is, having worked out how to pass through a mysterious mirror into another world.
Now a young man, Jacob has built a life of thrills and adventure for himself in the sinister place he calls Mirrorworld on the other side of the mirror in his father's study. He has developed a reputation as someone who finds magical objects in this alternative world. But he has not yet found his father.
Jacob's Mirrorworld is a land where witches haunt the tangled forests, weird creatures live in the lakes, fairies hide on a beautiful island and a tailor with blades for hands kills whenever he can. Jacob's mirror life is a secret from the people in his earthly life. All is going well until his younger brother discovers his secret and follows him through the mirror.
Will's arrival on the other side of the mirror is a disaster from the moment he crosses over. He is cursed by the Dark Fairy and his skin slowly starts turning to stone. Jacob has to save his brother and the two of them begin a quest to reverse the spell that is slowly petrifying Will's skin. But there is a terrible war going on in Mirrorworld, with stone-skinned creatures called Goyl making advances on human civilisation.
Despite Funke's undoubted success with Reckless, stories about young people passing through things into other worlds are wearing a bit thin - Alice in Wonderland is nearly 150 years old after all. It's is an eerily engrossing read, but its basic premise is a bit old hat. There must be some fantasy writer out there who can knock this down-the-rabbit-hole idea out of the ball park, and put something a little more original in its place. Sadly, Funke is not the one.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com