"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

skimming the surface

Note: This post will read more like notes than they usually do…though it should be spoiler-free (which is not usual).


The daughter and I are a huge fan of Cornelia Funke stories. Inkheart was the first thick book Natalya inhaled (wow, some years back now). Igraine the Brave is a long-held favorite. Hearing about Reckless, I was quick to request it, and was excited to get it so quickly. Oh, but we do love fairytales in our house, especially the daughter, and Funke is a great imaginer of tales.

As per usual (ever behind), I did not realize Reckless was one of a series right away.  And really, it doesn’t disappoint as some Book Ones that don’t say Book One on the cover; here, you just read and say, ‘ah yes, the author could continue with this one’—which is refreshing. It could stand alone (although I would have preferred it were longer). Nevertheless, Reckless is Book One of a Series of the same name.

7823592Reckless written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke

A story found and told by Cornelia Funke and Lionel Wigram

Translated by Oliver Latsch (as Funke is German even if she does presently live in L.A.)

Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

(hardback) 394 pages.

Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Funke twists fairy lore into a dark incarnation. A prologue introduces Jacob Reckless, 12, heartsick over his father’s disappearance. The story then jumps ahead 12 years; Jacob, having figured out how to follow his father through a mirror, has made a name as a finder of magical items–seven-league boots, locks of ‘Rapunzel-hair’–in war-torn Mirrorworld, ruled by fairies and ‘Goyl,’ humans whose skin has turned to stone. Jacob’s brother, Will, however, is mauled by a Goyl, and his skin begins to turn to jade; the plot is a race for a cure. The rich re-imagining of familiar fairy tale details is the best part, as there is little character development. There are few child characters, and veiled sexual innuendo and violence make this edgier fare. The writing is beautiful on one page, clunky on another (‘But there always comes a time when a man wants to sense the same mortality that dwells in his flesh also in the skin he caresses’). Planned sequels will give Funke a chance to fill in the missing back-story that makes this a frustrating read. Ages 10 — up. (Sept.) Publishers Weekly

I wasn’t terribly far into Reckless when I met confusion. The book was in Children’s, not Teen. While the writing style is certainly Children’s, some of the content I would put with Teen, and yet there is not enough angst or panting. Jacob and Will are only children in the first chapter. The rest of the novel they are adult men with occasional flashbacks. Jacob is an Indiana Jones figure, a hunter of artifacts (though for profit) and a ladies’ man. The “veiled sexual innuendo” as Publishers Weekly puts it is not upon a singular occasion. The implied sex would probably be initially overlooked by the naive reader, and it isn’t gratuitous. However, some understanding of Sexual Desire and less the Romantic Love helps add depth and meaning to the Larks’ Water angst and the conflict-ridden relationship between the Dark Fairy and the Goyle King. Just the same, said understanding is not necessary–so concerned adults, please take that deep cleansing breath.  –and when I said “initially” the sentence before, I think the implications that this is not about chaste kissing becomes increasingly evident. However,  it is not sexy or pornographic or whatever parents tend to fear their children getting a hold of. I did mention the book is written in a style of and for Children (not even YA really).

Reckless is “edgier fare” for contemporary American readers, but reminiscent of the edge of children’s stories of old, especially with regards to the violence. While the child-eating witches are more abstract, The Tailor is a horror—fantastically scary. And the dismemberment and aggression to kill, the shooting and stabbing and kidnapping… You know, along the lines of Star Wars…though perhaps with a bit more actual blood. And really, Funke doesn’t go too far, in my estimation–and I am fairly sensitive on the point of violence. Natalya wasn’t allowed to see a Star Wars episode for a long time (was it just last year?). Violence in Tales/Lore seemed to translate differently–is it the matter-of-fact way of it being related?It incites fear, rather than excitement…is that an accurate statement?  Hmm, now I am having to think on this one. [input welcome]


Funke builds a great deal into the Mirrorworld while keeping a fast pace. The chapters are fairly short, as are the sentences. It feels rushed at moments, and not just because we are racing to save Will. The story skims so many surfaces (back-stories, present-depth). And the character development suffers in the hurry.  (Are we to understand Will as the opposite of the much more developed Jacob, therefore developing Will as a character?) Just the same, Funke puts so much into such a fast-paced read and keeps the Tale accessible to more than just the avid reader. I would like to test this on the non-reader who could be tantalized by strange worlds, but who would be put-off by 600+ pages of hard-wrought prose writing. The Inkheart Series is incredible, but it is also daunting, a massive (however worthy) endeavor.

I think the backstories, Jacob’s earlier adventures may come, but it was difficult enough to keep the brother’s relationship in the forefront of the Reader’s minds in Reckless: Reckless Series Book One. There are so many wonderful creatures, places, and integrated Tales/Lore…  There are so many authors who dabble in Lore, would revise, re-imagine… I say dabble because after reading Funke, others’ effort begins to show.  And that Funke can actually keep twists in her stories is a reason I look forward to her reads. The adventurous turn isn’t always anticipated—it’s lovely. Could Reckless have been a tighter weave, yes…though I don’t care to think about which scenes would have had to go. I really do think Length was a consideration in the rendering of this book. 400 pages, but with margins and not the tiny print. And there are illustrations at every chapter start (by Cornelia Funke). I think Funke could do a good, dark version of Reckless for adults; she wouldn’t have to have been so careful.


“Fox has her fur, your brother has a skin of stone, and now you have a pair of wings” (293). The Empresses daughter has her masklike visage, her “dollface.”  There is a lot of masking and hiding in Reckless. Even Clara begins to change, becomes less the brave, modern woman, and more the helpless and emotive girl of Hero Lore. Outward presence sinks inward, affecting the human inhabiting therein. Will doesn’t just wear stone, he becomes a Goyle. Fox/Celeste doesn’t just shift shape, but mien as well, “Why do you prefer being a fox? Does it make the world easier to understand?” “Foxes don’t try to understand it” (256). But Jacob…his Fearlessness is a mask that doesn’t quite follow, not as it should. But then, there is a chink in all their armor.

In Tales, characters, whether human or some other creature, are like masks. They facilitate some aspect familiar to the human world or condition. The Mask, the Simulation, in Reckless is an interesting conversation considering the setting, the medium.


The Mirrorworld is not just a romp through a melding of old Tales amongst an equally old landscape. The Mirrorworld has experienced an Industrial Revolution. There is a shifting of power in the Hierarchies. Magic is being superseded by a new form of wonder: Engineering.  And yet, as the Dark Fairy’s involvement suggest, Current Events are not yet carried forth without a supernatural element. There is still a heavy reliance on magic—otherwise, where would be the fun without all the magical gadgetry. Just the same, the Mirrorworld is still yet behind the Real world, and the threat of eradication of Old Ways looms.  Already Jacob is collecting Artifacts of some past tale to be placed in a Collection (a museum), if not use them as weapons.

We have read many stories where the Magical world affects the Real. But what of the Real world’s affect on the Magical Realm—the place where the Tales live. It is a lovely idea…and Funke is a more than capable writer of it.


Reckless: Book One sets up several avenues of adventure. The search for the lost father is an arch that will maintain its furthest reach, but the smaller arcs are promising. I look forward to Book Two, hoping for a more patient pace and more haunting characters;looking forward to more of her dark imagination, and her ability to see the conflicts and wonder about them.

2 thoughts on “skimming the surface

  1. I too love Cornelia Funke’s books and am really looking forward to this one. I’ll have to come back and read this post more thoroughly after I do… read it that is.

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