Perhaps this book is payback for Cornelia Funke allowing filmmakers to destroy "Inkheart" for their, I don't know, convenience maybe, a la "Eragon." This book reads as though Ms. Funke struggled with the burden of tying up a thousand loose ends in her immense story-world, struggled and surrendered.
I was the reader who brought to life the "Inkheart" trilogy, reading aloud to my family. We came to love the Inkworld in all its rich detail, warmly fleshed-out characters, and fairy tale roster of fantasy creatures. We enjoyed indulging in the Inkworld despite all of the author's wrong turns, and anyone who read the first two books may feel the same.
The first book was marvelous, enthralling. The second, even more consuming, we couldn't wait for reading time each night, though I had to omit large portions of Ms. Funke's gore from the reading to little ears (while also deleting myriad "good heavens" and other too-frequently repeated phrases, perhaps unfortunate artifacts of the translation from German).
With "Inkdeath," the characters' continual despair and sadness through the first one-half of the book became a running joke with my audience. It got to the point where every time they heard the words "despair," or "cry," my listeners laughed out loud. Yes, 300 pages were too many to establish that life sucks inside a dark story. Real people find ways to cope. Storybook people should too.
Ms. Funke's Inkworld departed the second volume, "Inkspell," with a fistful of teasers. Orpheus entered the Inkworld, Dustfinger departed, leaving devoted Farid desperate to conjure him back. The Adderhead was left immortal, an untenable situation, while Cosimo, his double and his father were all dead, Lombrica taken over by Argenta. Fenoglio and all the Folcharts were inside the Inkworld, save the ultimate book fanatic Elinor. Basta was dead, but Mortola was still at large.
Ms. Funke concealed from us, in "Inkspell," Mo's sabotage of the book of immortality and anticipation that the villain's demise was imminent. Why she withheld this key detail until "Inkdeath" is hard to understand, unless she conceived it in the interim. We had been left wondering why Mo would do such a towering wrong as to hand the story's arch villain endless life, with only a vague notion of undoing it someday. Otherwise, the act was selfish and inconsistent with his character.
"Inkspell" was a fascinating exploration of the idea of entering the very story that one is reading. One of the most intriguing elements was how the author, Fenoglio, failed in his attempts to control the Inkworld by writing more pieces for his mystically endowed readers to bring to life. Fenoglio underestimated the complexity of the world he imagined, failed repeatedly to grasp how his book (or the readers) had merely set a world in motion, a world rapidly gaining its own logically consistent life.
From this point, Ms. Funke chose to spend the entirety of "Inkdeath" marching ponderously toward the undoing of the Adderhead's immortality. She struggles with the scale of her story and loses many of her characters along the way. Entire chapters are wasted telling us how Elinor pines to join her relations in the Inkworld, the reader Darius conveniently nearby as the obvious setup for what comes next. Meggie, central character of the first two novels, is a cardboard cutout of her former self, with a new and entirely irrelevant love interest perhaps serving as an apology for why she's uninvolved in deciding how this whole thing turns out. Farid never even puts up a fight to keep her. Clearly, Ms. Funke lost interest in these characters, which is offensive to readers who came to love them.
Obviously Dustfinger comes back, but not by the fast-turning-trite path of the reader's art, not by Fenoglio's reworking, or via Orpheus's manipulations. This is a fine turn by Ms. Funke, reviving Dustfinger with strings attached, not violating the strictures that had prevented Fenoglio from necromancing his beloved Cosimo.
But in the end, Dustfinger's presence is pretty much a distraction. We never get an enduring reunion of Dustfinger with his wife, Roxane, no full reconciliation between Dustfinger and his daughter Brianne. Dustfinger does little to decide the conclusion and acts pretty much as a red herring.
The wondrous innovation of "Inkheart" was Mortimer Folchart, the book doctor whose voice had unpredictable, dangerous power when used to read aloud. His voice...did it open the door to a world that already existed, or did it give life to the otherwise dead printed word? Rich innovation by Ms. Funke, wasted thereafter. Throughout the rest of the series, Mo never again used the power of his voice to do anything. Appalling oversight. Conceivably, Mo could have read characters out of any book that existed in the Inkworld, but that avenue was unexplored.
Instead, other readers--Meggie, Orpheus, even the milquetoast Darius--were allowed to perform the act with increasing nonchalance. Ms. Funke merely dismissed the previously ominous risks involved--you know, the one that deposited Resa Folchart into the Inkworld in the first place. How did those risks change when reading about the same story that one was inside? We never learned.
Many pages are wasted on Fenoglio turned pathetic drunk lost in his failures, when any author would more likely remain endlessly fascinated with the ability to interact with characters he himself had written. This is a plot conceit used by Ms. Funke to pad a story that needed no padding, had plenty of characters to explore. She temporarily suspended Fenoglio's ability to write so as to explain why he wasn't trying to regain control of his story. Fenoglio already had experienced spectacular failure; no need to waste thousands of words explaining why he might be having a hard time deciding what to do next.
Instead of indulging in her most developed characters, Ms. Funke elaborates on Orpheus, Princess Violante, and her awful son Jacopo.
Violante has to be fleshed out if she's to inherit rule over the Inkworld once her father passes. All in all, she is a bore. Jacopo goes from being an annoyance to taking some of the most decisive actions in the entire series. The story turns on Jacopo! Perhaps the author thought this clever. Depriving the story's better characters of these significant actions left them lacking. Surely Dustfinger, or the Black Prince, deserved a hand in deciding the outcome.
Orpheus is a satisfyingly repugnant villain whose end never comes, leaving open the future of this series. This is hard to stomach. Given that everyone remains to live in Fenoglio's story, why wouldn't Orpheus continue to torment them with distortions of Fenoglio's words? After 683 pages, "Inkdeath" comes to an abrupt halt without resolving any but the most obvious plotlines.
Ms. Funke was so good at departing from convention in her first two books, I wish she had done so again and dispatched the Adderhead within the first hundred pages of "Inkdeath." Life after his passing should have been the conclusion that got fleshed out. The battle between Orpheus and Fenoglio to write the future of the Inkworld! The largely forgotten argument over how and when to return to the real world! What becomes of Dustfinger and Roxane! Meggie's potential as reader and writer, hinted at in "Inkspell" but never elaborated! The story that should have been written all got crammed into a few dismissive paragraphs at the end.
I thank Cornelia Funke for creating this wonderful set of people and places. They are powerful fuel for any good imagination, and for many years my family and I will keep the Inkworld alive in our minds, working to imagine where this story could have gone.