Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Review: 'Reckless I: The Petrified Flesh' by Cornelia Funke, Lionel Wigram, trans. by Oliver Latsch.

Cornelia Funke has owned my heart ever since my father read me Inkheart for the first time. Naturally he read it to me in German and I loved how she literally brought her characters to live from the pages. There is a magic in words and like other authors, Neil Gaiman comes to mind, Funke knows, appreciates and uses this. So of course I wanted to check out her newest and latest! Thanks to Pushkin Children's and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 29/12/2016
Publisher: Pushkin Children's
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. 
The best thing about The Petrified Flesh, the first book in Funke's new trilogy Reckless, is that the fantasy world she creates is fascinating. A beautiful conglomeration of everything to be found in the Grimms' Fairytales, the world behind the mirror is full of magic, witches, fairies, elves, and whatever else you can think of. One of the big joys reading this book is stumbling upon another little Grimms' gem you had forgotten about until it reappeared in Funke's pages. With two of the main characters named after and modelled upon Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms, it should come as no surprise then that the novel consistently moves only within the Grimms' tales. No sad mermaids, no sadder matchstick girls and definitely no pine trees with high Christmas aspirations. However, Funke manages to weave all the different rather well. Although it can become a bit confusing at times, this is rather due to the wrongly paced plot, rather than the world itself. Which leads me to one of my main points of criticism for this novel.

Usually Funke's strength is her story-telling, the weaving together of different fascinating characters and storylines through beautiful prose. Although the beautiful prose still survives into the translation, there are parts of the novel that feel ill-timed. The beginning is too sudden, too quick, introducing a whole range of characters and creatures but not giving the reader enough time to get acquainted with either, let alone start caring for any of them. Although this does improve, it can make the first 70 or so pages of the book a bit of a test. What kept me going was an interest in the world, not any of the human main characters. Conversely, it was the Goyl who I found most interesting and I loved the chapters dedicated to them. What makes the odd pacing especially confusing is that The Petrified Flesh definitely seems to be meant for younger readers, between middle-grade and YA. The chapters are short and sweet, clearly plot-driven and there is little exposition. Each chapter is introduced by a pretty illustration but there is no sense of large world-building as in novels like The Lord of the Rings or even the Narnia chronicles, which, in my opinion, falls within the same reader group. Perhaps for younger readers the pace and motions of the plot will be just fine, but for me they felt off and I found it hard to connect with the novel initially.

No matter the criticism above, Funke completely rewarded my faith in her in this novel. The opening line of the book made me breathe a happy sigh:
'The night was breathing in the apartment like a dark animal.'
The prose in The Petrified Flesh is beautiful. Funke excels at descriptions and there are plenty of those in the novel. She worked on the novel together with Lionel Wigram, the film producer/genius who bought the rights to the Harry Potter books for Warner Bros.. Knowing this, there is definitely a sense in which The Petrified Flesh moves like a film rather than a book. Character development comes from spare moments, quick actions rather than any extended time spent with a character. A reader who approaches this book wanting to sink away into rich prose, world-building, character development and lore might therefore be disappointed. Not that these things don't appear in the novel, but they are there sparsely, woven together by a fragile plot. For younger readers, however, this is a great introduction to both fairy tales and fantasy fiction. Props should also go to translator Oliver Latsch. Although some of the phrasing is occasionally awkward, Funke's writing still comes through very well into English.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Perhaps I was too old for this novel, since the pacing and depth of Reckless: The Petrified Flesh didn't work for me. However, I really appreciated the beauty of Funke's prose and the pleasurable dip back into Grimms' fairy tales. The one think Funke and Wigram have definitely achieved is making me desperate to reread them classics. I'd recommend this to fans of Middle Grade and YA Fantasy.

No comments:

Post a Comment