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(Normally my book reviews are short and not worth cross-posting from Amazon to LiveJournal, but this one might spark some interesting discussions and might entertain those who've read the book. Enjoy!)

I really liked the premise behind Inkheart: the idea that certain people have the magical ability to read characters and objects out of well-loved books into the real world. There's a lot of potential in this idea. Unfortunately, I felt that the idea was wasted on the characters, who are almost completely ineffective against the villains fate has loosed upon them.

Let's start with the main POV character, Meggie. She's a bookish little girl who gets abruptly dragged into the world of the grownups when a fictional character knocks at her door one gloomy evening with news of dark import. Meggie is a quiet girl who spends most of the book wishing she could just go home and have everything be normal again. She is a person whom the events of the book happen to; almost never does she have a positive impact on the plot, with the exception of the climax, in which all she does is follow the instructions given her by adults. She is, however, often used by the antagonists as leverage against the good guys. In summary, Meggie is a boat anchor without whom everyone else in the book would be better off.

The rest of the protagonists are little better. Mo, Meggie's father, loves books and repairs them professionally; his is the magical ability to read things off the page. And that's about all he's good for. Mo loves his daughter very much and will do anything to ensure her safety; the bad guys find this a very convenient lever to manipulate him with, and he's basically powerless to resist. Dustfinger is the fictional character who wants to get back home; he can manipulate fire and has street smarts to spare, but his moral ambiguity and near total self-interest make him all but useless to anyone else. Eleanor is a flustery old lady who loves books, aaand that's about it. None of them have any skills that are useful against Capricorn, and none seem to have any interest in acquiring them. All of them spend most of the book wringing their hands and running for their lives.

Capricorn is the Big Bad of Inkheart. He's a psychopath who loves power and hates pretty much everything else. Basta is his sadistic, knife-loving flunky. There's really not much more that can be said about any of the characters; none of them have much depth. The only marginally interesting character [SPOILERS from this point out] is Fenoglio, who wrote the book that Capricorn and Dustfinger originate from; his glee at seeing his characters literally come to life even while they're threatening him with blunt objects is good for a laugh, and his eagerness to write a new ending for his stories is heart-warming. Unfortunately, he doesn't even appear until halfway through the book, and Capricorn immediately uses the same tactic of manipulation on him that worked so well on Mo.

The plot is nothing to write home about: The unhappy band of protagonists start out living in fear of Capricorn, are then captured by him, escape, flee, are recaptured, and finally confront him with the power of the written word. What really bothered me about this book was that none of the characters seemed capable of taking a stand against Capricorn, and there are obvious ways they could have done so. Leaving aside the possibility of getting Dustfinger to buy a gun and assassinate Capricorn (anticlimactic), the ability to pull anything you want out of a book is vastly under-utilized. My library is nowhere near the size of Eleanor's, and if you gave me 30 seconds to find you a hero to save the day I'd be able to get you five or six books to choose from. Honor Harrington, Luke Skywalker, freakin' King Arthur--any one of those could have easily handled Capricorn, who is crazy and evil but is actually not that great of a villain (he keeps having to shift his little base from town to town as the authorities catch on to what he's doing).

I think the reliance on Ms. Funke's original characters is actually the single greatest weakness of this book; she could have had opposing characters read in from half a dozen different universes, set them at each other's throats, with pitched warfare, sneaky backstabbing, and shifting alliances, and this would have been an awesome book. As it is, we get Tinkerbell and The Little Tin Soldier and that's it. Wasted opportunity, I say!

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