Reckless, written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke, translated by Oliver Latsch, 394 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

With Reckless Cornelia Funke returns to the dark world of fairy tales, however this time the portal to another world is a mirror instead of the magical voice of a reader. Although their last name is Reckless, brothers Jacob and Will seem to be direct descendants of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and the fairy tales that they recorded. In Reckless, the first book in what is to be a series, Funke proves that she has mastered both the magic and the brutality and cruelty that is at the heart of so many of the traditional fairy tales.

The book begins with twelve year old Jacob, the older Reckless brother, entering the untouched study of his father who has been missing for a year. In a silent rage, Jacob tears apart the room and in turn finds a possible clue to his father's whereabouts - a slip of paper that contains "symbols, equations, a sketch of a peacock, a sun, two moons" and one sentence that reads, "THE MIRROR WILL OPEN FOR HE WHO CANNOT SEE HIMSELF." Jacob turns his attention to a warped and dark antique mirror framed in beautifully wrought silver vines.  Gazing at his reflection, Jacob instinctively places his hand on the mirror, obscuring his face and finds himself in another world where a strange creature is attacking him.  Twelve years later, Jacob has built a life for himself in this Mirrorworld while keeping it a secret from his brother and mother, who has recently died, seemingly of a broken heart.  Until now.  The second chapter of the book jumps right to the heart of the story with almost no time to get a feel for the characters or the world they are in.  Will has been attacked by a Goyl, a human like creature made of stone and ruthless in nature.  Through a spell cast by the Dark Fairy, lover of Kami'en, King of the Goyls, an attack by a Goyl can turn a human into one, and Will's skin is slowly taking on the color of jade, a rare stone amongst their kind.  In fact, the Dark Fairy has prophesied that a jade Goyl will be born, a Goyl who will be an invincible body guard to the King, thus assuring the King's dominance over the country.  This makes Jacob's drive to help his brother and stop the transformation even more desperate.  Not only does he have mere days to reverse this spell, but, with a huge reward on his brother's head, Jacob is trying to reverse the spell on the most sought after Goyl in the land.

Making things more difficult is the appearance of Clara, a medical student who works at the hospital where Jacob and Will's mother stayed.  Although the world she has entered is strange and dangerous, she seems to adapt to her surroundings and grasp the gravity of the situation almost immediately.  Rounding out the quartet is Fox, a girl who attached herself to Jacob when she was nine.  At the age of seven, having rescued a vixen her two older brothers were tormenting, Celeste finds a furry russet dress made of fabric that seems to have been "woven from the same silky hair" as that of the fox.  Putting it on, the girl finds she can become a fox.  And, as Jacob often reminds her, the longer she wears the dress that turned her into a vixen, the more likely she would stay in that form forever.  While her love for Jacob is clear, Fox also seems to have an almost desperate need for him, as well as a sixth sense that allows her to know what he is thinking, even when he tries to shield it from her, and protect her, which is often.  She is both fierce and impulsive like a wounded child, but as loyal as one who has been shown love and regard.  The four make an uneasy group and the tension between Jacob and Clara and Clara and Fox is clear from the start.  When Jacob realizes that the only hope he has to help his brother is to find the elusive Red Fairy, once a lover of his, and trick her into revealing a way to bring the Dark Fairy to her knees, he decides to enlist (with force) the help of Evanaugh Valiant, a treasure hunter of magical objects like himself, and dwarf, who double-crossed Jacob the first time he tried to find the island of the Red Fairy.

The various aspects of the story and the setting for this tale are compelling and rich, but the relentless tone of brutality and violence is difficult to bear over the course of the book, an aspect of Funke's Inkworld trilogy that I also found wearing.  As an adult, and knowing that this book, at least according to the classification system of the bookstore where I work, is intended for teens, I found the romantic tensions between Jacob, Fox and Clara fascinating but not explored as deeply as I would have liked.  Also, the aspect of Reckless that I found most compelling, the fact that Jacob makes his living in Mirrorworld "retrieving" magical objects for resale, like the Golden Ball from the Princess and the Frog tale or "needles that healed wounds with a single stitch and owl feathers that restored the power of sight," is the one that I think is least explored in the book.  Items and their abilities are catalogued and even sometimes employed, like the Rapunzel-hair that acts as the strongest, longest rope that it's owner needs, but they are not integral to the story and are almost asides.  Maybe I am just too enchanted by Michael Buckley's Sister's Grimm series, which is big on magical artifacts and their properties and how they affect those who wield them, almost as big on humor and in possession of just right touch of romantic tensions between characters for middle grade readers.  I would love to see that formula taken up a few grades in terms of older readers, but Reckless is not that kind of series. I have no idea how many books Funke plans for this series, but it is definitely a series. Yet, despite the fact that Reckless is a mere 100 pages less than her Inkworld books, it somehow feels shorter and less developed.  Perhaps the next book in the series will bring the back stories and details that feel missing from this one.

First Impressions as a Reader

I think I listed all of my likes and dislikes above. I did like this book and I look forward to reading the rest of the series, although I do find it a bit underdeveloped and brisk in it's story telling as well as bit too dark and violent. Funke is a marvelous, skilled writer and, while I find her too dark and brutal at times, she creates wonderful worlds with Old World European foundations that I enjoy (with trepidation) immersing myself in.  I feel that her Inkworld books did a better job standing alone as stories.  They felt more complete, despite the fact that Reckless does bring closure to one of it's major story lines.  Funke loves to solve one dilemma while creating another that will direct the plot of the next book in the series.  

First Impressions of a CYBILS Judge Who Has Agreed to Read and Consider a Short List of Books for the Honor of Best Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade) 2010 

This book is not for kids.  As I said above, the romantic aspects and the brutality and cruelty humans (and non-humans) enact upon each other is intense.  As a bookseller and a parent, I would not put this into the hands of a reader under the age of 13 unless I knew his/her complete reading history and the values of the reader's parents.

Final Impressions:  Literary Merit vs. Kid Appeal

Overall Impression: 
Kids who  have read Funke's 
Inkworld books will pick this book up, especially if they find it shelved in the kid's section of the library and not the more appropriate teen section, although I suspect the appeal might not extend much father than . While I can imagine more girls reading this book than boys, I think that there is some definite overlap with John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series from the kid's section and Joseph Delaney's Last Apprentice series for teens

Funke is an marvelous writer and this book is innovative and interesting, if dark.  The world she creates is a complete one, although her characters feel a bit underdeveloped in this, the first book in the series.

Rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (The Roar and When You Reach Me being a 9 in terms of literary merit) : 8

Rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and 39 Clues being a 9 in terms of kid appeal) : 2


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