The Plot: When Jacob Reckless is twelve years old, he discovers a mirror in his father’s study that takes him into a world where fairy tales are real. Twelve years later, his brother Will follows him through the mirror, eager to discover his brother’s secrets and to visit this strange new world where dreams come true. Nightmares are also dreams, and fairy tales are not safe and cozy. Will is hurt and Jacob has to use all he has learned in the Mirrorworld to save his brother.
The Good: If Percy Jackson and the Olympians sent kids to the library asking for Greek myths, Reckless will have them wanting the original fairy tales Funke weaves throughout her story.
Gingerbread houses and children-eating witches? Real in the Mirrorworld. Jacob has spent years escaping into the mirror, away from his mother who mourns a lost husband and a brother with his own needs. In Mirrorworld, Jacob’s freedom has allowed him to be fearless. With no one to care for but himself, he becomes a treasure hunter, seeking out the magical and cursed objects of stories: glass slippers, spinning wheels, talking mirrors. “There was always something to hunt for in this world. And most of the time it helped him forget that he had never been able to find the one thing he really wanted.”
Dark magic has hurt Will and Jacob races to save him. Jacob isn’t alone; Fox, a girl who can change into a fox, is his friend and companion in the Mirrorworld. Will’s girlfriend, Clara, a medical student, senses something wrong and enters the Mirrorworld. The Mirrorworld isn’t all medieval fantasy. Oh, yes, there is an Empress with a princess daughter and Fairies and Dwarfs and Ogres. There is darkness and death. It is also industrial — in the past few years, trains and guns and factories have sprung up. What have also risen is the Goyl, a people made from stone, who have left their caves to battle humans. Instead of being hunted for sport by humans, they have attacked, organized an army, and are winning. Jacob doesn’t care about politics and battles. He only cares about the hunt: before, treasure hunting, now, hunting for a cure for his brother.
Those who insist that you can tell the audience of a book by the age of the main characters will be puzzled by Reckless. While Jacob and Will are children in the first chapter, they are adults for the rest of the book. A book for children and teens about a twenty-four year old? Yes. It is a book about Grimm’s Fairy Tales come real, full of adventure with real risks. Children and teens will eat it up, and adults will remember that such Fairy Tales are also for grown-ups.
Reckless is also a book about love: love for friends, love for family, love between brothers. In some ways, Jacob is still a twelve year old boy who misses his father and doesn’t want to share with his younger brother while feeling responsible for that younger brother. In that, it doesn’t matter to the reader that Jacob is older than they are because he feels what they do, wants what they want: adventure! fun! freedom! Here is the pesky younger sibling who wants to tag along, also, and of course, doesn’t the younger brother muck things up? Of course Jacob will fix it, and show all his gifts and talents and courage. This is about Jacob figuring out his place in the world and his family and taking responsibility instead of running. It doesn’t matter that Jacob is twenty-four. If anything, his age will help expand the audience for this book to teens and adults. It’s a book for those of us who were always more interested in Mo and Dustfinger from Funke’s Inkheart books.
I loved the writing, the story telling, the language, so credit to three people: Cornelia Funke, who wrote it; and, as the credits say, to Cornelia Funke and Lionel Wigram who “found and told” the story; and Oliver Latsch, translator. My copy of the book is full of post-its to mark sentences I loved. The first sentence, after the chapter heading of Once Upon a Time: “The night breathed through the apartment like a dark animal.” And this is what you need to know about Jacob even before he finds the mirror: “Jacob loved the night. He felt it on his skin like a promise. Like a cloak woven from freedom and danger.” And this, which is true for all of us, Mirrorworld or no: “The present swiftly became the past, and the future suddenly wore strange clothes.”
“If you’re looking for happily ever after… You’ve come to the wrong place.”
Because Funke breaks the rules by making a book for children that features adults; because anyone, of any age, who wants a good story will love this; because of its smart use of fairy tales that expects the reader to understand the references; because Jacob’s journey is heartbreaking; because the adventure is full of twists and turns and the unexpected; Reckless is a Favorite Book Read in 2010.
Cornelia Funke’s Brave New World at The Los Angeles Times