If you think I'm a Grinch for giving this book three stars, then you'll be furious when I tell you that I really wanted to just give it two, but somewhere in my three-sizes-too-small heart, I felt compelled to recognize some of the creativity in this and so I've conceded a star.

Inkheart opens on Meggie, a twelve year old girl raised by her father (whose name is Mortimer and rather than call him Dad, she calls him Mo) in a house where books cover every inch of available space. Mo repairs books for a living and when he's not repairing them, he's reading them. Meggie has also inherited the reading gene, and even sleeps with a book under her pillow, so it can whisper a story into her ear. And while we're told by Meggie everything that would suggest this is a cozy home and loving (albeit small) family where they keep no secrets from each other, we're immediately thrust into events that put all of this on its ear.

Meggie sees a man looking up at the house in the middle of the night and while her father mocks her for imagining things, when he sees for himself, he recognizes him and lets the man in. His name is Dustfinger and he calls Meggie's father "Silvertongue." What results is Mo futilely spending a lot of time trying to hide things from Meggie. He even tries to ditch Dustfinger and take Meggie to her great-aunt Elinor's home, but he's forced to bring him along. (The book obsession runs in the blood on both sides of the family, evidently, because Elinor's home is more like a library, with incredibly valuable books under lock and key.) But of course, the truth eventually comes out to reveal that Meggie's father has kept much bigger secrets from her than she ever thought possible.

Mortimer is called "Silvertongue" by Dustfinger because he has a wondrous and terrible gift: when Mortimer reads aloud from books, things happen. More specifically, items from the story he is reading are conjured out of thin air and characters are literally brought to life -- but the price for such transport seems to be that items from this world would disappear into the story. Nine years ago, while he was reading a book called Inkheart to Meggie's mother, Mortimer accidentally brought three men from the book to life... Dustfinger and two villains named Capricorn and Basta. And if this wasn't terrible enough, Meggie's mother was taken in to the book. Despite many attempts, Mo could never read Teresa out of the book and so he was left alone with their baby daughter.

For the past nine years, Dustfinger survived in the world by performing tricks like a gypsy... eating fire and juggling at carnivals, but he still remains homesick for the world in the book, even though he can never bear to read the book's ending to discover his fate. Capricorn, meanwhile, built up an army of henchmen in this world and desperately wants to capture Mortimer and use his skills for his own purposes. Sure, Capricorn found some other guy who could read things out of books, but they never quite turned out well, and so he wants Silvertongue to read out an evil that would make Capricorn all-powerful. In addition, Capricorn has been collecting copies of Inkheart, so Mo might have the only copy that is not already in Capricorn's possession. Without Inkheart to read from, Mo has no hope of ever rescuing Teresa from the book. And so now, Dustfinger has apparently arrived to warn Mortimer that Capricorn knows his latest hiding spot... but no one realizes (the all too obvious fact) that Dustfinger has betrayed them... in many ways.

For the rest of the book, Mo, Meggie, Elinor and Dustfinger are captured, escape, and are captured again by Capricorn and his henchmen, with Basta at the forefront. A host of villainous characters are at his disposal and our good guys are desperate to discover a way to thwart Capricorn while still keeping a copy of Inkheart safe. Over the course of the story, we pick up a few other characters, including a boy conjured from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, a mute woman brought out of Inkheart who looks suspiciously familiar, and the author of Inkheart himself who feels responsible for the men he created out of ink and paper.

On the positive side, I'm generally approving of any book that promotes literature in such a way. There's something about being a child who loves books reading a book about people who love books... it makes you sense the true value and magic of the written word. And the idea of someone who can read things out of books is good enough... but the fact that there is a price to be paid for it is even better. And hey, I have to give points to any book that quotes The Princess Bride.

But as far as my grievances go, there's a big problem that I have with the adult characters in general. Rather than have scenes demonstrate things about these characters and their attributes, we're TOLD everything about them. We certainly understand that Meggie is utterly devoted to Mo, but I didn't actually feel as though Mo was really all that overly fond of his daughter. He must be, sure -- he knew his responsibility and took care of her, but we didn't get many scenes yielding evidence of tender father-daughter affection. The bad guys talk about how he's so besotted with his daughter so she's great bait for drawing him to Capricorn, and we're told (mostly by Meggie) how close they are, but the scenes in the book were mostly scenes where Mo is supposedly doing something out of character... using a stern voice or keeping secrets. His face was also supposed to be an open book, but unless it was just that confusion for all of this muddled him so much, I didn't see him as a very well-defined character with very obvious emotions. We're also told that the bag guys are evil but they didn't seem so bad to me. It's a case of their bark being worse than their bite. Was this because we were trying to spare kids from having nightmares? It's not like the whole book wasn't spent with characters running in fear. Or perhaps we were relying on the reader to be so appalled by the burning of a library... but that's not the same kind of evil as was attributed to Capricorn and Basta. Elinor's character has a different problem... she started out as a character who was much more abrasive in the beginning and ended up as someone we were supposed to love, but the switch didn't make much sense to me. Meggie is fairly strong as a twelve year old bookworm, so I don't find much fault with her character (aside from her name, which I want to be Maggie every time I write it out). As for Dustfinger... well, I think he got off lightly once you realize the extent of his betrayal. Hardly excusable, even if he's homesick and sad. I'm not quite sure why we still view him as a "good guy" in the end.

I was fidgety and somewhat annoyed through most of this book, and I read it over the course of two days (a) because even if it's thick, it's a kid's book and the type is large and (b) because I didn't want to spend more time on it. Things seemed only somewhat dark (and while you knew things would end well, the feeling of things was rather bleak in terms of landscape and lack of character banter) and I didn't get enough of a fall from grace feeling to believe the world was ever better than the one that included Capricorn. A reunion scene at the end of the book seemed to be a bit lacking, though everything ended with a tidy bow. Sure, it's a children's book, but I was under the impression that the writing was really trying to explain to kids that the world is dangerous beyond super-villains, and then everything seems a-okay? Hm. I have mixed feelings about cutting this book some slack given its intended audience, but I also feel like there's clearly talent in these pages, and so the issues I have seem the result of some sloppy ideas. We could have spent more time on character development and less time running through hills only to be captured again. Alas. I doubt I'll be reading the sequels to this one any time soon, but knowing me and my obsession with finishing things completely, I might end up doing so in the future. But in paperback -- at least I've learned my lesson there.

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