Reckless: A Dark Modern Twist on Classic Fairy-Tales

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In honor of the Lytherus interview with Cornelia Funke coming up this weekend, it seemed only right to review her most recent book, Reckless. Based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales, this first book in a new series hit the shelves on September 14th of 2010.

In all honesty, I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if I hadn’t planned on going to hear the author talk at a lecture. Fairy-tales aren’t exactly my thing, and though I don’t despise them, I often pass over books with this theme to something a little more… hard core. But, you know what they say about when you assume something. Yet again, my pre-conceived stereotypes have been broken. This book was so completely different than anything I was expecting, and it was way darker than I thought it would be.

This book is about a world on the other side of a mirror. Through the Looking Glass for modern times, if you will. Jacob and Will’s father disappeared when they were young boys, and one day twelve-year-old Jacob took a risk and explored his father’s study, looking for answers. What he found instead was that by simply touching the beautiful mirror on the wall just so, he was transported to a world where fairy-tales rule supreme. Elves, dwarves, and fairies abound. Humans exist, but so do ogres and dragons. And then there are the Goyl. Made from semi-precious stone, from Moonstone to Jasper, these beings were despised because of their uncanny resemblance to humans. Though they had colored stone for skin and yellow eyes, they looked and acted the same. So they were persecuted out of fear.

Over a decade passes. Will has followed Jacob into Mirrorworld, which Jacob has visited so often since his youth that he now considers it his true home. But there is a war going on, and Will becomes a casualty. The Goyl now have a king, and with the help of the evil dark fairy they are conquering all the cities who over the years made them suffer. The fairy gave them strength, putting a curse on all the enemies of the Goyl: whenever the Goyl’s black, stony nails cut the flesh of a human, stone was sowed, and within days the injured human became a Goyl of his own.

That’s how the story really starts out. Will is injured, and the traces of stone are starting to seep across his body. It’s a race against time for Jacob to try and find a cure. But the enemies are after him, because Will’s stone is Jade, the rarest, and a prophesy states a Jade Goyl will make the king invincible. Throw in some characters like a shape-shifting girl who prefers her fox form, and Will’s girlfriend from Earth, mix thoroughly, and you have a imaginative, fast-paced tale that kept me up into the wee hours.

Having read the author’s Inkheart trilogy and the beautiful story-telling it contained, I wasn’t expecting the abrupt, succinct writing style that this book presented. There were lots of non-sentences, flashes of detail that bring the reader into the heart of the story. Not worse, by any means, but such a different feel that I noticed it immediately. I honestly believe that the writing added so much to the telling of the story that it would feel like a completely different tale should it be changed.

This is not a happy sweet place with gentle, beautiful things around every corner. For example, at one point the characters have to pass through a field full of unicorns, and if the immense scars on Jacob’s back are any indication, these are not the lovely, innocent creatures from the movie Legend. This is just one example of many where typical fantasy stereotypes are challenged. Some are there, for sure (like the cameo of Sleeping Beauty and her rose-covered castle), but they are woven so well into the story along with these new ideas that everything feels like truth.

The ending totally threw me. Looking back now, I should have seen it coming, but the author is so good at what she does that I didn’t suspect a thing. Those out-of-left-field surprises are one of my favorite parts of reading, and Funke delivered beautifully. But it is by no means tied up, and I will definitely be pondering how the author plans to resolve these issues in the next book. This was a quick, interesting, and entertaining read. Though dark, it wasn’t heavy, and being chock-full of fantasy made for a nice escape from reality.

This is not your Grandmother’s fairy tale, for sure.

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