Reckless by Cornelia Funke and Lionel Wigram. Translated by Oliver Latsch. Read by Eliott Hill.
Once upon a time, a father disappeared, leaving his wife and two sons. One night, his oldest son went into his abandoned study and discovered that the dark mirror on his wall was really a portal to a parallel world, one where fairies and fairy tales were real. Years later, Jacob Reckless still divided his time between the fairy tale world and our world, but spent more and more time in the pretend world, where he kept looking for his father. He was at least able to ignore the problems in his life in the real world until the time when his little brother caught him leaving and insisted on coming with him. They had a chance encounter with some goyl, living gargoyle-like creatures of stone, and Will was infected with the stone plague, cursed to turn slowly to goyl. Now Jacob must use his skills and contacts as a hunter of legendary treasures from the old tales to find a cure for his brother before he is turned completely to stone. With Jacob and Will are Jacob’s friend Fox, a fox-girl; and Clara, Will’s doctor girlfriend.
It took a little while for me to get into this book – Jacob abandoning his little brother and their failing, grief-stricken mother isn’t at first a sympathetic character. It wasn’t until everyone started off on the mission in the fairy tale world that the story started to come together. Once it does, though the quest is nearly impossible and the obstacles enormous, the characters and the detailed world are just as important as the plot. It’s a dark fairy tale world, one where they find Sleeping Beauty, still looking young and beautiful but just as clearly dead, and where they make their way through a dark and dangerous wood to the abandoned home of a child-eating witch. (I appreciated that there were also healing witches, who’d recently formally separated themselves from their “child-eating sisters”.) The happy endings may be make-believe, but the magic of the world is still seductive and compelling. Meanwhile, our characters: Jacob is dealing with tons of guilt for having left his brother for so long and for letting something so bad happen to Will. Fox, born a human but more comfortable as a fox, is just moving from puppy-worship of Jacob to a more adult and decidedly more uncomfortable attraction. Will and Clara are watching his humanity and his memories of being human fade while stranded in a hostile world. It’s a little curious that this was billed as teen, because all of our main characters are in their 20s. Still, while there’s violence, it’s low on overt sexuality, and the struggles of slightly older than usual orphans trying to find their way is appealing to teens. The world edges a bit closer to horror than I usually like, but the characters were engrossing enough for me to overlook this. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and am taking the second book in the series, Fearless (out last month) home with me today.