Having captured a worldwide tribe of older child fans with her Inkheart fantasies, Cornelia Funke turned to younger readers with Dragon Rider and the Ghosthunters series. Now she is eyeing an older market again. Reckless is a shorter and stylistically more daring book than Inkheart, a riff on the dark side of fairy tales which uses words with such laconic intensity that events that would fill a meaner author's book are contained in a single paragraph.
Its opening lines get you nestling down, determined not to be disturbed: "The night breathed through the apartment like a dark animal. The ticking of a clock. The groan of a floorboard as he slipped out of his room. All was drowned by its silence. But Jacob loved the night. He felt it on his skin like a promise. Like a cloak woven from freedom and danger."
But by halfway through chapter two, you are feeling a little thrown. So much seems to have already happened, but this is the first of a new series, not a sequel. Be patient. After a slightly rocky ride, you are caught up in the hauntingly doom-laden adventures of Jacob and Will: using the Grimm brothers' Christian names is no accident.
They are searching for their father in a world where ghouls and long-legged beasties are the least of human troubles. There are briar-covered towers, a subterranean race of men made of semi-precious stones, a gingerbread cottage with deadly plants in the garden, an unreliable dwarf, a shape-shifting fox and a war between fairy sisters that bodes ill for the fracturing relationship between the brothers. Spiders' webs span the eye-sockets of skulls in the unicorns' graveyard; the moths of fairies spin tents as delicate as lacewings.
There is, perhaps, too much engineering of events by magic, and not enough driving of plot by character – perhaps a result of the story being co-plotted with film producer Lionel Wigram. Need to be invisible to scale a glass-sided palace? Fortunately you have a couple of snails whose slime makes you disappear for a few hours as you use a Rapunzel hair that morphs into an unbreakable rope – though you want to watch out for the temporary paralysis that will leave you helpless at the feet of the Jade Goyl. We feel we are watching a show by a master-puppeteer. But with a curtain-raiser like this, who cares? More, please, Cornelia.