Yesterday's book (The Menagerie) was one I happily recommended to nine-year olds wanting fantasy fun; today book I can also recommend whole-heartedly, but it is very different...one I think that has as much cross-over appeal to adult readers as it does to the YA readers to whom it is marketed.
Fearless, by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown, April 2, 2013, YA), is the sequel to Reckless (my review), which told how Jacob, a boy from our world who became a treasure-hunter in a mirrorworld where fairy tales are true, sacrificed himself to save his younger brother. And now Jacob, waiting for the fairy curse to strike that will end his life, is on the greatest treasure hunt of his life, this time looking for the last thing he hopes can save him. It is a weapon crafted by an evil witch king long ago, full of powerful (and potentially horrible) magic...and Jacob isn't the only one hunting for it. Pitted against him every step of the way is another treasure hunter, one of the stone-skinned Goyl, and their race across an alternate Europe of magic come true might well kill them both.
Fortunately, and heart-rendingly, for Jacob, he is not alone--Fox, the shapeshifting girl who almost broke my heart in the first book, is with him, and here in this book they both have come to understand that their love for each other is the bedrock of their lives. But Jacob is dying...and so desperate fear tempers their relationship. They have saved each other countless times before, but now they are stretched so painfully thin by this most horrible quest that hope would seem impossible, if the alternative was not so unthinkable.
Note: The relationship between Jacob and Fox is so real, so immediate, so beautiful, and so rooted in their complex pasts that I can't think of any other romance that comes close (except that of Eugenides and Irene, in Megan Whalen Turner's books). But it is not a physical romance (understandable, given the circumstances) so those looking for swoonish kisses should look elsewhere.
Unfortunately for Jacob's opponent, the Goyl Nerron, not all travelling companions are a good thing. Nerron is saddled with a nasty teenaged prince, along with his ass of a tutor, and a bodyguard--an inhuman Waterman, with motivations of his own, and their internal power struggles add a somewhat grimly diverting second layer of conflict to the story. Despite the handicaps who travel with him, Nerron pushes Jacob and Fox at every turn....but fascinatingly, though he seems at first to be the ostensible "bad guy" opponent of the piece, and though up to the last minute the suspense is killer, he is still nuanced, and even sympathetic....
So what we have, to summarize, is killer characters in a killer story. Added to that are episodes of fairy tale-ness that made bright vivid pictures in my mind--for instance, the book includes one of the most memorable Bluebeard retellings ever.
That being said, this isn't a fast read of magical zipping-ness. The pages turned slowly, not because I wasn't interested, but because I was so absorbed, even when I wasn't in places where I wanted to be. Those place weren't the dark scary exciting bits, of which there were many, and which I did enjoy, but rather those times when the burning ache of Fox's and Jacob's desperation surfaces. Though they must be fearless, they can't help but fear.
So no, not happy escapist fun. Not a book that kids would necessarily appreciate, though many teens might. I mysef found it a darn good book (mainly because I love Fox so very much!). I think it has stuck in my mind so firmly that, although I can imagine re-reading it, I won't need to for a long while.
Here's another review, at In Bed With Books
disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher for review