Review: Living Shadows (Reckless book 2) by Cornelia Funke


Summary:

Jacob Reckless is running out of time. The Fairy’s curse, however unwillingly given, will kill him, and soon. In his wild race across Mirrorworld, he hasn’t found a single magical object that might save him. But in the tomb of a warlock, he finds a clue to the most powerful weapon in the world. Wielded rightly, it might be his only hope. 

But he and Fox are not the only ones seeking the ultimate prize. And warlocks are tricky at best. Who knows if the crossbow will even work?

Review:

Finally, some treasure hunting! For me, the first book (reviewed and over-analysed here) was all about tying Jacob to our world. When we first meet him, he’s already lost to the mirror, spending minimal time at home and almost forgetting his close bond with his brother. It’s a perfect introduction to Mirrorworld, especially because we can see it through Clara’s experience (Will being largely indisposed). But this book is where it really kicks off. To stop the Fairy’s curse from eating his heart, Jacob must travel throughout Mirrorworld, crossing borders and seas and really demonstrating his impressive skills and experience as a treasure hunter. We get to see more magical objects, more non-human creatures, and a more complex political background to this world – from the spectacle of Albion’s war fleet to the micro-effects of a resident Bluebeard on the local population. And throughout, there’s the mystery of Guismond. Possibly the most powerful warlock in Mirrorworld, and certainly notorious, not least because he made an entire city disappear upon his death.

I do want to return briefly to the issues I raised with the last book. The Dwarf Valiant makes a reappearance, and though he does show some signs of fondness for Jacob and Fox (grumbling about how much they owe him rather than extorting them for payment), he’s still as greedy as ever. The only other Dwarf representation is the Dwarf Council, characterised by concern for tradition and preservation of history and, in the end, given to inaction due to squabbles.

There are also some interesting developments with regards to the not-entirely-human characters. Having devoted significant space to assuring us that Fox is now a woman, old enough to be mistaken for Jacob’s wife (the vixen fur makes her age faster), Funke then goes on to portray her as a victim of the desire that this ageing (arguably her fault) makes ‘appropriate’. This is negated somewhat by her impressive role in the final scenes, but it’s still there and I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with it.

The male half-human characters, on the other hand, continue to be characterised by stupidity, petty evil and grotesqueness. The Waterman, the Man-Stag, Man-Swans again, even the Fir Darrig, all carry one or more of these traits – all are grotesque, to varying degrees. The gender divide, along with the unchallenged perspective that all these creatures mentioned above are men-only species, is at this point definitely odd. For most of these creatures, there is some fairy tale reasoning behind their existence and maleness, but I’m not sure it’s convincing. I’d like to see, if Funke continues to employ these characters, whether she can contemplate writing a female half-human as grotesque at all.

Living Shadows by Cornelia Funke was published by Pushkin Press in September 2016. You can buy it from Waterstones here

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