Cornelia Funke is a big-name children’s author. She’s had two of her books turned into films (Inkheart and Thief Lord) and for a few years when Harry Potter and magic ruled the shelves, Funke was all the rage with the under 13 set. And I still think she’s a big name, though her previous book, Reckless had a much quieter reception than usual. I have to admit I come late to Funke – Reckless was the first novel I read by her, and now Ghost Knight is the second. Ghost Knight is a return to her usual target audience and tone – a light fantasy adventure story for 8-12 year old readers, though not without some scary moments.
Set in Salisbury, England, Ghost Knight takes advantage of all the legendary hauntings in the city and its cathedral. The main character, Jon Whitcroft, has just been sent to boarding school in Salisbury by his long-suffering mother. With all the furore of an eleven-year-old, Jon hates his mother’s new boyfriend, “The Beard.” His attempts to sabotage their relationship seems to have made him very unpopular in the family – and his latest stunt has resulted in him being packed off to boarding school.
The story really gets going when Jon is chased through the school grounds by a evil-looking gang of ghosts intent on killing him. None of his classmates can see them, but thankfully his attractive schoolmate Ella, who has experience in these matters, believes him and offers to help. Together they summon the spirit of Sir William Longspee to help, and together the three face a vendetta and a mystery dating back several centuries.
As I said, this book is fun and rather charming. The illustrations are beautiful, and would make it a very pleasant read for most 9-11 year olds (and their parents). What I found frustrating is that the plot seemed to have mostly resolved itself about 2/3 of the way through the book. Though there were still mysteries to solve, there was no big climax at the end. Instead there were a number of smaller climaxes scattered through the last two-thirds of the novel. So while I was pulled along enough to finish Ghost Knight, I wished the suspense and pace had been more intense during the last hundred pages or so. Also odd was the narration, which told the story from the future. One got the feeling that an adult Jon was narrating in a wiser voice-over, much like The Wonder Years. This led to some so-so foreshadowing, but mostly it took another chunk out of the suspense and supposedly life-threatening situations.
I wish I had read Inkheart to know how Ghost Knight compares. For me, this was a decent read, with some nice imagination and ok characters. However, I wanted it to be just a little bit better and more-attention grabbing throughout. Perhaps I’ll have to bite the bullet and watch that terrible Brendan Fraser movie after all?