My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Please note that this review refers to the Orion edition (October 2012 – 978 1 4440 0823). You can see a picture of this edition here and I very much recommend you do take a look – the front cover is just gorgeous and the overall look is probably one of the loveliest packages I’ve seen for a while.
And now, down to the review!
Cornelia Funke is one of those names that needs very little introduction. She’s an international standard bearer for children’s literature and fantastical adventure in particular. In Ghost Knight, she takes a slightly different tack and roots her story in the solid base of a boarding school in Salisbury. New boy Jon Whitcroft, sent away to school whilst his mother stays at home with the much loathed “Beard” – her new partner. Jon’s time at school starts on a very difficult note – and that note is that he’s seeing Ghosts.
Ghosts who want to kill him.
It’s up to Jon and his new friend Ella to solve the mystery of why the ghosts want Jon so much. And it’s Ella who introduces Jon to William Longspee – a Knight who’s sworn to protect those in need of aid. The thing of it is, that William Longspee is also a ghost…
Written originally in Funke’s native German, this book is translated by Oliver Latsch. I always think that it’s important to acknowledge the work of a translator when working with books originally written in a different language. The writing in Ghost Knight is definitely for a slightly younger audience. I found the sentences very complete in themselves; it’s quite a precisely written book which means it’s going to be very accessible to a lot of people. There are a few moments which may require explanation – there’s a couple of references to “bastards” for example, used in the parentage meaning of the word and not as a swear-word.
I had a little bit of an issue with the occasional interjection of “today” Jon into the narrative. Something like this, where you know the narrator is telling it from an adult perspective (so survived any trauma they experienced in the story because you know they grew up), sometimes removes tension and immediacy from the story. This was probably the only thing that knocked off a star for me and I’m aware it’s a very personal issue of mine.
On a whole though Ghost Knight is full of riches. The illustrations by Andrea Offermann are to die for. They’re plentiful and strewn throughout the book in a mixture of double page spreads, single pages, and winding up the side of paragraphs. They’re dark and powerful and intensely evocative. I loved them. I want more books like this, books that make you catch your breath when you open them. The production of this book is brilliant and I can’t see it not appealing to people.
The story itself is very lovely. I really enjoyed the relationship between Jon and Ella. It’s ace to have a boy lead in a school story. He’s a bit of a dork around Ella (ZOMG A GIRL) but when it comes to it, he’s brave and noble and kind of awesome. And I loved how he grew throughout the story. Funke writes boys really, really well and I think that’s an awesome gift.
What I also enjoyed about this book is that I can see it spiralling off into a thousand follow up activities. English history is full of stuff like this, kings hidden in carparks and grey ladies in theatres, and using Ghost Knight as a springboard for a ghostly treasure hunt might end up in something sort of amazing. I don’t think you can go wrong with a book like this, I really don’t.