Die Farbe der Rache by Cornelia Funke

“And they all lived happily ever after.” That wasn’t quite the ending of Cornelia Funke’s epic Tintenherz (Inkheart) trilogy — some 2000 pages of action in and between the author’s world and the world within the books, complete with characters who can cross the borders and others who can write the stories from within — but readers could be forgiven for thinking it was. Enemies had been defeated, at great cost, but peace descended upon the lands that mattered, and the protagonists had most of their hearts’ desires.

Die Farbe der Rache by Cornelia Funke

But “ever after” is a mighty long time and although Orpheus, the most persistent antagonist from the trilogy had been vanquished, the last chapter of Tintentod (Inkdeath) only said that he had fled to the mountains far to the north where “he had hopefully frozen to death.” (Tintentod, p. 737) At the start of The Color of Revenge (as the English translation will be titled when it is published later in 2024), Funke shows her large cast of protagonists enjoying life in the peaceful city of Ombra. Mo and Resa, Staubfinger (Dustfinger, the English version of his name, is somehow unsatisfying) and Roxanne are content in domestic tranquility with the partners they had been separated from for so many years of the trilogy’s stories. The biggest event is that Meggie, now-adult daughter of Mo and Resa, is about to undertake a longer journey with her beloved Doria. The parents fret about sending the young people out into the wider world for months at a time, just as they recognize that holding them back would be ungenerous and probably impossible. What is parenting about, if not raising people who will in turn strike out into the world on their own?

Soon, though, there are signs that the collection of heroes will have much more to worry about. The most worrying is the report that Eisenglanz, the glassman who served Orpheus faithfully for many years, has been seen in Ombra. Perhaps his master did not freeze in the far north after all. The second chapter switches locations and reveals that Orpheus has landed in a northern city, is eking out a living as a tutor to the children of the city’s wealthiest citizens, and is nursing his grievances. But he has gained access to dire magical assistance, and very quickly his plan to put almost all of the heroes out of action succeeds.

Only Staubfinger and the Nyame, also called the Black Prince, escape Orpheus’ plot. Staubfinger by design, and Nyame through the carelessness of Baldassare Rinaldi, the human henchman Orpheus has sent to execute his plan. And execute is exactly the right word. As soon as a famed illustrator has completed his part of the plot, Baldassare murders him in his studio, stabbing him in the heart. Funke’s books may be presented as children’s tales, but they do not sugarcoat the villainy in the story. Baldassare is vain and violent. Readers are not left with any doubts about how he would deal with even the most beloved characters if they stood between him and what he wanted. That’s one of the strengths of the whole series: the villains are downright scary, and they are working every bit as hard for their goals as the heroes are for theirs, and the balance could well tip in their favor.

Another strength of The Color of Revenge is that its central conflict goes all the way to the beginning of the series. It’s not that the author tacked on a new story 16 years after wrapping up her trilogy; the envy, hurt, and hope that drive The Color of Revenge have been there all along and are finally coming to fruition. For Orpheus is not a native of the Inkworld, he is from the same world that Cornelia Funke and (presumably) her readers live in. He was a hurt child, and from the books that he read Staubfinger, the Fire Dancer, seemed like his truest friend. Now that Orpheus is grown up and found his way into the Inkworld, he is determined to make Staubfinger into the friend he always imagined, and if that fails, then he is just as determined to ruin Staubfinger’s life entirely. Orpheus is understandable, in his twisted way, but that does not make him any less ruthless and dangerous.

The nature of Orpheus’ trap ensures that far fewer people are opposing him than was the case in the earlier books in the series. Staubfinger thinks that he has to do it all alone, and naturally that gets him into worse trouble. The Black Prince is trying to catch up with Staubfinger, and worries that he will be too late. Accompanying him are Jehan, the stepson whom Staubfinger has neglected in favor of his apprentice but who is a smith of surpassing genius, and Lilia, who has grown up among the Women of the Wood and has magical abilities whose strength is unknown even to her. Baldassare is also involved in getting Staubfinger into Orpheus’ clutches, and he has his own ideas about how the plot should play out, who should come out on top. He’s not above using a little blood libel to try to prevent the Black Prince from assisting Staubfinger, or spreading deadly lies to try to shake his pursuers.

The Color of Revenge is not lighthearted, but it is delicious, exquisite storytelling. Escapes are narrow, and new dangers arise without ever seeming programmatic. Having shown early on how ruthless her villains can be, Funke does not have to convince readers that the heroes’ next misstep could be their last. Nor do the people opposing Orpheus have unmixed motives. Jehan is terribly hurt by his stepfather’s favoritism, and would be tempted to leave him to his fate, if that did not mean probable doom for his mother and sister. His anger at Staubfinger for getting them into such danger is barely restrained, and shows how well Funke balances all of the conflicts she has set in motion.

There are moments of great heart, too, as when Lilia begins to discover her true depths, or when Nyame discovers a long-lost connection to the city where they find Orpheus. There was a link to a childhood friend of Nyame’s mother, a boy who had to move away because his parents were so poor they could barely feed him and so they sought their fortunes elsewhere. She never saw him again, but all the stories she told Nyame and his sister had him as the hero because “I can find him between the words, when I miss him, and I hope he does the same. Stories, my heart, are like our tents: a home that you can carry with you.” (p. 269)

Sixteen years after the last Inkheart book, The Color of Revenge is a great return to that world, filled taut adventure, hard-hearted villains, flawed heroes, wonders of a magical world, and the joy of storytelling.


The Color of Revenge is the fourth book set in the Inkworld, and the characters’ histories and previous adventures are very important for this book’s story. It’s not a good place to start. Which means that if the Inkworld is new to you, you have three great books ahead of you to get to the beginning of The Color of Revenge!

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