Monday, 25 April 2011

Book review: 'The Alchemaster’s Apprentice' by Walter Moers.

In a sentence: The fifth of Moers’ novels that I have read, and while not my favourite of his works it is still wonderfully imaginative, spine-tingling and exciting – a great read.

Walter Moers is a well-known German writer and cartoonist who created such delightfully named comic characters as ‘Adolf, die Nazisau’ (Adolf the Nazi pig) and ‘Das kleine Arschloch’ (the little arsehole). The first book of Moers’ that I read was The thirteen and a half lives of Captain Bluebear: a novel. The first of his works to be translated into English, I’m not ashamed to say that it was a slog to read. At 703 pages it is a tome when I read it in 2000. Of course, once I’d finished it and could look back it was wonderful and now when I re-read it, I go back and pick one of the ‘lives’ and re-read that chapter – yes, there are 13.5 chapters.

His literary creations are almost all set in a land called Zamonia, a fantasy world full of glorious characters and creatures such as miniature pirates, Nocutromaths, Ugglies and Vorpels. Zamonia is a place with cities many entirely of metal, Gloomberg Mountains, deserts made of sugar and forests inhabited by Spiderwitches. Not only are the novels wonderfully imaginative, they are illustrated! Too few books are illustrated nowadays. Moers’ illustrations are amusing and chilling and sprinkled liberally throughout his works.

Possibly my favourite of Moers’ novels is Rumo and his miraculous adventures, a great love/adventure story which has the bloodiest, most violent beginning of any book I think I will ever read. It also houses ‘General Ticktock’ the most vile, evil character in any literary work I’ve read since ‘The Witches’.

So, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice. It’s about a crat called Echo. A crat is like a cat except they have 2 livers and can speak and understand almost every language of every creature. Echo lives in a town called Malaisea; a place whose inhabitants are always unwell and almost the only business is that of doctors and apothecaries, herbalists and witch-doctors. Left starving in the street after the death of his mistress, he makes a deal with the evil Alchemaster. In exchange for saving Echo from death by starvation, the Alchemaster takes him in and feeds him for one month and at the end of that month he is allowed to kill Echo.

It’s a pretty grim premise for a book but the darkness and evil lends the wonderful spine-tingleing, thrilling, can’t-put-the-book-down sense I get when reading a Moers novel. He is an author I love to escape with into fantastical adventure stories that are jam-packed with full of characters, events and stories. His books are, at heart, adventure stories. There is sometimes a love interest but it is guaranteed that at some point the hero will be fighting for his life, there will be evil villains and surprising friends all brought to life through Moers’ wonderful use of language and vivid imagination.

If I’m honest, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is not my favourite of Moers’ novels and if I were recommending a book to a first time reader, I would suggest Captain Bluebear as a great introduction to his delightful style. However, I greatly enjoyed The Alchemaster’s Apprentice and as always, am now disappointed that I have to wait two years for the next Moers novel to hit the Australian bookshelves.

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