Thursday, January 07, 2010

Book Review: "The Alchemaster's Apprentice"

Walter Moers does for food and medicine in The Alchemaster's Apprentice (Overlook, 2009) what he did for books in The City of Dreaming Books (my review). Instead of Bookholm this time, we're introduced to another Zamonian city, Malaisea, where almost everyone is ill (thanks to the tyrannical municipal alchemist Succubius Ghoolion). Ghoolion has a maniacal plan to gain absolute power and immortality, and our narrator - a young and down-on-his-luck Crat named Echo (Crats are like cats, but with the power of speech (and universal language comprehension, which comes in handy) falls into his clutches and makes something of a Faustian bargain with the alchemaster (which he spends the rest of the book trying to get out of).

Moers pours detail after detail into the book, creating yet another rich world. But instead of carefully describing books, this time he delves into the culinary and medico-botanical realms, regaling his readers with descriptions of lavish (and lengthy) feasts (and their various components), complex gardens filled with wonderful and strange plants, and recipes for alchemical and medicinal treatments.

The limning of characters doesn't suffer, though, for all the detail in other things. The personalities and quirks of Echo and Ghoolion are well drawn, and several others (including the fyllable-slipping Theodore T. Theodore, lovelorn Uggly Izanuela, and a giant moss-growing Toad) are welcome additions to the Moers dramatis personae.

Imaginative, quirky, and bizarre, made all the more entertaining by Moers' excellent (and creepy) illustrations.

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