Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Walter Moers' THE ALCHEMASTER'S APPRENTICE


Every new-to-me Walter Moers book I pick up immediately becomes my new favorite Walter Moers book, and thus one of my favorite books, full stop. This has happened ever since I first stumbled across a somewhat battered copy of Rumo and his Miraculous Adventures several years ago at my local public library and wondered what the hell was going on with that. One is always going on with the mix of over-the-top imaginative fantasy, adorable illustrations, sophisticated plotting and outrageous wordplay that is Walter Moers. Oh, do I love this man. And his translator into English, the wonderfully named John Brownjohn, who has the unenviable task of turning all of those invented and ordinary compound German nouns and verbs into something intelligible in English without losing any of the original's wit and charm and, as far as I can tell, succeeds brilliantly.

Or at any rate, if Brownjohn is in any way not hitting Moers' mark, then I'm not sure I could handle more Moers. As such. Feel free to throw something at me now.

The Alchemaster's Apprentice is another Zamonia book, Zamonia being, of course, a lost continent that once took up most of the Atlantic Ocean and was home not only to sentient and literate dinosaurs who achieved a very high standard of culture indeed (at least a high Middle Ages standard), but to a myriad of other astonishing creatures as well, including the new-to-this-fifth-novel Crat. A Crat being a sort of cat who can speak every language, human or animal, in the known world, and whose body fat is an alchemist's, well, I would say an alchemist's philosopher's stone, but everyone knows that the philosopher's stone is the alchemists' philosopher's stone, so something just short of that. At any rate, very desirable indeed.

Enter one Succubius Ghoolion*, titular Alchemaster, who is a sort of Jean-Baptiste Greouille through Moers' funhouse mirror in that, like the perfidious perfumer of Suskind's most famous novel, he is obsessed with capturing the essences of things in the most durable possible form, that form being the rendered fat of rare and fabulous creatures like Crats. Of whom Ghoolion suspects our adorable little hero, Echo the Kitty Crat, to possibly be the very last one. Um.

What follows from this state of affairs is another deliciously daffy Moers adventure -- perhaps the most delicious of all because, when Ghoolion finds Echo, Echo is starving to death and has no fat on him, but Ghoolion is a culinary genius and so sets about fattening his foundling in outlandishly opulent ways. If one doesn't drool through at least a few of these chapters, one is obviously some kind of icky ascetic who subsists on room temperature water and celery sticks or something.** Echo befriends a cyclopean owl-type thing who speaks in spoonerisms (Brownjohn must have had a heck of a time with those. He needs all of the awards for translating. All of them, do you understand me?) and is dedicated to helping Echo escape the terrible fate that awaits him, learns a lot of alchemical secrets, eats a lot of absurdly delicious food, and develops a charmingly weird relationship with Ghoolion in the process.

Along the way he picks up some other weird allies, such as a Cooked Ghost (which Echo helps to cook himself as part of his education), a couple thousand Leathermice (like extraordinarily ugly vampire bats with extremely strange habits of thought. Nobody understands Leathermice, dude. Not even Leathermice), and the last remaining Uggly in the city -- an Uggly being, of course, a sort of gypsy practitioner of a natural/homeopathic/herbal medicine that is pretty much the absolute antithesis of what Ghoolion does. Who despite Ghoolion's long history of persecution of Ugglies in every horrible way imaginable, has a crush on Ghoolion. Yeah, it's complicated.

It all builds to a thrilling and insane climax, Moers' best yet! So yeah, The Alchemaster's Apprentice is my new favorite Walter Moers. At least until the next one.

But yeah, I'm still puzzled about that roast wildfowl Echo was sort of tricked into eating mid-story. That's a head-scratcher of a loose end. But Echo does spend a lot of this novel tripping balls on some hallucinogenic meal or other... so... umm... yeah, I've got nothing.

*The character names are part of the fun of Moers, most of them being anagrams of popular authors' names, though so far I can't figure out whose name became Succubius Ghoolion, and I have tried. Oh, have I tried. But I'm a poor hand at anagram solving.

**Seriously, the food porn in this book is completely off the hook. Imagine Lewis Carroll and China Mieville collaborating on a cookbook and you might just get a hint of the flavor. WOW.

1 comment:

  1. YAY! I am so happy you loved this one! And srsly, WHO THE HELL DID ECHO EAT?!

    ReplyDelete

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