First, my hearty thanks to the translator. I saw Walter Moers’s previous novel, The City of Dreaming Books, in the Berlin Airport in German. As a German linguist, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to translate prose like this. Simply amazing.
Walter Moerstakes us back into the world of Zamonia, but this time to a completely different city and with all-new characters. You don’t really need to have read previous books because he provides enough background as the story flows. The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is really a wonderful, if slightly darker, addition to the Zamonian world.
Our hero, Echo, is a Crat, which is much like a cat only with special abilities: Crats can understand and speak any language, they have extreme grace and dexterity, and they have eidetic memory — they can remember completely any thing they’re told. Echo is swept into the life of an incredibly talented (but just as incredibly demented) Alchemaster, Ghoolian. An Alchemaster is something between a magician and an alchemist, combining equal parts artistic madness and scientific rigor. In the City of Malaisea, Echo and Ghoolian take us on a month-long journey and a roller-coaster ride of a story.
I loved how Moers turns alchemy on its ear and invents whimsical combinations of science and nonsense that make sense in the story. He’s got a lot of fun ideas about how to make certain alchemical processes work and he draws an amusing comparison between alchemy and culinary mastery. The plot is deftly woven and I loved the way it contains so many elaborately detailed sidelights; For example, we get all the particulars about the types of feasts that Ghoolian prepares for Echo. Even when the story grows darker, it is written with a joy that keeps the grimmer aspects from putting off the reader.
I enthusiastically recommend The Alchemaster’s Apprentice for young adults and adults alike. Walter Moers’s talent for taking the mundane and making it magical is reminiscent of some of the early XANTH books by Piers Anthony, but Moers doesn’t rely on puns and other cheap humor to entertain us. He just creates something sublimely interesting and fun.