For some reason, I always seem to make things more complicated for myself. I decided to try doing a book review, so I started with a favourite series of mine. It’s not an easy series to review either, as I quickly found out…
…but maybe a complicated review suits the Zamonia Series— which could arguably compete against a labyrinth for the number of twists-and-turns.
World-building takes dedication, and Walter Moers’ Zamonia is an impressive world. Almost every other page of The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear (the first book in the series) describes a new, bizarre creature. The 703 pages are a bit daunting, and it took me several tries to get past the first 60 (I was only 9, though). When I did succeed, I can remember reading the last page and thinking,”Wow!”
So far I’ve read four of his books: The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, The City of Dreaming Books, and The Alchemaster’s Apprentice.
Interesting facts: Walter Moers is from Germany, so the original books are in German. The books are also filled with his own illustrations.
The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear does what it says on the tin–it follows the first 13 1/2 lives of Bluebear. Each life is like an episode with a new set of circumstances, secondary characters, and outward goals. Two of my favourite lives are: Life Number 11, where Bluebear is trying to find a way through a bollogg’s brain (bolloggs have the power to remove their heads and live–this head appears to have been left behind on the edge of the Demerara Desert…) with the help of a ‘bad’ idea and the hindrance of insanity, and Life Number 2, in which Bluebear tries to fit in with some hobgoblins (panic-loving creatures created when a will-o-the-wisp comes into contact with Zamonia graveyard gas).
What works: Although each life is very different, Bluebear has the same inner goal throughout the story–to find a place where he belongs–which helps concrete the plot. The creativity is mind-blowing, and the rich story really gives you an idea of what living in Zamonia would be like.
What I would change: There are a lot of details. While these details are absolutely fascinating and mostly important, there are parts where they slowed the story down and made me want to skim ahead to where the action started again.
Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures is my favourite book in the series. It has a much darker edge than the others, as well as being thicker and crazier. Rumo is a welperting (sort of like a dog which can walk on two legs, talk, and fight with weapons). Through a search to find other welpertings, he gets mixed up with the plans of the ruler of Hel and a robot with a fascination for torture.
What works: The fast-moving plot was so gripping I read it in less than a week, and I loved the way the story showed the good and bad sides of every character.
What I would change: I’ve been staring at the screen for ten minutes and I can’t think of a single thing.
The City of Dreaming Books is about a young Lindworm (similar to dinosaurs, but gifted when it comes to writing) named Optimus Yarnspinner who is searching in the city of Bookholm for the owner of a remarkable manuscript. His search takes him deep into the labyrinth under the city, which is crawling with strange predators, scattered with skeletons of unsuccessful Bookhunters, and filled to bursting with books.
What works: The descriptions are amazing, and the plot twists are surprising. I won’t spoil them, but some of the tricks Moers used made me laugh out loud at their brilliance.
What I would change: This book was amazing, but it wasn’t as good as Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures. I think this is because Optimus Yarnspinner is ‘the writer’ in The City of Dreaming Books, so he talks to the reader. For me, being talked to makes me remember that I’m a reader and not the main character (so the exciting things don’t always seem as exciting).
This Christmas I got The Alchemaster’s Apprentice— the story of a crat (looks like a cat but speaks every language in Zamonia) named Echo who makes a desperate deal with Ghoolion, the alchemaster of Malaisea, that gives Ghoolion the right to kill Echo at the next full moon.
What works: although it starts out simple, this book gets more complex as the story evolves. The character relationships are deeper than Moers’ other books, which makes it very thought provoking. Also, who doesn’t like it when the antagonist happens to be a culinary genius?!
What I would change: This book was very different from the others. It happened over a smaller time period and in a tiny town. It was a very good book, but it didn’t live up to the bizarreness of Moers’ other works. At the most, I would have liked to know more about what happened to Echo in the end.
I have really enjoyed this series so far, and I will definitely read more of Moers’ books. Maybe, one day, I will attempt to write a grand-scale novel similar to one of his. It would fit right in with all the other complicated tasks I’ve given myself!