Friday, December 04, 2009


Philadelphia Weekly Press includes two Overlook titles in the December round-up of Science Fiction, or nearly science fiction, books - The Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers and Year of the Horse by Justin Allen.

"Walter Moers works in a surreal fantasy world that has a unique logic to its background. Diseases inflict the city of Malaisia. Ghoolion, the alchemist-in chief, lives in an ancient castle and collects fat from rare animals. When the talking cat (crat) Echo, who may be the last of his kind, is turned out on the street when his mistress dies; he is near starvation when Ghoolian makes him an offer. He’ll be fed and amused for one full moon, and then killed for his fat. It seems a good deal at first because death is near, but as Echo recovers from the street he soon wants to break his contract. Ghoolion tells Echo his secrets as he prepares marvelous meals, making Echo The Alchemaster’s Apprentice. Echo, like all crats, can talk in any language, so he talks to the blood drinking, bat-like, leathermice; and the wise owl on the roof, Theodore T. Theodore. Soon he is working with the last Ugly in the town, Ghoolian’s enemy, a woman secretly in love with Ghoolian. I was so caught up in the tale that I had to sneak a peak at the end to discover if Echo did, indeed survive. This is a children’s book for adults who want to remember the joy of youth, but want more complexity."

"Justin Allen has translated the Hobbit into a western coming-of-age novel in The Year of the Horse. Our hero is a fifteen-year-old Chinese boy born on the banks of the great river in the St. Frances Chinatown, Tzu-lu. A great gun-fighter (wizard) comes to town to deal with Lu’s alchemist grandfather, and Lu finds himself volunteered to go on an expedition to find hidden gold. Gollem is present as an Indian chief, but the magic bullets come from Pecos Bill, which was a nice touch. There are also references to Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. The main villain is Old Scratch, i.e. Satan. The quoted reviewers didn’t catch the parallels with the classic tale because the magic is kept to a minimum, and they also didn’t catch on to the fact that the background is not quite our America. Lots of fun."

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