Book Review: The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear: a novel

by Walter Moers

On the cover of the English language version of Walter Moers bright yellow fantasy debut, The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, there is a quote describing the German fantasist’s imagination as being ‘…like J.K Rowling on ecstacy.”

Sometimes quotes sell books, and possibly this one did. After all, Moers debut novel (let’s henceforth refer to it as ‘Captain Bluebear’), though markedly different to the Harry Potter series, was released in his native Germany, the very same year the term ‘Pottermania’ first became widespread.

No doubt that in 1999, the wind from Rowling’s wizarding world helped fill the sails of the ship that brought Moers into the international fantasy zeitgeist, as readers caught up in Pottermania were, between Rowling’s books and Lord of the Rings movies, looking for something else to tide them over.

It should be noted early on, that although Captain Bluebear appears in some ways, a book pitched at young readers, it isn’t quite. Perhaps in the same way that much of the subtext of Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels might fall flat on younger readers, so too might Moer’s tongue-in-cheek philosophical gags. This might be made further confusing as after the success of the book in Moer’s native Germany, Captain Bluebear himself, became a character in an animated children’s television movie.

Moer’s prose is clear with flourishes both pragmatic and erudite, though the magnitude of concepts therein render it quite exposition heavy at times. Imagine Tolkien’s obsessive detail applied to a narrative in an imaginary world that is for the most part downright bonkers, and you might get an idea. The narrative payoffs are a slow burn as you absorb Moer’s inexhaustible imaginative ideas, but when they do finally land, his wildly zany storytelling genius becomes apparent. There are laugh out loud moments here that rival Douglas Adams, Jack Handey, and Woody Allen’s Without Feathers.

So what are these 13½ lives all about? Well, the 13½ lives are in fact chapters in Captain Bluebear’s life. In the opening chapter, he is rescued at sea from the spiralling clutches of an enormous whirlpool by minipirates, who as it were, are precisely what they seem like: miniature pirates. Fortunately for all involved, Bluebear in his infancy, is also very small, so he can actually board their ship. They raise him, feed him, and give him a crash course in all things maritime yet he soon outgrows them and begins to sink their boat as a result, and thus he moves on to his next life.

Moers takes a basic, if offbeat premise, for each of the chapters and goes into a sort of frenzy in teasing out the oddest details, resulting in laugh out loud humour. A chapter in which Bluebear attempts to enter a mirage of a city by having four friends approach it from different sides at the same time was a standout chapter for myself.

Credit goes to John Brownjohn for his excellent work in translating Moer’s droll humour from the original German.

BookForest Verdict

The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear is in part, the literary equivalent to hot chocolate with marshmallows, and in part a testament to the generosity and scope of the imagination. The reading experience alone is like having your brain tickled and the deeper into the great yellow tome you get, the more intense it becomes. Moer’s orchestrates a blend of ideas that are at once, both eccentric and profound.  Embellished with the authors own quirky illustrations, this book is a treasure chest of fun and a genuine fantasy adventure.

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The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers

Ideas 5

Storytelling 4

Writing 5

Suspense 3

Intrigue 5

Magic 5
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Total 27/30
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A for Alpine Imps————————————————–

 

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Book Review: The Fog Diver

By Joel Ross

Age Range 11-14

Image result for the fog diver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A character-driven adventure novel that despite some highly original and thought provoking science fiction / steampunk concepts, prefers to lean more heavily on its relationship-drama beats.

The Fog Diver presents readers with a fairly realized world that is bound to be expanded upon in subsequent books. Despite only being lightly explored in this, the first book in the series, it is undoubtedly an excellent premise that writer Joel Ross has imagined.

The Fog Diver is set in the world as we know it, after being engulfed by a thick and deadly fog of nanites. The Nanites were ironically designed to rid the world of pollution but upon recognizing humans as the key source of pollution, evolved into a fog encoded to eradicate the human race. Now, the survivors live on the highest mountain peaks of the world above the fog in the last habitable places and travel in pneumatic airships. It’s all very steampunk at times, and is certainly among the best examples of the genre available for tween readers.

The protagonist, a boy Chess, is immune to the fog, enabling him to be a tetherboy; someone who dives from an airship through the fog to explore the human-less surface below. There, Chess scavenges for all manner of valuable items in the hope of finding something that could afford him and his crew passage off the slum-like lower slopes of the mountainside.

Chess’s ability is rare, almost unheard of and thus he is wanted by the villainous Lord Kodoc who wishes to use Chess to locate the Compass, a device which can purportedly control the nanites and allow its operator control over the fog and therefore the world.

Ross characterises the books tone and characters through their discovery and bewilderment of the strange artefacts Chess collects. They are everyday items that the reader will immediately recognise though that the central characters can only guess of their intended function. Additionally, Ross weaves in all sorts of misremembered history. Not only do these kids mistake Star Wars for myth but they go further and combine pop culture icons in hilarious ways that really entertain between the drama and tense suspense.

BookForest Verdict

The Fog Diver has an excellent premise, lots of humour and suspense that leads to a story in which almost each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, propelling the reader through its lean narrative. And therein is perhaps the books limitation; its fast pace puts a limit on the sense of discovery in this world. There are really three lean acts in The Fog Diver and it certainly leaves you wanting to come back for more. It is a book very much for its age group and I do hope the series gains a following. Though in a post Harry Potter world, it has neither the depth nor detail to let it stand out as anything other than another really good series for young adults in an increasingly talent-crowded market.

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The Fog Diver by Joel Ross

Ideas 5

Storytelling 4

Writing 5

Suspense 4

Intrigue 3

Magic 3
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Total 24/30
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C for Clockwork Airships————————————————–