Saturday, November 2, 2013

Heather Reviews: The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers

Title:  The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear (Zamonia, #1)
Author:  Walter Moers, translated by John Brownjohn
Released:  1999
Publisher:  Overlook TP
Captain Bluebear tells the story of his first 13-1/2 lives spent on the mysterious continent of Zamonia, where intelligence is an infectious disease, water flows uphill, and dangers lie in wait for him around every corner.
 "A bluebear has twenty-seven lives. I shall recount thirteen and a half of them in this book but keep quiet about the rest," says the narrator of Walter Moers’s epic adventure. "What about the Minipirates? What about the Hobgoblins, the Spiderwitch, the Babbling Billows, the Troglotroll, the Mountain Maggot… Mine is a tale of mortal danger and eternal love, of hair’s breadth, last-minute escapes." Welcome to the fantastic world of Zamonia, populated by all manner of extraordinary characters. It’s a land of imaginative lunacy and supreme adventure, wicked satire and epic fantasy, all mixed together, turned on its head, and lavishly illustrated by the author.

What on earth is the one thing I can say right now that would cause anyone reading this to immediately go pick up a copy of this book?

As for me, I picked up this book purely on a whim:  I was browsing in Barnes & Noble and was trying to pick out the next Murakami book I wanted to read when I looked over and saw Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures.  The cover caught my eye (one day I will have to tell you about my obsession with books that have drawings in them), so I flipped through it, read a few pages, and decided to get it.  That was when I noticed on the cover, "From the author of the bestselling The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, another fantastical journey into Zamonia."

I am one of those people who can know a series of novels works in stand alone ways (as in you can start anywhere, in case I phrased that awkwardly), but needs to read them in chronological order.  So I put Rumo back and grabbed Captain Bluebear and hoped I'd enjoy the book.

At first, I was a little daunted by the length.  The book clocks in at 704 pages and while it does have a number of illustrations, they appear sporadically; most pages are text.  However, once the book gets going, you don't even notice the length because the story is just that interesting.

As the summary above states, Bluebear recounts his various "lives" (which function more like periods in his life and what he does during those various times) and begins with his first memories of being adrift at sea in a tiny walnut shell and, from there, being rescued by mini pirates and the other adventures he goes on.  Another thing that really grabbed me about this book is how, as Bluebear's lives go on, the chapters get longer.  The first chapter is pretty close to him being born, so it's not very long, but the later lives can span nearly 200 pages with their respective chapters.  I hate to compare to anything, but it did remind me of the Series of Unfortunate Events books or Harry Potter, where the older the characters got, the longer their adventures became.

This book is by far one of the most creative ones I've ever had the pleasure to read.  Moers's imagination seems to know no bounds and it's enthralling.  I've seen other people wondering if these novels are just advanced books for children or children's books for adults, and I have to go with the latter.  While these books contain illustrations and fantastical elements, there are certain themes discussed in Captain Bluebear that better suit adults.  I found myself reading chapters before I went to sleep because it put me in a good mood and it was just fun.

So many times in this book, I marveled at Moers: the Congladiators (which is the longest chapter in the book, but shows that our narrator is determined and extremely creative), the island that fattens up its inhabitants, the Roving Reptilian Rescuers, Nocturnomaths, Spiderwitches, instruments made of milk.  I wish I could elaborate!  But I feel so strongly that this book needs to be experienced, that I just want to encourage people to read it themselves and then fangirl with me.

The beginning is, admittedly, a little slow, but I forgave it because it does begin when Bluebear is a tiny baby.  From the life with the Hobgoblins onward, it picks up steam and Moers doesn't stop the story to pile on bits of world building.  It's been such a long time since I've read a book where the author doesn't stop to regale you with things, but introduces them as the story goes along.  It's so refreshing!

There are certain tropes present in the book, but I feel like Moers successfully navigates them.  Our hero is lucky, but not without having bouts of bad luck as well.  He is smart, but that comes to him in a creative way.  He is one of a kind, in both a number of ways and not at all.  The presence of these tropes didn't ruin my entertainment, and unless I was really thinking about them, I hardly noticed them.

I really cannot recommend this book enough.  I'm so eager to start the subsequent novels (and anxious to know why Ensel und Krete. Ein Märchen aus Zamonien was never translated).  

 (If I have convinced you to try this book, please consider a physical copy. I'm not one of those ebooks vs ~real~ books gals, but this book has some amazing illustrations that I feel it helps to be able to flip back and forth to.) 

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