Adventures in Reading

Fiction: The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

Of all the book genres to shop in, my favorite section to make a book selection based purely on the weight of the book jacket has to be the children’s section. It is the one area of books where covers can be as fanciful and whimsical as you like, with no concern for the austerity that settles upon the art of adult’s books [1]. Vivian French’s The Robe of Skulls has been one such book, and I made sure to check it out before all of our available copies went to Halloween displays.

The Robe of Skulls is the story of the abused orphan Gracie Gillypot and her escape from her evil stepfather and sister thanks to the help of a bat. It’s also the story of Prince Marcus, whose overprotective father has contributed to his boredom with being a prince and it is the same bat that helps him with an adventure. Marlon the bat works for the Ancient Ones, weavers, and these ladies exist at the center of the story. But it is Lady Lamorna and her desire to acquire a dress decorated with skulls that she cannot afford that truly begins the story. In a world of True and Falsehearts, who will escape the weavers?

French’s tale is a ghoulish book filled with marvelous names and locations punctuated by Ross Collins’ illustrations that have a Roald Dahlish quality, a certain gruesomeness and starkness that encourages the viewer to fill in more detail. Though a relatively simple and short story, The Robe of Skulls manages to embrace many fairy tale nuances: orphans, princes, beautiful damsels, royalty turning into frogs, a witch with an inept sidekick, and everyone (mostly) returns home after learning valuable lessons.

A cute story with just enough fright to keep it interesting (but not too scary), I am sure it will be an endearing read for children. However, I did feel it lacked the complexity that makes children’s books also attractive to adults.

[1] Excluding some fantasy and sci-fi books, but even then they’re usually a bit more mature for adult consumption.

Conclusion: Returned to work.

Other opinions: Charlotte’s Library.

Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books
December 3, 2007, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

yarnspinner.jpgI am having more trouble today writing a post than I normally have. For the most part, my Internet writings are a result of rather spontaneous writings that I post (and often later return to and cringe at typos and where my mind was traveling too fast for my fingers). However, today for whatever reason I am struggling to say anything. So here goes nothing!

The above paragraph was my lame attempt to comment on one of the many themes that twines through Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books (which I did finish last month but am only just getting around to writing about) – the most recent addition to Moers world of Zamonia. In his fantasy tale, Optimus Yarnspinner (a Lindwormer or dinosaur) inherits perhaps the world’s most perfect short story or essay. And what is this essay? A brilliant piece discussing writer’s block that produces nearly every reaction conceivable in its audience. However, the author of this splendid piece is anonymous and Optimus travels to the legendary city of Bookholm to discover who penned such an important piece.

This is where the story begins and Moers takes his audience through a spectacular world that is sure to thrill any lover of books. The City of Dreaming Books is a book about books, about publishing, about authors, about book reviews, about the canon, about forgotten books, and about practically anything book related you can think of. The reference to “dreaming books” in the title refers to Moers idea that dormant books, or books not being read, are dreaming of being read.

I have not been so excited about a fantasy series in ages. Earlier in the year I read Terry Pratchett’s most recent book, which was enjoyable but seemed to lack some of the zeal of his earlier novels. I also picked up Piers Anthony on a whim and was greatly disappointed. Unlike many fantasy authors in my experience, Moers seems to spend the perfect amount of time on story development. He never becomes boring or tedious and never leaves the story under developed.

On a more serious note, Moers also proffers a rather scathing criticism of the publishing industry that threads throughout the book. Upon reaching Bookholm, Optimus meets the arch-nemesis of books: Smyke, who wants to dumb down literature to mediocrity, which of course means that Optimus inheritance is entirely unacceptable. In addition to my excitement for this book, Moers also does his own illustrations (note the first image in this post). Every few pages has a beautiful illustration that creates a much more tangible Zamonia.

The City of Dreaming Books is an engaging read and I went ahead and purchased an earlier book by Moers. This is definitely an author that has made my recommendation list.