The weird world of Captain Bluebear

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear is a strange fantasy tale set in Zamonia, a continent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with Atlantis as its capital city. Part satire, part comedy, part pure fantasy, it's a childrens' book for adults with some wonderful illustrations by the author, the German writer, Walter Moers.

It's a hefty read - over 700 pages long. The fantasy world is extraordinarily well realized, probably the best thought through location since The Lord of the Rings or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with the flora and fauna, history, geography, recreations and habits of the inhabitants all imaginatively and extensively chronicled.

The basic story line, the autobiography of Captain Bluebear, is generally subserviant to the author's wealth of detail concerning the continent of Zamonia. There were many aspects of this novel that I loved, the pure breadth of imagination was stunning, the illustrations were great (I can quite understand the attraction of graphic novels - there is something really special about illustrations in fiction that's designed for adults - why should we lose art in novels just because they're written for an older readership?), and I thought as I read through the first chapters that this was going to be hugely enjoyable and definitely one for fans of Douglas Adams or Jasper Fforde (and I'm a fan of both).

However as the novel moved on, I began to have reservations. The imagination of Walter Moers is amazing, but, he often seemed to be firing off ideas ad nauseum, and sometimes it really could have done with editing. 3 pages of descriptions of the different colours of bear fur alone, 16 pages dedicated to the inhabitants of Atlantis. It was all a bit much. The main problem being that it dragged the forward momentum of the novel to a stop. The chapters up to the arrival in Atlantis were by far the best part of the book, where the ideas came swiftly but with purpose.

This is just the first in a series of novels about Zamonia and its environs, and I'm not sure at the moment whether I would commit to reading another book in the series. However there were some lovely moments and characters in this one - Deus Ex Machina "Mac" the Reptilian Rescuer and the sweet Bad Idea - who occasionally gets a good idea - in the Bollog's head being my two favourites. I think it's a book that's probably best devoured in small chunks - perhaps as a second read while reading something more serious as well. As a single read it can be hard going in places.


Aarti said…
We DID have very similar reactions to this book! I am glad to read your review now as I think I would have forgotten Bad Idea if I hadn't. I don't think the characters, for the most part, have any sticking power for me because they were so overwhelmed by everything else. It was fun, but... not entirely my cup of tea.

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