Salamander by Thomas Wharton

October 2003

There was, of course, no way I was going to be able to resist a book about books - or in this case, a book about an English printer, Nicholas Flood, who is commissioned to create an "infinite" book for a crazy Slovakian count. Salamander is rather fairy-tale like in both story and style. The automata that seem to be popping up left and right in every book I've read since Lempriere's Dictionary make appearances here, too, as do pirates, acrobats, clockwork castles, tragic lovers and extraordinary printing formes that give a whole new meaning to the phrase "movable type".

But for all its intriguing characters, wild storylines and lovely prose, the book just never really seemed to quite get there - "there" being that transcendental place where the most disparate elements come together to create something truly breathtaking. Maybe there was too much going on here - too many interesting characters that should have been fleshed out more, too many strange tangents that should have been more deeply explored. I enjoyed the book, but it never really got under my skin the way it should have. And when I finished reading it, I found myself thinking less about how good it was than about how great it could have been.

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