Friday, 4 July 2014

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 4th July 2014 - "The Last Alchemist" by Colin Thompson (Red Fox Picture Books)

The Last Alchemist

Written and Illustrated by
Colin Thompson

Published by Red Fox Picture Books

Who would mourn the death of the traditional fairy story? Perhaps Disney would, because they'd have nothing left to plunder for their hugely successful movies. We would, because traditional fairy stories often hide a dark heart and sometimes the heroes don't always win. You would, because everyone who ever read a book would always remember at least one or two traditional stories from their childhood that have stuck in the memory long after other less finely crafted stories have faded.

Colin Thompson's "The Last Alchemist" feels very much like a traditional fairy story. It doesn't mess around dumbing down its dictionary to get its point across. It's illustrated with fabulous attention to detail, and yes, the story has a dark heart and a moral twist whispering about the vice of avarice, and the lust for wealth (something you wish had stuck in the mind of a few bankers when they were first counting out their plastic money as kids).

To the tale itself. The king has a lust for gold unparalleled, and generations of alchemists have sought the secret of turning everyday objects into gold. Spinifex is the last alchemist, and with his assistant Arthur, seeks to finally solve the greatest riddle known to man. Spinifex is driven and determined to achieve this goal, while Arthur gently daydreams about sunflowers and ears of corn - for riches mean nothing to a humble alchemist's assistant.

The king's demands grow more sinister as he sets spinifex a final deadline. "Achieve alchemy by the turn of the millennium or you're finished!" the king screams.

As the deadline looms, Spinifex is a hollow shell of his former self. Driven quite mad by his quest, even Arthur's best attempts to help result in only the tiniest pool of gold, melted from the riches and belongings stolen from the kingdom.

Can Spinifex achieve his terrible aim? Will the king's insatiable greed ever be satisfied?

Colin Thompson's art is surreal, reminiscent of Heironymous Bosch in some places, and with shades of Korky Paul's brilliant and bizarre ink scribbles in others. It's a feast for the eyes but the real feast is for the ears, as reading this book aloud is an absolute pleasure, and the effect it had on Charlotte was astounding as she didn't want this book to end.

It's a rare little treasure this one (don't go looking at the prices on Amazon, they'll make you sob!) but if you ever spot any of Colin Thompson's books in your local charity shop or secondhand book shop, grab them with both hands, they're truly fantastic.

Charlotte's best bit: The amazing and quite terrifying machine Spinifex manages to build to harvest gold

Daddy's Favourite bit: A stunning book from a supreme talent. Colin's work really needs to be reprinted, it's utterly amazing.