Author: Otfried Preußler
Publisher: The Friday Project
Publication date: 3rd September 2010
Buy at: BookDepository
Set within a world of sorcery and wizardry, much like an 18th Century Harry Potter, Krabat tells the story of a 14-year-old beggar boy lured to a mysterious mill by a series of frightening dreams and apparitions. He becomes an apprentice to the master of the watermill where he joins the eleven other young journeymen who work there. Much to his surprise Krabat soon discovers that the mill is actually a school of black magic and he is expected to learn much more than just a normal miller’s trade.
Krabat studies hard and becomes the master’s star pupil, but when he falls for a local village girl the depth of the master’s evil and the darker secrets of the mill begin to reveal themselves. One by one his fellow classmates perish from mysterious, unexplained accidents and Krabat realises he must use all of the dark magic skills he has learned to secure his escape.
When I first read the synopsis for Krabat, I expected a story full of dark imagery, sensuous words, creepy moments, and a fairytale feeling. After all, the book is based on a Wendish legend and contains many folk tale characteristics. I did not get what I expected.
Krabat details the story of a young boy who, after being ordered to do so in a dream, leaves his life without a second thought in search of a mill. Despite being told the mill is haunted, Krabat goes to it and becomes an apprentice to the master miller. In time, the master initiates him in something else: magic, dark magic.
The premise for the story is wonderful, but try as I might, I could not make myself enjoy this book. You see, for all the talk of how dark the magic was, we scarcely had a chance to see it in action, to understand how horrid the consequences were. There was danger here and there and odd things never stopped happening, but it was difficult to take it as seriously as the author intended. Such a problem was not aided by the dryness of the language. This might be due to a possibly bad translation, but regardless, it deeply impacted my enjoyment of the book.
Then, there is the fact that the characters were underdeveloped and far too simplistic for my taste. Yes, characters in fairytales are often oversimplified, but you know why they make the choices they make. They explain the steps taken, or if not, then the path they have taken is logical in some manner. In Krabat, I was constantly banging my head on the table as I wondered why on Earth situation A would lead to situation B, or why some moments were included in the book at all as they did little to contribute to plot or characterisation. It also puzzles me how the men never questioned the miller or his motives, not outright and not between one another. Not to mention that the “romance” was a poorly used plot device.
No, this book did not work for me in the slightest. If one is writing a novel based on a legend, one should add more substance to it, more than new lines and scenes. Although I did not read the original tale, it did not feel like Krabat breathed new life into this tale. In the end, the novel read like an exciting concept with a lacklustre execution.
The book in a quote
“I loved a girl once,’ said he. ‘Vorshula was her name. She has been lying in the graveyard of Seidewinkel six months now…”