Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart by Benny Lindelauf, Ludwig Volbeda and Laura Watkinson (translator)
|Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart by Benny Lindelauf, Ludwig Volbeda and Laura Watkinson (translator)|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A clever, and brilliantly presented, fantasy – and one with a lot to say about the state of the world.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: November 2017|
|Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Meet Tortot. He's a camp chef for an army, with a cold heart – he sheds no tears, or at least as much as does a fish – and a brilliant way of gauging the warfare going on around him. The book even starts with him crossing the battlefield to start work for the enemy the night before they turn the tables on his previous employers and defeat them, leaving Tortot on the winning side once more. But now he's not alone – for he has managed to also inherit an assistant, who lives in a barrel of the Emperors' favourite and most important gherkins…
And no, a military chef is not the usual subject for a teen fantasy, but then nothing is at all usual about this book. Most evident on that regard are the illustrations, which are just brilliant. Some are so incredibly detailed you'll be reaching for your magnifying glass, which really is going above and beyond what's necessary. Further, a lot of the artworks don't exactly portray the scenes of the story, rather add to them, or reinterpret them as allegorical diagrams (such as the status of some of the soldiers represented by their posthumous statues, which are never mentioned by the text), ephemera, cod-encyclopaedic charts… Again, a layer added on top of the world-building we wouldn't have expected.
As for that world-building, it's great fun. The storyline can get a little slapdash here and then, with what seem a great number of fantasies, dreams and flash-backs, to the time before Tortot had even been press-ganged into the army. Actually his enrolment was not at first legal, as all eight of his brothers had been signed up before him and, Saving Private Ryan style, he was deemed an emotional comfort rag for his mother that needed to stay behind. That's supposed to be a consolation? A consolation?! That?! the woman screeches.
A lot has changed since then, to the extent we can't really get a grip on Tortot's age, and the illustrations refuse to give us a clear vision of him. We have to accept his feline ability to always land on his feet, even with his reluctant acceptance of a companion. His grim stoicism – matched by the narrative bluntly conveying how inane and childish, yet very destructive, the wars are – provides for a black comedy angle to proceedings. The war is presented in a reasonably bloodless way, although there are several PG references to sexual disease and their working female conveyors some readers may wish to know about before purchase.
What I would wish the potential buyer to know is that this book really deserves its presentation – Pushkin seldom go the whole hog of using hardback, but when they do you might well sit up and take notice. The unusual shape of the page here – a boxy, 9" by 7" landscape, the sheer craft of the artwork, and of course the most unusual that is to be found in the story, all marry together to make this a book well worth considering. I went into it expecting something pretty good, and I admit it took me some time to get fully on the wavelength of it all, but after that I was really quite gleeful this amusing and engrossing curio had come my way. Neither it is just surface – this is not a five star decoration to hide a turkey, but a very enjoyable feast for all.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
For more fantastical living in barrels, we recommend the lovely The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley. Well, I was on a hiding to nothing to find something with which to compare Tortot – there really is little like it out there.
You can read more book reviews or buy Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart by Benny Lindelauf, Ludwig Volbeda and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart by Benny Lindelauf, Ludwig Volbeda and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon.com.
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