Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books is a novel-length declaration of adoration to the writing craft and all its creative possibilities. This fantasy, written in a humorous spirit reminiscent of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, takes us to the vast world of Zamonia, and follows a young Lindworm (basically a dinosaur-like being) named Optimus Yarnspinner who gets tasked by his late godfather, Dancelot, with finding the mysterious author of a beautifully written manuscript.
Carrying out his godfather’s request takes Optimus to the city of Bookholm, a place dedicated to literature, filled with writers, publishers, alongside shops and other establishments focused on topics relevant to the literary world. Such a place seems like a dream come true for a Lindworm, whose very culture pushes its members to become writers in at least some degree. However, as Optimus continues his search for the elusive author, he comes across dark secrets buried beneath the surface of Bookholm, kept by residents who use books as weapons for their own gain.
Diving into this work feels like getting engaged in a conversation with the protagonist, who shares his tale with the reader as if they were listening to him while, perhaps, resting beside a crackling hearth fire on some late evening. I loved the numerous metafictional or fourth-wall jokes that place the reader as a brave soul who dares to brave all the twists and turns they encounter during Optimus’ tale, such as any number of peculiar characters and creatures amid this fast-paced adventure.
It fascinates me whenever a writer goes out of their way to do something especially inventive, and The City of Dreaming Books is unlike any other work I’ve ever come across—specifically in the way it explores the forms that books can assume and plays with the reader. There is just so much on these pages to satisfy the tastes of any bibliophile, and to stir excitement for what might be awaiting just beyond the next flipped page. Telling anything more would be too much of a spoiler for the wonders this novel has to share.
The City of Dreaming Books is an imaginative read from start to finish, and only one is a series of books written by Moers and set in Zamonia. A sequel exists called The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, which takes readers on an even deeper dive into the secrets of Bookholm, and Moers is in the middle of working on a third book in the series with an unknown release date.