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3.69  ·  Rating details ·  651 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Thomas Wharton’s dazzling second novel, Salmander, is an audacious and original tour-de-force set in the eighteenth century. Rich in story and character, the novel careens through a world of ideas and stories in which the mythic power of books, the thirst for knowledge, and the pursuit of immortality are almost erotic. Yet Salamander is also a universal story of love and o ...more
Paperback, 372 pages
Published 2003 by Flamingo (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such a wonderful and strange little book! I found it where these kinds of books are supposed to be found - in a second hand book market in London. It is a twisting and turning tale of books, stories, words, paper, adventure; everything book is made of! When I had finished it I wanted to read it again, just to see if I had missed something. It is a story that requires you accept the unexpected and use your imagination - which makes it even more marvelous. I really enjoyed it and can't wait to rea ...more
Oct 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like reading books about books
Shelves: fiction
Once upon a time, there was a count who lived in a mechanical castle run by automatons. This count has a fancy book collection made of every sort of novelty book, but he craves more. So, he hires a publisher specializing in art books to create a never-ending story.

One of my favorite parts of this book was the traveling beds.

This is going in my re-read pile soon, I'm mainly just glad I own a copy--Wharton's books are ridiculously difficult to find! I lucked out and dug it out of one of the Univer
Aug 03, 2011 added it
Totally unexpected. Not going to be most people's cup of tea, but i truly enjoyed and finished it. Incidently it is my most annotated book (obviously not library stock!). 'Nobody knows what's next. Nobody has a clue. We live in a murky ambiguity lit by occasional flashes of utter incomprehension'. This quote sums up. A great book to get lost in whilst debating the limitations of mankind.
Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"And unseen, through the chemical action of time, the words themselves are drained of their living sap. In every library, readers sit in placid quiet while all around them a forest decays."
Yet another example of a great five-star beginning, followed by a frustrating one- or two-star end. The first 200 pages or so I was absolutely *enthralled* with what promised to be a fascinating modern-day fairytale. I so loved this great castle the characters lived in, that was perched precariously on the border between two countries, in both yet in neither, with mechanisms that caused the walls, floors, and entire rooms to be in almost continuous motion. As one arose in the morning, the bed wo ...more
Aug 02, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I felt a bit heartless giving this book 1 star, so I wanted to supplement with a review.

I read Salamander many years ago. I was 14 or 15, I think, and I picked it out for the title and cover, then was enchanted by the synopsis. It started out incredibly well, and I was gearing up to fall hopelessly in love with this book that had amazing potential. But as I read on, the story fell so short of my expectations, it actually broke my heart. I think that's my primary reason for giving Salamander suc
Feb 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was pretty interesting. The main premise is a printer trying to print a book with no end. There are a lot of interesting takes on the nature of books and what they represent to the readers that read them. The language got a bit lofty and hard to follow, but I think that was just to promote the reader to try to ruminate on the meanings. The best part was the settings- an ship with uncountable hidden rooms, a mechanical castle that was always moving, a tiny jail cell with nothing but an ...more
Catherine Siemann
This book is filled with all kinds of lovely things: it's clearly influenced by Borges (only a full-length narrative), Eco (only characters that the reader can warm up to), has a touch of steampunk (only eighteenth century), and a whole lot of metanarrative (the central plot impetus is the creation of an infinite book, and there's lots about the nature of books). Oh, and female pirates (servants girls and slaves, secretly destined for colonial prostitution, who've rebelled), a clockwork castle, ...more
Feb 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm almost certain this is a very good book and I just under-appreciated it. It's entirely my fault. I read it too slowly. I left big gaps between reading sessions. I kept forgetting what had transpired. I didn't follow it closely enough.

I'm so relieved that it's over though.
David Geissler
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I think these two quotes sum it up just right:

"Within every book there lies concealed a book of nothing. Don't you sense it when you read a page brimming with words? The vast gulf of emptiness beneath the frail net of letters. The ghostliness of the letters themselves. Giving semblance of life to things and people who are really nothing. Nothing at all. No, it was the reading that mattered, I eventually understood, not whether the pages were blank or printed. The Mohammedans say that an hour of
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you like stories within stories, books within books, and fantastical ideas regarding time, this is your book. Very easy to get lost in!
Nathan Burgoine
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have a really good memory. Especially for random details and minute trivia. It's rare I can't remember if I've bought a book, read a book, or owned a book. That said, my memory isn't perfect. I give away a lot of books, was an avid BookCrosser for years, and so sometimes I think a book has long vanished from my shelf, only to look at my bookshelves and realize it's still there.

So when I saw that day seven of the Borough Press #BookADay challenge was "Forgot I Owned It" I thought back to the la
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Never before for me has a book that was demonstrating such glorious promise suddenly turned out to be crap. It built me up only to deliver a swift kick to the groin of my imagination when I least expected it. Sneaky.

One of the first things that I noticed (and loved) about this book, apart from the beautiful artwork on the cover, was the impressively fast pace. The first half of the book doesn't get bogged down in a lot of flowery language or unnecessary fluff, it gets straight into the story and
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When his 18-year-old son dies mysteriously in battle, a Slovakian Count retires from the field and returns home to indulge his love of puzzles. He designs his castle so that walls continually appear and disappear, furniture is on tracks and moves to different places, and bookshelves descend from the ceiling or rise, phoenix-like, from the floor. While cataloging a new set of books, the Count’s daughter finds one that has been created to be a riddle. Her father is intrigued and invites the printe ...more
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010, fantasy, 2000s
I wanted to like this book much more than I actually did, as the story had the potential to be so good. I liked the way that the setting was just far enough removed from the recognisable historical past that it feels uncanny and strange rather than totally different; the ideas the novel has about books are intriguing and enjoyable; and some of the descriptive passages are excellent. Unfortunately, it just didn't quite live up to the expectations of the blurb or of the beginning of the book.

The b
Apr 15, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is hard for me to rate. I want to give it 2 stars, because that's how I feel, it was ok; however, I'm giving it 3 because it was more ok/like than ok/didn't like, and I've given lesser books 3 stars for various reasons, so 3 it is for now at least.

Why the indecision? On one hand, Salamander had a lovely multi-layered story in a whimsical world. On the other hand, it never really sucked me in. The characters had cool names, but I didn't care that much for any of them. The author had man
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: steampunk
Ho scovato questo libro per caso, come spesso accade, e sono rimasta molto intrigata dalla trama. Un libro che parla di libri che vanno oltre i loro limiti: prometteva davvero di essere avvincente.

La prima metà lo è stata davvero. Ogni personaggio è così peculiare da far divorare una pagina dopo l'altra per saperne di più su di lui. Il castello del conte, poi, pieno di misteri, ingranaggi e libri rari è affascinante e promette sviluppi interessanti. Già pregustavo scenari pieni di significato qu
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was so unique and interesting, a dizzying maze of ideas and a fantasy unlike anything I've read. The obvious ode to lovers of books and stories and to printers and printing presses is very apparent and is something that really drew me into the story, being a graphic designer myself and part of the 'printing world', so to speak. I'm not sure it would be for everyone, but I thought it was wonderful, imaginative and a book that stands on it's own in terms of storytelling. I loved the stea ...more
Mary (booksandpizza)
I am very sad to lower my previous rating of four stars. I first read this book when I was about 14 and I remember being blown away by the story which obviously didn't happen this time around. It certainly has some very nice passages and interesting concepts but I am not happy with the execution, being that the confusing format and the complete flatness of the characters. Halfway through I felt disconnected and utterly bored; I lost interest and it didn't really come back. Basically it failed to ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I began to read Salamander without knowing what I was getting into. I thought it might be a "useful" book, an apt vehicle for my concluding marks in my thesis.

Little did I know that the adventures (barely)contained in Salamander would spill all over my argument's cleanly delineated thematic areas, running at will up and down the narrow plane of my thesis. Like the adventurer who dreams of infinity, I too was caught up in the majesty of the tale, the unpredictability of the proceedings. Beautiful
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It's hard to know what to make of Thomas Wharton's Salamander. Even two days after I finished reading it, it's still in my brain. It's probably a good thing I was in a hotel that was stingy about Internet, or I would have rushed out a review right away. Perhaps the only definitive thing I can say about Salamander is that it is a that might have the power to turn non-readers into bibliophiles with its blend of fairy tale, high adventure, philosophy, and love...

Read the rest of my review at A Book
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Magical read, a veritable steampunk feast with mad counts ruling over mechanical castles, mysteries and a story about printing books and printing words on hearts.
For me it's worth reading just to fall in love with the first chapters. With moving bookcases, clockwork people and trapped heroes and beds that travel the halls of a magical castle at night.
It trails off in the latter third which is a shame.
But totally worth reading just for the delight of the first two thirds. A book for steampunk l
Apr 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of whimsy.
Shelves: almostparadise
Reading this book was like listening to a story with many stories woven into it, told by fire- and starlight. It has the feel of a myth--of folklore or fairy tales. There are castles and improbable tasks and people that are all puzzles in their own way, deciphering the puzzles of their lives and fates. It will be too precious for some, but those who will love it...well, you'll know who you are. (We can smell each other, right? Those of us who have actually *named* our inner-child? :) Who stare a ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Salamander was so nearly a really good book. It falls away a bit in the second half, occasionally returning to form with scenes like Djinn (I think it was him) walking through the forest as the automaton. There were some beautiful passages of prose, very poetic at times. He is undoubtedly a very good writer. I just felt that the story lost its way in the sedcond half.
However, the first part of the book is as good as anything I have read. Wonderful descriptions of the mechanical castle. It is li
Aug 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thomas Wharton comes close to Jeanette Winterson and Audrey Niffennegger for flutes of bubbly imagination. This book is an ode to reading, to books, to literary devices. Like the above-named authors, or Marquez, this is a book that is doubly fabulous: for the virtuoso performance of literary-ness, AND for the creativity which continually surprises the reader. I kept thinking "how did he think of that?
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015challenge
This is a story within a story -- one of those books that's a bit hard to pin down. In it a printer is tasked to make a book without end. At times I thought I might be reading that book. while the story is mostly linear is does not always seem straightforward. There is love and heartbreak and adventure and monotony within these pages; it felt like reading several distinct books. I absolutely recommend it to those who enjoyed Life of Pi and similar novels.
May 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book started out with such promise. Mysterious books, riddles, a magic castle, a forbidden love - it had all these incredible elements! And then it kind of fell apart. The characters I found most interesting in the beginning disappear. Those that remain go through an almost surreal adventure around the world. It was so strange and fast paced, It was hard to keep up. The ending did not satisfy. Disappointing overall.
Aug 17, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Wonderfully inventive (for example, a castle built on the border, with every room on the move, so that you never know in what country you are, and never have to pay taxes...) but unlike say the Alchemist or the Little Prince, it is just imagination for the sake of imagination, and so detailed that no contribution is needed from the reader.
Dec 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give this three stars, because, while everything after they left the castle (and the story transformed into a "traditional" Victorian travel/adventure story -- not my cup of tea in the slightest) merits a 1 or 2, the first part of the story was so entertaining and imaginative it fully deserved a 4.
Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love books about books, and despite the fact that this falls squarely in the realm I most abhor of magic realism/fantasy, it is an adventure tale that offers a history of bookmaking, papermaking, printing and ancient forms related to those arts that are no longer with us. A first rate effort by Wharton.
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About Me
I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and I write books for grown-ups and kids. The Shadow of Malabron, the first volume in my trilogy The Perilous Realm, is available now in Canada, the UK, and the US.
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“Sometimes you wish to escape to another part of the book.

You stop reading and riffle the pages, catching sight of the story as it races ahead, not above the world but through it, through forests and complications, the chaos of intentions and cities.

As you near the last few pages you are hurtling through the book at increasing speed, until all is a blur of restlessness, and then suddenly your thumb loses its grip and you sail out of the story and back into yourself. The book is once again a fragile vessel of cloth and paper. You have gone everywhere and nowhere.”
“A volte desidereresti fuggire in un'altra parte del libro. Smetti di leggere e sfogli le pagine in avanti, scorgendo di sfuggita la storia che corre, non al di sopra del mondo ma attraverso di esso, attraverso foreste e complicazioni, attraverso il caos delle intenzioni e delle città. A mano a mano che ti avvicini alle ultime pagine, affretti sempre più il ritmo della lettura, finché non ti ritrovi immerso in un groviglio di inquietudine. Poi, all'improvviso, il pollice perde la presa e fluttui fuori dalla storia tornando in te stesso. Il libro è di nuovo una fragile nave fatta di tessuto e di carta. Sei stato ovunque e in nessun posto” 2 likes
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