Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
Alix Christie
Gutenberg's Apprentice
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-062-33601-93
Publication Date: 09-23-2014
406 Pages; $27.99
Date Reviewed: 10-15-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  General Fiction  Science Fiction

Peter Schoeffer thinks he's well on his way to having it all — in Paris, September, 1450. But his foster father, Johann Fust, calls him away from a cosmopolitan life as an up-and-coming scribe for the Church, bidding him to return to Maintz, Germany, and work on a project his father is funding with a man named Gutenberg.

| In 'Gutenberg's Apprentice,' Alix Christie turns history we might think we all know into a page-turning thriller about the development of a new technology that will change the world Peter lives in to the world we live in. This is of course the printing press, and Christie manages the neat trick crafting a novel in a historical setting full of grit and authentic period detail that nonetheless makes readers think about the present.

The result is a reading experience that alters our perception of the present and past as they play off of one another. 'Gutenberg's Apprentice' is exciting and fun and thought-provoking because it is exciting and fun. Gutenberg would be pleased with the outcome of his invention.

Getting the voice and prose right for such a venture is critical, and Christie nails it from the beginning. An older Peter is asked to look back, and tell his story. As he does, Christie gives readers just the right about of dirty, filthy background details to keep the narrative real. Peter's not happy at what's being asked of him, and his initial reaction is almost off-putting. He hates Gutenberg and thinks the work he's handed is far beneath him, and he's not wrong — at first. As the novel moves forward, Christie lets Peter become accustomed to his new surroundings — as does the reader. It's crafty abns works a treat. The voice is really a pleasure to read.

It helps that every character is full of sharp, jagged edges. Gutenberg's a boss whose voice and manner are very familiar, but never anachronistic. Johann Fust plays the part of a venture capitalist and decent foster father. He never goes easy on his kid. Peter's co-workers are generally crude and unsophisticated as humans but achingly real characters. Most importantly, Christie makes their working relationships seem realitic for the time in every regard while in the same moment reminding us of our own concept of teanms and teamwork.

At the heart of this book is a very fascinating sense of double vision. Christie immerses us in this past world, which in many ways is alien to our way of thinking, particularly with regards to the Church and the way it wielded its economic as well as its theological powers. But as we read the story of the ways these characters interact with one another and the technology they are creating, and the way they create technology, it's impossible not to see the current-day parallels. The result is a very tense and involving reading experience; we're in this ultra-convincing past, thinking about our present, and wondering how both are going to end.

With 'Gutenberg's Apprentice' Alix Christie makes ample use of the technology whose inception she is describing. Her ability to craft a story between the lines of history past and present offers readers the Matryoshka-like experience of reading about the creation of reading as we know it, while suggesting we don't know about how it all started. We suspend our belief that we know what happened to the details of her story, to her characters, world building and prose. One thing is certain. This is a great example of why reading itself is still a powerful technology.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us