>Rarely have I enjoyed reading a book as much as I’ve enjoyed Walter Moers’s The Alchemaster’s Apprentice. I simply never wanted it to end. This zany fantasy novel has everything that I relish most in a story: loveable characters, adventure, peril, mystery, and a talking cat. Pardon me – a talking Crat. In Moers’s weird and wonderful land of Zamonia, Crats are clever creatures that look like ordinary cats but can speak any language. This is a skill that comes in handy for our hero Echo the Crat, who finds himself starving on the streets after the death of his owner. To stave off death – at least temporarily – Echo is forced to strike a bargain with Ghoolion the Alchemaster, a diabolical alchemist who also happens to be a master chef. Ghoolion promises to house Echo for one month, educate him in the ways of alchemy, and feed him on sumptuous gourmet dishes. In return, Echo must surrender his life at the next full moon so that the Alchemaster can use his fat in an alchemical potion. Despite the hefty price, the homeless Crat agrees to the bargain. But once he gains a new lease on life, Echo begins seeking a way out of the pact and must rely upon his sharp wits and good-naturedness – as well as his friendships with such creatures as Leathermice, Ugglies, and Cooked Ghosts – to defeat Ghoolion and his wicked plans.