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Nicholas Flood, an unassuming eighteenth-century London printer, specializes in novelty books -- books that nestle into one another, books comprised of one spare sentence, books that emit the sounds of crashing waves. When his work captures the attention of an eccentric Slovakian count, Flood is summoned to a faraway castle -- a moving labyrinth that embodies the count's obsession with puzzles -- where he is commissioned to create the infinite book, the ultimate never-ending story. Probing the nature of books, the human thirst for knowledge, and the pursuit of immortality, Salamander careens through myth and metaphor as Flood travels the globe in search of materials for the elusive book without end.

400 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2001

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About the author

Thomas Wharton

21 books126 followers
I live near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and write for grown-ups and children. My newest novel, The Book of Rain, will be published by Random House Canada in 2023.

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5 stars
218 (26%)
4 stars
241 (29%)
3 stars
234 (28%)
2 stars
91 (11%)
1 star
29 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews
Profile Image for Donna.
208 reviews
January 19, 2008
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 would pass through the kitchen so you could just reach out for your cup of coffee and plate of breakfast. And as you prepared for a good night's sleep, heaven forbid you should drop your clothing.... You'd have to jump off the
bed, race back to pick it up, and then try to catch up to your bed again! What wonderful word pictures! I loved trying to picture how it all worked....Even though I knew logically that none of it was possible, it was still fun to imagine all of this activity and the sound of the grinding gears as everything moved around. To this point the story was inventive, clever, and great fun.... I enjoyed each and every page until about the mid-point. Sad to say, it was all downhill from there.... :-( Somehow at that point, I lost the storyline entirely. Why do authors write such great first halves and such awful second halves? Who knows? ....sigh.... I'm left yet again with a true sense of loss. What *was* the untold story here? I'm quite sure it was far better than the one that Wharton dragged us all the way to the end of the book for. Like many other books I've read this year, this could have (and should have!) been so much better.

On the upside, though, I marked several wonderful passages.... Here's a favourite....

"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 good synopsis for this book, perhaps.... :-)
Profile Image for Sissel.
24 reviews3 followers
April 16, 2017
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 read it again!
Profile Image for Madison.
5 reviews
May 12, 2014
"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."
15 reviews
August 3, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Laraine.
40 reviews181 followers
August 13, 2012
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 such a low rating--for breaking my heart. Quite unfair of me, to be honest, because the first half of the book alone deserves 5 stars. To this day, 7 or 8 years later, I still taste bitter regret when I remember the great promise this book had. It's like thinking you've found the love of your life, then suddenly being horrifically disappointed.

But still I hope.

Through all the bookshelf cleanings I've done over the years, Salamander has stayed. All those times, I would look at it wistfully and think, I want to try again, like an ex-lover you want to give a second chance.

Maybe this will be the year that I reread Salamander and, with the wisdom of the last 8 years, love it. All of it. Or maybe this will be the year that I reread Salamander and be disappointed all over again. If the latter, I hope that the heartbreak, the second time around, will allow me to finally move on, mark the book as a dud, and donate it to the library.

[Second rating and review forthcoming.]
Profile Image for Jackie.
212 reviews3 followers
April 18, 2013
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 many many cool ideas, but he didn't explore them as fully as I would have liked. Some parts of the story felt rushed, while others were drawn out. There were some inconsistencies near the end of the book, and one plot point from near the end didn't make any sense to me. Salamander should have been a quick fun read, but instead I found it hard to keep my attention focused on what I was reading and I didn't ever really feel I entered the world Wharton created. Perhaps this is because I just read The Eyre Affair and it had many similarities in the way the world in the book looked at books. Perhaps instead it is because, despite it's promise, the book just isn't that good. It's also completely possible that the book is fantastic and I just didn't read it at the appropriate time for me. Whatever the case, the book is fine, not amazing, and if you read it you won't regret it but you also may not find yourself blown away by it.

How's that for helpful? : )
Profile Image for Leif.
1,637 reviews85 followers
June 20, 2010
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 ideas such as the clockwork puzzle castle combine with thrilling passages worth the memory of Stevenson in this novel that chronicles what Borges also found so intriguing, and repellent: the creation of an infinite book.
Profile Image for Deb.
278 reviews6 followers
February 3, 2010
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 University Bookstore's odds & ends paperback sales a while back.
Profile Image for Catherine Siemann.
1,117 reviews20 followers
February 14, 2010
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, and automata. A smart postmodern fairy tale. I loved it!
Profile Image for Zoom.
507 reviews14 followers
February 3, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
6 reviews
May 18, 2020
What started out as a beautifully written, fantasy filled story with a fairy tale like quality ended in a meandering mess that I had a hard time following or caring about.
11 reviews
April 13, 2008
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 imaginary printing press... This book really gives you some respect for the complexities of the printed word.
Profile Image for Clare.
72 reviews7 followers
April 15, 2019
Well it took over 2 months but I finally finished it. Unfortunately, I honestly cannot say whether my lack of interest was because of a reading slump in general or because of this book specifically. Either way, I can only really give this book a solid 3/5 stars.

The premise of the story was interesting enough and there were plenty of compelling characters. However, I felt like the story suffered slightly from a lack of clarity and cohensiveness in the plot. It was hard for me to remember the events leading up to a specific incident or understand the motives behind certain characters’ actions. I think overall my understanding of the book is at a very shallow level.

Nevertheless, I did really enjoy some of the fantastical elements in the story. I do think the book may capture the imagination of a more engaged and motivated reader.
Profile Image for Chris.
400 reviews3 followers
March 15, 2014
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 I find this very refreshing in any book, especially a fantasy book, however it was too good to last.

The first half of the story seems a unique cross between Dracula, Gormengast and the classic 80's film Labyrinth. Nicholas Flood, a young English printer is commissioned by a strange and eccentric Slovakian Count whose huge castle is a maze of puzzles, revolving walls and machines in human likeness to create an 'infinite' book with no beginning and no end. An intriguing idea made all the more interesting by the bizarre castle and the love interest with the Counts beautiful daughter Irena. The book is ticking along nicely, the characters are interesting as is the story then suddenly without warning the book flies off into another time and place leaving the reader bewildered and lost.

I was horribly shocked to realise suddenly that all the characters I had grown to love in the first half of the book were suddenly gone! Flood is imprisoned by the count in the castles dungeon and left to die. Time leaps forward 12 years before Flood escapes!

This was a bold step by the author and a big gamble. Oh how I wish I could say it worked well and added a new dimension to the book but alas it did not. It horrified and confused me. The next thing I know a new, weaker character is introduced out of the blue, an old character returns completely changed and suddenly not so likeable, the old castle is gone so is the count and countess. The story zooms off around the world leaving me struggling to keep up. The fast past of the book remained but the clear coherent story vanished into thin air (like most of the characters) in parts the book descends into poetic nonsense (which really infuriated me because the lack of this was what I loved about the first part!) but the story itself built up from the beginning is lost in this new adventure the new characters embark on. I found I quickly lost interest and the overwhelming disappointment ruined the story for me.

I almost felt the author got bored with the castle and story of the first half of the book and suddenly desired a change, or perhaps he was trying to write his own 'infinite' book but I'm afraid all he did was try too hard. This stands out to me like a sore thumb. It really is a terrible shame because I loved the first half and could have easily read another 200 pages or so of that story.
Profile Image for Peggy.
267 reviews65 followers
August 14, 2007
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 printer, a young Londoner named Nicholas Flood, to the castle to discuss a commission: an infinite book. Nicholas accepts the commission and the rest of the book is devoted to his quest to fulfill his commission. The road to Flood’s eventual fate does not run smoothly, and before the journey is over we’ve traveled the world and met a family of tumblers, a Sultan who wishes to die, a printing press that sets its own type, a lady pirate, and scores of other memorable characters.

Salamander is a quest book: everybody is looking for something, both physically and emotionally. It’s amazing that Wharton manages to weave all of their diverse searches into the one Grand Search: the never-ending book. It’s that one goal that brings all of the characters together, and that occasionally tears them apart. I’ll admit, I’m biased; I love books, and the descriptions of the various papers and inks and the workings of the printing press were fascinating. But the wonderful thing is that all of that detail isn’t just sitting there, waiting for the book geek to stroll by. The search for all of the physical trappings of the infinite book gives us a touchstone for all of the characters: WHY someone is searching for the perfect paper is just as important as how the search is conducted, or where the search leads.

Wharton has given us a gift: a magical, mysterious, marvel of book. The characters are strange, yet believable. The story takes many odd twists and turns and never ends up quite where you expect it to. The narrative flows like spilled ink, covering everything and forcing the reader into some unexpected corners. Mr. Wharton cleverly sets the reader on just as much of a quest as the characters are on; the reader who perseveres will be greatly rewarded.
171 reviews9 followers
July 7, 2010
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 book essentially has two plots: the first of the mad mechanical castle and its inhabitants and the second of the journey around the world in quest of the components for the infinite book. Both would have been quite good on their own, but they did not seem to be particularly well meshed together and for most of the book they felt entirely separate. I would rather that both sections had been fleshed out a bit and more interwoven with each other to create a longer book. As it stands, both stories feel skimmed over at times and neither is concluded in as satisfactory a manner as I feel it should be.

I also found the lack of quotation marks very distracting. Direct speech was indicated with dashes and came across more like reported speech, a device which was used all too often in any case. The result of this was that I often found the characters to be remote and unreal. I wish this book had been better.
Profile Image for Baylee.
886 reviews127 followers
March 18, 2015
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 quando sono arrivata alla seconda metà e il mio entusiasmo si è bruscamente raffreddato.

Qui, infatti, il romanzo perde il fascino del mistero e assume uno sconfortante guazzabuglio di azioni che vorrebbero essere avventure, ma hanno il solo merito di confondere il lettore, di fargli perdere il senso delle vicende (oltre che annoiarlo in alcuni punti). Un vero peccato, perché era un libro pieno di potenziale: a quale lettore non piacerebbe leggere la storia del libro infinito?
Profile Image for David Geissler.
63 reviews17 followers
August 10, 2017
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 reading is one stolen from Paradise. To that perfect thought I can only add that an hour of writing gives one a foretaste of the other place."

"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."
Profile Image for Danielle.
432 reviews14 followers
September 2, 2016
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 steampunk aspect to it, without it becoming bogged down by all the trinkets and gadgets and focusing much more on the characters. The things that popped into my mind while reading this was part Howl's Moving Castle, part The Orphan Tales, part 20th Century gothic romance....all being stories that I loved, so it makes sense that this one was quickly a favourite.
Profile Image for Mary (booksandpizza).
48 reviews38 followers
February 7, 2017
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 give me any kind of emotion.
I will give this book 3 stars because I still feel attached to it somehow and I am sure I will probably be re-reading this in the future but, for now, I feel disappointed.
Profile Image for Annie.
2,033 reviews96 followers
August 12, 2017
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 Bookish Type.
Profile Image for SarahLeeNotCake.
88 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2016
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 lovers, book lovers and fans of Alice in Wonderland type of magical confusions and mysteries. The imagery lingers and really i loved it, if only it had kept up the promise of it's ambitions.
Profile Image for Tia.
93 reviews33 followers
April 4, 2007
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 at stars and smile, still?)
Profile Image for Jamie.
1 review
May 14, 2009
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 like something out of a fairy tale. Overall, after a promising start I was a little disappointed.
Profile Image for Nikol.
99 reviews
July 5, 2014
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.
Profile Image for HyL.
33 reviews12 followers
August 10, 2014
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?
Profile Image for Page.
Author 8 books11 followers
January 11, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Amber Silver.
28 reviews6 followers
December 29, 2007
Not exactly fiction, not exactly fantasy, Thomas Warton's Salamander is an interesting story about the very essence of books. First examining the type and the bindings, and then travelling deeper in to the hidden meanings and mysterious places locked within books, Salamander will ensure that you never look at a book in quite the same way again.
Profile Image for Michel.
402 reviews133 followers
September 8, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
5 reviews
August 4, 2010
Read this as a girl, found the story stayed with me even though the title did not. I have been looking for it since. I can't review it properly since I haven't read it in so long however I do remember it to be set in a rather long time line and was quite an adventure, never thought the characters would be where they are at the end given the beginning.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews

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