First published in 1971, Preussler’s Krabat is a retelling of a Wendish fairy tale. Translated from German by Anthea Bell, the novel follows the titular character in 18th century Saxony as he is lured to a strange mill and inducted into a Black School of sorcery under the miller. Thankful for a roof over his head and regular meals, Krabat struggles to understand the oddities and ominous signs that surround him until his friend, Tonda, dies under mysterious circumstances and he slowly begins to uncover the true horror at the heart of the mill.
Based on folklore and fairy tales, there is a depth of history in the story. The magic has a weight to it. The lives of Krabat and his fellow apprentices and journeymen are described in great detail, but are never boring. The mill feels lived in and brooding. Preussler is a master of slowly developing tension, of a growing unease that grips the characters and readers alike.
Krabat is an industrious and clever young man with a rebellious spirit, and a great sadness. He develops friendships cautiously and finds unexpected allies in his bid for freedom and revenge. The eleven other journeymen are occasionally difficult to tell apart, but one or two have an important role to play. The miller himself is a distant, almost indifferent figure, whose motivations hopes and dreams are not revealed until the end.
This is a dark and engrossing fairytale. Even in translation, the prose grabs the reader and draws them into Krabat’s world of dark magic, hidden loves, and survival. No wonder it has remained in print for so many years. A masterful retelling of a tale I had never heard before.
Krabat can be found here on Amazon.
Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review