Gutenberg’s Apprentice – by Alix Christie – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Germany)

Though I love historical fiction and looked forward to reading this book, it turned out to be very disappointing. Awarded two stars on Goodreads.guttenberg
I have a particular interest in medieval Europe. So, a novel about the origins of the printing press seemed like a no-brainer. And the story of the three main characters (Johannes Gutenberg, his apprentice Peter, and Peter’s foster father who finances the first printing of the Bible) is complex and interesting. But, alas, it still falls far short of the mark.
One moment, Gutenberg is a visionary businessmen; the next he is a supreme egotist bent on grabbing the glory and cheating his partner. Peter, who begins as a reluctant apprenticeship, forced by his foster father to work for Gutenberg so he can watch over his parent’s financial investment, soon rises to foreman and becomes the heart and soul of the enterprise. But how much is Gutenberg willing to honor the contributions of a mere apprentice? So all that still seems like the basics of a very good story, right?

Unfortunately, the way in which the author describes the four years it takes to complete the Bible often felt plodding and sometimes even hard to follow. Christie seems to assume the reader already has some knowledge of medieval Germany, where Gutenberg worked, especially relationships that played out within towns, between guilds and the Catholic Church. I had no such knowledge. So, for example, I had difficulty grasping how Gutenberg’s decision to print indulgences helped him keep his printing press secret. Maybe you’ll have better luck!

More about the author, Alix Christie.