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Fantasy Review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Synopsis:

The end of the world a.k.a Armageddon is finally scheduled. The evil against the good, global cataclysms, wars, famine, the Moon looking like blood and so on. In order to do it right the son of Satan has to be born and brought up among humans. A demon called Anthony Crowley, working more closely than he should with an angel called Aziraphale, is supposed to ensure the boy goes to the right, influential American family ( a kind of parody of a very old thriller “The Omen”). Things get tangled up because of his clumsiness, one chattering nun, an ordinary Englishman expecting his first newborn baby and a bunch of other strange events. While both Heaven and Hell are in a race to make sure he does what THEY want the devil’s spawn ends up being named Adam (not Damien or Warlock or anything evil) and happens to be raised in a provincial British town by ordinary lower middle class people. It is not exactly something good for his devilishness or the plans of the mighty forces above and below. Even his hell hound turns into an innocuous mongrel who loves chasing cats. The four riders of Apocalypse have obtained their orders though and are determined to carry them out. What will happen to all these people? Will anybody be able to locate the boy and start the end of the world properly? Perhaps a witch or two will come in handy; them and some witchfinders, their natural enemies…and an unusual book with deadly precise prophecies, written by the late Agnes Nutter. (more…)

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Fantasy Review: ‘Soul Music’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 16 of The Complete Discworld Reread

Remember that rash of movies that came out a few years ago that sold themselves as parodies?  Their names were nothing more than the genre they were supposed to be hilariously mocking.  And the “jokes” usually were nothing more than a scene from another movie reworked with one small thing changed.  They were supremely unfunny, most people only got tricked into watching one of the hundred or so were put out, and what few small chuckles they provided were lost because all you could remember were the easy jokes they took.  I already went through this with “Moving Pictures,” which made Soul Music almost unbearable.  At least the former had a thousand elephants.

Better than Moving Pictures, at least the plot made sense; had a little life even.  Music as a force of creation: music with a life of its own.  A guitar bought in a mysterious little shop ends up in the hands of Buddy, who starts a new craze called Music with Rocks in It.  Crowds go wild.  Meanwhile, Death leaves the scene… again… and someone else has to take over.  (more…)

Fantasy Review: ‘Men at Arms’ by Terry Pratchett

 Part 15 of The Complete Discworld Reread

“An appointment is an engagement to see someone, while a Morningstar is a large lump of metal used for viciously crushing skulls.  It is important not to confuse the two.”  — Carrot Ironfoundersson

The following is less of a review and more of a string of musings.
Easily the most quotable Discworld book so far.  Almost every page had something to make me laugh; humorous dialog, subtle references, wacky hijinks are all here.  I could easily have skipped a review and just posted my favorite scenes and quotes.  Peeking ahead at what I have written it may have been a better idea. 

These early night watch books were a real treat, for a long time I would have considered the Vimes based books my favorite of the series because of the humor.  Conversations between Nobby and Colon are almost always a delight.  There is always a little bit of slapstick humor involved with investigations, this time around I really enjoyed the different styles of reports Vimes reads from his watchmen (particularly when Colon gets a hold of a thesaurus to write his).

But they also hold up so well because before the watch got a bloated cast that cut everyone’s screen time (page time?) Pratchett was really building the personalities of each character in interesting ways.   Vimes is incredibly important to the Patricians plans, but never realizes how he is being played by the man. Detritus gains a friend, and shows some intelligence when the conditions are right.  Angua is introduced, and any fan of the series knows that is nothing but a good thing.  Later on in the series the cast will grow so large that some watch members are nothing but an easy joke, but here and now each is an important piece to the story.

The true hero of the story is not really Vimes though, it is young Carrot.  Carrot is much less naïve this time around and the way the city bends around him naturally is starting to show.  The theme of him being simple, but not stupid shows up to great effect.  My favorite is the way Carrot DOESN’T threaten people, but his words make people feel there is a chance he is.  A lot of books play with reluctant heroes, and usually they either turn whiney in a hurry or lose their reluctance and just become heroes.  Carrot has no reluctance to being a hero or being admired, but he does have a problem with people following him solely because he is easy to follow.  It is refreshing to see, he is fully aware of his power and uses it the right way.

The story itself is serviceable, but not spectacular.  A single firearm is in the hands of a killer in a city that has no idea what it is facing.  The watch pieces together the puzzle to figure out how the deaths are related and who to stop.  A nice little side story involves our old friend Gaspode the talking dog and a guild full of nasty dogs led by an unexpected canine.

“Men at Arms” also has one of the worst examples I can recall of bad editing in a good book, follow along with me! (MINOR SPOILER).  We learned about swamp dragons in Guards! Guards!  They are small dragons prone to exploding when excited.  Now to the editing hiccup that has driven me nuts for years.  1.  Something blew up, what could it be? 2. Vimes says, I smell dragons and there is glass (like from a mirror?) all around. 3. New recruit speaks up; she thinks someone blew up a dragon on purpose.  4. (And this is seconds after Vimes SAYS he smells dragons remember). Vimes gives a patronizing “I suppose” and basically ignores the suggestion.  A couple of pages later he finds more evidence and acts shocked shocked SHOCKED that the new recruit was right, they did blow a dragon.  A line of thought that he himself started a few pages back!

Oh, I can’t leave it on a negative.  More awesome stuff!  Rephrenology (look it up Joe!) should totally be a thing.  Lots of foreshadowing in the early going (you’d have to be a fool).  Reflecting the cities’ Ethnic Make-up is important (a dwarf, a troll, and a w—).  A very touching clown funeral. And of course, Gaspode gets a new home.

4 stars.  No five, no four. Ya, four.

4 stars

Fantasy Review: "Lords and Ladies" by Terry Pratchett

Part 14 of The Complete Discworld Reread

I have said several times that Granny Weatherwax is my favorite character of the genre by quite a long ways.  But it is in Lords and Ladies that I start to realize that Nanny Ogg gives her a heck of a run for the money.  She may always play second fiddle to Granny, but at times there are clues that it may be because that is where she prefers to sit.

The formula is well established now; take a well known story, strip out a good portion of it while keeping what works on Discworld, set the most entertaining witches into it and watch the fireworks.  A wedding is to take place on the eve of midsummer and the whole world is invited.  Traveling from the University is a group including the Archchancellor and the library.  Lancre preps in awkward ways, including an impromptu play but on by some of the craftsmen of the area (ie Carver the Weaver and Thatcher the Butcher, how did I miss this joke so many times before?).  If the bride is less than happy it is not because she doesn’t want to get married, but damn it would have been nice to have some say in the matter.

But reality is rather thin, wannabe witches play with a few things they shouldn’t have, and Jason Ogg’s play suddenly gets too real.  Next thing we know the village of Lancre has an infestation of nasty elves convicting people with glamour that maybe they are not that bad.  Terrific and terrifying are just different sides of the same coin after all.

Somehow the formula for witch novels hasn’t gotten old yet, perhaps because Pratchett has felt little need to stick to the parodied stories very closely at all and maintains flexibility.  The story starts strong, with Granny needing to deal with a new crop of wannabes led by a girl with some real power.  She wins a witches duel in an unconventional way, in no small part due to the hidden strengths of Nanny.  Nanny has no need for the spotlight (at least when it comes to magic; she actually uses her attention seeking ways to avert people’s eyes to her very real power).  Magrat is wonderful in this book; wanting to mope around but realizing that it really isn’t her way.  When elves attack she thinks she is channeling an old warrior queen, when in reality she is showing the same inner strength we have seen several times; strength that for some reason Magrat always seems to forget she has.

There was a rare danger of the cast growing too large this outing.  Granny and the Archchancellor’s past was handled well and was very sweet in a melancholy way but I would have loved more scenes with them.  Ponder and the Bursar are completely wasted in this story.  I was also disappointed a bit by the ending, a giant Dues ex Machina that was somewhat saved by the smart route Nanny went through to achieve it.  Granny looks like the hero in this one, providing the most impressive magic and most vocal resistance.  But it is Nanny who thinks it all through and finds the solution.

The elves themselves were kind of boring villains but it didn’t really affect the enjoyably of the book.  How to explain?  The elves were like an agar for the protagonists to grow in.  They provided the outlet for each character to do their thing, rather than doing anything themselves.  Even the Queen was more useful as a way for Granny to push herself to the limit than she ever was as leader or scary villain.

A few jokes fell flat near the end but otherwise this is one of the funnier outings of the witch sub-series.  I want to learn the bucket dance, loved Nanny playing footsie with steel toed books, and the Archchancellor going on about not being invited to his own wedding never got hold.

4 stars. Not one of my favorites but another very solid outing. 

Fantasy Review: ‘Small Gods’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 13 of The Complete Discworld Reread

I. ‘ SMALL GODS’ IS THE STORY OF BRUTHA, LAST OF THE PROPHETS TO THE GREAT GOD OM.  IT IS CONSIDERED BY MANY TO BE THE BEST BOOK BY PRATCHETT FOR GOOD REASON.  IT SHOULD BE THE ONLY BOOK A PERSON EVER NEEDS TO READ.

It is true that ‘Small Gods’ is a hell of a book, and is probably my favorite of the author’s vast catalog.  I don’t know how many times I have read it in my life, but over a dozen is a safe bet.  It tells the story of Brutha, an illiterate novice in the Church of Om.  Tending the garden he hears the voice of his god coming from a small turtle.  Turns out that in the middle of the temple dedicated exclusively to Om, filled with statues in his image and an inquisition designed to keep everyone on the true path, Om can only find one actual believer.  And for gods on Discworld, belief is the sole way to power.

II. EVERYONE MUST KNOW THE STORY OF OM AND BRUTHA.  THE TRAVELS THEY TOOK TOGETHER.  BRUTHA’S RISE.  THE NEED TO ALWAYS BE KIND TO TURTLES.

Brutha never had a single doubt about his god, but once he gets proof the rest of his beliefs go up in flames.  The church itself is going through some harsh measures to enforce its beliefs.  The inquisition enforces the rules of prophet after prophet, rules that the great god Om claims to know nothing about.  A resistance is growing, starting with the simple verifiable fact that globe Omians claim the world to be a globe is false, every traveler knows it is a disc sitting on a turtle.  With the cry of “the turtle moves” flowing through the church Vorbis, high deacon of the inquisition, decides it best to stamp out the heresy at the source.  A trip to the philosophers’ city of sin is planned, and Brutha is dragged along.

III. VORBIS IS A COMPLETE ASSHOLE.

Ya, he really is, but he is a wonderful villain character.  Ice cold doesn’t even begin to describe him.  It is pointed out that some people in the inquisition truly enjoy hurting people, making them merely terrible humans.  Vorbis truly thinks people deserve it, making him a true monster.  Terrible as he is Vorbis makes the perfect counterpoint to the saint like Brutha.  Even after he shows his worse Brutha is there time and time again to right his path, right up to the perfect ending.

IV. DESPITE BEING WRONG IN THE PAST BE ASSURED THAT THE CURRENT CHURCH OF OM CAN NEVER BE WRONG.

Writing a book that mocks religion, or aspects of religion, can be tricky.  Many authors would be content to just be mean; have everyone in power shown to be a buffoon and make fun of the funny little rituals and contradictions in text.  Pratchett took a different tact.  While the institutions of the church had major problems the solution was a reformation rather than a dismantling.  It is a more respectful tone that is one of the reasons I find the book so readable.  The fact that we know from the start that God exists changes everything.  People living in fear find themselves believing in fear more than the god.    A favorite passage comes from an outsider to the church remarking on a stoning he watched; every person present was absolutely certain of one thing, that they were not the person being stoned.

V. THE GREAT GOD OM DEMANDS THAT REVIEWERS OF HIS BOOK GUSH A BIT MORE.  THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH PRAISE!

I can’t really gush enough about Small Gods.  There is no way I can give it a fair review, and it took me a week to write this silly thing up.  I never realized how hard it is to explain why one of your favorite things is so good.  But damn, it is hard.  This is the best I can do.  Please read Small Gods if you have not, it is one of the best.  As a plus it is a standalone within a series and requires no knowledge of the rest of the series to read.

5 stars.

VI. THE END!

Fantasy Review: ‘Witches Abroad’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 12 of The Compete Discworld Reread

First things first, I must say my reading comprehension has gone up by quite a lot since I started reviewing all the books I read.  For instance I know I have read ‘Witches Abroad’ a half dozen times in my life and never once realized that the ‘Cinderella’ of the story (Emberella) was of mixed heritage.  In no way does this affect the story or the review, just jumped out at me for the first time.

Anyway….

Another book following Granny Weatherwax so you must know I am all in.  Continuing, and expanding on, the theme of stories gaining a life of their own, this time following fairy tales rather than Shakespeare.   Magrat inherits a magic wand and the duties of fairy godmother, as well as a long time battle with another fairy godmother.  She learns she needs to travel to Genua to stop the serving girl from marrying the prince.  The late godmother lets Magrat know she is not to bring Nanny and Granny along, so of course all three witches head to Genua.  Off to Genua!  And Magrat may have a chance to stop a story if she can get the wand set to something other than pumpkin.

A bit different from the last few Discworld books in that it doesn’t have competing stories fighting for space.  Instead it is firmly focused on the Witches journey and Emberella’s fate.  This should make it one of the more focused of the series, but I found it to be a bit uneven at first.  The traveling especially was hit and miss; providing some of the funniest portions of the story but dragging after a while.  Granny continues to be my hero when she takes on the card sharks in riverboat gambling (humming off tune and itching the inside of her ear the whole time).  Along the route they see the results of a godmother giving happy endings, with horrifying results (think Shrek 2). 

Once in Genua the story tightens up.  A perfect town is kept that way with an iron first (think Shrek 1. Wow, they had to have read Pratchett before writing those movies).  A practitioner of Voodoo has been holding the Fairy Godmother at bay but will need the Lancre witches to tip the balance.  Because if the resident fairy godmother has her way Emberella WILL marry the prince and there WILL be happily ever after, whether anyone wants it or not.  Both sides know they must now play within the story and each must figure out the best way to cheat within the framework.   Who is good and who is bad?  Is forced happiness real happiness?  Is Granny always the good one, and if so, does she really want to be?

Oh yes, some of my favorite parts for others to compare with their own: A small town deciding to stop the running of the bulls after the witches visit, Granny showing a voodoo doll can work both ways, and Magrat proving to be more mongoose than mouse.

I can’t be objective because the Lancre witches continue to be my favorite, and have been for years.  I also am fond of this book because it had one of Pratchett’s strongest endings, especially withen the sometimes inconsistent early books.  The only downside I see at all is the travelling, while funny, dragged a bit too long for my taste.

One last interesting fact, pointed out to me before I started rereading this book by another fan; all five major characters in this book are women, and the only male who really matters to the story is actually a cat.  Who else but Pratchett could do this so subtle that most wouldn’t even notice?

4 stars

Fantasy Review: ‘Reaper Man’ by Terry Pratchett

The Complete Discworld Reread

‘Reaper Man’ is the best Discworld novel up to this point, by far.  While in ‘Mort’ we saw death go on vacation; the entire thing was a side plot played for humor.  Hehe, look at Death trying to figure out people while his apprentice is mucking up his job.  In ‘Reaper Man’ Death is forced out of his job, and now learning a little bit about people may be the most important thing he can do.

Death isn’t the type to do nothing when forced on holiday, so he sets off to be useful.  Widow Flitworth needs a hired hand for her farm.  There is perhaps no one more qualified in the world to bring in her crops than the original reaper.  Newly rechristened Bill Door takes the job.  The story starts with typical Pratchett progressions; neighbors getting Bill drunk, a little girl seeing him as the skeleton he really is, and Bill meeting THE FUTURE (a newly invented combine harvester).  But of course eventually Bill is going to be confronted with the possibility that his new friends and family can die; and eventually Bill has to decide if he can break his old prohibition on meddling.

Everything about this storyline is perfect.  Bill’s evolving thoughts are organic, the tenderness between him and Miss Flitworth is one of the sweetest things I have ever read.  The conclusion was perfect.  Never again will a barn dance be mocked in my household, for I have seen what they really are.  Death is still Death, he still knows his duties in the end; but he will never forget what humanity means after this book. 

5 sta…

Oh wait.  There was another part of this book.  Wow, this may be the weakest Discworld novel so far.  So Death is forced out of a job, and this means that people stop dying.  Among these is good old Windle Poons, who being a wizard knows when he is going to die.  Except he doesn’t.  Because he can’t, there is no Death.  After bumbling around a bit trying new ways to kill himself (haha, he jumped of a bridge and didn’t drown) Windle eventually falls in with the other undead of the city, organized by zombie Reg Shoe. 

Meanwhile the rest of the Wizards are trying to figure out what this overstock of life force is doing, as little snow globes popping up everywhere eventually turn into shopping carts.  From there they try to grow into a city mall.  Because people not dying leads to shopping malls?  And this must be stopped for some reason.  Honestly, at no point do I get what Pratchett was doing here, but I am guessing he was big enough at this point that editors happened to other people.

Look, I won’t tell you there were not bits of hilarity in these scenes; the bickering of the Unseen staff, Mrs Cake, swear words turning into little monsters.  But it was unnecessary, absurd, and made zero sense.  I could have done completely without this half of the book.  Focusing on the Reaper Man side of things would have been perfect.

What do you do if the same book is 5 stars and 2 stars?

3 ½ stars it is.

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