FSFH Book Review

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Abnett, Dan
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Reviewing Literature
The Books of Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's phenomenally sucessful 'Discworld' series has earned him the dubious honour of being the Most Shop-lifted Author, as well as an OBE.  He lives in Wiltshire.
Average Review Score: 4 out of 5 (11 books)

The Colour Of Magic
I'm not strictly a Pratchett fan, but this novel did encourage me to read more of his books.  The story hops around like a rabbit on steroids and Pratchett's prose if clumsy and lacks flow, however, it is concept rather than literary skill that gives the author his appeal.  The comic concepts here are very clever and poke fun at both fantasy and myth itself, my favourite scene being when Death and Fate have a tense confrontation.  Another brilliant concept is Rincewind's desire to discover a new understanding of the world (science), but is disappointed to learn that a small box with a lens that produces pictures is no more scientific than the small demon that lives inside it and paints.  I also am very much a fan of the Luggage; never before has a wooden box with no dialogue been given such character.
4 out of 5
The Light Fantastic
The second Discworld novel picks up where 'The Colour Of Magic' left off.  This gives the book it's weakest moment in which a colossal deus ex machina saves Rincewind from falling off the edge of the world.  Once again, Pratchett does jump quite suddenly from one scene or concept to a completely different one, but this is tempered here by the fact that there is an overarching plot: the Discworld's supposedly immanent collision with a great red star.  The various reactions to this impending apocalypse make for some very funny reading.  For instance, one refugee from a city explains that the star will burn all life, boil the seas and turn the land to glass and he is therefore heading to the mountains, "That'll help, will it?" asks Rincewind, to which the man replies "No, but the view will be better."  In a change from the previous book, Twoflower isn't entirely annoying and Pratchett uses him for some great parodies of tourists.  Another bit I liked was where Rincewind maintains his sanity by not talking to trees, even though they're intent on talking to him.  As usual, Pratchett's prose is often unwieldy, but for the most part the comic concepts presented here far outweigh that fault (and that's before you take into account the presence of Pratchett's two best characters; Death and the Luggage).
4 out of 5
'The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn't sure it was worth all the effort.'
Equal Rites
The third Discworld novel and Pratchett's first attempt to use the series to write a coherent story, rather than a manic series of sketch-like scenes.  The premise is this; in Discworld there is male magic (for wizards) and female magic (for witches).  However, things become more complicated when a girl named Esk is accidentally given a powerful wizard's staff as her own.  Esk is a great character, her determination and comic child-logic making her escapades wholly readable.  However, more than Esk, I liked Granny Weatherwax.  Granny's stubborn refusal to be wrong, her slightly warped view of the world and her implaccable manner make her the best Discworld character since Death and the Luggage.  Together Esk and Granny travel to Ankh-Morpork to find Esk's place in the chauvinistic world of the Unseen University.  I really enjoyed the showdown between Granny and the UU's Archchancellor, which leads to cooperation, grudging friendship and amusing geriatric flirtation.  As ever, Pratchett's humour is strong and satirical, but is blended perfectly into the overall flow of the story.
4 out of 5
'This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn't pretend to answer all or any of these questions.'
The natural order of the Discworld is turned on it head when Coin, a Sourcerer, appears at the Unseen University and convinces the wizards there that it is time for them to take over the world.  Opposing Coin's brutal dominion are the Librarian, the Luggage, the daughter of Cohen the Barbarian and, of course, Rincewind.  Pratchett, as always, offers countless comic concepts for us to get to grips with and Rincewind's cynical cowardice is as entertaining as ever.  However, somehow this book just failed to catch my imagination.  I think perhaps it's the fact that the story of the Disc being in peril with only Rincewind and an odd group of allies is not really anything new.  Also, there was something terribly uninspiring about sourcery as the threat and the endgame of the story just didn't work for me.  So, this is a funny and clever book, but not a great novel.
3 out of 5
'There was a man and he had eight sons.'
Once again, a logical plot is sacrificed in favour of introducing a series of comical concepts.  Here Pratchett uses the Discworld to pull apart the Aztec culture, horny teenage geeks, Homeric legend and Dante's concept of Hell.  It was in the psuedo-Troy sequence that I laughed out loud, when it turned out that the woman whose kidnap had begun the war a decade earlier had gotten fat and unattractive during the ten year siege.  Another of my favourite moments was when, at the end of the universe, the King of Hell asks Death if he's seen anyone; "Yes" replies Death.  "Who?".  "Everyone."  When all is said and done Pratchett's best concept in this book is the idea that matter is constantly being created in the universe, under fridges and the like, in the form of paperclips, marbles and those little clips you get out of new shirts.
4 out of 5
'The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and sombre, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles.'
In this Discworld novel, Pratchett sets his sights on that most ridiculous of things, the modern Christmas.  No part of the festive season is left unpicked, making this an especially good book to read around the 25th of December.  The author also brings into view the fact that we humans have a tendency to ascribe things which we don't understand to the most bizarre things (hence the appearance here of the Verruca Gnome, the Sock Eater and a mention for the thieving Electric Drill Chuck Key Fairy).  As always (in the books I mean, not real life), Death is hilarious.  His misguided attempts at becoming the spirit of Hogswatch cheer make for the most amusing moments of the book.  The downsides to the book are Pratchett's usual clunky writing style, the fact that the scenes involving Ridcully and co are all too familiar and the story thread featuring Mister Teatime is hard to follow, obscure and generally quite boring.
4 out of 5
The Last Continent
To figure out if you'll like this book, you simply need to answer the question 'Have you spent any time in Australia?'.  If the answer is no, then don't bother with 'The Last Continent', the core story is dull as dishwater (Rincewind runs around and the Unseen University Faculty act stupid) and, as usual, Pratchett's prose is clumsy and hard to read.  However, if the answer to the question is yes, then you'll find this book a very funny satirisation of the geography, culture and people of that unique country.  Among the highlights are the scene in which the UU Faculty accidentally invent the platypus whilst arguing about how a duck should look, Rincewind's beer soup becoming the brown glop later known as vegemite and the discovery that the Last Continent's non-dangerous wildlife extends to 'some of the sheep'.  Finally, something that I discovered and adopted during my own time Down Under, there is a unique magic in the words 'No worries' or 'She'll be right', a magic that allows all the world's troubles to be taken in your stride until you can get hold of your next beer.
3 out of 5
'Against the stars a turtle passes, carrying four elephants on its shell.'
Carpe Jugulum
The kingdom of Lancre falls under the sway of a family of vampires.  But these are vampires with a difference, they have realised that if the don't believe the social conditioning about things such as garlic and sunlight, then they can't be harmed by those things.  Standing against them are Lancre's witches, a doubting (doubtful?) priest and the Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men.  The base story here is both comic and tension filled and would be worth reading as it is, however, Prachett gives us more.  A subplot involves Granny Weatherwax questioning not only whether she should fight this new evil, but also if her dark ancestry means she should join with the vampires.  The comedy is maintained throughout by the butler Igor, whose old-fashioned ways lead him to go to lengths such as constantly adding cobwebs that the progressive vampires clean away and to look forward to a good old pitchfork-wielding mob.  My personal favourite element of the book, though, is the Wee Free Men.  How can you not like a charming race of smurfs whose chief pursuits are drinking, fighting 'an snafflin coobeastie!'.
5 out of 5
'Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth.'
The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents
This book taught me why I have such problems with Pratchett's prose.  In his normal novels Pratchett seems to write under the impression that a book's intelligence is measured by how confused you can make the reader.  With this book, aimed at younger readers, Pratchett is forced to dispense with his jibberspeak and write plainly.  The result is the best of his books that I've read so far!  With the dross swept away, we get a genuinely involving and tense story with characters that you actually like (rather than wishing they'd just shut up).  I'm afraid all too many people will overlook this book because it is aimed at a younger audience, but those who do read it will feel so very sorry for those who do not.  The story revolves around a cat called Maurice and a group of rats who have all been Changed by magic and are now faced with an immensity of questions about their future and their purpose.  Whilst they wrestle with their consciences, Maurice (a very cunning street cat), convinces them into using the 'plague of rats' con on one more town.  However, beneath Bad Blintz, Maurice, the Clan and the stupid-looking kid, face a deadly evil.
5 out of 5
Night Watch
I was quite surprised by the nature of this Discworld novel.  It's not a series of crazy adventures that parody mainstays of the fantasy genre and it's not a full-length parody of any one type of story either.  It's barely a comedy at all.  Instead Pratchett surprised me with a mature book about the simple people who try to follow their consciences and live their lives when the world around is politically polarised.  The premise of the book didn't impress me, with Duke Sam Vimes being transported back in time to take the place in history of his own mentor.  However, the actual content of the story, as Sam tries to save Ankh-Morpork from the riots he knows are impending, whilst trying to teach his younger self how to be a good copper makes for compelling reading.  Alot of Discworld fans probably won't like this book, but I enjoyed seeing the author experiment with a different style of writing and type of story
4 out of 5
Monstrous Regiment
In the early Discworld books Pratchett used to come up with some great comic ideas, but seemed to have a lot of trouble stringing them together into a coherent plot.  Now, however, he seems to have mastered both the comedy and the plotting.  This book is about a bizarre bunch of army recruits, which includes a troll and a vampire, but who discover they all share a secret.  Beneath the trousers, the swearing and the farting, they are all girls.  This plotline gives the author the chance to explore the funnier elements of the gender gap, whilst also satirising the historical treatment of women.  There's also quite a sharp comment about God here too, as the god of Borogravia, Nuggan, dispenses ridiculous commandments, only to turn out to be long dead, the commandments merely a manifestation of fear and ignorance.  I really enjoyed this book, the depiction of the true skill of NCOs (ie working around stupid officers) being perhaps my favourite element.  The ending was somewhat ruined for me, however, by the sad inevitability of the 'revelation' about Sergeant Jackrum.  I definitely feel the book would have been better off, more poignant certainly, without that element.
4 out of 5

If you liked Pratchett:
Fans of the Discworld series will undoubtably enjoy Douglas Adams' 'Hitch-hiker' series which features a similarly brilliant selection of grand comic concepts.

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