Paper Plane Reviews

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Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

After the debacle that was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I wanted something that I could recover with. And my immediate reaction was Discworld, where I could both read something new and yet guaranteed to make me happy. Since it was a Witches book, I was really looking forward to this next installment.

Lords and Ladies picks up when Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick return home from their extended travels following Witches Abroad. Magrat returns to find that her sweetheart, King Verence II, has already started preparations for their wedding. Perturbed by how suddenly and imminently she will become Queen of Lancre, she has a falling out with Granny and throws herself into learning how to act like royalty. At the same time, Granny and Nanny are concerned that the standing stones keeping the Fair Folk at bay may be weakening.
While the Witches are probably my favourite of the Discworld sub-series, I thought that Lords and Ladies was a bit weak compared to the previous installments of the series. Not that this makes it bad, it’s just hard to match a corker like Witches Abroad. By itself, there really isn’t anything that that I can criticise about Lords and Ladies, it just has very tough competition.
One thing that I absolutely love is Pratchett’s depiction of elves. Considering that the Discworld is a riff on traditional fantasy tropes, he could have modelled them on the graceful and wise elves that you get in things like Lord of the Rings or D&D. But instead he went for the properly old-school elves that steal your children, and I just love that. It adds just the right amount of threat and eeriness. Additionally, I really liked the touch about how the average person in Lancre perceives the elves. In comparison to Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, who know just how awful elves are, the rest of the population has gradually forgotten the creepy, child-stealing part of elves and they only really remember the glamour and the pretty laughter. It was a nice touch.

I do love the old-fashioned child-stealing version of elves, so it was really cool to see them in the Discworld. Lords and Ladies isn’t the best book out of the Witches sub-series, but that doesn’t matter a whole deal considering how stellar the series is as a whole. 4.5/5

Next review: Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Signing off,
Nisa.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

It’s been far too long since my last Discworld novel, and after a string of books that I only kind of liked at best, I was hoping for something that I could be pretty certain that I would enjoy. Perhaps not the best reason to read something, but after a while you just get tired.

Small Gods follows the god Om who manifested on the Disc just as his next prophet is due to be chosen, only to find that he is stuck in the body of a tortoise and has lost his divine powers. Desperately trying to regain his former powers, he finds that the only person who can hear him is Brutha, a lowly novice who seems to be destined for mediocrity at best.
I was right to pick another Discworld, because this was just what I needed right now. Entertaining as always, but with a really interesting subject to satirise. Considering that Small Gods is focusing on religious institutes, a subject that can get people very angry if executed poorly or heavy-handedly, I was pleasantly surprised by how subtle this manages to be. This is despite the gods being arrogant and undeserving of praise and the clergy either being too cowed to do anything productive or sadistic enough that they’re actively participating in the perversion of religious faith. This is probably down to the relationship between Om and Brutha, which is the kind of entertaining bickering that I love. On the one hand, Brutha is understandably a little doubtful that the talking turtle is his god given the distinct lack of divine power, but is quite happy to look after the little guy nevertheless. And then on the other is Om, who is endlessly frustrated by his lack of power and struggles to remember just who any of these former prophets are that Brutha keeps quoting. On top of those two, Pratchett has provided a fascinating villain in the form of Vorbis. In a way, he reminds me of Lilith from Witches Abroad. There is no doubt that what he does and what he makes other people do is evil, but because he is safe in the knowledge that he carries out his faith’s doctrine, he can reason that it is all in the cause of a greater good. He is certainly not likeable, but he is intriguing to observe and in some ways incredibly pitiable.

Small Gods is, by far, my favourite of the standalone Discworld novels that I’ve read thus far. It’s an intriguing criticism of the harm that can be perpetrated when faith is replaced in day-to-day life with aggrandising the institutions that have grown around them. I would definitely recommend this one. 4.5/5

Next review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Signing off,
Nisa.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

I hadn’t realised just how much I had missed the witches until I picked up Witches Abroad to read. Adding to my enthusiasm was the little gleeful grin that my husband gave me when I told him what I was reading next.

When Desiderata Hollow, a fairy godmother, dies without training a successor, her wand finds its way into the hands of Magrat Garlick. With the wand comes a set of instructions to prevent a servant girl from marrying a prince. And under no circumstances is she to be accompanied by Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg. Those instructions go down about as well as was to be expected, so the three witches make their way to the city of Genua, sowing chaos and poorly understood foreign words in their wake.
I’d forgotten just how much I love the witches together. I mentioned it as the prime strength of Wyrd Sisters but the chemistry between these characters is just so good that I feel I have to repeat myself. It’s made all the better by taking them out of their normal environment, as they become pretty much the worst two old ladies you could take on holiday along with a long-suffering relative/babysitter. So a really good place to start from.
When you add to that a truly unnerving villain in the form of Lilith, the rival fairy godmother, it leaves me struggling to find fault at all. I love villains that are firmly of the belief that they are the good guys, no question, but they’re so difficult to pull off. Most of the time it ends up being a villain who acknowledges that they do bad things but justifying that it’s for a good reason. It takes a special kind of author to write a villain so self-absorbed that questions of morality are just ignored entirely, and Lilith is a prime example of what happens when it’s done right.

With the great chemistry between the witches, a really well-written and creepy villain, and his regular hilarious writing, there’s nothing that I can really fault with Witches Abroad. Eagerly awaiting their next installment now. 5/5

Next review: Doctor Strange: Season One by Greg Pak & Emma Rios

Signing off,
Nisa.

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

I’d been really looking forward to my next Discworld installment, as Reaper Man is the next part of the Death series. And you’re probably aware of how much I enjoyed the last time Death was centre-stage. The fact that my husband, the resident Discworld nerd, couldn’t remember the plot was somewhat concerning though.

Having decided that Death has developed too much of a personality to properly perform his duty, a group of strange cosmic auditors announce that he is to be retired. With no work to do, and limited time on his hands, Death decides to venture out into the world and experience living before his successor arrives to take over. In the meantime, however, people are still dying, but with no Death to collect their souls, things start to take a bit of a strange turn elsewhere on the Disc.
I’m not sure how to feel about Reaper Man. On the one hand, it’s Death, my second favourite character after Vetinari. On the other hand, it doesn’t really feel much like a Death novel. For one thing, half the novel focuses on the efforts of Windle Poons and the other faculty members from the Unseen University. While I am quite fond of some of the faculty, *cough*Bursar*cough*, I thought that the wizard section was just generally weaker than the Death section, especially once it got to the weird sentient shopping centre thing at the end. But even then, the Death section is a surprisingly slow look at the rise of industrialisation in the farming industry. I just about works considering Death’s proclivity for scythes, but when put together with the aforementioned sentient shopping centre, I get the feeling that the satire may have been a bit harder to work this time around.
Don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, but Reaper Man was kind of disappointing considering how well-written and conceived Mort was.

Another enjoyable read from the Discworld, but it seemed a bit confused. Death dealing with the rise of industrialised farming doesn’t really mesh well with the Unseen University’s battle with a sentient shopping centre. Of all things, why a shopping centre?! 3.5/5

Next review: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

If anyone out there has seen the film The Princess Bride, then you should know why I picked up the book version. It is one of my absolute favourite films and so damn quotable. So obviously when I saw the book on sale, I couldn’t help but pick it up and partake in that bittersweet exercise of comparing the book and the movie. To do otherwise would be inconceivable.

As a small boy, William Goldman learned to love literature after his father read him the story of The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern, an epic tale of swordplay, revenge and true love. When he tries to pass on this love to his son, however, he finds that his father may have trimmed the novel down to “the good parts”, sparing him countless pages of tedious satire. As such, he decides to abridge the novel, presenting the novel to the reader as it was read to him, with copious abridging notes along the way.
There was probably a part of me that knew that this was coming, but The Princess Bride was better as a movie. While I was very much a fan of some of the additional details, like Inigo and Fezzik’s back-stories, I found that the majority of these details worked more to bog the narrative down. Take the asides by Goldman as part of the abridging work. The ones that work the best are the ones that he keeps short, sweet and to the point. Because when they don’t, the narrative can take a turn for the overly clever or, more often, self-satisfied and mean-spirited. Honestly, that’s the most disappointing part. What should be interesting to a reader, expanding what we know about characters that you loved from the film version, is ruined because the things that were mere niggles in the film are now amplified. Buttercup’s lack of common sense is now stupidity to the point that the reader is in danger of completely missing what Westley sees in her other than her beauty. Westley’s controlling behaviour is likewise made uncomfortable with such lines as “Woman, you are the property of the Dread Pirate Roberts and you do what you’re told!” pushing his character neatly over the line into the list of characters most likely to commit mariticide at some point after the story’s end. At the end of the day though, the film was an uncannily faithful adaptation, all things considered, so fans of the film should still enjoy themselves.

If you loved the film version like I did, this is sort of a disappointment. The fundamentals are there, it’s just that it becomes too clunky in places where the extra details only highlight the niggles in the more streamlined adaptation. Much as he berates the fictional S. Morgenstern for bogging the narrative down with too much detail for the sake of cleverness, Goldman finds himself falling into the same trap at times. I’d still happily recommend the book though, as the story is solid enough to endure the odd misstep. Just maybe accept that in this instance, the film is better than the book. 4/5

Next review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Signing off,
Nisa.

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

And we’re back to Pratchett again, and I had very little idea about what could be expected in Moving Pictures. Judging from the title, there was a pretty good chance that it would be movie-related in some way, but considering the largely traditional fantasy trappings, I wasn’t quite sure how that would pan out. 

Moving Pictures follows Victor Tugelbend, a student wizard who has been studiously avoiding passing his wizarding exams in order to maintain his life of leisure. But when a group of alchemists develop a process for filming and displaying moving pictures, he finds himself swept up in the furore of Holy Wood, new home of the “click”. He soon finds that there is something unnatural about Holy Wood and the clicks, and he determines to find out what it is in between takes. 
So, the good but obvious stuff first. Pratchett’s writing and humour is top-notch as usual. That he appears to be both pandering to cinephiles with an abundance of movie references (made appropriate to the Disc of course), whilst also being at his most intensely scathing about the whole fame thing only makes this more entertaining. 
I think the best thing about Moving Pictures is the way that the subject of fame is tackled. On the one side, there is Victor and his co-star Ginger, who are trying to get their heads around the idea that they are suddenly important for no reason other than who they are, or at least who they can convince others that they are. This is compounded by the two wonder dogs, Gaspode and Laddie. Gaspode is a dog gifted with intelligence and speech by Holy Wood’s magic, but Laddie is the one everyone assumes is smarter because he looks the part of a wonder dog. I rather liked the talent vs luck/looks vibe that the book tackled, because usually stories set in the world of movies likes its audience to assume that of course actors are more than just the right kind of pretty face for the era. 
The characters were a bit of a mixed bag. I liked seeing more of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, and I look forward to seeing more of Archchancellor Ridcully and the Bursar. The two mains were a bit on the bland side though. I don’t know whether that was meant to be some kind of commentary on vacuous actors, but it would have been nice to have a bit more personal motivation instead of being constantly prodded into action by the talking dog. 
Finally, the pacing is a bit odd. Not necessarily bad, but it does seem to have a lot of build-up and then a rather sudden climax. I didn’t mind it so much, but I could see it being more distracting for those who were perhaps not expecting it. 
A bit oddly-paced and the main characters could do with some more oomph, but the subject matter itself is more than enough to make up for the aforementioned weaknesses. Definitely one to pick up if you want to both laugh and express your cynicism for the film industry. 4/5 
Next review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

Eric by Terry Pratchett

So, I was a little torn going into Eric. On the one hand, it’s part of the Discworld series, which I really like. On the other hand, it’s a Rincewind book, the installments that I find closest to tiresome.

Eric follows Rincewind as he is summoned from the Dungeon Dimensions that he was trapped in at the end of Sourcery. Following an oddity in a demon-summoning ritual, he has been called to grant the wishes of a teenage Faust-wannabe named Eric. While the wishes themselves are standard enough (to be ruler of the world, to have the world’s most beautiful woman, and to live forever), the magic that Rincewind suddenly has at his fingertips is determined to grant these wishes in the most awkward way possible.
This is probably the first time that I’ve thought that Pratchett’s writing benefitted by being shorter than normal. With most of his Discworld books thus far, I’ve gone away wanting more of what I just finished, which is kind of what I want from a book. With Eric, while I’m more than happy to admit that it is by far my favourite of the Rincewind books so far, it’s kind of obvious that there wasn’t much substance to it. I can’t imagine that I would have liked Eric half as much if it went on for a regular Discworld novel’s length. It’s main good point is its brevity.
With regards to characters, my comments from previous Rincewind reviews still stand. I harbour a great love for the Luggage, and I still don’t think that Rincewind works as a main character. As for the eponymous Eric, he’s kind of a generic spotty teen. Occasionally he’s amusingly ill-informed but otherwise there’s not really much to him either. Like the plot, I could see him getting irritating if the material was stretched. any further.

The best novel starring Rincewind thus far in the series, but there’s not a great deal of material here. Its brevity is a definite benefit here, as I could see it getting tiresome if it were any longer. As it is, it’s short and sweet, and it’s a lot of fun. 3.5/5

Next review: Machine of Death edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo & David Malki

Signing off,
Nisa.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

After a long while of reading things that were in no way Pratchett-in-origin, I returned to the Discworld series and my husband rejoiced. Right up until I started incessantly quoting it at him whenever a funny line came up. Which was quite frequently.

Guards! Guards! follows the misadventures of Ankh-Morpork’s Night Watch, a much-maligned group attempting to keep order in a city where theft and assassination are well-regarded career options. Whilst they try to rein in a rather enthusiastic new recruit, a book about summoning dragons is stolen from the Unseen University and things start getting a whole lot more scaly and fire-breathing.
I’m not going to beat about the bush. I loved Guards! Guards! from start to finish. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that the kind of grizzled noir detective tropes would work with more traditional maiden-eating style dragons, but somehow it does gel quite nicely. And it leads to some great character introductions for the Watch. I have been told that Vimes gets even better, but even at this early stage I really liked the weirdness that is the hardboiled alcoholic detective within a fantasy setting, so I can only look forward to more of him. Carrot is the 6 foot dwarf (by adoption) who is the first genuine volunteer to the Watch that anyone can actually remember, and his overly enthusiastic rookie status worked fantastically against the infinitely more cynical and self-preserving veterans. Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs are somewhat less memorable than the others at the moment, but their generally pathetic and cowardly natures make for some great comedic moments. And then, be still my beating heart, there’s Sybil. I thought she was the best thing about the book, bar none. An Amazonian mountain of a woman, who has more authority in her than that of the entire Watch combined and dedicates her spare time to breeding the most ridiculous specimens of dragon that I have ever seen in fiction. She is marvellous and I want to take her home. Also, it was nice to see Patrician Veternari start to come into his own. He is probably the only one who doesn’t seem to be phased by anything that the plot decides to throw at him, and he manages to have one of the funniest scenes in the book whilst at the same time having probably the grimmest scene. He’s just one of those characters.

Definitely my favourite Discworld novel thus far. I would say that of all the ones that I read of the series thus far, Guards! Guards! strikes me as the novel that is most beginner-friendly, possibly drawing with Mort. So really, there isn’t much excuse not to pick this up if you haven’t already. 5/5

Next review: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Signing off,
Nisa.

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

After a good dose of depressing Russian literature, I was in the mood for something a bit more comforting. As such, here comes another Discworld review! It was going to happen eventually, especially with my husband encouraging me to pick up the series again. 

As a young boy, the prince of Djel is sent to Ankh-Morpork in order to learn how to be an assassin, and possibly earn back some of the money that their ancestors spent on building pyramids. Upon completing his assassin training, the prince Teppic is called back to his home country to take on the role of King. In attempting to be a good and progressive monarch though, he is foiled at every turn by the traditional High Priest Dios. And in the necropolis, the pyramid that is being built for his father’s mummified body is starting to cause strange, possibly quantum, phenomena. 
I found Pyramids to be kind of average actually. Now don’t get me wrong, Pratchett is his usual very funny self, with some truly awful names cropping up and barely a page going by without the writing eliciting a laugh or a smile of some kind. And there is a lot about it that is quite clever and interesting in regards to the world-building. I just can’t get excited by the main character. I really wanted to like Teppic, and in the first part of the book I honestly thought that he could be a quirky main character who would be a joy to follow. I mean, his first appearance is him getting ready for the final exam that will allow him to join the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork; having strapped on everything that he can think of to help him, he falls over from the sheer weight of it. The parts where Teppic gets to show off his assassin skills are by far the best part of it, but for maybe two thirds of the narrative he doesn’t get to use it. Instead he sits around while his country is run without him even being necessary, which, while frustrating in-character for him as well, isn’t exactly what I was hoping for out of a main character. In addition, it means that when he clashes with Dios, to the point where the High Priest is actively threatening to kill him, the fact that Teppic doesn’t automatically go to kill his obstacle is kind of bizarre. I suppose that there may be some Assassin Guild code that I’m missing involving only inhuming people under certain circumstances, but even so. What’s the point of making the main character an assassin if he never actually inhumes anyone directly? 
Overall, kind of average for Pratchett, but that’s still quite a bit better than most other people’s average. It’s a stand-alone novel within the wider Discworld series, so possibly a good one to start with or see if you like Pratchett’s style. And of course, if you’re looking to read all of the Discworld series, then you can hardly leave this one out. 3.5/5 
Next review: From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

While I wasn’t as enthused about the last installment as I had perhaps hoped, I was still quite looking forward to reading Wyrd Sisters, as Pratchett was definitely getting into the setting last time and I wanted to see what he would do with the witches as characters instead. 

Following the murder of the King of Lancre, the duplicitous Duke and his wife are determined to remove any evidence of their crime. This would normally mean killing off the late King’s infant heir, but the infant ends up being protected by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. This intervention on their part is only the beginning, as forces beyond their control conspire to push them into bringing the rightful heir to the throne. 
I had met Granny Weatherwax previously in the Discworld novels, but she works so well against other witches, especially Nanny Ogg. Even if the plot of Wyrd Sisters had been as weak as the last Discworld novel, it would have been well worth it for pretty much every scene that the witches are in. There aren’t enough words to convey just how much these three characters work together, and I think I could possibly have been happy just reading their scenes. As it is, the rest of the plot is really quite strong, with some interesting riffs on the Macbeth style of coup d’etats that the story focuses on, and the beginning of a rather sweet romance. 
Honestly, I think the only weakness is that the parts dealing specifically with the acting troupe don’t really work for me as much. But even that is kind of a stretch, seeing as they are still very entertaining and only really suffer for not having witches in it. 
Probably my favourite thus far. I would definitely bear with the weaker entries in the early part of the series if only for this entry. The witches are absolutely the best part of this and their chemistry would sell the book for me alone. The fact that the plot is pretty strong is an added bonus really. 5/5 
Next review: The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

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