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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
There were two main reasons why I picked up The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. Firstly, the title is really eye-catching, and it implied an equally interesting premise. Secondly, I remember reading the first of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series and enjoying it. So I thought that this would be a safe enough book to peruse.
When Eva Beaver’s twins leave for university, she gets into bed after having to still pick up after her children and husband, even when they aren’t there. Not intending to stay there for more than a few hours, she finds herself unable to bring herself to move out of her surprisingly comfortable bed. Now her husband, children and matriarchs on both sides of the family must figure out what to do with her, while Eva herself contents herself with thought and the unexpected sympathy of Alexander, the white van man. The quotes on the front cover lie. Honestly, I think that this premise could have gone quite well. It’s the old adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” If this had been well-written, it could have been a touching lesson about valuing people for their contributions to the lives of those around them, and not by salary or intelligence. There could have been some comeuppance for the adulterous husband or the protagonist coming out of the experience with a new sense of what she wants in life and the drive to get it. What we instead get is the story of a woman who stays in bed for a year for no real reason other than she can, and in the process proving to be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to keeping her dysfunctional family together. I don’t see what is funny about that. I don’t see what’s funny about a middle-aged man who can’t properly look after himself and doesn’t have anywhere near enough emotional intelligence to maintain not one, but two affairs whilst still a little in love with his wife. I don’t see what’s funny about two autistic teenagers who have to deal with university life in general, a psychotic compulsive-liar for a room-mate, and the extremely public fallout of their mother’s choice to hermit herself away. And I certainly don’t see what’s funny about a woman who is so determined to stay in bed that she pushes away the entire world, to the point where her doctors find no other option but to section her. Honestly, anyone who actually laughs because of this book must come from another planet, and I say that knowing that my sense of humour can be both utterly black at times and utterly bizarre at others. This is not a funny novel. End of story. The other main thing that bothers me is that it just ends. I was hoping for an ending that would tie everything together and make the whole story make sense, but what I got instead was a year of Eva’s life, no more and no less. What does it matter that the husband has given up completely and gone off to live with one of his mistresses, we never find out which. Why would we want to know what happened to the twins after they were apparently arrested? What possible reason would we have for wondering how they’re going to stop that whole sectioning business from happening, because that shit doesn’t just go away because hey you stopped doing the weird thing now. The ending is the mess that just tops off what was already a bit of a car crash anyway.
The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is a complete embarrassment of a novel. Irritating characters with weak motivations do pretty much nothing but complain over the course of a year, and the ending adds to the pointlessness of the whole reading endeavour by wrapping up precisely nothing that had come up over the course of the narrative. It’s a completely unfunny waste of time. Don’t bother. 1/5
Pratchett time again. Having enjoyed the previous installment from the Discworld series a great deal, I had understandably high hopes for Sourcery. In addition, it would be revisiting Rincewind, a character that I hadn’t seen for some time and who might hopefully get a bit more of an even characterisation this time around.
In the Discworld, the eighth son of an eighth son is destined to become a wizard. The eighth son of a wizard, a wizard squared if you will, is destined to be a sourcerer, a source of new magic in the Discworld. When a powerful wizard breaks his vow of celibacy and creates a sourcerer in the process, the child makes his way to Ankh-Morpork and the Unseen University to claim the mantel of arch-chancellor. And the only wizard to stand in his way is Rincewind, the hapless protagonist from Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. I’m probably not going to make any friends saying this, but Sourcery is at best a mixed bag. It’s a really weird thing, because I’ve been gleefully quoting parts of the story that amused me, and they were plentiful. But when I turned the final page and actually finished it, the overall impression that I got was kind of average. Thinking through it though, I can more or less pick out what did and didn’t work so well. So, what worked? First, the asides are absolutely brilliant. These will be, for the most part, points where Pratchett puts the narrative on hold in order to explain a little bit about how the Discworld works. They are always amusing, and a lot of the time really interesting from a world-building perspective. For example, there’s a bit about how ideas and inspiration work, where an idea is already formed out in the ether and must make an almost impossible journey through space and time in order to appear in the right head at the right moment for the inspiration to make everything fall into place. When it works, great things are done and understood. When it doesn’t, you get a very confused duck with grand ideas about clean electricity generation, if it doesn’t miss entirely. Stuff like that is great, and I think that I would have enjoyed Sourcery a lot less if there hadn’t been as many of these witty asides. Second, there is the eternal delight that is the Luggage. It was by far my favourite part of the previous installments including Rincewind, and that has not changed in the slightest. It is still my favourite murderous walking bag of holding, and the little adventure/extinction-filled rampage that it has on its own is wonderful. More Luggage is always appreciated, especially when it’s drunk. Likewise, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse were great, although not strictly needed narrative-wise. Now, onto the not-so-great parts. Firstly, the plot has a tendency to meander a hell of a lot more than some of the previous Discworld books. I mean, in Mort, the perspective was either with Mort, Death or briefly Albert. By the end of Sourcery, we had sections with Rincewind, sections with the non-magical companions that he meets on the way, sections with the sourcerer Coin and the Unseen University, sections with the Luggage, and sections with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Trying to keep all of these in check and equally interesting is not something that Pratchett succeeded with, quite honestly. If the plot had stuck to two, maybe three groups at most, it might have tightened the ending up and made it feel less anti-climactic. Secondly, the majority of the characters didn’t really appeal to me. There’s Rincewind, who I want to like more than I do. I mentioned in my review of The Colour of Magic that Rincewind probably wouldn’t work as well without a character like Twoflower to bounce off of, and I think that Sourcery kind of proves my point. Rincewind is a character that needs a source of manic energy and recklessness to bounce off of, and when it isn’t there it becomes a mystery what he’s even doing in the narrative. Pratchett makes no bones about how much of a coward he is, so it just doesn’t sit right with me that he continues to be involved in the plot after the initial reason for joining the quest is no longer an issue. As for the non-magical characters, I just wasn’t impressed. Conina, the barbarian woman who just wants to be a hairdresser but can’t resist getting into fights, should have been so much more interesting, but wasn’t consistent enough characterisation-wise. Nijel, the skinny wannabe barbarian hero, was funny at first, but quickly became irritating. The less said about Creosote the better. The sourcerer, Coin, was probably the best character-wise apart from Luggage, as a ten-year-old with powers beyond anything anyone else can conceive and guided by a malevolent presence and will to use said powers. I wish there had been more of him, as opposed to the weak-willed wizards surrounding him, so he feels like something of a wasted opportunity.
I want to like Sourcery more than I do, but as a novel it’s only average. The asides dealing with world-building and the sections with the Luggage and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse had me laughing out loud, but the overall plot and characters are too weak to stand up by themselves. It just needed a little tightening really. 3.5/5
Next review: The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year by Sue Townsend