Mort (CBR7 #39)

I’m continuing on with my march through the Discworld novels, and after having realized that I had perhaps gone too far down one path without veering off to some others in my review of Maskerade I decided to go back to the beginning and pick another tack to start down. Luckily for me my friend Alison had already lent me Mort, the fourth book in the series, and the first of the Death centric books. I was excited, I really liked when Death made his appearance in the Witches books and thought surely a book chock full of Death’s witticisms would be right up my proverbial alley. Unfortunately for me, this one was funny than hysterical, and more cutesy than clever. Not really what I’ve come to expect from Pratchett’s work.

The story is built around Death taking on an apprentice, Mortimer. Mort for short. Not that anyone actually calls him by his name. With a bit of spare time on his hands, once Mort is up to speed, Death’s own search for what it means to be human begins. Those portions in the final two thirds of the book  was very amusing and at times poignant, but it never felt like it had time to develop as the book raced to the end of its 240 pages.

What Pratchett does well he does very well. He absolutely understands how to bring teenage awkwardness across the page. I thought the book really hit its stride when dealing with Mort’s unrequited love of Keli and Ysabell’s growing fondness of Mort in the middle third. The build-up was slow and at times painful (as any teenage love should be) but the pay offs were mostly worth it. Ysabell’s sudden switch from being annoyed by Mort’s very presence to her fawning over Mort was done with little indication or reasoning, other than her seeing him in his element and honestly it left me feeling a little cheated.

But seriously, how bad could a book be that contains Death uttering the following line?

“I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I COULD MURDER A CURRY.”

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Lords and Ladies (CBR7 #23)

I had planned to read one Discworld novel each month in 2015 as part of my cannonball read before hearing about Sir Terry’s passing last month. Now that goal seems even more important. While I am still a newbie to his work, Lords and Ladies being only my fourth book of his, I was still struck by how quickly a truly gifted writer can bury themselves into your conscience and feel like your own. I may not have known you work long Sir Terry, but it knows me well.

On to Lords and Ladies because Granny Weatherwax aten’t dead.

Our favorite three witches have been away on their adventures from Witches Abroad, and lots of things can happen in eight months’ time. Magrat is planning to marry the new king (and former fool) of Lancre. Well, more accurately Verence is planning on marrying Magrat who is going along with the idea.  Anyone who’s everyone will be attending the Royal Wedding, including the Librarian and Archchancellor from the Unseen University.

But this is Discworld, and more specifically the Ramtops. There’s always something going ever so slightly off. The impending Midsummer’s Eve is no different, as we’ve reached circle time when the barriers between worlds are thin. Even the bees are worried. You see, the “lords and ladies” have somehow found a way through, and they’re NOT here for the Entertainment. Now, it’s up to Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg to stop Magrat’s fairy tale ending from being ruined by…fairies.

This is perhaps the darkest book in the Witches series thus far. The previously unflappable Esme Weatherwax is off her game in this one as the circle time is messing with her mind a bit. We get an interesting look into Granny Weatherwax’s psyche – who she is, what she fears. It makes her more relatable. She was once a girl who made the tough choices and wanted something very specific from her life. Lords and Ladies also features a very big bad. Sure Witches Abroad had Granny’s sister up to no good, but for some reason the wanton violence of this book was more unsettling than I’ve previously experienced in Discworld.

As usual Pratchett is playing with big ideas in his books interweaving them into the basic plots.  This book also offers a good look into the human need for the imaginary, for make believe.  Or put another way the glamour of Belief.  A little less than halfway through the book Granny is dealing with the first incursion from the elves and is explaining to Verence what is happening (in her Granny-like way) and lays out that beauty, grace, style are all things that can cloud our judgement and our memories and in this way the elves are more dangerous than can be easily understood. No one remembers the danger, the ugliness. We only think back to the good, or glamourous.

It is through this remembrance, through belief, that the elves anchor themselves to the Discworld – if enough people believe the elves will come, and then they will. But the longer they stay away, the more time we get without them, the more they become what we think they are: stories, myths, and old wives’ tales.  Pratchett lays out in this narrative our need for stories to get us through the tough time. But we don’t need the objects of the stories here, in the real world. Because in the real world (whether it be disc shaped or otherwise) we have only ourselves to count on, and we need to be strong enough to do that. Stories are good, in their place. But never mistake a story for the real thing.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Witches Abroad (CBR7 #10)

Being that Witches Abroad is a Discworld novel written by Sir Terry Pratchett there are literary tropes to be abused and social mores to be jumped up and down on. For our enjoyment this time Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick are off to stop a bad fairy godmother from unleashing a terrible torrent of stories all over the poor city of Genua. That sentence of plot description, admittedly, makes very little sense, but I promise you Pratchett has a certain way of weaving it all together so that you can’t imagine the story, ahem narrative, going any other way.

To be honest, I picked up Witches Abroad simply because I was in desperate need of 1) a palate cleanser following What She Left Behind and 2) something upbeat – my reading of late, All the Light We Cannot See, Station Eleven, and The Line of Beauty  coming up, have all been a bit heavy on the sad emotions. Thankfully Pratchett delivered right to my expectations – a book of humor that is not brainless that I could happily cackle away to on the couch for a few evenings and harass my roommate with quotes and discussions about which of us is who (I am very definitely Nanny Ogg to her Granny Weatherwax).

And while the humor is lovely, this is a book with substance. My main takeaway, and there are surely many layered into these 350 pages, is that no one is immune from a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to change the story, because stories will make themselves happen if you don’t act accordingly. There’s also a whole bit about mirrors, and multiplying your power while stealing your soul, but that wasn’t as interesting to me, personally.

I’m definitely having a love affair with Pratchett and Discworld and am so happy that there are so many books for me to continue to enjoy. Next month I’ll be tackling Lords and Ladies.

Equal Rites (CBR7 #3)

Folks, we need to talk about how I think I’m falling in love with Discworld. Equal Rites is only my second book in the series, but it made my heart happy while I was reading it, and considering I read it while preparing to go back to work after a two week vacation, that was a tall order.

In my review of Wyrd Sisters I mentioned that I wasn’t sure whether not picking this, the starter book for the Witches books, was going to be a problem. Having read it now, I think I was better off having read Wyrd Sisters first, since it gave me a bit of who Granny Weatherwax is, and this story gave me a more in depth experience with her, and her student Esk.

So what ‘s the story? It’s about a wizard on the brink of death who comes to the small town of Bad Ass to pass along his staff and power to the eighth son of an eighth son. The problem is, the son is a daughter, and no one has any idea what to make of that. Eskarina, possessed of significant innate magical power and the old wizard’s staff, ends up in the care of our lovely Granny Weatherwax, the witch of these environs. Granny, being Granny, distrusts wizard magic and decides to try to raise Esk as a witch. In Granny’s book, that means learning things, not just having magic, so Esk gets a thorough introduction to herbs and headology before she gets any training in magic. But Esk’s innate magic isn’t going to settle for that, and neither is her staff, so finally they set out for Ankh-Morpork and the Unseen University to try to enroll the first female wizard.

But that isn’t really what the story is about. Because this is Pratchett what we really have is spot-on satire of gender roles and institutionalized idiocy, all set in a venue we’re familiar with – school.  His satire works because he has love, and not scorn, for his subject — to wit, human nature and all its foolishness and foibles.  In Equal Rites no one can imagine a female wizard, or a male witch for that matter, because everyone’s ways of doing things are so different. Some of my favorite scenes are when view of the world collides with the ways of the Unseen University, culminating in a great twist on the magical battle from The Sword in the Stone.

While this is in many ways a stock fantasy (or any genre, really) coming of age story, it also has the Pratchett deliciousness of word play and humor. Pratchett has a talent for playing with the English language in subtle little ways so that the simplest sentence (“The conversation wandered away like a couple of puppies.”) had me giggling along as I read.

The only detractions I can really make are that occasionally the story races along and threatens to run away from you (seriously, how much time elapses in Ankh-Morpork, Pratchett?). I also thought the ending was a touch weak and just sort of plopped down there on the page. I literally turned the page expecting more, and alas there was none.  I’m sure I’ll be finding my way to Witches Abroad before too long.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.