The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett

chrispenycate

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Whether or not it's like Potter, I wouldn't be able to read it. I've tried reading the Potter series and it just doesn't go with me. Potter is just to slow for me, not enough action or anything like that. I highly doubt I'd be able to read this DW series.
I suspect (from comments you've made on other threads) that you're right. The centre of the discworld universe is its humour, not its mindless violence (although there is no shortage of characters ready to deliver that, the writing tends to be clever, rather than graphic. Frequently the footnotes are more interesting than the main story line, and I have been known to literally LOL in a bus or aeroplane, to the surprise of my fellow travellers, at some juxtaposition of ideas he has delivered.

As you might have gathered, I'm extremely fond of them and attempt to get others who enjoy playing with language to discover them, but I don't consider them universal.
 

Werthead

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Okay so I was going through my Guinness Book of World Records: Gamer's Edition 2009, and I noticed there was some Discworld stuff made, so I read the info on it, so I read it, four elephants, a giant turtle...that's just...weird...
I think as was mentioned before, the elephants/turtle thing is a very common idea from human mythology. Pratchett just decided to write about a world where that was actually the case.

The mechanics of the world also cease to have any relevance at all after the second book. The later books in the series don't ever even mention it.
 

Marky Lazer

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He has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, yes, but it's in an early stadium and he keeps on writing as far as I know. This autumn we'll see Unseen Academicals as a brand new Discworld.
 

AE35Unit

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Dunno if this was mentioned, but when I was talking to the sci-fi worker at McNally Robinson earlier today, he said that Pratchett won't be writing anymore because he apparantly has Alzheimers or some strange disease of some sort.
Yea it caused quite a shock when it was announced on the Chrons!
We're all rooting for him!
 

Werthead

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Pratchett has Early-Onset Alzheimers, which he was diagnosed with in late 2007. However, it can take upwards of ten years from diagnosis (and Pratchett caught it very early) before it really starts to inhibit a person's life. He's already finished his next novel, is well into the next one and has another two or three lined up after that.

There was also a TV programme on the BBC earlier this year which covered Pratchett's first 12 months battling the disease and it was intense stuff. He's putting a brave face on it, but there were moments when you could see it really getting to him. Fortunately, he has the resources to travel around the world and get the very best medical treatment available.

Sourcery

There was an eighth son of an eighth son who was, naturally, a wizard. But, for reasons too complicated to get into now, he also had seven sons. And then another one: a source of magic, a sourcerer. The Discworld hasn't seen a sourcerer for thousands of years, since the Mage Wars almost destroyed the world and caused an awful racket which annoyed the gods. Soon enough the re-energised wizards of the Disc are engaged in all-out warfare and the Apocralypse draws nigh (provided the Four Horsemen can get out of the pub in time). It falls to a wizard who doesn't know any spells, a box with lots of little legs, a mighty barbarian warrior of three days' experience, a timeshare genie and a homicidal hairdresser to save the day.

Sourcery sees the return of Rincewind and the Luggage as the Disc faces its greatest threat so far. Whilst previous books seemed to have end-of-the-world plots tacked on, this one embraces the concept to the fullest and is probably as 'epic' as the series ever gets. Fortunately, Pratchett seemed to get the end-of-the-world-is-nigh story out of his system with this book and whilst dire consequences would still abound in later books, things would never quite get as huge as this again.

Still, Pratchett has fun with the concept. Deep in the heart of every fantasy author is the burning desire to unleash a story with magical duels, vast magical towers exploding, evil grand viziers twirling their moustaches and unreconstructed, mighty-thewed barbarian warriors smiting legions of disposable extras with a broadsword so huge that it had to be forged from a gantry. There's some nice typically Pratchett twists on the concept though, and the humour is well-constructed throughout, particularly involving the Librarian who gets one of his biggest starring roles in the series. However, there are only a few new introductions to the Discworld mythos here, most notably Wuffles (an elderly dog).

As entertaining as it is, Sourcery is also a little bit obvious as a story, and as with Equal Rites it does feel that this story should have had much more long-lasting ramifications for the history of the Disc, even moreso given the epic scale of the novel. These problems can be borne for the strong characters, entertaining humour and the unexpectedly sad ending (which remains effective even when you know what happens in later books, particularly Eric).

Sourcery (***½) is a strong comic novel which showcases Pratchett's growing confidence and ability. It is available in the UK and USA right now.
 

Werthead

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Wyrd Sisters

The King of Lancre has died of natural causes. As everyone knows, it is very normal and even traditional for a king to die from a stab wound to the back followed by a swift plummet down a steep staircase. As is also traditional, the king's heir and his crown have mysteriously disappeared and it's no doubt only a matter of time before he grows up and returns to reclaim his birthright etc etc. Some things are Traditional. Unfortunately, the new king and his scheming wife aren't hot followers of Tradition and as a reign of terror falls on Lancre, it falls to three local witches (and a psychotic cat called Greebo) to take a hand in events...

Wyrd Sisters sees Pratchett stepping up to the plate a bit more. Whilst the improvements in his writing skills have been clear and steady over the first five Discworld books, it was with this one that he really hit his stride, balancing moments of drama, comedy and even romance (of the awkward, stuttering kind) very nicely. The story is wholly unoriginal, being essentially a Discworld cover version of MacBeth (with a bit of Hamlet thrown in as well, not to mention too many clever references to performers from the Marx Brothers to Charlie Chaplin), but Pratchett doesn't worry about that and instead just revels in the sheer joy of writing here.

The town of Lancre and its somewhat crazy collection of inhabitants is vividly described, and the three witches (Granny Weatherwax, returning from Equal Rites, and newcomers Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick) are among Pratchett's better-written creations, but what makes Wyrd Sisters work is its thematic underpinning. Pratchett had previously toyed with using the Discworld setting to explore various real-life ideas and here addresses the idea of propaganda, the notion that the winners decide what history is and the general power of the written and spoken word, which can sometimes override reality and the truth. Pratchett doesn't harp on about it at tedious length (as he does in some of the weaker books in the series) but uses this theme and idea to inform the action and story, and pulls it off very well, if not quite as well as in the very best books in the series (some of which are coming up quite soon).

Wyrd Sisters (****) is a funny and smart book that sees Pratchett's writing skills stepping up a notch. It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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Pyramids

Young Prince Teppic is sent forth by his father, the ruler of the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi, who sends him to Ankh-Morpork to join the Assassin's Guild. Teppic is successful in his studies there, but, seven years later, the death of his father sees him recalled to take up the mantle of pharoah.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Teppic comes home with some strange notions about plumbing and the benefits of feather mattresses, which is not good news to the head priest, Dios, who prides himself on how things are run in the kingdom precisely as they were seven thousand years ago. New ideas are not welcome in the Old Kingdom...

Pyramids (subtitled 'The Book of Going Forth'), the seventh Discworld book, is one of several 'sleeper' hits in the series. Much more attention is lavished on the book preceding it, Wyrd Sisters, for introducing the popular characters of the Witches, whilst the succeeding volume, Guards! Guards!, gets a lot of props for introducing the City Watch and also for being one of the best books in the series. Pyramids by contrast tends to slip beneath the radar, which is a shame as it is a very good book indeed.

It's a stand-alone with not too many continuing story elements, but it works well for that. Rather than simply doing a story about someone with new, radical ideas turning up that the priesthood gets annoyed by, Pratchett throws in some excellent mickey-taking of philosophers and also some nice commentary about SF. Around the time Pyramids came out a lot of 'approachable' SF had been discarded in favour of brain-expanding stories about time travel and non-linear space or something, and Pratchett's constant use of "It's probably quantum!" to explain every single possible plot hole in the novel is a nice bit of satire.

Teppic makes for an engaging protagonist, although he's one of Pratchett's more familiar archetypes (a general do-gooder whose attempts to do good go wrong but he sorts it all out in the end). Dios is one of the series' more interesting protagonists, and the various pyramid-builders and embalmers make for an amusing secondary cast as well. On the minus side, the book's humour is a little bit too obvious in places (there's a few obvious Cleopatra jokes and the employment of mummies for comedic purposes), but there's still a few good belly-laughs in there as well. The theme of the book also seems a bit vague, except that ossification should be avoided by embracing new ideas, which is a bit of a no-brainer.

Pyramids (****) is a solid entry to the Discworld series, funny and entertaining throughout. The book is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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Guards! Guards!

Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is not a happy man. He has a thankless job, a bunch of incompetent subordinates and he doesn't get no respect or, more accurately, actually gets no respect. The arrival of a fresh, eager-eyed new recruit (a six-foot-tall dwarf named Carrot - long story) whose relaxed and literal approach to policing (such arresting the head of the Thieves' Guild for being a thief) is another headache for Vimes to deal with. At the same time, the Unseen University Librarian is upset over the theft of a book that could be used to summon dragons and, in an almost certainly unrelated incident, people over the city are vanishing, leaving behind only fine traces of ash and scorched brickwork. Yes, things are definitely afoot...

Guards! Guards! is Terry Pratchett's tribute to detective novels and all those hapless extras dressed in chainmail who's only job in films is to run into the grand hall and get cut down by the hero. No-one ever seems to ask them if they want to or not. Oh yeah, and possibly dissatisfied with the imaginary dragons of The Colour of Magic, Pratchett cuts loose here with the real deal, a fire-breathing behemoth of a creature who is permanently in a bad mood. The book's real success is bringing the great city of Ankh-Morpork to life as never before seen in the series, giving the city a real sense of life (and frequent, screaming death) and community. In various polls over the years, Ankh-Morpork usually tops out as the most detailed and convincing fantasy city ever created, and Guards! Guards! is really where the city starts getting its character and identity.

On the cast side of things, a whole slew of major Discworld characters are introduced, most notably the complex Captain Vimes (almost certainly Pratchett's most fully-realised character), Nobby Nobbs (the missing link between man and rat), Sergeant Colon, recruit Carrot, the formidable Lady Ramkin, Detritus the troll and, of course, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, purveyor of dubious sausage-in-a-bun products to crowds and/or rioters. Established characters like the Patrician also get a lot more screen-time and characterisation than previously established, and the revelation of how the Patrician ensures he can survive any palace coup launched against him is simultaneously hilarious and deeply disturbing. Despite temporal evidence to the contrary, I am convinced Machiavelli was one of the Patrician's students who didn't quite measure up.

Pratchett's writing takes another significant upward swing with this volume, exuding a greater level of confidence than ever before. He's funny when he wants to be, dramatic when he needs to be, even touching when it is required. The story threads are laid out, developed and then resolved with impressive efficiency and maximum impact. The way the last few paragraphs hilariously resolve very minor story points from a hundred pages previously is very clever. Particularly nicely done are Carrot's letters back home. Read them one after the other and you can see how his attitude to the Big City changes over the course of the book in a very well-done manner.

Guards! Guards! (*****) is not the best Discworld book, but it's certainly right up there. Funny, dramatic and just brilliantly entertaining from start to finish. The book is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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Eric

Eric is a demonology hacker who is trying to summon a demon to answer his worldly desires. Unfortunately, due to a slight malfunction, the demon he summons turns out to be a wizard called Rincewind. To Rincewind's own bemusement, he ends up helping Eric achieve his goals, but wasn't reckoning on the side-trips to a remote jungle kingdom, the greatest war in history, the dawn of time and hell...

Eric is a bit of an oddball Discworld novel. Although listed as the ninth book in the overall series, it's not published by Corgi but by Gollancz instead, with a different cover design as well. It's also the shortest book in the series by far, coming in at 150 pages. The explanation is rather straightforward: it was originally a large-format illustrated book written by Pratchett primarily as a vehicle for the late Josh Kirby's artwork. As a result the story had to be streamlined and more of a travelogue of various locations rather than having a deep and complex narrative. In fact, it's reminiscent of the later book, The Last Hero, with the difference that Last Hero has been kept in print as an illustrated book rather than becoming a 'proper' novel.

Shorn of its illustrations, Eric is a rather simplistic and lightweight tale. It does some good stuff, like resolving Rincewind's cliffhanger ending from Sourcery (although leaving him on another one here), and there are a few good laughs, but it's all rather shallow, to be honest. Pratchett's depiction of Hell here seems to be at odds with the rest of the Discworld multiverse and although it becoming a bureaucratic, middle-manager's paradise is a funny idea, he doesn't really have the space or time to go into it in much depth. Essentially the book is an excuse for a bunch of obvious gags and filling in a few more locations on the Discworld not previously seen.

For all that, it raises the odd smile and, more interestingly, I have been informed by Gollancz that they are planning to reprint the fully-illustrated edition in the future, which should be worth checking out.

For now, Eric (***) is a very fast, briefly entertaining diversion from the main Discworld sequence. It is available now in the UK and USA.
Bit of the odd-man-out in the series, but still entertaining.
 

dwndrgn

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I think as was mentioned before, the elephants/turtle thing is a very common idea from human mythology. Pratchett just decided to write about a world where that was actually the case.

The mechanics of the world also cease to have any relevance at all after the second book. The later books in the series don't ever even mention it.
Sorry had to add: The Fifth Elephant mentions that set up - basically there were five elephants instead and one...uh don't want to give it away but it is also a riff on The Fifth Element.
 

Werthead

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Oh yeah. To be honest I found The Fifth Elephant, The Last Continent and Carpe Jugulum to be really poor and I was worried Pratchett had completely lost it for a while, but he pulled it back later on. I don't remember a huge amount about those books.

Moving Pictures

The Guild of Alchemists have created a new form of entertainment - moving pictures! Soon Ankh-Morpork is gripped by this latest craze and everyone's trying to break into the business as more and more 'clicks' are made out at Holy Wood. The speed with which the phenomenon spreads is quite strange and soon reluctant actors Victor Tugelbend ("Can't sing, can't dance, can handle a sword a little,") and Theda Withel (aka 'Ginger') are caught up in epic events set against the backdrop of a world gone mad! With a thousand elephants! Once the order arrives, of course...

Moving Pictures is a bit of a 'fallback' Discworld novel. That is, whilst still entertaining, funny and enjoyable, there's also the feeling that Pratchett simply came up with a cool idea and let it meander around for a bit aimlessly rather than being really fired-up and inspired by the concept. His taking of a real-life phenomenon and turning it into a Discworld novel is a pretty consistent way generating stories throughout the series (he also does Discworld takes on the theatre, the post office, rock music, organised banking, Christmas, war and newspapers in future books, with football and taxation still to come), but it does feel like he hasn't put much more effort into the book than what he did with, say, police procedurals in Guards! Guards!

Of course, Pratchett on an off day is still considerably more entertaining than a lot of fantasy authors at their best, so Moving Pictures is still a decent novel. Pratchett is clearly a big movie fan and it's fun trying to find all the references to various films in this book, from Gone with the Wind and Charlie Chaplin through Laurel and Hardy to The Blues Brothers and Back to the Future, not to mention a particularly hilarious inversion of King Kong. There's also some nice prescience on Pratchett's part: the book is now twenty years old and his comments on product placement and the culture of celebrity seem more relevant today than ever before. Characterisation is also pretty good, and the regular cast continues to grow with the arrival of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Gaspode the Wonder Dog (don't ask) and most of the regular cast of Unseen University, led by the formidable Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully (finally ending the tendency of UU archchancellors in the series to have the lifespan of a colony of terminally depressed lemmings living near the Grand Canyon).

The book has a rather unusual problem for Pratchett, which is pacing. Pratchett usually handles pacing pretty well in his books, with a slow introduction to the story followed by rising action and a (usually) well-handled climax. Moving Pictures isn't quite like that, and stutters a few times with a start-stop feel to the action. In fact, it appears that the main problem has been solved two-thirds of the way through the book, followed by the 'real' grand climax in Ankh-Morpork which also turns out to be a fake-out before we get the final, somewhat anti-climatic, ending in Holy Wood. It's a bit all over the place, to be honest. In fact, it feels like on of those really big Hollywood action blockbusters which goes on for about half an hour too long after the movie should really have ended, which I suppose is quite appropriate.

That said, whilst Moving Pictures is not one of the stronger Discworld novels, it's still better than the earlier, less-well-written books and many of the individual characters and episodes in the book are funny and intelligently-handled, as always.

Moving Pictures (***½) is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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Reaper Man

The Auditors of Reality are unhappy with the Death of the Discworld, who has shown signs of individuality and - shudder - a personality. They decide to fire Death and recruit a replacement. Death accepts this decision stoically, and decides to spend his last few days of existence sampling life, adopting the alias of handyman Bill Door and going to work on a remote farm.

Unfortunately, Death's absence causes some anomalies. Windle Poons, the oldest wizard on the Disc, is upset to discover that, despite dying, he can't move on to the next life. As a result, he has to spend the interim as a zombie but, thankfully, he finds some help from Ankh-Morpork's resident undead rights movement. At the same time, an unusual plague of odd novelty items is afflicting the city. The wizards of Unseen University investigate and discover that something rather unusual is taking shape outside the city walls...

Reaper Man is, in the sometimes complicated hierarchy of Discworld novels, the second book to feature Death in a major role (following on from Mort and running ahead of Soul Music) and the first to feature the Unseen University wizards in a major role (although, confusingly, many of them appeared in a supporting capacity in Moving Pictures and the Librarian has been around since The Light Fantastic). Some of the City Watch (from Guards! Guards!) also crop up.

This slightly complicated arrangement probably adds to the schizophrenia of the novel. In all of the Discworld books prior to this, the storylines usually converge at the end and the story is usually quite focused. Reaper Man instead sprawls, with Death/Bill Door's adventures and the subplot of the wizards/Windle Poons not really gelling together. There is a vague link between them, but otherwise the two stories don't really intertwine, resulting in a rather disconnected feeling to the book. This is added to by the wizards stuff being quite funny and the Death stuff being quite serious (the advent of the Death of Rats aside).

Pratchett is also pursuing another satirical target here, following on from films in Moving Pictures and police procedurals in Guards! Guards! Unfortunately, the target is rather weak - Pratchett apparently doesn't like shopping malls, hates muzak and isn't keen on combine harvesters - and there's a distinctly half-hearted feeling to proceedings here. The book never really seems to come together and fire up like the best books in the series, despite many individually good moments and some funny lines. Ultimately this appears to be a case of Pratchett trying to be serious and even moving but also trying to throw some chaotic comedy into the mix as well, and it doesn't work. It's notable that when Pratchett separates the two out - as he does in the double-whammy of the more serious Small Gods and the funny Lords and Ladies - he does very well, but the mix here does not work as effectively.

Reaper Man (***) is readable and interesting, but definitely one of the less successful books in the series. It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Arwena

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The Discworld series is absolutely the most humurous going and is on mt rop ren list of series to be read.
 

Werthead

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Small Gods

When Brother Brutha of the Omnian Church starts talking to a tortoise, he merely assumes that he has gone mad. However, when the tortoise turns out to be the great god Om who is having a Bad Day, Brutha finds that his faith is about to be put to the test...

Up to (and including) Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett was an author who wrote books that broadly fell in two categories: books that spoofed or were a satire of modern society in some way, often through broad comedy, and other books that were a bit more serious and had a point to them, though still amusing. The two sides had come very close to coexisting in Pyramids, but arguably just managed to avoid fusing into one impressive whole.

Small Gods is where Pratchett got it right. The entire book, from its first page to its last, is a lengthy, sustained and inordinately clever examination of religion, fundamentalism and blind faith and their conflict with reason, argument and science. And you barely notice, because the story itself is extremely taut, well-told and brilliantly characterised with Pratchett's occasional bursts of silliness kept to a minimum in favour of flashes of wry and at times angry humour. Small Gods is a book that Richard Dawkins would kill to have written, and done so in such a manner that even the most God-bothering evangelical would have still been riveted to it.

Small Gods has the veneer of being just a traditional Pratchett book: there's some jokes about men in togas arguing pointlessly about philosophy (in a world where it is difficult to have a conversation about, "Are the gods real?" when a lightning bolt will come flying through the window five seconds later with a label attached saying, "YES,"), Death has a couple of cameo appearances and there is a running joke about tortoises being nice to eat. But you can tell the subject matter really got Pratchett riled up. His hatred of blind faith and the idea that killing people is okay because some book says so - and, let's face it, that book was written by a old guy who might have been bitten by a donkey that morning and was a really foul mood when he started on the bit about doing unto others with fire and brimstone and was probably not, when you get down to it, an actual deity - really comes through in this novel, but in measured tones.

Character-wise, Small Gods may be Pratchett's strongest book. Most of the cast does not reoccur in the series (Death and a very brief trans-temporal appearance by a certain simian book-collector aside), but Pratchett still has time to paint them in impressive detail. Vorbis may be one of the scariest 'villains' (if that's even a right description) in the whole series. Brutha is certainly one of its most interesting protagonists. Om's pragmatic, tortoise-meets-deity outlook on life is amusing. Even minor characters like Didactylos and would-be rebel leader Simony are well-rounded and given good rationales for what they do.

Almost as importantly, the ending does not suck. Pratchett has a patchy record with endings, with his books sometimes ending okay and others being a bit of a let-down after a strong start and middle section. Small Gods, however, has a fantastic ending, starting with possibly the biggest belly-laugh out of all thirty-odd books in the series (hint: it involves something being airborne which shouldn't be) and proceeding from there.

Intelligent but never preachy, philosophical but never boring, Small Gods (*****) is Terry Pratchett's masterpiece (okay, his strongest masterpiece). It is the strongest Discworld novel and almost certainly the best thing he has ever written.
 

thepaladin

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I've ski,,ed this thread...now let me put in my $.02 worth :).

Prachett's writing here defies description. Just get a couple. I haven't read them all and I ran across one that didn't breal me up...an early one. But on the whole these are amazing books...amazingly funny yes and also amazingly imaginative. Prachett is a like a food that strikes everyone's palate differently. Just try the books they're amazing.

My favorite character so far is death (an Anthropomorphic personification)...but like I said I haven't read them all.
 

Werthead

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Lords and Ladies

Returning to their home kingdom of Lancre after various misadventures elsewhere, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are disconcerted to discover a new, younger and more hip coven of young witches has arisen in their absence. Whilst they deal with the situation with their traditional patience and thorough levels of understanding, Magrat finds that arrangements for her marriage to King Verence are steaming ahead and the invitations have been sent out already. One recipient is Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork who decides to attend on a whim (and the prospect of excellent fishing), dragging the terminally confused Bursar, the simian Librarian and the very keen young Ponder Stibbons (whose favourite word is 'quantum') along for the ride.

The wedding suffers a series of complications of the kind that are to be expected and some that are not, most notably a full-scale invasion by beings from another dimension. Naturally it is up to the witches of Lancre (plus an annoyed orang-utan, a legion of ninja morris dancers and a terminally frisky dwarf in a wig) to rise to the occasion...

Lords and Ladies is the fourteenth Discworld novel and the third featuring the Lancre witches' coven (and the fourth to feature Granny Weatherwax). Despite the novel working perfectly well as a stand-alone, Pratchett was sufficiently concerned about the book's continuity ties that he provides a thorough synopsis of Wyrd Sisters and a somewhat briefer one of Witches Abroad before cracking on with the tale, which is a nice touch but unnecessary.

One interesting device Pratchett starts employing in these middle-era Discworld books is taking a concept or idea mentioned very briefly earlier in the series and fleshing it out into a full-sized novel. For example, a running-gag in Reaper Man about a con artist and his trained mice eventually turned into The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents whilst the Hogfather was mentioned a few times before finally getting his own book. Similarly, Lords and Ladies builds on a very brief mention in The Light Fantastic where Twoflower starts dreamily talking about beautiful elves and Rincewind reacts the same way you would to someone saying, "Well, Hitler wasn't a completely bad person..." And of course, fans had been asking for a while where the Disc's elves were, since the dwarfs and trolls had been very much in evidence. With this book Pratchett delivered the answer.

It turns out that the Discworld's elves are a bunch of merciless and easily-amused homicidal maniacs with a perchance for toying with their prey before killing them. This leads to some of Pratchett's most effective horror and tension-filled sequences, not something he is renowned for but given how good he is at them it may be a style of writing he should have tried employing more often. Magrat's running battle with a bunch of elves in Lancre Castle stands out as one of the series' best action sequences, though still laced with some brilliant moments of humour (such as the introduction of the Schroedinger's Greebo paradox).

Granny Weatherwax, one of Pratchett's most complex and interesting characters, gets some very fine character development in this novel as we see some more of her past and also get a glimpse of the other lives she could have lived if things had turned out differently. Ridcully, hitherto one of Pratchett's more straightforward creations, also gets some much-needed depth to his character as well. The Bursar provides some amusing comic relief, but is thankfully not over-used. Some later books, most notably Interesting Times, are actually bogged down by his mindless babbling, but here it is more restrained. The return of Casanunda the permanently horny dwarf is also welcome and gives rise to several sequences which are among the funniest in the whole series (his lowwayman hold-up of Ridcully's coach is a classic scene).

After Small Gods, the best book in the series, Pratchett could have been forgiven for resting on his laurels and maybe bashing out a quickie Rincewind travelogue comedy or something. Instead, he cracked on and produced a book that is a strong candidate for the most relentlessly funny and entertaining book in the series, with a twisted dark side (possibly influenced by his then-recent collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens) and some great character development thrown in for good measure.

Lords and Ladies (*****) is available now in the UK and USA. Can Pratchett make it a five-star hat-trick with Men at Arms? We'll see soon (although I have a couple of other books to get through first).
 

Werthead

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A double-bill today.

Men at Arms

Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is retiring and getting married in a few days. But an explosion at the Assassins' Guild attracts his interest, and soon a trail of bodies is forming. The Guilds don't want his help, the Patrician has ordered him to lay off and his fellow Watch members seem more concerned about the new intake of ethnic minorities (Lance-Corporal Cuddy of the dwarfs and Lance-Corporal Detritus of the trolls) than the mystery. But somewhere in Ankh-Morpork a killer is on the loose with a very powerful new weapon...

Men at Arms is the second Discworld novel to focus on the City Watch, introduced in the classic Guards! Guards! As told in that volume, the City Watch saved the city from a marauding dragon and at the end of the book the Watch gained fresh resources from a grateful city government. However, it is still regarded as a joke, as Men at Arms makes clear.

Pratchett once again uses the cliches and ideas of police procedurals to generate humour and satire, although this volume is much more of a hard-bitten (in some cases, literally) mystery novel. Sam Vimes is portrayed as the cynical, weathered old cop doggedly pursuing his case in the face of all opposition, whilst Corporal Carrot is his enthusiastic young sidekick. Of course, that would be a bit too cheesy, so Pratchett subverts this idea earlier on and takes the story in a more interesting and original direction.

The city of Ankh-Morpork comes to life in this book more successfully than in any prior volume, to the extent that Pratchett's playwright and friend Stephen Briggs was able to use information in this book (and the prior ones) to map the city so everything tracked and made sense (the results can be found in the spin-off product, The Streets of Ankh-Morpork). The city's ethnic make-up, the political structure of the guilds and the office of the Patrician are all portrayed convincingly. In addition, Pratchett aims high with his characterisation, with the most affecting death of a Discworld character to date and some brilliant development for Carrot and Vimes. There is even a reasonably well-portrayed romance and some (tastefully off-screen) sex, a first for the series. Men at Arms is Discworld aimed at a slightly maturer level than arguably any of the previous books bar Small Gods.

Which isn't to say that Pratchett doesn't bring the funny. The Colon/Nobbs double-act is excellent, the return of Gaspode the Wonder Dog (from Moving Pictures, but much better-utilised here) is genuinely funny and there is some fantastic material to be mined from the Cuddy/Detritus relationship.

Men at Arms (*****) is Pratchett yet again firing on all cylinders, delivering a novel that is by turns brilliantly funny, genuinely thought-provoking and consistently entertaining. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Soul Music

Imp y Celyn, trained as a musician in a druid society, arrives in Ankh-Morpork ready to seek his fortune. Instead, the city rapidly deprives him of the few riches he already has. Teaming up with the dwarf horn-blower Glod and the troll drummer Lias, Imp braves the wrath of the Musicians' Guild by playing without a licence. When he acquires a special guitar from a back-alley shop, Imp learns that he and his band are meant for greatness, for sex and drugs and Music With Rocks In (well, one out of three isn't that bad).

Meanwhile, Susan, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Sto Helit, is rather perturbed to learn that she is the granddaughter of Death, and when her grandfather decides to take some time off she has to step in and do the job. Which would be fine except that when it becomes time for her to collect the soul of a certain musician, she learns that music doesn't want him to die. At least, not until it decides the time is right...

Soul Music is the Discworld's take on rock music, essentially doing for music what Moving Pictures did for movies. In fact, Pratchett lampshades this a couple of times, with references to the events of that earlier book informing events (such as Ridcully becoming convinced horrible Things from the Dungeon Dimensions are about to break through the walls of reality at any second). The problem is that whilst he does this amusingly, Pratchett never really breaks away from the basic concept. He throws some great new ideas and characters into the mix, with the introduction of HEX (the Discworld's first AI-based computer), the Duck Man and the excellent character of Susan, who recurs in several future books, but overall it does feel like Pratchett is retreading old ground here. The Death storyline is also somewhat under-developed, with no real reason for Death suddenly taking a few weeks off being given. In fact, it feels very odd he would after the chaos this caused last time in Reaper Man (the events of which are also referenced several times, making Soul Music one of the most continuity-heavy books in the series).

Of course, as has been said in these reviews before, Pratchett on autopilot is still better than most writers at the very top of their game. Pratchett has a huge knowledge of music and lets the reader know it with references (both overt and subtle) to Buddy Holly, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Meat Loaf, punk rock and The Blues Brothers roaring past the reader like bullets from a machine gun. The pace is fast, the narrative is tight and some of the cliches of rock 'n' roll are very cleverly used to set up and further the storyline.

The problem is that Soul Music is, whilst entertaining, lacks the spark of greatness that infused the three books that preceded it, and if read in close conjunction with the earlier volumes it does feel like a slight step down in quality. The new characters are not quite as memorable as those in the books which preceded it and the running gag with the Bursar's insanity and dried frog pills is starting to wear pretty thin by this point. Pratchett also has a slight problem with the cameos from the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, who in their own books get involved whenever something crazy happens in the city and eventually sort it out, but in other characters' volumes simply come across as useless and somewhat pointless, which seems a bit disrespectful of them after their fine achievements in Men at Arms.

Still, these are really minor problem. Soul Music (****) remains a very entertaining and readable novel, and is available now in the UK and USA. An animated movie based on the book is also available in the USA (in a double-pack with Wyrd Sisters) on DVD, although it is currently out-of-print in the UK.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
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Unseen Academicals

For long years the game of foot-the-ball has been played in the back alleys of Ankh-Morpork, with teams formed from street communities coming together in sporting comradeship (involving violence and pies, not necessarily in that order). But the game is starting to turn ugly, and in the spirit of maintaining civil order the Patrician has decided to make the game legitimate, with professionally-organised teams and codified rules. The wizards of Unseen University are invited to form a team and Archchancellor Ridcully enthusiastically agrees, with new staffmember Mr. Nutt proving an invaluable asset. But the old street game isn't going to die peacefully...

Unseen Academicals is the most recent novel in the Discworld series and, at around 530 pages, is also the longest. It's also one of the more unfocused books in the series, with lots of excellent ideas which Pratchett is unable to bring together with his customary cleverness. For example, we are given two different reasons why UU has to form a football team. As well as the general sense of civic duty as the Patrician attempts to legitimise the game, we also have a requirement in the will of a deceased wizard whose money is funding the UU kitchens that the university has to field a football team or lose his money (and thus their food). This is an amusing idea, but also unconvincing and, after it is initially brought up, is promptly dropped.

Thankfully, for those who are not big fans of football, that element of the novel soon drops into the background, with Pratchett focusing most of the action on the character of Nutt and his enigmatic background. Nutt makes for a likable protagonist, but the revelation of his backstory lacks punch, mainly because with so many other formerly-considered-evil creatures now living in Ankh-Morpork, the addition of one more is not particularly notable. Glenda, the other main protagonist, is also interesting but there is little to distinguish her from Pratchett's other stoic, brave and resolute female protagonists. She is no Granny Weatherwax or Susan, that's for sure, but is likable enough.

The book also has its funny moments, with Ridcully given a new nemesis in the shape of his former Dean, who has 'betrayed' UU and become Archchancellor of Pseudopolis's magical academy, and the arrival of a flamboyant Genuan wizard who becomes the UU team's star striker, but it is definitely light in the out-and-out laughter stakes compared to many of the other volumes in the series.

Where the book does excel is in its worldbuilding. Ankh-Morpork has been the greatest fantasy city ever created for some considerable time, but here it gains additional depth as Pratchett delves into the social history and relationships of different communities amongst the common folk of the city and the world of servants below stairs at UU, and we get some nice additional insight into how the Patrician rules and orders the city so efficiently given its chaotic nature. In addition Pratchett uses his vast existing library of Discworld characters to populate the city, with William de Worde getting his biggest role (although still an extended cameo) since The Truth and the return of Rincewind and his luggage (although again only briefly).

Unseen Academicals (***) is well-written and occasionally amusing, but it is also flabby, overlong and unfocused, with protagonists who are intriguing but unremarkable compared to many others in the series, despite the excellent use of the setting. The book is available now in the UK and USA.
 
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