Review of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (Spoiler free)

I’ve been threatening/planning to reread Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy classic series of Discworld and at last apathy has been overcome. So grab hold of the giant flying turtle, do not call the passenger next to you a monkey and, please sir, stow that suitcase away in the overhead compartment (no I don’t care if it has legs).

So ignore the throbbing pain in your shins we’re mixing metaphors and hopping aboard the Discworld express as it winds it’s way down from the Sto plains to Ankh-Morpork.

Due to some temporal confusion our first stop is not ‘The Colour of Magic’ but is in fact the ‘Hogfather’. Lets do a plot synopsis..

Hogfather – The Plot

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Hogswatch i.e. Saturnalia. Right at this moment the Hogfather should be abseiling his way down chimneys delivering presents to excited children.

There is a slight snafu though the Hogfather is not anywhere to be found and in his place DEATH has taken it upon himself to deliver presents to the world’s children, one computer and a Librarian Orangutan that you definitely shouldn’t call a monkey.

DEATH‘s granddaughter Susan De’Ath finds this, understandably, slightly troublingly and sets about to investigate. Her sleuthing takes her to a collapsing castle of bones, the Unseen University and a place where the sky doesn’t meet the ground. Along the way she meets the Oh god of Hanggovers, the Veruca Gnome, Cheefulness Fairy and a maniac assassin who looks at the world as if through a cracked mirror…

Review

The first thing I want to say is if you haven’t read any other Discworld books don’t be put off by the plot synopsis or the fact that this is the 20th in the series. To enjoy this book you don’t have to have read any of Pratchett’s other works.

The second thing I want to say is that this book is funny. There are large sections of this book with the wizard’s and Bloody Stupid Johnson, DEATH , the Ankh-Morpork Beggars and assorted others that are laugh out loud funny. The book is worth picking just for the jokes alone. It is certainly funnier than almost any sitcom, romcom or standup routine.

Thirdly, this book has a great plot, a great heroine and a brilliant villain. The plot so this book is brilliantly clever playing around with ideas of faith, ritual, tradition and well ideas. These concepts really appeal to me.

The heroine Susan De’Ath is kickass clever using a poker to beat up monsters like the boogeyman and Mister Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh)  is one of the most chillingly creepy villains I have ever come across. All great stories need a memorable villain and Mister Teatime is probably Pratchett’s best.

Unsurprisingly, the author puts it better than I ever could so here is a couple of quotes about Mister Teatime. The first from Head of the Assassins Guild Lord Downey

“We took pity on him because he lost both parents at an early age. I think, on reflection, that we should have wondered a bit more about that.”

The second “Mister Teatime had a truly brilliant, but it was brilliant like a fractured mirror, all marvelous facets and rainbows but, ultimately, also something that was broken.”

And the third upon being told some heroes have arrived on the scene to stop him ” ‘Well?’ said Teatime. ‘Just… do away with them.’ …..

Chickenwire coughed. ‘Don’t you want to find out why they’re here, sir?

‘Good heavens, no. Why should I want to do that?”

Finally, Pratchett’s writing is sublime. Without using lots of language he is able to create a vivid picture of the world and its characters. Each scene is allows the reader to inhabit the Discworld and the characters by grounding even the most fantastical stuff in human experience.

All of the Discworld books are worth a read but Hogfather is is Magnum Opus. It truly is a holiday and literary classic. So get in the holiday season early this year with Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

Advertisements

Review : Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Plot Synopsis (off goodreads because once again I’m lazy)

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

 Review – My problems with Half A King

It’s a bit odd to be reviewing Half A King because, this book isn’t aimed at me it is aimed at a young adult audience. I knew this before I read Half A King of course but didn’t give it much thought. I have really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s books and it was off that experience that I picked up his latest story.

When it comes to reviewing the book however I find myself in a cleft stick. How much should my opinion be changed by the fact that the book is aimed towards 10-14 years olds. Even when I started writing this paragraph my thought was that I should make a hefty allowance for this. However, I have changed my mind as I write. So here it is.

It think it was JK Rowling who said that to write for children you need to have a very clear idea of what it was to be like at that age. I’m not sure that Joe Abercrombie does or at least he has underestimated children and sold himself short with Half A King.

Robin Hobb’s words in her goodreads review get to the heart of my point. Hobbs writes that Half A King had “exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist” that she liked. 

I agree with her and I have no problem with a tight POV. After all I think my Harry Potter love is probably clear from my reference to JK Rowling and Harry Potter also has a tight POV focus.

What Abercrombie does in Half A King though is to allow that tightness to restrict the world building. There are hints to the world at large. For example, Yarvi’s mother is a fiscal genius but slavery seems to play its part in her success. Whilst there is a monotheism v paganism cultural war going on that is only hinted at.

Since Yarvi’s character is so book smart and clever from his time studying to become an advisor to Kings and Queens it would have been great to see Abercrombie clash Yarvi’s “book” knowledge against reality where the hoof meets the grass. Particularly in light of the hinted upon slavery. This wouldn’t need to be done by beating the reader over the head with the point. I would have just liked to have been given a broader snapshot of the world as a whole.

Ultimately, the lack of ambition in Half A King prevents a very good readable novel from being a young adult classic. The best children/young adult books stretch their readers in a way that I don’t think Half A King ever quite manages.

Abercrombie seems to have reigned himself in when he was writing Half A King when instead, to write for young adults, he should have been letting his imagination soar.

What Half A King did well

After those critical comments I feel I must temper things somewhat by saying I did enjoy Half  A King a lot. I breezed through it in less than a couple of nights of reading and I only do this when I’m enjoying a book.

Particularly, great was the depth to the characters. Everyone has real flaws and real positives. Whether they are a hero or a villian. There were no Mary Sue’s here which is more than can be said for other books.

Despite, being the protagonist Yarvi’s can be a ruthless unsentimental b***ard and the book does shy away from this. Such touches have always been Abercrombie’s biggest strength as a storyteller and their presence keeps the grimdark feel of his earlier works going strong even with the lack of r-rated material.

Conclusion

If you’re an Abercrombie fan looking for a fix or a someone who enjoys “young adult” fiction then give Half A King a go. It’s very good. With a bit more ambition though it could have been great.

 

Review of Black Sun Rising by Celia Friedman (Book One of the Coldfire Trilogy)

Image‘Black Sun Rising’ is stuffed full with great ideas and fascinating set pieces. Unfortunately though, the book as a whole seems less than the sum of its parts.

The best bit of this book is the central premise/world building which is (and I don’t use this word lightly) awesome.  Humanity set out to colonize the new world of Erna but this world reacted in a way nobody could imagine. It shaped itself to humanity’s fears giving life to the creatures of our darkest nightmares. Essentially the metaphysical is made terrifyingly real.

To survive on Erna humanity was forced to destroy its advanced technology and fight back against world in which life was constantly adapting to kill humans. One human ‘the prophet’ led humanity in the battle to impose mastery on the world but as triumph near he fell into darkness and evil.

It is at his fall into darkness that the cold open begins and right from the off this book had my attention. I’m not going to spoil it but it was a bold beginning. Let’s just say the prophet crosses the moral rubicon in an ‘extreme’ way in the pursuit of immortality. It was the sort of scene that you would typically find in a Joe Abercrombie novel and I’m all in favour of that.

If anything though this opening reveals the weakness of the novel. I wanted the same level of ruthless brutality had be kept up throughout. At times the novel did move towards this but for long stretches it fell into the sort of fantasy travelog writing that is so difficult to do well.

Added to this is the feeling that the character development is a bit rushed. Relationships blossom a bit too quickly so the payoffs don’t match the supposed stakes. In particular Damien’s love for Ciani would have been more believable had he paid a professional cost for the initial relationship and the subsequent adventure.

It’s hinted early on that the elements of the Church do not like him because uses healing magic and they certainly don’t like Ciani who uses any and all magic. If he had been forced to turn his back on the church to save Ciani this would have added extra emotional depth to his story. In particular, it would have added an extra layer of complexity to his relationship with ‘The Hunter’ and an extra facet to Damien’s rather straight laced personality.

Reading those previous paragraphs back  I feel that I have come across as harder on the book than I would have perhaps wanted. I enjoyed this book much more than the tone of this review might suggest. However, I stand by my views because I really loved the central premise and characters of the story. The ingredients were there for something really special but the souffle didn’t quite rise as it should have. I’d give this 3.5 out of 5. I’m eager to see where the next two books of the series go.

Book Review: David Gemell’s ‘Legend’

I often skip forewords to novels wanting to get to the start of the book. I didn’t with this one and I’m glad for it. The background to the novel that Gemmell wrote it in two weeks whilst waiting for the results of a cancer test explained for me the quick almost hurried pace of the novel which is clearly one of a first time author.

Characters appear in the story as fully formed characters the backstory that would typically be books one and two of a fantasy epic is absent. This is a double edged sword. On one hand its refreshing not to have two wade through 800 pages of epic story to get to the great set piece battle. On the other hand the emotional attachment you would have to characters is lacking.

So this isn’t a great novel but it is really readable. At no point was I bored and I was constantly driven to read the next page. I’m definitely going to read another one of David Gemmell’s books.