It took two goes, but this is the one where Pratchett nailed it. He found a way to balance a character-driven plot with the social commentary that sub...moreIt took two goes, but this is the one where Pratchett nailed it. He found a way to balance a character-driven plot with the social commentary that subsequently became his trademark, without sacrificing the jokes (from sophisticated satire through to groanworthy puns) that had made the Colour of Magic and the Light Fantastic such good fun.
Sure, it isn't quite as clever as some of the later ones, nor is it quite as sharp. But for proper emotional character investment, it is splendid. The tragedy of Princess Keli is marvellously depicted, and the woes of Mort as he slowly realises what he has done are hilarious and sad at the same time.
But of course the real genius was taking the slightly cynical Death that we glimpse in his fruitless pursuit of Rincewind and transforming him into this engaging anthropomorphic personification - an idea that he later brought to perfection in Small Gods.
For a decade or so, this was the Discworld book I used to use to introduce people to Pratchett. Now, of course, I barely meet anyone who hasn't read him. Which is great. (less)
One of the truly amazing things about this book is that it works in its own right. Even though it is packed with allusions (most significantly to Just...moreOne of the truly amazing things about this book is that it works in its own right. Even though it is packed with allusions (most significantly to Just William), unlike some titles the authors don't flaunt this but simply let the story flow in the most magical way - and unless you notice, you don't notice (if that makes sense?!) A joy from start to finish.(less)
Perhaps my favourite anecdote about this book is that Neil Gaiman said that he had to rewrite American Gods because he got to the end and realised tha...morePerhaps my favourite anecdote about this book is that Neil Gaiman said that he had to rewrite American Gods because he got to the end and realised that he'd just rewritten this.
The real joy here is the slow-burning realisation of what is going on. The care with which Wynne Jones constructs the plot to ensure that the characters only appear on the appropriate "days" is only really apparent on a re-read, and the book is good enough to survive that without trouble. (less)
You'd never get the impression from reading her other books that Diana Wynne Jones could possibly write anything like this - not in the humorous eleme...moreYou'd never get the impression from reading her other books that Diana Wynne Jones could possibly write anything like this - not in the humorous element, because that's evident from everything she does, but in the viciousness with which she attacks and brilliantly dissects everything that's wrong in "fantasy"; even the acknowledged classics come in for a little bit of a subtle beating here.
I understand that the genesis for this book arose from research she did for the wonderful Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, which required her to devour countless volumes of good, bad and indifferent novels; this was the inevitable result of piles of research notes.
Every page is filled with gems (the entry on Horses is particularly fine, both for the observation about talking whilst riding and the one about pollination) and the fun of following the different trails as you almost create your own adventure is difficult to match.
Anyone who loves fantasy (yes, even the dreadful stuff) will adore this book, from Adepts to Zombies...(less)
"Below average" Diana Wynne Jones is still better than almost everyone else. And this is, sadly, below average. The story is as clever as usual, but J...more"Below average" Diana Wynne Jones is still better than almost everyone else. And this is, sadly, below average. The story is as clever as usual, but Jamie simply isn't interesting enough to support it (the tragedy of his life is far too understated, even when his own point-of-view filter is taken into account), and the resolution is as rushed as ever.
But her mastery of story is still evident - a bunch of well-worn clichés somehow feel new and alive again merely by their collision, and the backstory works ingeniously. Don't expect a masterpiece and you won't be disappointed.(less)
I can normally handle DWJ's intricate plots, even the ones with time travel. But this one still makes my head hurt (in a good way.) The twist catches...moreI can normally handle DWJ's intricate plots, even the ones with time travel. But this one still makes my head hurt (in a good way.) The twist catches you almost totally by surprise, even when you can see something is coming, and multi-threaded story fits together perfectly if you take the time to step back and look at it carefully.
I can't think of many novels that attempt something this complex, let alone ones classed as "young adult". The fact that the story and characters are also highly engaging pushes this into my top list.(less)
There's no contest for me - this is, hands down, my favourite DWJ. It's not as intricate as Hexwood, nor perhaps as subtle as Fire and Hemlock, but fo...moreThere's no contest for me - this is, hands down, my favourite DWJ. It's not as intricate as Hexwood, nor perhaps as subtle as Fire and Hemlock, but for mastery of form and style, this is nigh-on perfect.
A wonderful study of family dynamics, the way the two families reflect each other in unexpected ways never gets dull, and the farcical elements are perfectly played. Even as you realise what is really going on, she manages to pull surprise after surprise from the narrative - and for once the finalé doesn't feel rushed.
This is the book I use to introduce people to DWJ. A classic.(less)
One of those strange examples of a story set before another but which loses something if you read/see it first (others being things like The Magician'...moreOne of those strange examples of a story set before another but which loses something if you read/see it first (others being things like The Magician's Nephew and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.)
So this story is set a generation before Charmed Life and it follows much the same model: it's about how the greatest magician of the world discovers his destiny, resents it but eventually comes to terms with it.
One of the things I like about DWJ is her careful attention to detail in the plotting, something that is strikingly absent from far too many YA titles, despite the fact that children are often far more capable of picking up and following complex stories than a lot of adults. Here the opening chapters are littered with careful setups that get paid off later in the story, some blatant and others far more subtle. But when they do get revealed, you feel that sense of pleasure that there was no real cheating going on, no Deus ex Machina to explain things at the last minute (although perhaps the Tacroy plot doesn't quite work.)
Sure there are still structure issues - there's a lot of effort taken to introduce the school characters and then they merely disappear completely, but I can also see that Christopher couldn't have his second set of off-world adventures in the family home and a boarding school works fine (and it sets up the Goddess quite nicely too.) And it seems to take Christopher a long time to realise what the Wraith is, although to be fair that's a standard literary trope. The sudden detour into Series Eleven right in the middle of a tense stand-off slightly undermines it, and then it is resolved a little too quickly for an idea that deserved a lot more attention. But for me these didn't feel like obstacles; if anything they felt as though there was a longer book struggling to get out here; but 25 years ago a children's book couldn't be 500 pages..!
Of course another reason DWJ scores is that her characters are so much fun. Christopher himself is perhaps a little bland, although the scene when he realises how pompous and stuck up he had been behaving is exceptionally good. But the rest of the supporting cast are beautifully drawn, with even the passing-through getting distinct personalities (who else would come up with Doctor Pawson and his mother?) and she does a fine job of depicting the worlds through them.
For me this is a strong entry in the Chrestomanci series, but I suspect that's partly because the ones actually about Chrestomanci are inherently more interesting than stories just set in the same universe (even though the universe is good fun.) Perhaps not as good as Charmed Life, but still an easy four stars.(less)
What Diana Wynne Jones does so well is to create self-contained stories that not only have a proper beginning, middle and end (although, as has often...moreWhat Diana Wynne Jones does so well is to create self-contained stories that not only have a proper beginning, middle and end (although, as has often been noted, not necessarily in that order!) but which have a sort of ouroborous effect - the tail eating the head in an apparently endless cycle that it is the job of the protagonist to break. Here, the cycle is far longer than in examples like Black Maria or Hexwood which makes for a fascinating chance to enable the central character to grow up, but the "missing memories" device means that she can make the contrast easily explicit. And the interplay between the past and future is handled in a more complex fashion than usual too (should we consider Tom a paedophile for his obvious interest in a little girl - or should we be looking at the entire cycle and consider the adult relationship as "rippling back"?)
It still suffers a little from the big finalé problem - when all the threads suddenly come together at the end, if you have lost track of any of them then the final showdown is almost incomprehensible. And the Coda is very strange indeed - although, having said that, the article here: http://www.redhen-publications.com/He... is a rather brilliant discussion of its implications.
This does mean that if you've read the Tough Guide then the jokes are rarely surprising, but they are integrated into the story nicely, and there are one or two genuinely innovative things there too (Derk's obsession with animal genetics is perfectly pitched, and makes for a delightful sequel Year of the Griffin.)
If you've read enough hack fantasy then this will make you laugh out loud often, as the clichés come thick and fast, and yet the story is solid, with some unexpected twists that will catch you out. (less)
This is a stand-in comment for the entire Myth Adventures series, as I don't intend to comment on all of them. Suffice it to say that Asprin maintained...moreThis is a stand-in comment for the entire Myth Adventures series, as I don't intend to comment on all of them. Suffice it to say that Asprin maintained an exceptionally high standard throughout this series, which gained a new lease of life when he started to collaborate with Jody Lynn Nye after an enforced absence.
Asprin takes the fantasy tropes and revisits them with some always amusing twists, but at heart the story is about Skeeve and Aahz, the always-reliable Odd Couple pairing who learn just as much from each other despite the "master/apprentice" set-up. And the supporting cast gradually grows into a remarkably entertaining team - Guido and Nunzio, Maasha, Gleep, Bunny, Chumley and, of course, Tanda are rarely wasted and each carves out their own niche.
My personal favourites of the series are Myth Conceptions (where the team of six take on an entire invading army of tens of thousands), Little Myth Marker (for the introduction of Dragon Poker) and Myth Inc. in Action (where the minor characters get their own chances to shine.)
If you like fantasy novels and aren't averse to a bit of good-natured slapstick, look these up.(less)
It's not unreasonable to say that this book changed my life. I had never considered myself to be a mathematician, an artist or a musician; what this bo...moreIt's not unreasonable to say that this book changed my life. I had never considered myself to be a mathematician, an artist or a musician; what this book does is show that we all are, if we are prepared to try. It challenges you on every page to reconsider how you look at the world, and maintains a playful attitude throughout; even when some aspect or other is beyond you as a reader (and this will happen!) you are still caught up in the childlike delight with which Hofstadter introduces each topic, often in the most unexpected way.(less)
One of those magical books that makes you wonder if the author has in fact stumbled across a significant insight into the world whilst disguising her...moreOne of those magical books that makes you wonder if the author has in fact stumbled across a significant insight into the world whilst disguising her discovery as a comic novel...
I would say, however, that it is slightly unrepresentative of Connie Willis' work, which is typically much harder edged science fiction (although, having said that, To Say Nothing of the Dog retains some of the humorous edge that this has.)
Bellwether is one of the most insightful books about the "butterfly effect" that I have read; the basic premise, that fads are some sort of weird viral infection transmitted by an unwitting host, is a genuine hoot and many of the incidents in the ever-spiralling farce retain their power to amuse even after multiple readings.(less)
(edit: this review relates to the single volume edition of a book which was published in the US as a four-volume series, even though it's a single nov...more(edit: this review relates to the single volume edition of a book which was published in the US as a four-volume series, even though it's a single novel.)
This is one of those books where what is going on in the footnotes is as important as the main text - the conceit here is that a historian is supposedly annotating a recently discovered medieval manuscript that recounts the history of Burgundy in the 13th century, but there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. And, as the story progresses, it seems that what went on in the past is affecting the future, but why and how?
An extraordinary tour-de-force of "alternative history", utterly convincing in the small details and almost too plausible in the large ones. It also deals with a period of history that is infrequently used in fiction - that time between the Crusades and the Renaissance in Europe, when borders were still in flux, and war was the natural state of affairs. It helps that Mary Gentle is a historian of warfare too; the battles have a gritty realism that is often lacking from similar ventures, but she doesn't stint on the human interaction either: there are a couple of sequences that reduced me to tears, so invested was I in the characters' stories.(less)
What always amazes me about PG Wodehouse is the way he disguises his craft so well; the effort with which he polishes every single sentence so that it...moreWhat always amazes me about PG Wodehouse is the way he disguises his craft so well; the effort with which he polishes every single sentence so that it is not only as funny as it could possibly be, but it also reads as though he had just sat down and dashed the whole book off in an afternoon. That's more than craft, that's close to art.
Anyway, along with Right Ho, Jeeves, this is one of Wodehouse's best works. An even more ludicrous plot - Spode, the cow-creamer, the notebook, Anatole, Milady's Boudoir... it goes on and on getting crazier and crazier and yet somehow it all works. And yet he doesn't disregard his characters, who all get their moments to shine - yes, even Bertie Wooster pulls off a coup or too of his own here, even if they don't quite work out the way he expected.
This probably isn't a work that will be included in the canon of "Great World Literature". But if there was any justice, it should be.(less)
PG Wodehouse is without doubt, one of my favourite authors. If I'm ever feeling depressed, I can simply take down one of his many titles almost at ran...morePG Wodehouse is without doubt, one of my favourite authors. If I'm ever feeling depressed, I can simply take down one of his many titles almost at random and it will cheer me up in no time. For someone to create not one but two massively intricate fictional worlds (Jeeves & Wooster and Blandings Castle), not to mention countless stand-alone novels, takes a level of ability way beyond most writers. And that's without even taking into account his consummate writing and plotting skills.
And this isn't even his best, although it comes very close. But it gets the five stars for chapter 17 (the prize-giving) - one of the funniest sustained pieces of writing in his whole oeuvre, if not English literature in general.(less)