Re-read 03/04/13: This was the very first Discworld book I ever read and, returning to it more than twenty years later, I'm very glad to see that it's...moreRe-read 03/04/13: This was the very first Discworld book I ever read and, returning to it more than twenty years later, I'm very glad to see that it's a worthy introduction to Terry Pratchett's writing. This is basically Discworld-Noir: fairly early on in the series Pratchett begins to seek a voice beyond that of genre satire and this, more than any other, shows him quite accidentally stumbling across the template he was to pursue with such success.
In terms of simple plot expectations the sign-posts could not be clearer in the opening of the book - a giant, polite, kind human is told his true species (he was adopted and raised by dwarves) and is dispatched to the city. Meanwhile, in that same city, cloaked figures assemble to conjure a dragon with the intention of revealing the "true king" who will naturally appear to slay the beast. So far, so predictable.
At some stage though, whether by design or by happy chance during writing, the author came to realise that the city was the real star here - and a star needs a co-star. Enter Sam Vimes. Owing a great deal of debt to Sam Spade, Vimes is a cynical, hard-drinking, embittered police captain. Naturally, he doesn't like his city being made to look foolish and it's down to him to battle that foolishness en-route to the dragon's destruction (with, needless to say, a little love interest thrown in on the side - but not on the femme fatale model!). Overall then, although it doesn't tackle any big and complex issues like the later Discworld novels can, this is still a well-crafted and enjoyable piece which can serve as a suitable introduction to the Discworld books for anyone interested.(less)
Re-Read 31/12/11: The first time I've read this book in nearly twenty years and it's just as good as I remember.
It's become fairly commonplace to talk...moreRe-Read 31/12/11: The first time I've read this book in nearly twenty years and it's just as good as I remember.
It's become fairly commonplace to talk about Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in the same breath. Both are now thought of as "national treasures" in Britain (or were until Adams's death) and both are (were) gifted writers who satirise our modern world through the lens of genre fiction.
What's not often remarked upon is the difference in the way in which the two most popular series by these authors were embraced by the British public. The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy series was almost immediately a success, being adapted for both radio and TV in the 1980's. The Discworld series is now a phenomenon - the most recently published (Snuff) being the fastest selling hardback novel of all time in Britain - and also being adapted for TV and radio. This wasn't always the case though, as Pratchett was dismissed as a Fantasy genre writer for far longer than Adams was a Sci-Fi writer.
Perhaps this may be explained in part by more carefully comparing the first novels in these two series. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy uses the device of a reluctant traveller to effectively satirise topics such as NIMBYism, xenophobia, politics and the TV portrayal of US cops. By comparison, The Color of Magic is somewhat less ambitious, it too uses the device of a reluctant traveller, but this first book in the series is, like so many before it (and even more after it) a satire of fantasy writing itself (save for a brief sojourn into the notions of parallel universes).
It would be churlish to criticise a book for what it isn't, however - wilfully ignoring its good points. As a satire of epic-journey fantasy fiction, it works rather well and has stood the test of time. It's greatest legacy, however, will always be that the world it introduced served as an arena for acerbically reflecting our own world in subsequent volumes.(less)
Re-read 2/4/12: I'm taking a star off this now that I've read it again after all these years. Of all the books in the Discworld series, this is the on...moreRe-read 2/4/12: I'm taking a star off this now that I've read it again after all these years. Of all the books in the Discworld series, this is the one that is least able to stand on its own - it's very much a sequel to The Color of Magic. Until recently I thought I couldn't remember much about that earlier book, whereas this one I had fond memories of. Having now re-read both, I realise that my memories were almost all of that earlier book.
This is unapologetically the conclusion to the story begun in The Color of Magic but where that novel played with the fantasy quest convention and moved at a break-neck pace, this one felt like it had a lot of filler - things that the author would have liked to have put into that first book but couldn't quite make fit. The author's voice asides, in particular, detracted from the narrative.
All in all, I think it could have been shorter (or more accurately the first book could have been longer) and been better for it. For all that, Pratchett uses some lovely words at times and hints at the satirical humour that characterises his later books so it's all still quite enjoyable.(less)
Re-read 10/3/13 (or is it? I remembered absolutely nothing when reading this):
Terry Pratchett does Shakespeare! Perhaps the author realised that his S...moreRe-read 10/3/13 (or is it? I remembered absolutely nothing when reading this):
Terry Pratchett does Shakespeare! Perhaps the author realised that his Swords & Sorcery genre satires were beginning to fall a bit flat (see my review of Sourcery); maybe he felt more confident coming into this book, more comfortable with his authorial voice and readership; maybe he was inspired or maybe he just fancied a change. Whatever the reason though, it works.
Like the earlier 'Witches' Discworld novel, this one represents a minor departure from the early established formula, this time seeing Pratchett riff heavily on Shakespeare, especially MacBeth and Hamlet but also The Tempest, Richard III and others, and it's a strategy that works to great effect. Where less talented authors mock Shakespeare openly through the dialogue, Pratchett adopts the memorable set-pieces from the several plays and lovingly crafts his own tale around them - much as is often done with other well-known stories such as fairy tales and the Greek myths. The humour here then (and there is a great deal of it) is not to be found at The Bard's expense but instead some of his plays' highlights are given the sardonic, common-sense twist demanded by the loudest smart-arses in the stalls.(less)
Re-read 24/2/13: After progressively experimenting a little more with each of the two previous Discworld volumes, this one sees Terry Pratchett return...moreRe-read 24/2/13: After progressively experimenting a little more with each of the two previous Discworld volumes, this one sees Terry Pratchett return to the straightforward swords & sorcery genre satire of the first two volumes. Having done that very successfully in The Colour of Magic it's no surprise that each successive parody should feel a little weaker. It's an idea that has been executed many, many times before and since and it's a credit to Pratchett's writing that he has influenced so many of the most recent writers in the sub-genre. Sadly though, such spoofs often only serve to show that the mocked writers are more creative and gifted than the lampooners themselves.
This isn't a bad book, by any means, it's just frustrating when you know that the author is capable of so much better. Later novels, of course, deliver on that in a big way: best to put this one down as an early craft-learning exercise.(less)
Re-read 4/1/13: This isn't quite as straight-forward a book as I remember, not in the sense of complexity, but in themes. I had unfairly bracketed thi...moreRe-read 4/1/13: This isn't quite as straight-forward a book as I remember, not in the sense of complexity, but in themes. I had unfairly bracketed this with The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic as being (merely) well executed satires of swords and sorcery romps. This is that, but it also shows Terry Pratchett beginning to flex his imagination in using the world he's created to explore topics closer to home, in this case equal opportunities employment.
I came away feeling that, for his own sake or his readers, Pratchett didn't explore this trope as fully as he does others in more recent novels, limiting it to stuffy gentleman's club attitudes and contrasting that with a grounded but obfuscating common-sense. For all that, the signs are there of what is to come and this is a very enjoyable book.(less)
Re-read 3/5/13: A lot of people seem to think that this is a book about what happens when Death takes a holiday. To a certain extent it is. The premis...moreRe-read 3/5/13: A lot of people seem to think that this is a book about what happens when Death takes a holiday. To a certain extent it is. The premise is simple: if you believe in a psychopomp then what would happen if they were no longer there? That though, is just the opening gambit - the framework within which to explore something more fundamental - time.
At the heart of this book is a tale of two people (or personalities, as Terry Pratchett would no doubt refer to them). One person has too much time; the other too little. When an ageing wizard fails to die properly, he suddenly realises he never truly lived: feeling somewhat detached from the humdrum lives of those around him he seeks meaning and purpose; principally through initially purposeless action. At the same time, an ancient being suddenly finds that he only has a finite amount of his existence left: he retires to a quiet life of agricultural labour in order to experience the kind of life he has never had. This last point is used as a counterfoil to the lives of the many in the city.
The city's inhabitants are running from one fad to another, always looking to the future and wishing for something else; never enjoying where they are and what they have. Death's assertion that human beings could never cope with knowing how much time they have left to live seems pertinent - how would you spend it and would you truly be any happier? The happiest lives of all (here) are lived out away from the rat-race, where treasure and gold is meaningless when compared with a good harvest, whilst concerns within the city are often to do with perception rather than reality - keeping up with the Joneses (here having the right accent or access to things that you don't need but want because others have them).
This is arguably the first of the 'Big Theme' Discworld novels (an argument could also be made for Moving Pictures to have that title), where the author uses his now established fictional world to satirise features of our own (a style hinted at in earlier books but never explored fully). Its success here is no doubt responsible for the longevity of the recipe.(less)
Re-read 12/1/13: This is basically the classic tale of walking a mile in the other person's shoes. The master suffers a mid-life crisis and seeks happ...moreRe-read 12/1/13: This is basically the classic tale of walking a mile in the other person's shoes. The master suffers a mid-life crisis and seeks happiness in debauchery and menial jobs. The apprentice is awakened to the responsibility and loneliness of power at the top.
For all that it eschews the Swords and Sorcery trope of The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic it is as reliant on Wizards as any of Terry Pratchett's earlier three books and lacks the confidence of some of his later work. By no means the worst of the Discworld novels it's not as good as I remember.(less)
Re-read 10/4/13: This might be based upon the Faust myth but that lineage does it no favours; this really is one of Terry Pratchett's weaker novels. I...moreRe-read 10/4/13: This might be based upon the Faust myth but that lineage does it no favours; this really is one of Terry Pratchett's weaker novels. In truth, the Rincewind novels seem at this point to get weaker with each new entry, which may represent an inherent flaw in the character - endlessly repeating the same tropes and gags ad-nauseum. Here he's brought back to the Discworld, as part of a demonic power struggle, from the dungeon dimensions; perhaps he should have been left there.(less)