re:View – The 2011 bookshelf III

Well, this has certainly been my discovering Pratchett year. I fell in love with Discworld after a friend gave me The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky (both reviewed in part 1), and once I’d got hooked on the magic there was just no stopping. I particularly love the witches, so I went with their storyline for my first proper exploration of the Discworld universe…and then spent the rest of the year reading mostly Pratchett as well. So here we go, the third and last part of my epic 2011 book review.

I Shall Wear Midnight
by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

Oh wow, that was dark. Prattchet’s teenage witch has certainly grown up, and for a witch that means facing a whole lot more than puberty. This book made me realise once again why I love Pratchett so much: It’s comic fantasy, but there’s a balance, a kind of very practical-minded morality to it. With Pratchett magic’s not all sparks and glamour; it has consequences and requires sacrifices. And so I Shall Wear Midnight reveals that Tiffany’s dallying with her magical powers in the previous volumes didn’t only lead her into immediate showdowns with mythical enemies, but has also conjured up a much more complex force from a deep, dark corner of history – one that’s frighteningly human. Where there’s witches, there’s always people with a stake, and history tends to go in cycles and repeat itself. And with the ancient spirit of a powerful witch-hunter on the loose and turning her land against her, the stakes are high for Tiffany. Meanwhile, there’s still that issue with boys being idiots…

Read it? Yes. And read the other three first!


To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee | amazon (UK)

I’m quite embarrassed to admit that, despite studying American Literature, I never actually read To Kill a Mockingbird, until last year. But I’m finally catching up on all the books I didn’t have time to read at uni…so better late than never, as the saying goes. To Kill a Mockingbird is, withouth a doubt, a very important book (it certainly was for its time but I think it still is today), and it’s also a huge pleasure to read. The contrast between the grim subject and the child’s point of view has such a massive impact on the reader. And no matter how infuriating and depressing the story gets, the young narrator’s innocence again and again lifts it up and gives it a strange sense of hope. A beautiful classic.

Read it? Yes, and don’t leave it as late as I did!


Equal Rites
by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

As the title suggests, this is essentially Pratchett on equal opportunities. In line with tradition, a dying wizard chooses his successor by passing on his staff to the eighth son of an eighth son (that is, a child destined to become a wizard). But, being in a bit of a rush, the old man forgets to check one essential detail, and the eighth son turns out to be a daughter. When the girl Eskarina grows and starts to show uncontrollable powers, head witch Granny Weatherwax decides she must be off to the university to learn how to use her skills. Trouble is, only wizards – as in, men – are allowed in the university, while girls can only train for witchcraft with a village witch. So the fine gentlemen of the university won’t have it. Naturally, Granny won’t be stopped by a door slammed in her face (especially not if a wizard is doing the slamming) and applies female ingenuity to the problem. Cue a load of magic-ing around the issue of gender equality, and a big showdown of Granny vs The Old Boys. Meanwhile, a whole new kind of magic is about to be discovered…

Read it? Yes! Along with the rest of the Granny Weatherwax saga!


Wyrd Sisters
by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

Shakespeare gets a Discworld makeover in this spoof of the classic court tragedy. Some evil duke kills the king of Lancre and takes his place. Everybody in the tiny kingdom kind of knows it, but they’re too terrified to do anything about it. The witches of the land – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and newbie Magrat Garlick – aren’t happy about all this, but the unwritten codes of tradition forbid them to meddle with royal politics. To which the witches can only say a very hearty “sod it”, and the magic meddling with the duke’s evil schemes begins. Shakespearean theatre traditions and playwright-ship get their share of comic attention in this book, but Pratchett also goes on a thoughtful excursion into the workings of propaganda and the power of words. Wyrd Sisters is magical on every level. It’s also the first Discworld book to bring the eccentric coven around Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg to life, and for this alone it deserves a place on every bookshelf.

Read it? Big Yes. So big it deserves a capital Y. Halfway into the first page, you’ll already know why.


Witches Abroad
by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

And here we have my favourite Discworld novel. Pratchett turns on the classic fairy tale, so of course this can only end in hysterics. Magrat (the newby witch of the coven) inherits a wand from a fairy godmother, along with an obligation to go and sort out some poor girl’s fate on the other end of the Disc, and of course Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg don’t pass up the opportunity to go travelling. Granny and Nanny on their first big journey abroad is possibly the funniest thing I have ever read. So for most of the book it’s grannies on a holiday: Of course they can’t be having with the strange traditions (and the strange food!) of the foreign folks, and consequently leave behind a trail of chaos and bewilderment. In the end, their journey leads them straight into the big showdown of good fairy godmother vs evil fairy godmother, because the poor girl is about to be married to the prince, and naturally this has to be prevented by any means possible. (It’s Pratchett, what were you expecting!) A brilliant, hilarious and magical fairy tale travelling adventure across the Discworld!

Read it? Yes, yes, yes. It’ll have you in stitches.


Lords and Ladies
by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

This was a weird one. There seems to be quite a surge in darkness from the previous books about the Lancre witches. That’s mostly because of the bloody elves. If you’re not familiar with Discworld, let me just say they’ve got some sick fairy folk there. Pratchett’s elves aren’t all cute and sparkly. More like, terrifying and totally deadly. Every now and then, they come from their parallel universe into the real world and cheerfully butcher the good people. And this time, in a Pratchettian spoof of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the queen of elves decides to take over the real world by marrying the king of Lancre. He’s just about to marry junior witch Magrat Garlick, who isn’t impressed and consequently morphs from soppy flower-child into axe-wielding Amazon. The senior witches Weatherwax and Ogg aren’t too happy either about the elvish monsters infiltrating their little kingdom, so measures need to be taken… This is one of the few Pratchetts I enjoyed but didn’t like. It’s a good story, entertaining, funny, with all the action and suspense and everything. But those elves just completely freaked me out. They’re not even the good kind of creepy, they’re just like something slimy that crawled out from your worst nightmares.

Read it? Meh.


by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

It’s the Phantom of the Opera, discworldified! I should probably add here that Phantom has been my favourite musical in the world ever since I was about six years old. So I was quite disappointed that Maskerade didn’t deliver what I’d expected from a Pratchett spoof. There are some good spoofy elements, but overall it’s lacking bite. Except for that bit where Granny Weatherwax gets a bit carried away with getting all glammed up for the opera. That, admittedly, had me laughing out loud for a while. Other than that, it’s a somewhat lukewarm maskerade dotted with fragments of a ghost story, a good dose of primadonnas and ballerinas, and the occasional sharp observation about the showbiz folks and their ways. Pratchett vs Phantom didn’t have me on the edge of my red velvet seat, sadly.

Read it? If you’re interested in the world of musical theatre, you’ll probably find it moderately entertaining. Otherwise…nah.


Carpe Jugulum
by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

The vampires are loose in Lancre! And with everybody else turning into mindless puppets under their influence, it’s up to the witches to sort the suckers out. Overall it’s pretty much your traditional vampire story, and sadly the vampires are surprisingly predictable for a Pratchett. And that kind of ruined it a bit for me – well, for the vampire part anyway. But as soon as the witches really get going (about midway through a slightly too long book) the usual Pratchett brilliance kicks in again. At first I wasn’t too sure about the whole Granny-Weatherwax-in-a-crisis-of-faith kind of angle, but it does get incredibly deep, especially after a bloodsucker’s bite sends her into a dark, ugly struggle for her life and soul… [*] So, after a bit of a slow start, and with the reliably fantastic witches making up for the somewhat toothless vampires, it’s pure, perfect Pratchett once again.

Read it? If you like vampire stuff, or if you like Pratchett, it’s a must.


The Stupidest Angel
by Christopher Moore | amazon (UK)

The subtitle tells me it’s a heartwarming tale of Christmas terror. Except it’s neither heartwarming (zero emotional engagement with the characters, even though some of them are dear old friends from the Pine Cove series), nor does it contain any terror. For about the first half, nothing happens at all. Then there’s a random occurrence of zombies and some brain eating, none of which makes much sense, caused by nitwit Archangel Raziel (yes, the same nitwit Raziel who was already a complete menace in Lamb). You may think now, a-haah, zombies! Great! Terror! But, no. As soon as the brain eating action brings some life into this lukewarm story, Raziel snaps his fingers and the entire story un-happens. So in the end, nothing has actually happened at all. Not that it matters, as everything that didn’t actually happen at all is completely fruit bat shite anyway. If none of this makes any sense to you now, then I have succeeded in getting across how utterly pointless this book is. I’m rather sad to say this, but Christopher Moore has clearly lost his mojo and is now merely trying to cash in on his previous works with some low-effort recycling of old characters. What a cheat.

Read it? Don’t waste your time and money on this one. It’s the stupidest Christmas book.


by Terry Pratchett | amazon (UK)

Now here’s a Christmas story to blow your stockings off. (Sorry.) The Hogfather (the Discworld’s Santa) has been…er, removed, and the entire system of belief on the Disc has been thrown into chaos. While Death, glad for a break from his day job, dons a red robe and tries to get the hang of the Ho Ho Ho, his granddaughter Susan (the ultimate kick-ass goth Mary Poppins), along with assorted minor gods and fairies that suddenly spring into existence wherever somebody imagines them, tries to bring the Hogfather back from a fantastic world of the imaginary. Aside from one of the most sparkling appearances of Death ever, this book also has an incredible depth to it, looking at the idea of belief and why it’s so essential to being human. It’s comic and thoughtful all at once – so basically Pratchett at his best!

Read it? Oooh, yes! But save it for next Christmas – it’s a perfect festive treat for the holidays.

Well, that’s it for 2011. Resolutions for the new year: Read more Pratchett, more American classics, more Bavarian country murder mysteries…well, just more books.

* [SPOILER WARNING] … Which ends with the most epically awesome defeat of a headvampire ever, in the history of the world: “I ain’t been vampired. You’ve been Weatherwaxed.” Go Granny!

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>