Soul Music: Terry Pratchett

★★★★½

The Discworld Reread: Book 16

This has always been one of my favourite Discworld books and, at this point in the reread, I think it’s categorically the favourite. Pratchett uses other books to riff on the arts – filmmaking (Moving Pictures) and opera (Maskerade), for example – but this homage to rock music affectionately skewers its pretensions, while maintaining a sense of the deep, raw, primal magic beneath it. Our hero is Imp y Celyn, a young bard from the rainy kingdom of Llamedos who dedicates his life to music in the midst of an argument with his intransigent father. Making vows like this is dangerous on the Discworld, because there’s always the danger something is watching and waiting for just such an opportunity to arise. And, when Imp (whose name roughly translates as ‘Small Bud of the Holly’) arrives in Ankh-Morpork, he finds himself fetching up in a strange old music shop, where he meets his destiny in the form of a very special guitar.

Continue reading

Lords and Ladies: Terry Pratchett

★★★★

The Discworld Reread: Book 14

It’s Midsummer Night and, in the mountainous kingdom of Lancre, the new king and queen are about to be married. The great and the good have been invited; a gang of rustic mechanicals (or mechanical rustics?) are putting on a humorous play… and the boundaries between this world and that of the elves are drawing thin. Girls who should have known better have been dancing around up at the standing stones, and attracting the attention of powers-who-shouldn’t-be-attracted. Everyone says elves are lovely and merry and beautiful, which is exactly what the buggers want you to think. And Granny Weatherwax is absolutely bloody furious about it. She’s spent her whole life holding the barrier, and now it threatens to fall. To make matters worse, the betrothed king and queen are Verence and Magrat, who don’t have a single clue between them; Granny’s past is about to revisit her in a surprising way; and Nanny Ogg… well, is trying to help. It’s too much to hope for a Dream, but all Granny has to do is avert a Nightmare…

Continue reading

Small Gods: Terry Pratchett

★★★

The Discworld Reread: Book 13

Having skipped temporarily out of order with Men at Arms and Going Postal, I decided to get the Discworld Reread back on track. Small Gods is one of the books I remember least from the first time around. I think at the time – and it holds true now too – it felt odd to be taken away from the characters who were increasingly becoming Pratchett’s ‘regulars’ into a completely new setting, with no familiar faces. Here we find ourselves in the Omnian Empire, a theocracy devoted to the Great God Om and ruled by its ferocious Exquisitor, the hawk-nosed Deacon Vorbis. Clumsy Brutha the novice is at the bottom of the heap, well-meaning, blissfully naive and – crucially – pure of heart. So when, one day, he hears the voice of Om speaking to him in a garden, he doesn’t know quite what to think. Especially because the Great God appears to have manifested in the form of a small, irascible and very disgruntled tortoise…

Continue reading

The Soul Thief: Cecelia Holland

★★½

The Life and Times of Corban Loosestrife: Book 1

Cecelia Holland’s series of Viking-era adventure novels have just been reissued in Kindle format and this proved a good excuse to make a start on them. As some of you will remember, I’ve had a mixed reaction to Holland in the past – enjoying her Byzantine Belt of Gold, but remaining unmoved by her Borgia-centred City of God. However, as many people have praised her to me, I’m determined to keep giving her new chances, especially as she writes about a fascinating variety of historical periods. This is one of the more familiar settings, of course, and I plunged with interest into Holland’s story of Corban Loosestrife – outcast, stranger, unwitting catalyst – on his quest to recover his kidnapped sister Mav. In doing so, he is drawn into the politics of Viking Jorvik and Norway; and, more worryingly, into the clutches of the enigmatic Lady of Hedeby, who has saved Mav from one kind of slavery, only to draw her into another.

Continue reading

Going Postal: Terry Pratchett

★★★½

A Discworld Novel: Book 33

You may have noticed that the Discworld Reread has stalled temporarily, so I’ve decided to cheekily skip ahead to the 33rd novel out of sequence. Going Postal takes us deep into the vibrantly fetid streets of Ankh-Morpork for a tale of skulduggery, ambition, fiscal irresponsibility and the Royal Mail. Our hero, Moist von Lipwig, is a leading conman who has been just a little too successful. Unfortunately, this means that he’s come to the attention of Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, who makes Moist an offer he can’t refuse. (Well, he could, because the Patrician believes in freedom of choice, but it would be unwise.) Before he quite understands what’s happened, Moist finds himself invested as Ankh-Morpork’s new Postmaster, charged with revitalising a faded part of the city’s history. This is a tale of nostalgia, of dreams and of the importance of writing. Stories, as ever, are at the heart of Pratchett’s fiction, just waiting to be unleashed…

Continue reading

The Crown’s Game: Evelyn Skye

★★★

Russia. 1825. In the peaceful woods of Ovchinin Island, flame-haired Vika lives a quiet life with her father Sergei. Since childhood, he has encouraged her to develop her talent for magic, promising that when she’s grown-up he will take her to St Petersburg to become the Imperial Enchanter. Inborn magic is a rare thing, after all: when the incumbent Enchanter dies, it passes into a new vessel (rather like the Dalai Lama, I suppose) and it is the new Enchanter’s responsibility to put her powers at the service of the Tsar. Little do Sergei and Vika realise that, in the heart of St Petersburg itself, a young man is being groomed for precisely the same purpose. There should be only one Enchanter born in each generation, but something has gone wrong. There are two potential Enchanters in Vika’s generation and that cannot be allowed. The weakest must be eliminated… through the ancient Crown’s Game.

Continue reading

Gloriana: Michael Moorcock

★★★★

Or, the Unfulfill’d Queen

I genuinely didn’t think I was going to like this. I’ve only had one encounter with Michael Moorcock before and that was in my early teens, when I found a copy of Behold the Man among my dad’s 1970s sci-fi books in the attic, and was promptly traumatised. Not that I was religious or anything like that. I was just shocked to see Jesus and the Virgin Mary depicted in such a way. What an innocent I was. Youthful shocks have an impact, though, and I’ve steered away from Moorcock ever since, thinking him far too weird for me (I have the same feeling about Alasdair Gray). But times change. I recently found myself looking at Gloriana in the library. It was an allegory, a fable, a Tudor history set in an alternate universe, an Elizabethan extravaganza. Why not give it a shot? So I did. And, Reader, I liked it. There was one scene I didn’t like, true, but for the most part I was utterly absorbed by this sprawling, dense jungle of a book, which wears its affection for Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast very clearly on its sleeve. A seething stew of sex and sycophancy, full of tunnels and intrigue and secrets and bravos and debauchery and honour and twisted goodness and dreams and hope and horror… it defies description.

Continue reading

Kings of the Wyld: Nicholas Eames

★★★★

The Band: Book I

They used to be epic. There was a time when Clay Cooper and his old band Saga used to raise the roof: their deeds the stuff of popular songs and breathless admiration. They broke sieges, slew monsters and (almost) killed a dragon. Each of their members was a legend in his own right (apart from their series of short-lived, unfortunate bards). But that was a long time ago now. Twenty long years separate Clay Cooper from the glory of Saga’s heyday and, when the frontman Gabriel turns up on his doorstep, begging Clay to help him get the band back together, Clay is tempted to say no. They’re old men, now, after all: he has a wife and daughter, and he’s turned his back on the Clay Cooper of old. But Gabriel needs their help to track down his own missing daughter. Before Clay quite knows what’s happened, he’s setting out with his old friend to do the impossible: to reunite Saga for one last, great, glorious farewell tour.

Continue reading

The Table of Less Valued Knights: Marie Phillips

★★★

In the darkest, least distinguished corner of the Great Hall at Camelot is a table they never speak of in the songs: the Table of Less Valued Knights. Here the retired and the also-rans live in the shadow of their glamorous peers on the famous Round Table. Sir Humphrey du Val is one of these past-it paladins, banished from the first division for an unchivalrous act and resigned to spending the rest of his life in the company of toothless has-beens. But then, one Pentecost, Fate throws Sir Humphrey an unexpected chance to distinguish himself once again. Before he knows it, he’s out on the road, riding to avenge a damsel in distress; but little does the poor knight realise that his trials are only just beginning. Cheerfully silly, like Monty Python and the Holy Grail crossed with A Knight’s Tale, this is an all-out medieval romp.

Continue reading

The Bird King: G. Willow Wilson

★★★½

By 1492, the great empire of Al-Andalus has shrunk to a thin strip of land along the bottom of the Iberian peninsula, harried by the forces of the Christian kings Ferdinand and Isabella. Yet, within the harem of the palace in Granada, life keeps its languid pace. While siege closes in on the city outside, the women continue their petty rivalries, their music and their poetry, under the sharp eye of the Lady Aisha, the Sultan’s mother. The concubine Fatima – sharp, irreverent, and beautiful – diverts herself with secret visits to her childhood friend Hassan, the Sultan’s mapmaker, who is gifted with an extraordinary ability to invent doors where there were none before. As their world crumbles, these two dreamers realise that the only life they’ve known is on the verge of becoming a nightmare; and that sometimes safety lies beyond the reach of any map.

Continue reading