Jingo: Terry Pratchett

★★★½

The Discworld Reread: Book 21

When a mysterious island rises abruptly out of the sea, right under his boat, fisherman Solid Jackson knows precisely what he’s going to do. He’s going to claim that land in the name of Ankh-Morpork and become a national hero, no question about it. Unfortunately for Solid, he isn’t the only one present at the moment of the island’s apparition, and his great rival Arif promptly decides that it actually belongs to his own country, Al-Khali. As the fishermen scurry home to inform their respective governments, their dispute swiftly escalates to the level of international diplomacy… and worse. While this book sparkles with all Pratchett’s characteristic verve, reading it is a mitigated pleasure, because a satire on the stupidity of racial intolerance, hate crimes and the futility of war feels so bloody pertinent in the modern world. And, unlike the good citizens of Ankh-Morpork, we don’t even have Sam Vimes and the City Watch standing by to save us…

Continue reading

Feet of Clay: Terry Pratchett

★★★½

The Discworld Reread: Book 19

All is not well in Ankh-Morpork. In itself, of course, there’s nothing unusual about that. Indeed, if things were all well in Ankh-Morpork, that’d be a sign that something’s definitely wrong. But things seem to be less well than usual. An elderly priest and a harmless museum curator have been brutally murdered; someone has poisoned the Patrician; the city’s workforce of golems are behaving in a suspicious way; and a group of plotters are scheming to return Ankh-Morpork to a monarchy. And, worst of all, Sam Vimes discovers to his horror that Nobby Nobbs might just be the long-lost heir to the Earldom of Ankh. Something must clearly be done; but what?

Continue reading

Maskerade: Terry Pratchett

★★★★

The Discworld Reread: Book 18

Agnes Nitt, formerly of Lancre, has had enough. She doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life being known as the big girl with a lovely personality and great hair, and she isn’t going to meekly join Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as dogsbody in their coven. Instead, she’s going to Ankh-Morpork to become a singer at the Opera House. It sounds like a great idea, until she discovers that opera types are an odd bunch: neurotic, superstitious and obsessed with the resident Opera Ghost, who leaves maniacal notes with too many exclamation marks, and demands that the best box in the house is reserved for him. And things are about to get worse. Fortunately for the world at large, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have come to Ankh-Morpork too, just to keep an eye on Agnes, and they are more than a match for any man who ponces around in evening dress and a mask. A glorious parody of The Phantom of the Opera, this has always been an absolute favourite of mine, and it’s only got better on rereading.

Continue reading

Gardens of the Moon: Steven Erikson

★★★★

The Malazan Book of the Fallen: Book 1 (Malazan Chronology 11)

I’ve spent far too long on aeroplanes over the last month, so was looking for something big and meaty to occupy me during eighteen-hour schleps back and forth from London to Macau. Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon promised to be just the ticket. His Malazan books are based on an intricate high-fantasy universe co-created with Ian C. Esslemont, who also writes a series set in the same world, and they’re notorious for being tricky to get into. Rumour has it that you either give up at a third of the way through Gardens of the Moon, or fall for it completely, so I suppose I belong to the second camp. The problem cited most often is that the book throws you in at the deep end with no back-story, little exposition and a dizzying cast of characters; but I’ve made it through the Lymond Chronicles, so such things hold no fear for me. I’m still not entirely sure that I understand what’s been going on, but I feel weirdly exhilarated, as if I’ve dipped a toe into a world and mythology that expands far beyond anything I can yet imagine.

Continue reading

The Left Hand of God: Paul Hoffman

★★★½

The Left Hand of God Trilogy: Book 1

Thomas Cale is sixteen years old and has spent virtually all his life as an acolyte of the Redeemers at the forbidding Sanctuary of Slotover. Brutalised, radicalised and raised to place the True Faith before everything else, Cale is just one of hundreds, thousands, of boys being trained as soldiers to fight the Antagonists on the Eastern Front. In the labyrinthine corridors of Slotover, it pays to blend in, to conform, never to do the unexpected – but Cale is an exception. Groomed by the Lord Militant Redeemer Bosco, Cale has been raised not only to be a fearsome killer but also an excellent strategist. Yet these strategies can be placed at his own service just as much as that of the True Faith and, when this protege mounts a daring escape from Slotover, Bosco is determined to get him back. Inadvertently, Cale is on the edge of plunging the world into war.

Continue reading

Interesting Times: Terry Pratchett

★★★

The Discworld Reread: Book 17

Back when I first read Interesting Times, in the spring of 1998 when I was thirteen, I remember deciding that its title was misleading: this was the least interesting of all the books I’d read so far! In retrospect that was a little harsh, but it’s true that Interesting Times feels like a retrograde step after the sheer glory of Soul Music. After many books’ absence, we re-encounter the hapless Rincewind (last seen in Eric), who is snatched away from a life of desert-island contentment when Unseen University is confronted by a crisis that only he can solve. (Well, that’s the official line. The reality, as Rincewind knows only too well, is that they don’t want to risk any proper wizards.) A request has come from the mighty and secretive Counterweight Continent for ‘the Great Wizzard’ and, before you can say ‘travel insurance’, Rincewind finds himself up to the ears in a great clash of noble houses, revolution, insurrection, and some alarmingly familiar faces…

Continue reading

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