Lords and Ladies – Sir Terry Pratchett

Lords and Ladies – Sir Terry Pratchett

“In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.” – Terry Pratchett

As has been mentioned in previous posts, the Witches series of books within the Discworld book series generally aren’t my favourites. So I, somewhat inevitably, read through it in a more stop-start manner. But, when I eventually turned the last page in this, the fourteenth book in the series, I realised I really enjoyed it. This time out, I felt the key characters of Granny, Nanny and Magrat were better developed, and we got to know them better this time out.
20160526_192150Pratchett uses some more fantasy world favourites in this book. Alongside the core group of witches that this book centres on, some of the wizards of Unseen University and a return of Casanunda, the pint-sized lothario first seen in Witches Abroad all make appearances. And then there’s the protagonists of this book – the elves.

All throughout literature of all forms, good and evil has been a major factor of tales, especially in the world of fantasy. In this work, however, the author takes a new spin on things. Glamour and beauty causes a whole lot of trouble throughout this story. Lords and Ladies also deals with the idea of alternate fates and multiple universes where versions of ourselves exist simultaneously, living variations of the same life.

Following on from events in Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies takes a slightly darker turn, while still retaining all of Terry Pratchett’s usual wit and humour. The witches find themselves going in different directions once they return to Lancre, Magrat moving to the castle ahead of her seemingly-sudden upcoming wedding to King Verence II. Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are left to return to their lives in Lancre.

One theme of this story is the petulance of youth. It deals with the scenario of a gaggle of youngsters thinking they can do and know better than their elders. In this case, a group of girls attempt to become witches, thinking the Lancre coven are a group of silly old women, who know nothing of true witchcraft. They try to cast spells, and crucially, set into motion a sequence of actions, unleashing the elves on the world. With help from the Lancre locals, the trio of witches come together to defeat the elves, sending them packing back to their realm.

Another theme dealt with in this story is the past, and the question “what if…?”. What if things had been different? What if we hadn’t done or said that? Two key characters have history, and one of them wistfully reminisces and wonders about what might have been. It introduces an idea Pratchett uses again, that of the Trousers of Time. The idea here is that there are multiple ways the future can play out for us. It just depends on which leg of the trousers we head down. And in another life, in another world, every possibility that may happen will be happening.

This book did take me a while to read, probably setting myself up to enjoy it less than other books in the series. But I really did enjoy it, it was a fun read, with some fantastic character development. It also brings together figures from multiple of the miniseries within the Discworld. This was something different, helping to remind me that the whole series is interlinked, and shows how well written the books are.

My rating:
goodread

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

“…no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away… The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.” – Terry Pratchett 

Reaper Man is the next book in the Discworld series, and upfront I am going to give my opinion – I love this book. And that’s no exaggeration. Officially, this great little book sits within the Death series, but it has cameos from the wizards of Unseen University and a few appearances from Sergeant Fred Colon of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.
wp-1453731647321.jpgThis book moves off in a different direction for Death as a main character, and that for me is a key part of why I really like this story. It brings up the idea of making the most of life. As Pratchett has shown in past appearances, Death has an interest in the human condition, and almost displays slight glimmers of humanity in himself. This, however, presents a problem – Death isn’t isn’t meant to show compassion, interest or any of the other features of the human condition. Death is the end. That’s it. So universal forces are brought in to strip him of his role, his purpose. And his immortality.

So what does the former reaper of souls do know he has time on his hands? He sets out to experience life. Death has always had a curiosity about humans, and their lives, but only when he has a finite amount of sand slowly trickling from the top bulb to the bottom of his life timer, only then does he truly start to live. Much as we tend to do in reality.

But why? Why do we so often wait until we have precious little time left, to make the most of it? Because we are, at the heart of it only human. But with His new found time, Death turns his hand to labour. He makes friends, he lives a life. All the while, the dead aren’t staying fully-dead. Without Death to shepherd them into the great beyond, they are forced to walk the world. And some of them prefer it this way.

This book rates highly for me, as I am a keen fan of the Death subset of stories from Terry Pratchett. He is a likeable character that only gets better the more we see him, and the more subtle human traits he picks up. Throw in the wizards as well and this is a fun travel around Ankh-Morpork and outlying settlements. Once again, the locations feel a bit richer, the characters a little deeper as Pratchett really gets to grips with the direction and future ideas for this epic series.

My rating:
goodread

Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett

“The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.” – Terry Pratchett

“…inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” – Terry Pratchett

Cinema – a place where dreams are made, lived, sold and, quite often, destroyed. We all go to the cinema to be told a story, to escape reality and to explore exotic locales. In short, cinema allows us to live dreams in vivid, high definition and immersive content. As children we almost hope that if we believe in those Hollywood dreams hard enough, they may just come true. Some of us do as adults – I know I’d love to join the ragtag crew of the Millennium Falcon in a galaxy far, far away! For some Hollywood represents a different dream – the chance to make it big, to shoot for the stars and earn all the trappings of fame.
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But what about on the Disc? Welcome to Holy Wood – a scrubby hill covered with a small stand of scraggly trees, in the middle of the sand dunes on the coast. It looks deserted, mainly because it is. Except for the sunken city, now home to the fish and lobsters. But as with the Hollywood we know and “love”, it calls out to those seeking fame, fortune, and the chance to make a fast buck.

For years people have packed up and headed out to Hollywood, California with a bunch of clothes, hopes and dreams, and very little else. The dream of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe or James Dean is a very attractive idea. Sadly, it is attractive to many, and only a few will strike it lucky and hit the big time.

Moving Pictures charts the journey of a brilliant, if lazy, young wizard – Victor Tugelbend. He works exceptionally hard at being average, doing just enough to stay enrolled at Unseen University, without having to graduate. Holy Wood calls to him, leading him to make the trip to the fast-growing world of cinema. Although this book sits within the Wizards miniseries, other than Victor, the majority of the wizards have relatively small roles. But this isn’t a criticism of this book – I actually quite like its loose connection to the miniseries while almost serving as a standalone book at the same time.

I like the way Terry Pratchett describes the early days of cinema, starting out with the discovery and creation of the Disc’s version of film – octo-cellulose. He adds to the mystique of film in having its creation attributed to the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork. Throughout the book, Pratchett charts the rise and rise of Holy Wood, in what imagine to be a parody of the growth of its Earthly twin city, with an added comic twist. Think amazing wonder-animals, in this case with the ability to speak; think dashing and brave heroes; think beautiful damsels in distress; think hideous monsters.

The other aspect of this tale that I really enjoy is that Pratchett hasn’t painted an entirely rosey, saccharine view of the Hollywood dream. There is a dark side to the fame and glory sought by the people who visit, where the dreams and greed take hold and the power of Holy Wood turns those dreams into nightmares. The way the birth of cinema is portrayed throughout is brilliantly fun, from its rise to the fall near the end. And any film nut will quickly spot many entertaining parodies of some of the classic films from the heyday of Hollywood.

With Moving Pictures, I felt Pratchett was cementing his vision for this series that had already had strong foundations laid in Guards! Guards! I think overall the latter was a more entertaining story in my own opinion, but this one certainly kicks on with his vision and paving the way for a great number of wonderful stories to come.

My rating:
okaybook

 

Eric – Terry Pratchett

Eric – Terry Pratchett

“Multiple exclamation marks,’ he went on, shaking his head, ‘are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” – Rincewind


Book number nine on the Discworld series is a book I haven’t yet read, so naturally I was excited setting out on what, for me, was a brand new adventure. So I opened up Eric and set off. And I am sorry to report, it left me with a slight amount of disappointment. Now, this is not the first Discworld book not to get me excited, laughing from cover to cover, so don’t go thinking I hate this book. I just didn’t love it.
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Eric parodies the classic German legend of Faust, a brilliant but dissatisfied scholar who agrees to trade his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and worldly pleasures. To that end, Eric is a 14 year old boy who attempts to summon a demon with the hope of attaining all the worldly pleasures his adolescent mind can conjure up. What he ends up summoning is Rincewind, who has been trapped in the Dungeon Dimensions since the end of Sourcery.

What follows is a bit of a haphazard story flitting throughout time and space. Thanks to the magical ineptitude of Rincewind, the duo travel back to famous civilisations and events in the Disc’s history, including the creation of the universe. They even end up taking a trip through Hell before returning to the Disc. And for me, this is where the biggest issue with the book lies. It feels a little disjointed to me. It’s brilliant to have Rincewind back, but I didn’t feel anything for Eric himself.

I felt the somewhat frequent hopping between locations and time periods unsettled the story. Again, I thought it was okay as a story goes, just not up to the general standard of all of the other books I have read in the Discworld series. I did enjoy the parody links with the real world, however. I like the tribes of Klatch with their ritualistic sacrifices atop Mesoamerican-style pyramids, and the Discworld version of Helen of Troy and the Trojan horse (see the Tsortean war and Elenor of Tsort). But where does it all sit within the narrative?

It felt rather than a logical or necessary part of the development of the series, that this book was first and foremost a vehicle to bring back Rincewind ready for future adventures. It’s a good story, but I didn’t feel this one lived up to the same high standards that I have come to expect from Pratchett’s work. Granted, this is still within the first ten books of the series. That being said I felt the work was becoming more refined a book or two back. This is my first read of Eric, so maybe I am just not getting the subtle touches that make the series so great on this run, but I would say this book sits slightly lower in my mental ranking than Wyrd Sisters.

All-in-all, an okay book which works in bringing back the entertaining Rincewind to the series, but just not as good as others, especially immediately following Guards! Guards!

My rating:
okaybook

Mort – Terry Pratchett

Mort – Terry Pratchett

“YOU MUST LEARN THE COMPASSION PROPER TO YOUR TRADE”
“And what’s that?”
“A SHARP EDGE.” – Death

Pratchett’s fourth book in the Discworld series sees us focus on another core character in the books – Death. Death is, as he describes himself, an anthropomorphic personification – the phenomenon of Death made real. Once again, real world issues and ideas are introduced into the series, and the expansion of locations continues.

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Death decides it is time to take on an apprentice. He heads to a small town in the Ramtops, to visit the annual hiring fair. Here, boys stand in a line, waiting for tradespeople of all kinds to select them for apprenticeship. Unfortunately for Mort, a tall lad described as being made of mostly knees and elbows, it is almost midnight. Nobody has picked him and the stallholders around are beginning to pack up. Until, of course, Death appears, and takes Mort on as apprentice.

A quick trip to the twin-city of Ankh-Morpork for a haircut and a hot meal, and Death takes the boy to his domain. Things aren’t the same in Death’s domain as they are on the Disc. It has features like a house and gardens, but they are all coloured in shades of black. Add to that, time stands still here. Mort meets Death’s surly, elderly helper, Albert and a sullen sixteen year old – Death’s adopted daughter, Ysabell. Here in Death’s Domain, Mort whiles away the days with menial chores, mostly tending to Death’s horse, Binky. Until one day, Mort is offered the chance to come out on THE DUTY, as Death refers to it. They head to Sto Lat, where Death reaps the soul of an assassinated king. Death, and by extension Mort, are unseen by all others except wizards and cats. It seems, however, that the king’s daughter can see Mort. And he cannot stop thinking about this.

Mort continues to work in Death’s Domain, yet he can’t shake the thought that the Princess saw him. He decides to do something about it, to pay her a visit, so asks Death for an afternoon off. While this seems a strange request, Death acquiesces, giving him until sunset. Mort arrives on the Disc, in Ankh-Morpork, where he attempts to procure a fast horse to get him to Sto Lat. Unfortunately, he finds himself in a less-than salubrious area known as The Shades. Here, he gets hassled by a group of thieves, determined to relieve him of his money. He attempts to flee, though ends up running through the wall of a bridge over the river in the process. It seems that Mort is becoming more like Death. He manages to source a fast steed, and rides for Sto Lat.

Mort meets a young wizard by the name of Igneous Cutwell. Mort hopes he can help explain these newfound abilities to walk through walls. Unfortunately for Mort, Cutwell cannot explain it and the time spent trying to work it out means it’s almost sunset. Death appears to take him back to Death’s Domain. Before long, Death decides the boy is ready to head out on his own, so sends him off to reap three souls. The first is that of a witch, who is very understanding of Mort’s inexperience and makes his first reaping easy. The second is that of an abbot of a group of monks. He is destined to be reincarnated for eternity, so is not surprised by the arrival of Mort. The third, however, is the Princess Keli.

Mort heads to Sto Lat, but instead of reaping the soul of the Princess, he kills the would-be assassin in the employ of the Duke – the man who had the King killed. As he leaves to head back, he feels something amiss. Fate and history are in a state of dismay – what was destined to happen, including the death of the Princess hasn’t happened. The problem is, fate is trying to move on as it thinks it should happen. Mort has changed destiny, but reality doesn’t know it.

The princess notices problems, too. People around her all wear black and seem highly emotional, though cannot seem to explain this. It seems as though they are all in mourning. In their hearts the people know the Princess is dead, even though their heads see her. She goes to see Cutwell, who proves the predicament she is in by reading Keli’s cards. She draws three Death cards – though a deck should only contain one. As a result she employs Cutwell in the role of Royal Recogniser, tasked with ensuring people remember Keli is alive.

Mort, meanwhile cannot face telling Death what he has done, so tells Ysabell instead. The resolve to tell Death, only to find he is gone, having left two jobs for Mort. Death is down on the Disc, experiencing human pleasures including gambling, drinking and fishing, before taking work as a cook. While Mort is becoming more like Death, Death is becoming ever more mortal.

In Death’s empty study, Mort finds two jobs waiting for him. He knows he must complete these, and does so in a hurry. He makes for Sto Lat, where he finds a troubling situation occurring – reality has worked out what Mort has done, and is taking steps to correct itself. Within in Sto Lat, reality is as Mort left it – with the princess alive. But a shimmery wall of sorts encapsulates the area, drawing in on the city at a walking pace, with Princess Keli at its heart. Everything outside the wall exists in the true reality – a reality where Keli is dead and the Duke is on the throne.

Mort lands ahead of the boundary of the two realities, presently unaware of what it is. He heads to a tavern, the Queen’s Head, where he enters through the wall and imbibes a pint of scumble. Scumble, made of apples (mostly), is immensely alcoholic and a pint would not be great for one’s’ sobriety, yet it doesn’t touch Mort. The boundary passes through the tavern, and Mort notices things are different – the clothes of the barman, and the name of the tavern, now the Duke’s Head.

He departs at speed through the wall, and strikes out for the city. Here, he tracks down Igneous Cutwell, and explains the situation. While looking through the wizard’s books for a solution, Mort spots a picture of the founder of Unseen University, Alberto Malich. He recognises the man in the image, it’s none other than Albert. He disappeared from UU two thousand years before while performing the Rite of AshkEnte in reverse, and has been living in Death’s Domain ever since.

He rushes back to Death’s Domain, where he tells Ysabell about Albert, and they go off in search of proof. They head to Death’s library, where the biographies of every person are kept. In the section for the oldest biographies, they find almost complete silence. Except for one volume of Albert’s that is still writing itself. The biography confirms things – Albert is Alberto. They confront him, and ask for help in stopping the reality heading for Keli. He refuses, so Mort is forced to use his new-found powers.

Under duress, Albert agrees to give them a spell that will hold back the advancing reality, as long as it is performed by midnight the next day. The following morning, with Death still enjoying, for want of a better word, life on the Disc, it falls to Mort and Ysabell to carry out The Duty. Unfortunately, the two jobs are in far flung parts of the Disc, nowhere near Sto Lat.

Angry that Death is still away, Albert heads for the University. He assembles the wizards, and begins to perform the Rite of AshkEnte. While on The Duty, though, Mort starts to be drawn in by the Rite. Ysabell punches him, the shock causing that which is Death within Mort to separate from the rest, and head into the vortex caused by the summoning. Back in Ankh-Morpork, a frying pan clatters to the floor in a restaurant kitchen as the real Death is summoned to Unseen University. Albert explains everything to Death, who flies into a rage and returns to his Domain.

Mort and Ysabell race for Sto Lat, arriving at the coronation of Keli. But as they arrive, so does the reality boundary. With only one option to save her, Mort takes her, and Cutwell, back to Death’s Domain, and outside of time and reality. Upon their return they are greeted by an enraged Death, who knows the gods will expect the sacrifice of Keli and Cutwell. Death and Mort enter into combat, fighting for the lives of the others.

The fight is long, energy-sapping and aggressive. It takes them through the room of life-timers, where a number are broken, killing their owners. As a happy coincidence, one of them belongs to the Duke. Eventually, Death wins. Ysabell tries to appeal to Death, declaring her love for Mort. Just when all seems lost, Death turns Morts almost-empty life-timer over, resetting time.

Death appeals to the Gods, who agree to allow Keli and Cutwell to live. Meanwhile, Ysabell and Mort marry, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Sto Helit. The Princess and wizard attend the ceremony. She has a big job on her hands, in unifying the cities of the Sto Plains, a role history had her uncle fulfilling. Death appears to Mort briefly. He hands him two gifts. One is an egg, really a small reality boundary that will expand into a new universe when this one dies. The second gift is a biography, Mort’s biography. It has a great many empty pages still waiting to be filled. And with that, Death says his goodbyes, and returns to his domain.

This book is one of my favourites. Well, one of many, anyway. The character of Death is really evolved here, along with his interest in humanity. He isn’t evil, or nasty, just very good at his job. We also see Terry Pratchett touching on wider Earth-like subjects. Chiefly, the idea that it would be a very bad thing to try and alter reality.

My rating:
goodread

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of history. – Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites is the third of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld mega-series. This book takes a new direction, following a new character, the witch Esmerelda “Granny” Weatherwax. With this third book, Pratchett starts to build on the ideas of the Discworld, expanding its character base and developing the history and narrative that will flow through the series. We also see real world ideas and issues enter his writing, the first real sign of the roundworld parodies to come.

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We start by following a wizard, one who knows his time on the Disc is short. His name is Drum Billet. On a stormy evening he travels through the Ramtop Mountains to the place where a birth is taking place. It is known across the Disc that the eighth son of an eighth son will become a wizard. Billet intends to pass his wizard’s staff to the newborn, ensuring their path into wizardhood. As he walks in, Granny Weatherwax comes down the stairs carrying the newborn to the father. Without a further thought, Billet touches the staff to the baby’s small hand, against the protestations of the witch. Only then, does he realise what he has done. The eighth son of an eighth son is in fact a daughter – Eskarina “Esk” Smith. And so, the Disc gains its very first female wizard. But there’s a problem – women just cannot be wizards. Men are wizards, women are witches.

Billet, his duty done, passes from the world, leaving behind a large problem. Esk is raised as normally as possible, until strange things happen in her presence. Granny decides to mentor the girl in the ways of witching. She learns about herbs, headology and borrowing-entering the minds of other creatures. Head-strong as she is, Esk ignores warnings of the risks of borrowing, and tries to take over an eagle. She likes the feeling and flies far and high, not returning for days. Eventually, with the help of the wizard’s staff Granny Weatherwax tracks down the eagle, the girl almost gone within.

She manages to return to her body, but only just. As Esk’s magic becomes stronger and more unpredictable, she starts seeing things. The chittering, nightmarish demons of the Dungeon Dimensions, beings that feed upon magic.There is no other choice but to head to Ankh-Morpork, maybe if she can join the Unseen University Esk can control her magic. The witch and the girl head out on their journey, getting separated along the way. At one such time, Eskarina meets Simon, a stuttering young man, and a genius in the theory of magic.

She travels with him and his mentor to Ankh-Morpork, with a number of magical mishaps and departures to the Dungeon Dimensions along the way. On arrival, things don’t go as Esk had imagined at the University. The wizards refuse to allow her to join, as women cannot be wizards. Granny has another way in for her, as a maid at the university. After a while though, the girl becomes bored that she is not learning any more magic, merely using her staff to help with the tedious tasks at hand.

She heads to the library to try and learn magic from the books. Here she runs into Simon, who tells her all about the properties of magical books. But she sees the demons once again preparing to attack. The books begin to fly about in panic, and the staff rises up, striking Simon, knocking him unconscious. Wizards arrive, taking him away to be treated. Esk flees, heading to the river, casting the staff into its waters in anger at what it has done to Simon. The boy remains unconscious for a number of days. Granny explains to Esk that the Dungeon demons were drawn by Simon’s magical powers, so the staff hit him to stop them entering the real world. Unfortunately, Simon’s mind has entered the Dungeon Dimensions, leaving his empty body behind. To try to bring him back risks bringing a demon back instead.

The witch and the girl head to the Great Hall to speak with the Archchancellor. The uproar caused by women being in the Hall leads to a magical duel between the witch and Archchancellor. Esk, sensing the demons preparing to attack, runs to the Simon at the infirmary. Behind his door are strange sounds and lights, so she forces her way in. Once the sound and light stops, all that’s left is the empty bodies of Simon and Esk. In the Dungeon Dimensions, Esk finds Simon, possessed and surrounded by creatures. He appears to be playing with snow globes. But they contain small planets, the Disc included.

She snatches the globe containing the Disc as it starts to crack, and runs, the demons in pursuit. Deciding to fight, Esk discovers the creatures are fragile, managing to bring down a number of them. They release Simon, now threatening to attack him if she refuses to hand the Disc over.

Back at the University, the great duel ends in a stalemate. Archchancellor and witch resolve to work together. They head out in a huge storm that has developed during their duel, causing the river Ankh to burst its banks. The pair set off in a boat to try to retrieve the staff. Just as the begin to fear it might be lost, the boat strikes ice. The staff must be nearby. They retrieve it and hurry back to the University.

Granny and the Archchancellor find Esk and Simon now in the library, the only place safe from the storm. Archchancellor Cutangle declares Esk a wizard, so that she might unlock the full potential of her staff. In the Dungeon Dimensions, the staff appears in her hands. In terror, the demons flee from it. Simon wants her to use it upon them, but she explains they are attracted to magic, and the real power is in not using it. This idea excites Simon’s mind, what possibilities might it hold back on the Disc?

He takes the glass pyramid in which the Disc sits, and locates the University. In the library, the staff lifts into the air, swirling. A bright light fills the room, and as it abates, the pair sit up, returned to their bodies.

As things return to normal, Granny Weatherwax decides to return home, not before being offered a teaching position at the Unseen University. Esk and Simon remain, set on exploring a whole new branch of magic.

Almost a breath of fresh air, Equal Rites opens up so many more possibilities for the series. New characters and new locations are beginning to form in the mind of Pratchett, and this is only the beginning. While this is not the last time we see Esk, it will not be for many more books that she returns. Onwards to Mort, the fourth book in the series, and yet another new avenue of the world to explore.

My rating:
okaybook