Rating the Discworld – Part Two

The-science-of-discworld-1(close-up) Last week I looked at the lesser Discworld novels. There were few stinkers there, but unsurprisingly the post-Embuggerance novels belonged at the lower end of Pratchett’s work.

This week, we are into much better territory. There is not a bad book among these. They may have flaws and some may work better than others but you could safely hand any of these to a Discworld newbie and they’d enjoy it.

It’s a mix of later period and early Discworld. There is understandably a great deal of affection for Pratchett’s first forays into the Discworld but he becomes a much better writer in a very short period of time. Towards the end of his career (pre-Embuggerance), a curious inflexibilty of thought crept into his works. I doubt I am the only one curious to see where he would have went with that.

Onwards!

30. Monstrous Regiment

The oddest Discworld novel there is. This was a bit of a slog if I’m honest. Many Discworld novels I skipped through, excitedly underlining important passages or laughing at their clever wordplay or dreadfully awesome puns. Monstrous Regiment took longer than that, as I was beaten down with the oppressive atmosphere of Borogravian culture and its attitudes towards women.

The last quarter or so is golden, where your expectations are not just subverted but completely flipped onto their head. When you learn even those behind the war were women and many of the country’s leaders are female, you begin to question absolutely everything you have read. It’s a great twist and makes the book a much greater one to look back upon. It doesn’t help you wade through that first three quarters though.

29. I Shall Wear Midnight
28. A Hatful of Sky
27. Wee Free Men

The Tiffany Aching write-ups were infuriating because it became clear from my site’s statistics that fewer readers had read them compared to other Discworld novels. Of course, it could be the case that these write-ups were nowhere near as good as the others and it’s 100 percent my fault. But there’s no way that could be true.

Could it?

I jest but these novels are a joy, especially if you prefer the early Discworld. Pratchett gives them a lightness of touch some of his later novels are lacking. Strangely, I Shall Wear Midnight ends on such a great conclusion for the novel, the character and this series, it seems weird there is another book to follow. We’ll discover what Pratchett had in store for Tiffany in a few weeks.

In the meantime, read these books if you haven’t already. There’s little to separate them in terms of quality but they have some of Pratchett’s warmest, funniest and darkest moments.

Read them. READ THEM. READ. THEM.

(Trust me on this)

26. The Light Fantastic

A strange one, this. I prefer the Tiffany novels and probably Monstrous Regiment to this book. But back in the 1980s, Terry Pratchett was not the writer he was 10 years ago. By the time he hit his 10th Discworld novel, he had discovered how plot can enrich the intelligence and wit he had in abundance.

While his early novels lack that, it’s hard not to love the sheer sense of joy that spills out of every single page. Pratchett is throwing everything at these early novels, his love of genre fiction, his absurd Pythonesque sense of humour, his delight in the silly and the fantastic.

They are not great books but they are impossible not to enjoy.

25. The Colour of Magic

Where it all began. Given it’s a set of long-form comedic set-pieces, it shouldn’t be as fun as it is. But like The Light Fantastic, there’s something endearing about reading a book where its author is clearly enjoying himself. It’s a giddiness, an attitude of ‘sod it. This amuses me so it’s going in’ that is present throughout.

It is lacking in the structure, the anger and the politics that made some of his best novels some of my favourite books. But who cares when the novel is this giddy?

24. Mort

One of Pratchett’s most beloved books and probably the first *real* Discworld novel. I loved Mort when I was a teenager. It was a bit silly and very funny, but it had a strangeness to it that other novels I was reading at that time were lacking. I’m unsure what was my first Discworld novel but this was one of them.

If anything, it was one of the books I was most afraid of revisiting, in case the endlessly reread story from my teenage years was a bit of a dud. It has its flaws – Death isn’t quite, um, fleshed out as a character yet and the third act is a total muddle – but this is the first in the series that truly hints at the delights that will follow.

23. Equal Rites

A cigarette paper of quality separates this and Mort. It was another that was endlessly reopened as a teenager. I still had vivid memories as an adult of Granny, Eske and their quest to let women into the Unseen University.

Revisiting it now, it is lacking in structure and its ending is a bit of a blur. It is a considerable improvement in the first two books of the series. Reading Pratchett at this point in his career was a delight because he is making brave leaps forward in his writing with every single book. Mort is arguably where the series gets going but Equal Rites provides the foundations.

22. Carpe Jugulum

This conclusion to the Witches of Lancre series is one book too many, with a needless rerun of the Lords and Ladies plot, with a little bit of Small Gods thrown in for good measure. Early Pratchett was rather cheeky in its recycling of plots and themes but by this point in his career, he had largely stopped it.

One criticism of mine about Pratchett is that he held onto characters for too long. Vimes more than outstayed his welcome, becoming tedious and overpowered from Thud! onwards. Perhaps the signs were here in this book. It’s not bad by any means but when you borrow heavily from two of your best works, you really need to produce something of that standard. Carpe Jugulum wasn’t it.

21. Wintersmith

I AM NOT KIDDING. READ THE TIFFANY ACHING SERIES.

Seriously. Read them. I’ll be here next week with numbers 20 through to 11 so you have plenty of time to do so.

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11 Comments

  1. I really liked the Tiffany Aching books too, probably my favourite out of all of the books, the best of Pratchett in my opinion, warmth, plot, character, humour, darkness, all there

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  2. Love your list and mostly agree with it so far, and have loved all of your reviews (although I wouldn’t have been quite so hard on Unseen Academicals and would have put the Tiffany Aching books way ahead of the early Rincewind books). Thanks for doing this, I have looked forward to your posts every week.

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  3. I’d skipped over the Tiffany Aching books when they first came out, because I’d heard they were ‘for kids’.
    When I started my re-read last year I included them just because I could, and was blown away by how much I enjoyed them.
    They might be intended for kids, but they don’t lack for anything that makes the Discworld novels great, and personally I’d put them near the top of my favourite books ever.

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  4. I also loved the Aching books. I don’t understand though why they are considered books for “young adults” since there is a lot of darkness in them (by then Pratchett had indeed become quite dark and heavy) and mature concepts. The Cunning Man is perhaps the most spiteful and morbid of Pratchett’s creations. The only explanation could be because Tiffany is the youngest protagonist in Pratchett’s books.

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  5. I’m just starting The Wee Free Men now, and it very much feels written for children – it’s much more simplistic in its language and style, patronising (not necessarily in a bad way)… and you can tell that it’s designed as a new entry point, because he shameless re-uses jokes from earlier books…

    My biggest issue yet with your ranking: Monstrous Regiment. Not the placing, but the fact that you must have been reading it upside down… because I remember the first three-quarters being a really good, engrossing read, surprisingly deep and interesting for Pratchett… and then the entire thing is utterly ruined by a final quarter that ought to be burned. All of the subtlety and sophistication is thrown away in favour running a mediocre joke ten yards into the ground and just not stopping until every ounce of humour, suspense or credibility has evaporated utterly, while ignoring everything that’s set up in the rest of the book. I think that was the book that destroyed by faith in Pratchett – then it was followed by the wearisome, re-heated Going Postal and the plain awful Thud, and I stopped buying the books…

    But, I’ll have to wait and see what I think this time around, I suppose.

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  6. Reading your previous ten, I was concerned that you were treating individual books from series of novels in isolation from one another. Reading this one, it seems that you are clustering the Tiffany series too closely. It’s a difficult balancing act – but I would have put; a Hatful of Sky, much higher (though you evidently prefer Wintersmith), even if it disrupted the series into multiple lists.

    This from the lspaceweb is slightly dated, but good in giving context to the individual books:

    The Light Fantastic may have been one of the lesser books, but it did introduce the librarian (and completed the CoM storyline – I tend to think of the two as a single book published in two parts), giving it greater importance in the series than it’s inherent writing quality. Likewise, you may not personally enjoy Carpe Jugulum (I do myself, but it’s probably funnier if you’ve spent time around goths), but it did introduce the Igors (and Nac Mac Feegle) who became a mainstay of subsequent books.

    Perhaps after ranking the books individually you might consider addressing them as series. My vote for best trilogy would have to be the; “Ancient Civilisations”, group of; Pyramids, Small Gods & Thief of Time.

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  7. Carpe Jugulum is completele deplaced in this rank in my opinion. Perhaps it’s the difference between women and men, who read this book.
    This novel gives Granny Weatherwax a deepening of her character, gives insights in her personal conditions.
    Think of the fear, she had in the beginning, the time, she needed to grow about her fears, the ambivalence between her strength and the depression, when she was afraid, she got no invitation. Even the fact, that she thought, it was possible, shows the weak points of her character and again the will, to go further.
    I think, its the best story about Granny Weatherwax and it also shows, that Mr. Pratchett at least has learned, this character to illustrate and judge as an adult. (Perhaps you know, Granny Weatherwax was built after his own grandmother)
    The discussions between her and the naive priest are so much personaly and at the same time informative about religion – I for my person think, he, Mr. Pratchett, has never stopped to discuss with himself this question of religion.

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  8. We thought A Hat Full of Sky was the best of the Tiffany Aching books and not Wintersmith. Also, we suspect Disney in the movie Tangled, were inspired by Wee Free Men to use the imagery of the young girl and the frying pan as a weapon of choice.

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  9. I’ve only read perhaps 2/3 of the Discworld books — I’ve lost exact count but it’s more than half and less than all — so take this with that particular salt. That said: Monstrous Regiment is my very favorite of the Discworld books. Having read it some years ago, I just listened to the audiobook and loved it even more. I may read/listen yet again. It’s just fabulous.

    The characters are all fabulous — rounded, funny, real. I love the country: how Pratchett simultaneously loves its people and hates its religion/government/culture (unlike you, I really grooved on his showing the humanity and warmth of the people within the oppression; and his making you root for what he simultaneously made quite clear were the *bad* guys’ army). The plot is really wonderfully carried off.

    For what it’s worth, it’s not just me; SF writer Cory Doctorow wrote a post earlier this year saying (with a question mark) that it might be the best Discworld book: http://boingboing.net/2015/01/05/monstrous-regiment-the-finest.html

    No real point here, except to say that, in the language of the old Latin motto, “de gustibus non est disputandum” there’s no disputing about taste.

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