We’ve hit gold this week. Every single book from here on is top tier Pratchett. From what I have learned since starting this project, Pratchett fans are split into two camps; those who favour the earlier, more fantastical Discworld, and those who prefer the marriage of magic with technology. I’m very much in the latter camp.
This is probably my first truly controversial choice. People LOVE this book, and rightly so. It’s warm, very funny and full of imagination, from the Fresh Start club that helps the undead to the excellent Auditors of Reality. I am very fond of it.
So why is it nestled in the low 20s when most people would probably put it in their top 10? The ‘Death quits’ plot is something we have already seen in Mort and will see again in Soul Music, with diminishing returns. The sentient evil shopping mall, while a neat concept, doesn’t really fit into the wider book. At this point of his career, Pratchett was starting to get a handle on his disparate creations and make them work together. The various plot threads combine neatly, with the exception of that one.
Ultimately, this is where it starts to get really difficult. I may come to regret placing this here.
Pratchett’s first YA novel was smack in the middle of what I consider his golden age and this was a complete surprise. It’s dark as hell, brilliantly so for a novel aimed at young people, and Pratchett throws the anger, satire, philosophical puzzles and jokes that he is now seemingly juggling with ease. For a novel that purported to be a Pratchettian spin on the Pied Piper fable, it ended up something that took the reader to some grim places.
Pratchett struggled with war as a subject, despite visiting it several times over the course of the Discworld series. Jingo was no different but what it did have was jokes, and plenty of them. As an exploration about how we can be manipulated into conflict and the spurious reasons given for war, it’s somewhat weak. As a collection of Pratchett’s deftest set pieces, it’s an absolute hoot. You’ll never look the same way again at trying to navigate a donkey down a flight of stairs.
I’ve complained before about the repetitive nature of the ‘Death quits’ plotline but you can’t really be unhappy with a novel that turns the Grim Reaper into Santa Claus. This is a stuffed to the gills, indulgent piece of sheer fun. The book buckles under the strain of Pratchett trying to bring everything Christmas related into the novel. But it is very enjoyable.
What’s interesting in retrospect is Pratchett’s attraction to Susan and Death. The first time I read this I wondered why Pratchett was persevering with two characters who were better in supporting roles. They next starred in Thief of Time and I loved that. Goes to show how much Pratchett knew and little I know!
Another comic masterpiece, Moving Pictures brings to mind the first few Discworld novels, where Pratchett threw everything he could at the subject. The book creaks under the weight of a plethora of movie references. The ones I missed could probably power a completely separate comic novel that would be just as entertaining.
This is also a landmark novel in the Pratchett canon. It is one that was published close to Good Omens, his stellar collaboration with Neil Gaiman. After working with the Sandman creator, Pratchett became darker and his books became delightfully atmospheric. I described the book as “screwball Stephen King” at the time and I still think that stands up.
The first modern Discworld novel as Pratchett moves away from magic in earnest and explores technology and its effects on us. It’s a smart way of moving beyond Pratchett’s fascination with stories and their power. My own journalist background means I can overlook the slightly wonky main plot (the Patrician framed and he has no idea who is responsible? Impossible). But it’s there to hold together Pratchett’s fine exploration of the newspaper trade.
I love this book but there is plenty wrong with it. Actually, there’s one thing wrong with it but it was in danger of pulling down the entire book. It takes forever to get started. The actual ‘abroad’ part of the book is just the right side of tedious ‘foreigners, eh?’ whimsy.
However, the last section of the book, where Granny Weatherwax is confronted by her nemesis sister, is absolutely stunning, taking a scalpel to fairytales and scrutinising the dangers that some stories hide.
All of sudden Pratchett pulls out of his hat the ability to juggle a cast of characters. Both the Witches and the Watch spark off one another and proof of Pratchett’s mastery of writing these troupes is how readers have a different favourite witch or Watchman (Weatherwax and Dorfl, in case you’re wondering). They are characters, rather than one dimensional faces used to service the plot. Just joyous.
As is this. The hints of what Pratchett was capable of in the early novels are finally realised here, in a wonderful spin on Macbeth. The first outing of the Witches of Lancre is an utter riot. While the first Discworld novels had their charms, this is the start of something really special.
You could argue the seeds of The Truth, and the latter period Discworld, started here. A gun has gone missing and the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is in its sights. This is an absolutely galloping thriller, a proper high-octane novel full of set-pieces, twists and some excellent jokes. The newly multi-racial Watch gives Pratchett the opportunity to explore race and all of our prejudices. Guards! Guards! was an excellent book but Pratchett is flying at this point.
And only gets better from here. So what will my number one be? Have I been ridiculous in my placement of Reaper Man? (Probably) What am I going to do once The Shepherd’s Crown is published? Find out next week.