The Day The World Went Away – The Shepherd’s Crown

ShepCrowUs witches don’t mourn for very long. We are satisfied with happy memories – they’re there to be cherished.

What would it be like to witness your own funeral? I must admit this rather adolescent train of thought occasionally creeps into my adult daydreaming but I doubt I am the only one. What would people say about you? If you had a choice, how would you sum up your life to your friends and family? What would everyone’s reaction be when your final song is played and it’s “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” by Iggy Pop and the Stooges?

It comes as no surprise that there is an elegiac air to The Shepherd’s Crown, the final book in the Discworld series. As we embark over the jump just be warned that from that point onwards, there will be a lot of spoilers. This post will still be here when you have read the novel.

OK? Continue reading →

Listen, The Snow Is Falling – Wintersmith

WintersmithA witch didn’t do things because they seemed a good idea at the time! That was practically cackling! You had to deal every day with people who were foolish and lazy and untruthful and downright unpleasant, and you could certainly end up thinking that the world would be considerably improved if you gave them a slap. But you didn’t because, as Miss Tick had once explained: a) it would only make the world a better place for a very short time; b) it would then make the world a slightly worse place; and c) you’re not supposed to be as stupid as they are.

The Tiffany Aching novels have been an unexpected delight. Not for any idiotic snobbery about grown-ups reading YA fiction, as one of the Discworld’s endearing strengths is that of a deeply accessible series. I love how it is open and can be loved by anyone – comedy fans, fantasy fans, satire fans or, dare I say it, people who like those three genres and more. However, I felt this meant it was somewhat unnecessary for Pratchett to write a dedicated YA series.

I’m glad my unspoken, irrelevant old opinion was never listened to. Where recent “grown-up” Discworld books like Monstrous Regiment or Thud! have lacked that lightness of touch that features in Pratchett’s best, the morality tales of the Aching novels are a throwback to those early Discworld books that danced in the light fantastic. Continue reading →

Letter from an Occupant – Going Postal

Going Postal BIt was the face, that was what it was. He had an honest face. And he loved these people who looked him firmly in the eye to see his inner self, because he had a whole set of inner selves, one for every occasion. As for firm handshakes, practice had given him one to which you could moor boats. It was people skills, that’s what it was. Special people skills. Before you could sell glass as diamonds you had to make people really want to see diamonds. That was the trick, the trick of all tricks. You changed the way people saw the world. You let them see it the way they wanted it to be…

Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation is the best ever minor character in sitcom comedy, with Frank Costanza from Seinfeld a close second. The reason why is that he is used sparingly. If he appeared every week, his irritant sex-pest playa character would grow tired quicker than you can say ‘Poochie’. But he’s hardly in the show so his hilarious schtick never gets old.

Havelock Vetinari is my favourite Discworld character. The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has never been the main character of a novel. He’s always at arm’s length, so when he is used, you are excited to see what the despotic tyrant of the city is scheming. That’s part of the character’s power; he is always behind the scenes, messing around with something to his ends. But (probably wrong speculation about the intentions of an author alert!) you could imagine Pratchett getting frustrated. He has created a brilliant character but has to use him sparingly in order to make the most of him. Continue reading →

Way to Blue – A Hatful of Sky

A_Hat_Full_of_Sky_Cover“We heard a song, it went ‘Twinkle twinkle little star…’ What power! What wondrous power! You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matter, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children! You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds and that keeps infinity at bay and allows you to wake up in the morning without screaming!”

I was delighted to open another Tiffany novel so soon after finishing The Wee Free Men. Tiffany was an instant fully formed Pratchett character – proud, moral, headstrong, somewhat selfish and a bit full of herself. She was someone who could stand easily alongside Vimes or Weatherwax as great Pratchett characters.

In his two YA books to date, Pratchett has taken classic folk tales, dismantled them and fitted the constituent parts back together with a lot of darkness and not inconsiderable intelligence. They have been among Pratchett’s most neatly plotted and satisfying reads among the entire Discworld series, so I was anxious to see what came next. Continue reading →

Kicker of Elves – The Wee Free Men

Nac_Mac_FeegleNo human could live like this. You could spend a day looking at a flower to see how wonderful it is, and that wouldn’t get the milking done. No wonder we dream our way through our lives. To be awake and see it all as it really is…no one could stand that for long.

I always found it odd that Eske, the heroine of Equal Rites, was left in the background of the Discworld after only one book. It was my favourite of the (very) early Pratchett books, full of charm and a sense that he was starting to get things right. But while Granny Weatherwax continued beyond it, Eske remained behind. A shame because her story, as a legendarily powerful wizard, was not finished. Continue reading →

Cut Out Witch – Carpe Jugulum

carpe-jugulum-2Supposing there was justice for all, after all? For every unheeded beggar, every harsh word, every neglected duty, every slight…every choice…Because that was the point, wasn’t it? You had to choose. You might be right, you might be wrong, but you had to choose, knowing that the rightness or wrongness might never be clear or even that you were deciding between two sorts of wrong, that there was no right anywhere. And always, always, you did it by yourself.

It’s a sad time in the Discworld, because with this book we wave goodbye to the Witches of Lancre. Not forever, with cameos in the forthcoming Tiffany Aching novels to follow, but Carpe Jugulum marks the last time Granny, Nanny and Magrat squabble their way into defeating whatever evil is invading the Discworld.

Maskerade, the last Witches’ novel, was all about hidden selves, that gap between who we are to other people and the person we fear we are underneath. Carpe Jugulum is also about duality so it is somewhat amusing that I am in two minds about this novel. Amusing to me anyway. Continue reading →

The Opera House – Maskerade

maskerade-2‘A catastrophe curve, Mr Bucket, is what opera runs along. Opera happens because of a large number of things amazingly fails to go wrong, Mr Bucket. It works because of hatred and love and nerves. All the time. This isn’t cheese. This is opera. If you wanted a quiet retirement, Mr Bucket, you shouldn’t have bought the Opera House. You should have done something peaceful, like alligator dentistry.’

Something struck me part of the way through Maskerade that perhaps answers the slightly inconsistent nature of the past few Discworld novels. In Maskerade, Granny is bored, agitated and in need of a change. And it hit me that every novel since Lords and Ladies has been similar. Each has featured characters seeking a break from their old routines. Carrot wants to turn the Watch into something worthwhile in Men at Arms. Buddy wishes to save his soul by rock and roll in Soul Music. And Cohen is tired of raping and pillaging and wishes to settle down by running his own empire in Interesting Times. Continue reading →

Royals – Lords and Ladies

lords-and-ladies-2You call yourself some kind of goddess and you know nothing, madam, nothing. What don’t die can’t live. What don’t live can’t change. What don’t change can’t learn. The smallest creature that dies in the grass knows more than you.

This book is excellent. After the wonder and ambition of Small Gods, Lords and Ladies is the conclusion to a Discworld trilogy of witches stories – from Wyrd Sisters’ spin on Macbeth, through the dark fairytale of Witches Abroad to this, a take on A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. It’s immensely satisfying, with a plot that just races and some fantastic character moments. It also bravely brings its climax forward to halfway through the book, ratcheting up the tension of the closing scenes immeasurably. Continue reading →

Holiday Surprise – Witches Abroad

185px-Witches-abroad-cover‘It’s a big responsibility, fairy godmothering. Knowing when to stop, I mean. People whose wishes get granted often don’t turn out to be very nice people. So should you give them what they want – or what they need?’

In Into the Woods, John Yorke’s excellent examination of stories and why we love them, he says at the heart of all great tales is the tension between needs and wants. The protagonist’s reconciling of learning what they need, rather than what they want, or the subversion of it, is what gives great stories their power. It’s a brilliant book. Yorke is a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Being John Malkovich – two ticks in the plus column for me.

Pratchett loves stories. Many of his Discworld books have touched upon their power and the danger within them. Witches Abroad is his deepest exploration of stories to date, a surprisingly dark take on fairy tales. Continue reading →

Walk like an Egyptian – Pyramids

Pyramids-coverThe gods didn’t listen. He knew that. He knew that, of all people. But it had never mattered before. You just went through the motions and came up with an answer. It was the ritual that was important, not the gods. The gods were there to do the duties of the megaphone, because who else would people listen to?

Throughout the Discworld novels thus far, the reader has been shown the importance of symbols. In Equal Rites, Granny tells Eske how her medicines are largely just flavoured liquids. They work because people believe in them and the ritual around them. That’s why she wears a black hat. It’s what witches should do. Continue reading →