Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown

I did it. I read the very last Discworld novel. Mind you, I still have a lot of books in the series to catch up on, but my favorite sub-set – the Witches and Tiffany Aching – is over. As expected, it was as much the author saying goodbye to his books as it was another goodbye. My boyfriend actually preordered the super expensive special edition (with the golden slip case) for me, only to be told a few weeks ago that – oops – no more copies available, after all, despite a successful preorder. I would be grumpier about that if the fact that it’s the last Discworld book wasn’t so terribly sad. Now I’m just… even sadder, I guess.

shepherds crown

THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Harper, 2015
Ebook: 276 pages
Series: Discworld #41
Tiffany Aching #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence:  It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.

A shivering of worlds.
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.
This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.
There will be a reckoning…

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I had a feeling long before this book was published that there would be a character death coming up. Most people knew what was coming, and it does happen in one of the first chapters. But if you’re really worried about spoilers, stop reading now. I can’t write about The Shepherd’s Crown without talking about… the thing, so anything after this paragraph is spoiler territory.

tiffany aching

Tiffany Aching has grown up a bit and is now a proper witch of the Chalk, taking care of all the business that witches concern themselves with. Whether it’s cutting an old man’s toenails or doing someone’s laundry, Tiffany doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty as long as she can help others. It’s what witches do, after all. She already has both hands full of work when news reaches her of something that we all expected to happen sooner or later. Granny Weatherwax has died. Despite knowing it was coming, the chapters building up to Granny’s death and the chapters just after she has gone were some of the most touching Pratchett has ever written. Granny, in her eternal Granny-ness, makes all the preparations, weaves her own coffin, cleans her hut, and asks her bees to be as kind to her successor as they were to her. I cried like a baby.

Nanny Ogg knows that Granny didn’t want a big fuss made about her funeral but Granny was such a respected witch that people from all over the Disc come to pay their last respect. Even Ridcully shows up, mournful and nostalgic about a love story that could have been. Death himself, who is normally so serene about his job and the people he helps to cross over, is sad about this one. But the Disc doesn’t stand still and Granny’s successor is to be Tiffany Aching – to noone’s surprise except Mrs. Earwig, who thinks she is much better suited to the job. But when even the cat You decides that Tiffany is the new leader the witches don’t have, it is settled.

Tiffany now has to deal with two steadings, two sets of people in need, and she is straining under the stress of travelling back and forth between the Chalk and Lancre. The big bad of this last Tiffany story is one who has tried to take over the world before – the Fairy Queen. This felt as re-hashed as it is, complete with another visit to the Fairy King, Magrat donning her trusty old armor, and the witches all working together to defeat a common foe. In Geoffrey Swivel, a man who wants to be a witch, we also have a beautiful conclusion to the Witches subseries. Remember in the very first book about the Discworld witches, Eskarina wished to be a magician, not a witch.

Plot-wise, this wasn’t a strong book. Even the language is noticably weaker, with many repetitions (“There will be a reckoning”) and none of the well-known little lines of wisdom that stick in your head long after you’re finished reading. But it is very much a book full of goodbyes. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that many, many characters from earlier books show up again or are at least mentioned. We see Miss Tick, Agnes/Perdita, Magrat and Verence, Eskarina, Granny Aching is mentioned along with Thunder and Lightning, even Horace the cheese gets his moment. To me – and this is pure speculation – it read very much like Terry Pratchett’s goodbye to his characters and if that turned out a little repetitive, remembering all their adventures, I can’t really fault the author for that.

It was impossible for me to read this book out of context. Were Sir Terry still with us, were this another among many Discworld books, I’d say it was a weaker Tiffany book, althugh still a pretty good Discworld novel. But it is not just one among many, it is the last one, and I felt like crying all the time while I read it. The Shepherd’s Crown may not stand too well on its own, but as a look back on all that has come before, it is just right the way it is.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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Second opinions:

Terry Pratchett – Reaper Man

Terry Pratchett’s passing in March of this year touched me more than expected. I never thought I could feel so sad about a man’s death when I never knew him personally. But Sir Terry has given his readers so much joy, so many wonderful stories, that he has touched all of us in a way. When I saw his last tweets (posted by his assistant Rob), I cried non-stop for a full hour. The numerous tributes, memories, and quotes posted on the internet didn’t help. It’s probably telling that the next book I chose to read was one in the Death subseries.

reaper manREAPER MAN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 1991
Paperback: 352 pages
Series: Discworld #11
Death #2
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse.

“Death has to happen. That’s what bein’ alive is all about. You’re alive, and then you’re dead. It can’t just stop happening.”
But it can. And it has. Death is missing – presumed…er…gone (and on a little farm far, far away, a tall dark stranger is turning out to be really good with a scythe). Which leads to the kind of chaos you always get when an important public service is withdrawn. If Death doesn’t come for you, then what are you supposed to do in the meantime? You can’t have the undead wandering about like lost souls. There’s no telling what might happen, particularly when they discover that life really is only for the living…

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Death is fired from his job by the Auditors of Reality. He has become too emotionally involved in the fate of the humans for whom he provides a service, he even dared to become a personality. This leads to all sorts of trouble on the Discworld. On the one hand, Death now has to figure out what to do with the lifetime that is given to him, on the other – well, if Death is gone, it’s a bit difficult for people to die. Enter zombies, excessive life foce, Death counting his time (literally) and a beautiful exploration of what it means to be alive, regardless of having a heartbeat.

Death takes on a job on Miss Flitworth’s farm. Helping with the harvest, especially using a scythe, is the perfect job for him and so he becomes a literal reaper man. Taking on the name of Bill Door (chosen in a really funny scene), Death not only sees what it’s like to be human, to watch your own time running out, but he also gets to know Miss Flitworth, his gruff but adorable employer. I cannot put into words how much I loved the scenes between these two.

The other big story arc of Reaper Man involves the wizards. I’ve never liked the wizards. They are a heap of bumbling old idiots that spend most of their time annoying me. But Windle Poons, recently deceased but not quite dead, was surprisingly likable and perfect for showing the other end of Death’s retirement. At 130 years old, Winlde waits for Death to come… but nothing happens. Newly un-dead, Windle discovers that he is not the only one and that undead does not equal unperson. He tries his best to die properly at first, only to realize that there’s still so much stuff to do, that he might still be needed. The city itself is, in fact, positively overflowing with life force.

This excess life force has a bizarre impact on Ankh-Morpork – which turns into an invasion of snow globes, who grow into wire baskets on wheels (so, shopping trolleys). Honestly, this part was a tad too silly for me but I did chuckle at the wizards trying not to curse because cursing agitates the trolleys. Darn it to heck, indeed! Apart from its obvious humor, I found the idea rather silly. It makes Reaper Man into a strange book that I both love and am kind of indifferent about. Death’s story – absolutely LOVE. The wizards – meh.

My general dislike of the wizards definitely plays into this, but I felt there was entirely too little Death and too much wizard stuff going on. Windle Poons’ story line was fun and I actually enjoyed his meetings with the other various types of undead, especially the boogeyman. But my favorite parts, and the heart of the novel, in my opinion, were the ones involving Bill Door (Death) and Miss Flitworth. His is the story that delivered heartbreaking scenes, when Death shows once again that – yes – he actually is too emotionally involved with humans and their fate. For the first time, Death has to learn what it means to have Time, and to not have an infinite amount of it.

reaper man simonetti

art by Marc Simonetti

I also love what Pratchett did with Miss Flitworth. This old spinster could have been a Discworld incarnation of Miss Havisham – and I guess Pratchett wanted us to think exactly that – but instead he gives her warmth and heart and pragmatism. No wonder she and Bill Door get along the way they do. While Death comes to understand humanity better by having a limited amount of time, his relationship with Miss Flitworth also changes him as a person anthropomorphic personification.

Although I really, really, really wanted Death’s story to be more prominent in this book, I adored the story we did get. It shows Death the way I want to imagine him. He has the best come-backs, he clearly cares about people, he is kind and even has a sense of humor. And it turns out, he actually really likes his job. The ending hit this point home again and made me cry like a little baby.

No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…

Although I didn’t care for the wizards and their wire baskets, Reaper Man will probably always be a favorite Discworld novel, in part because of its perfect ending. There is drama, there is sacrifice, and there is Death, back at his job, making the kindest gesture you can imagine, embracing his personality and being better for it. Even without the knowledge that Sir Terry is gone, I would have cried at this ending. But believing (and I’m not alone in this – see the petition to get him back) that it is this Death that has come to take Terry Pratchett with him, is heartening. After all, Discworld’s version of Death is nothing to be afraid of. More like joining a kind friend, for a game of chess, and then a walk in the black desert…

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Second opinions:

Terry Pratchett – Mort

Mort was the first Discworld novel I ever read. I still have my old German paperback hidden away in the second row of a shelf somewhere. I was 16 when I first read it and, to say the least, the sparks didn’t really fly. Since then, I have rediscovered the amazingness that is the Discworld, so I thought it was time for a reread (or re-listen, in this case). What I have learned from the experience is that I do not envy the translator/s of these books – transporting Terry Pratchett’s wit into another language must be causing migraines all over the world…

mort1MORT
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 1987
Ebook: 316 pages
Audiobook: 7h 38m
Series: Discworld #4, Death #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: This is the bright candlelit room where the lifetimers are stored – shelf upon shelf of them, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past.


It is known as the Discworld. It is a flat planet, supported on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims majestically through space. And it is quite possibly the funniest place in all of creation…
Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.
After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice

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Mort is a young man who doesn’t quite fit in. When he decides to become an apprentice and learn a trade, people find the most exciting pretexts for not taking him on. So he waits until the fair is over. Until midnight, to be precise. Standing there, when most people have left, still un-apprenticed, Mort’s hope begins to fade. Until a big white horse with a suspiciously skinny rider appears and Mort gets the job as Death’s apprentice.

Many people recommend Mort as a Discworld starter novel and I see why (although I disagree). It is the fourth Discworld novel and the first one to introduce Death as a protagonist. However, and many Pratchett fans will tell you this, the earlier novels aren’t nearly as great as the later ones. I fell in love with the YA novels (The Amazing Maurice and Tiffany Aching) long after I tried the starter novels. Both Mort and Guards! Guards! were fun but, to me, they come from a time when Discworld was still growing and each sub-series was still finding its own voice. And you can read them without any plan or order whatsoever and still get all the fun. To me, reading the witches books after meeting Granny and Nanny in the Tiffany Aching novels, was still brilliant. I didn’t stick with them after reading Equal Rites, the first witches novel, which goes to show that starting at the beginning is not always the best idea.

That said, I adore Death as a character. His deep, booming voice appears right in the heads of people rather than being spoken out loud. It is written in CAPITAL LETTERS, which seems like such a simple trick to convey tone and strength in writing, but it actually works pretty well. Nigel Planer, the narrator of the audiobook, adds a little something extra through his reading of Death. His deep voice delivers Death’s speech as monotone, seemingly without emotions, which makes for hilarious moments, for example when Death COULD MURDER A CURRY.

I enjoyed Mort much more the second time I read it. The audiobook narration is probably as much responsible as my general love for the Discworld, and if you know me, you’ll guess that it’s really the characters that make this book so good. Death personified could have been many things, but Terry Pratchett decided to make the Grim Reaper not all that grim, rather a very strange, ancient being who is trying to learn more about humans. Watching Death learn how to have fun and watching Mort grow more and more into his master was just fascinating.

The story kicks off when Death sends Mort on his first night out alone. Mort knows how to collect souls by now, he can use the scythe, he does the first two jobs really well. For those who have read The Long Earth, there is a bonus appearance of Lobsang which is worth a giggle or two. But when it comes to collecting the soul of princess Keli, Mort’s feelings get in the way. His crush on the pretty girl make him change destiny, despite Death’s warnings that even the smallest change can destroy the entire world. I quite liked the theme of the plot. It puts human emotions, love and empathy, up against the smooth course of the world. If these two collide, whatever happens can’t be good. But how can you go against your own nature? Taking the souls of an old witch and a priest who seems to be re-born over and over again anyway doesn’t seem so bad. But a young girl with most of her life still ahead of her? I believe, even without Mort’s crush, most of us would have qualms doing that particular job.

My favorite Discworld characters will always be the Lancre Witches, but there is a lot to be said for Death as well. Death, Mort, Ysabel, and Albert are subtler personalities than, say, the wizards. You can’t quite put your finger on what Death is thinking any given moment. Mort’s story is a coming-of-age tale, but a very different one from most boys. And Ysabel… well, Ysabel. I vaguely remember disliking her a lot when I first read the book as a teenager. This time, she grew on me so much that I was sad to find out she probably won’t show up as much in the next Death novel. She had great insight into Death’s personality, having lived with him for such a long time and without her, Mort would have been lost on more than one occasion.

The ending was a tad disappointing, in that it went so smoothly. Or maybe that’s just me making excuses. I really grew fond of Mort and Susan and am sad to say goodbye so soon. But, knowing Sir Terry, maybe there will be a cameo or two in one of the other Death novels. I’m about to find out, as I’m already halfway through Reaper Man.

RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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The Death Series (Discworld):

  1. death discworldMort
  2. Reaper Man
  3. Soul Music
  4. Hogfather
  5. Thief of Time

Terry Pratchett – Carpe Jugulum

Apparently, I now suffer severe mood swings when I don’t read enough Terry Pratchett. So it was about time I picked up the last unread novel about the Lancre witches and spent a few evenings giggling merrily away with a Pratchett book. Now that the fifth Tiffany Aching book has been anounced (SO MUCH HAPPINESS!) I don’t even have to feel bad about not having any more witches books to read.

carpe jugulumCARPE JUGULUM
by Terry Pratchett

Published by:  Corgi, 1998
Paperback: 416 pages
Series: Discworld #23
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth – the earth, that is, of the Discworld – but unlike any star had ever done before, it sometimes managed to steer its fall, sometimes rising, sometimes twisting, but inevitably heading down.

Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be priest. He thought he was there for a simple little religious ceremony. Now he’s caught up in a war between vampires and witches, and he’s not sure there is a right side. There’s the witches — Agnes, Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and the formidable Granny Weatherwax… And the vampires: the stakes are high but they’re intelligent — not easily got rid of with a garlic enema or going to the window and saying “I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a bit stuffy in here?” They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket and want a bite of the future.

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There’s something to be said for vampires that don’t glitter. Who would have ever suspected that this will be among the criteria by which I judge my vampire fiction? But unsurprising, Terry Pratchett’s vampires don’t only arrive in Lancre with a distinct lack of glitter, they also don’t mind garlic, holy water, and daylight. It’s quite a challenge for the four witches currently residing in the Ramtops, especially with Granny disappeared…

I love the Lancre witches. On many occasions have I said that I hope to become a Granny Weatherwax or a Nanny Ogg when I’m old (I realise they are vastly different people and I suspect I am more of a Nanny but I’ll take what I can get). With Granny gone for a large part of the book, Sir Terry had his hooks firmly set into me. After all, a Lancre without a Weatherwax is just not right. In her stead, the Quite Reverend Mightily Oats has arrived and brings with him a lot of discussion about religion, belief, and all things holy. With everything Terry Pratchett writes, there are wonderful bits of wisdom in everything Granny says. The nature of good and evil is no exception.

There’s no grays, only white that’s gone grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

This book also marks the first appearance of the Nac Mac Feegle, that race of pictsies so prominent in the Tiffany Aching books. King Verence, after having his mind muddled up by vampires, pays a visit to the local kelda and we get our first taste of the crazy, brawling and drinking Feegles. In addition to that, Count Magpyr has brought his very modern vampire family to settle down in Lancre. Magrat is dealing with her newborn, Agnes still struggles with her split personality, and Hodgesaaargh is hunting a phoenix…

If you think that’s a bit much then I agree. Even with prior Discworld knowledge, there were too many characters and too many side-plots going on in Carpe Jugulum. There’s a reason why the Lancre witches always try to remain a trio. Hopping back and forth between the vampires’ point of view, one of the witches, Mightily Oats, and the vampires’ servant Igor, it all got a bit chaotic. Following the plot is no problem when you know who everybody is, but every time I settled into one plot string comfortably, I was ripped out for a quick visit to another character. These chapter-like breaks (as you know, Discworld novels don’t have chapters) came too often and too quickly.

carpe jugulum french

Normally, the witches books leave me an emotional wreck. The lack of structure and frequent POV hopping prevented this from happening here. Sure, Granny Weatherwax standing on the edge and being gone for most of the beginning of the book was tough. She is such an essential part of Lancre – and Discworld, really – that her absence was all the more painful.

One thing you will always get, however, is humor. Pratchett’s vampires are dangerous and scary, but they also have their quirks. Agnes and Perdita’s interactions, as well as Nanny Ogg just being Nanny Ogg make for more than enough scenes to make you laugh. The stuff that old lady carries around in her stockings leg is astounding.

Why are vampires always so stupid? As if wearing evening dress all day wasn’t a dead givaway, why do they choose to live in old castles which offer so much in the way of ways to defeat a vampire, like easily torn curtains and wall decorations that can readily be twisted into religious symbol? Do they really think that spelling their name backward fools anyone?

I wish there had been more focus in this book, a few characters could even have been cut, and it would have been an excellent read. The way it is, it’s “only” a very good book. Not my favorite Discworld book and probably my least favorite witches novel. Which, all things considered, is not saying very much because the worst book Terry Pratchett can produce is still better than the best many other authors do.

RATING: 7/10  – Very good

divider1The Witches of Lancre:

  1. carpe jugulum frenchEqual Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay

Well, it’s official. The Night Watch will never be the Witches, but as Terry Pratchett goes, I’ll take whatever I can get. Commander Vimes and Captain Carrot are crime-solving again. And this time, golems are involved…

feet of clayFEET OF CLAY
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1996)
Paperback: 416 pages
Series: Discworld #19
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.

There’s a werewolf with pre-lunar tension in Ankh-Morpork. And a dwarf with attitude, and a Golem who’s begun to think for itself. But Commander Vimes is more concerned about the crime that’s happened. He’s got to find out not only whodunit, but howdunit too. He’s not even sure what they dun. But as soon as he knows what the questions are, he’s going to want some answers.

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Ankh-Morpork is in trouble again. Not one, but two murders have happened and Commander Vimes doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s going on. All he knows is that somehow the golems are involved. These giant clay figures can’t speak – nor, technically, think for themselves – all they do is serve and work. Their production has been prohibited but the ones that are already around are allowed to stay. Much to the chagrin of the general population…

As has been the case with the other City Watch novels, I was less intrigued with the murders and the crime-solving, and more with all the other stuff that goes on in Discworld’s capital city. This novel did some interesting things and, in the process, granted the characters an additional layer of credibility. As much as we love Carrot, for example, he is quite surprised and makes some truly idiotic remarks when he finds out one of the new Watch members (a dwarf) is female. Angua tells it to him how it is:

“Female? He told you he was female?”
“She,” Angua corrected. “This is Ankh-Morpork, you know. We’ve got extra pronouns here.”
She could smell his bewilderment. Of course, everyone knew that, somewhere down under all those layers of leather and chain mail, dwarfs came in enough different types to ensure the future production of more dwarfs, but it was not a subject that dwarfs discussed other than at those essential points in a courtship when embarrassment might otherwise arise.
“Well, I would have thought she’d have the decency to keep it to herself,” Carrot said finally. “I mean, I’ve nothing against females. I’m pretty certain my stepmother is one. But I don’t think it’s very clever, you know, to go around drawing attention to the fact.”
“Carrot, I think you’ve got something wrong with your head,” said Angua.

So even Carrot isn’t perfect. But then, neither is Angua. When it comes to golems, she is no fun at all. Being undead herself – even though I’m not sure yet how exactly werewolves work on Discworld – she has a lot of problems with the unalive. What ails her particularly is the fact that golems are just accepted for what they are, while she (and vampires or zombies) has to fight for her rights every day. And usually, it means leaving a place where people have found out about her “condition”.

Let me tell you, it was just lovely to see other sides of these characters. Especially Carrot, who was too good to be true anyway. It’s nice to see him blunder and just blurt out whatever comes to mind. But once his mistakes are pointed out, he goes back to being a Protector Of The People – including undead, unalive, and females.

Having fallen in love with the Discworld through the Tiffany Aching novels, I couldn’t help but grin when Wee Mad Arthur showed up in Feet of Clay. As a professional rat-catcher, no less. Although he is called a gnome, we all know he is a sort of Nac Mac Feegle. And, if you ask me, any book is automatically better if it has Feegles in it.

Despite the interesting social aspects, this book didn’t grab me as much as others. Sure, there were moments so funny that I could have sprayed juice from my nose, and Pratchett is as clever as always. But the plot left me hanging a little. I also think that the new additions to the City Watch spread the story out over too many viewpoints. Men at Arms was perfect in that respect, Feet of Clay felt all over the place and didn’t give some characters enough room to develop.

All things considered, it was a nice read. If you consider yourself a Discworld fan, it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to read them all anyway. And if you’re new to Discworld, I suggest starting either with one of the YA novels (The Amazing Maurice or the Tiffany Aching books) or Guards! Guards!. For me, it’s time for a little break from the Night Watch. I’ll got and see what Death has been up to…

divider1The City Watch novels (Discworld):

  1. Guards! Guards!
  2. Men at Arms
  3. Feet of Clay
  4. Jingo
  5. The Fifth Elephant
  6. Night Watch
  7. Thud!
  8. Snuff

Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2013

Happy first of December everyone! This year’s Christmas frenzy marks the spot where I finally got back to normal reading speed. I finally found the time to read more again and discovered some great books on the way. In other geekiness, my boyfriend and I have been watching Doctor Who non-stop for the last week (“our” first doctor was Matt Smith and we wanted to see what the others were like) and we are loving it.
Starting today, I am participating in Carl’s 2014 Sci-Fi Experience, a two-month celebration of all things science fiction. My first book for the Experience is almost read (I’ll spoil: It’s Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao) and because it is so much fun, I can’t wait to read more science fiction during December and January.
But now, on to the books I’ve read in November and how I liked them. As always, click on the title will lead you to my full review.

Books read: 7
Pages read: 2398
Series started: Tao, Paradox, Patternist
Series continued: Discworld
Series finished:

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THE BEST

Octavia E. Butler – Wild Seed  8,5/10

wild seedAs a science fiction and fantasy lover, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover Octavia Butler. But the internet didn’t lie – she truly is amazing. This is the story of two immortals, Anyanwu and Doro. Doro is a tyrant who uses humans for his own breeding program, Anyanwu is the only other immortal he has ever met and has powers of her own.
Apart from the gripping story, I was deeply impressed and taken with how these two characters balance out and how they wage an emotional war against each other.  I can’t wait to continue reading the Patternist series and find out what becomes of Anyanwu.

Rachel Bach – Fortune’s Pawn  8/10

fortunes pawnThis was so much fun! Devi is a mercenary who is hired as security on a space ship cursed with bad luck. Not only does she have to deal with the sexy cook, she tumbles into a mystery much bigger than she ever expected. Space ships, aliens, fantastic action scenes and a bit of romance – you will find all of this here. Fortune’s Pawn is a light, fun, action-packed read with an endearing heroine who knows what she wants, who is clever but kind. I almost regret reading it so soon. The publication of the next volume (February 2014) seems very far away at this moment.

Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms  8/10

men at arms1I know, I know. My blog is beeing flooded by Terry Pratchett love but I can’t help it. I dare you to find your way into Discworld and stop reading after a book or two. Being a fan of the witches, I kept one last novel in their sub-series to look forward to and started reading the City Watch books instead. Commander Vimes is gruff but good-hearted, Carrot is too good to be true (but you just have to love him. All of Ankh-Morpork does, too!) and I particularly liked the new recruits, first and foremost Angua, the werewolf. I loved her right from the start and I think she makes a great addition to the Night Watch, not just because she is a woman, but because she adds a layer of complications to the entire sub-series.

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THE WORST

Yay! No bad books this month.

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THE REST

Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!  7/10

guards guardsThis was a re-read for me (or rather: re-listen) because I first read the book 10 years ago and didn’t remember much about it. Because the Night Watch books are next on my Discworld reading schedule, I thought I’d remind myself of who is who. Captain Vimes was never supposed to be the hero of these stories (Carrot was) but he steals the show wherever he goes. This drunk, depressed Captain of the Night Watch has low self-esteem and doesn’t really know why he’s doing his job anymore. But when a dragon shows up and devastates Ankh-Morpork, somebody has to step in. And believe me, it’s wonderful when Vimes and his guards do.
Not my favorite Discworld novel and, because it is one of the earlier ones, not as subtly clever as the later books, but still great fun and silliness. And it has Errol, the swamp dragon, which gives it a couple of brownie points.

Stephen King – The Shining  7/10

shiningI started reading this on Halloween because everybody needs a bit of creepiness around that time. As with so many Stephen King books, the monsters didn’t get to me that much. But the humans did! I will never understand how people dismiss King’s books. Few other authors do characterisation as well as he does. His characters come to life and, because they feel so real, the things they do seem all the more disturbing. I felt especially sorry for Danny, the child, and will try and read Doctor Sleep soon. Whatever happened to that kid after the events of The Shining, he must now be one messed-up man…

Jodi Lynn Anderson – Tiger Lily  7/10

tiger lilyI have an obsession with Peter Pan. Retellings, spin-offs, sequels and prequels are judged extremely harshly by me because how dare anyone ruin one of my favorite children’s stories ever? Anderson takes a look at one of the side characters who don’t get much attention. Tiger Lily had a life before Peter Pan and Wendy. It was the life of an outsider, in a village filled with prejudice and fear. Considering how quiet a book this was, there was a lot going on. We do get to see Peter (although he is nothing like the original) and the pirates, but we also get Englishmen trying to convert Tiger Lily’s tribe to Christianity and all that this ensues.
My favorite part was that Tinker Bell narrates the story. Her personality (again, very different from the original) is what kept me going, her emotions got to me and made me read on. This is not a riveting adventure story. It is a character study and a coming-of-age tale that, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I enjoyed it.

Susan Cooper – Seaward  6/10

seawardHere’s a rare occasion. A book I read but didn’t review. At first I thought, I have nothing to say about this, how can I write a review that’s more than 20 words long? Now I feel that I do have some things to say about it. I didn’t love it. But I didn’t dislike it either. What bothered me the most was how fast things happened. There was no time for exploring the repercussions of the events, everything happened bam-bam-bam without room for emotional growth. But all things considered, it is a beautiful children’s story. Meh… maybe I’ll end up writing more about it during the holidays.
At this point, I think I should have read this as a child to fully appreciate it. As an adult, it didn’t quite convince me.

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WHAT I’M READING IN DECEMBER:

  • Wesley Chu – The Lives of Tao
  • Mark Helprin – Winter’s Tale
  • Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay
  • Space Opera (one of these:)
    • Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas
    • Timothy Zahn – Heir to the Empire
    • David Weber – A Beautiful Friendship

Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms

Oh Carrot, how you’ve grown on me. Even though I read Guards! Guards! twice, once in paperback and once as an audiobook, it never left me as full of squee as the Witches books. But Captain Vimes and Constable Carrot were so likable that I decided to continue the Night Watch books (before reading about Death). And what I’ve learned about Terry Pratchett still holds true – he does get better with every book.

men at arms1MEN AT ARMS
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2005 (1993)
Paperback: 432 pages
Series: Discworld #15
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Cor­po­ral Car­rot, Ankh-Mor­pork City Guard (Night Watch), sat down in his night­shirt, took up his pen­cil, sucked the end for a mo­ment, and then wrote:
“Dear­est Mume and Dad,

What’s so hard about pulling a sword out of a stone? The real work’s already been done. You ought to make yourself useful and find the man who put the sword in the stone in the first place.’
Fate is a word that springs to the lips when to call something coincidence seems mealy mouthed. Destiny is another such. But the problem with destiny is, of course, that she is not always careful where she points her finger. One minute you might be minding your own business on a normal if not spectacular career path, the next you might be in the frame for the big job, like saving the world..

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If Guards! Guards! was enchanting because of Captain Vimes’ gruff but good-hearted ways, Men at Arms came alive through its characters, most lovable and endearing among them Corporal Carrot and the newly-recruited Lance Constable Angua. The Night Watch has grown considerably because of the Patrician’s order to recruit members of different species so they are represented in the Watch. This not only brings us hilarious banter between the troll, Detritus, and the dwarf, Cuddy – two races that generally hate each other, even though neither could tell you why. It also brings us Angua, who most people think has been recruited to represent women in the Watch. Well… she does that, but she also happens to be a werewolf.

The quick succession of point of view “chapters” (if you know Pratchett, you know only his YA novels have actual chapters) made for an engaging read. The last time I raced thorugh a novel this quickly was probably during the summer. The fact that I have been working full-time and spent some of my free time meeting friends really shows just how fantastic this book was. I never thought it would be over so fast.

I’m always most interested in characters. Worldbuilding is great, and plot is of course necessary to keep me interested, but the characters make or break a book for me. I already loved Vimes but Carrot seemed like too much of a goody-goody. He gets a lot of depth in this book, while still being the purest human being I could dream up. Reading about comic relief characters like Cuddy and the inimitable Detritus (who learns to count in the funniest way you can imagine), and especially Angua, was exactly the breath of fresh air the Watch books needed.

Angua’s story in particular appealed to me, not only because she’s a woman (although that’s great), but because she is torn between her two states of being. She is a practical woman who gets annoyed about always being naked when changing back into human form. But she also has a lot to offer as a Watchman. Having a keen sense of smell is the obvious contribution but, much to my amusement, she can also talk to dogs such as Gaspode. That little guy kept showing up and remarking on the affairs of humans and sniggered his way straight into my heart.

Plot-wise, this is a police procedural, complete with interrogating suspects, writing up police reports and figuring out whodunnit. The reports in question made me laugh so hard, I may have snorted a bit. Just warning you… don’t read this in public. And I’m not spoiling why they were so funny, but I’d read the book again just for those two reports!

The ending, in many ways, already shows the direction Terry Pratchett has taken in later books. The murders are resolved, the culprit is found, but there are certain things that have been hinted at in the first Watch book. These things concerning Carrot are never stated but instead subtly used to show character development. I cannot say how much I loved the ending. All of it. At this point, I’d still call the Witches my favorite Discworld sub-series, but even so, I couldn’t stop reading Watch books now if you put a gun to my head.

RATING: 8/10  –  Excellent

divider1The City Watch novels (Discworld):

  1. Guards! Guards!
  2. Men at Arms
  3. Feet of Clay
  4. Jingo
  5. The Fifth Elephant
  6. Night Watch
  7. Thud!
  8. Snuff

Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!

This was my first re-reads in a long, long time. I do have an accumulating pile of books that I desperately want to read again but you know how it is. So many new and shiny books come out every month that the old favorites get forgotten. To be fair, I read Guards! Guards! when I was about sixteen and didn’t remember a lot of it. This time, to change things up a bit, I didn’t read my old paperback copy but listened to the audiobook instead. As always, Nigel Planer does a fantastic job of bringing Pratchett’s characters to life.

guards guardsGUARDS! GUARDS!
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Random House, 1990 (1989)
Paperback: 317 pages
Series: Discworld #8
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: This is where the dragons went.

Here there be dragons . . . and the denizens of Ankh-Morpork wish one huge firebreather would return from whence it came. Long believed extinct, a superb specimen of draco nobilis (“noble dragon” for those who don’t understand italics) has appeared in Discworld’s greatest city. Not only does this unwelcome visitor have a nasty habit of charbroiling everything in its path, in rather short order it is crowned King (it is a noble dragon, after all . . .).

Meanwhile, back at Unseen University, an ancient and long-forgotten volume–The Summoning of Dragons–is missing from the Library’s shelves. To the rescue come Captain Vimes, Constable Carrot, and the rest of the Night Watch who, along with other brave citizens, risk everything, including a good roasting, to dethrone the flying monarch and restore order to Ankh-Morpork (before it’s burned to a crisp). A rare tale, well done as only Terry Pratchett can.

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Guards! Guards!
is the first novel in the Night Watch sub-series of Discworld. If you’re new to thsi universe, this is a great starting point. It introduces Captain Vimes, a mostly drunk and depressed man who doesn’t really see much point in his job anymore, as well as his companions with all their quirks and eccentricities. Carrott is probably one of the most adorably pure-hearted characters I’ve ever read about and while I have a soft spot in my heart for grumpy old Vimes, Carrott is the anchor that helps the Watch remember why they exist.

Terry Pratchett often said that this was meant to be a book about Carrott, but Vimes just took over. It’s easy to see how. He is not exactly an anti-hero – he does want to do the right thing, he just doesn’t have the gumption. The dynamic between Vimes, Carrott, Sergeant Colon and “Nobby” Nobs is great fun to read and some of their dialogue made me laugh out loud.

As I’ve said many times before, it is wonderful to see how Terry Pratchett evolved as a writer, how his stories become better and better. Seeing as this is only the eight Discworld novel, you now probably expect me to say it lacks craft. It really doesn’t. Sure, Sir Terry’s newer work is snappier and better structured but Guards! Guards! still manages to juggle a mystery plot with several view points and keep it interesting. Whenever you’re not guessing who is behind the conspiracy to call a dragon in order to lure out the king of Ankh-Morpork, you can just enjoy the hilarious banter or Vimes’ amazing character development. And Errol, of course. That little swamp dragon stole my heart in no time, and him eating a tea kettle was just the cherry on top.

I am and will probably always be a Witch girl at heart. But the Night Watch show us a different aspect of Discworld. Their story lines give us police procedurals set in the capital. Politics, intrigue, the Patrician’s cleverness, crazy bar brawls and all. What’s not to love? Did I miss Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg? Sure! But Vimes’ story is interesting in that his personal life developes, as well as his character. While Granny will probably remain a virgin forever, Vimes may have family life ahead of him, and the same goes for Carrott, who is still young and – although raised by dwarves and believing himself to be one (a six foot tall specimen…) – discovering that the big city has a lot to offer.

I felt that this was very much a novel setting up a place and characters for future stories. It wasn’t my favorite Discworld novel but I loved it in that it offers so many possibilities for the ones that come after. And even though I’m tickled to start reading Death’s storyline, I will probably jump straight into another Watch adventure after this.

MY RATING:  7/10  –  Very good

divider1The City Watch novels (Discworld):

  1. Guards! Guards!
  2. Men at Arms
  3. Feet of Clay
  4. Jingo
  5. The Fifth Elephant
  6. Night Watch
  7. Thud!
  8. Snuff

guards guards cover art

Terry Pratchett – Lords and Ladies

By now, I can’t even imagine a world without Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax. There is also a new Terry Pratchett non-fiction collection coming out in October which I’m thinking of pre-ordering. It’s funny how this year started with me being all in love with Catherynne M. Valente and now I can’t get away from Discworld. This is the joy of being a non-professional blogger. Because it means I can read as many Discworld books in a row as I want. And if I do ever get bored, nobody can force me to continue. And these books aren’t going anywhere.

lords and ladies1LORDS AND LADIES
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1992)
ISBN: 0552167525
Paperback: 400 pages
Series: Discworld #14
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Now read on…
When does it start?

The fairies are back – but this time they don’t just want your teeth.
It’s Midsummer Night – no time for dreaming. Because sometimes, when there’s more than one reality at play, too much dreaming can make the walls between them come tumbling down. Unfortunately there’s usually a damned good reason for there being walls between them in the first place – to keep things out. Things who want to make mischief and play havoc with the natural order.
Granny Weatherwax and her tiny coven are up against real elves. And even in a world of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris dancers and the odd orang-utan, this is going to cause real trouble. With lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.

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Magrat is getting married. Readers may have suspected it since Wyrd Sisters but personally, I didn’t believe that either she or Verence II would work up the courage to ask one another. Which is why matters are conveniently already arranged when Magrat returns home with Granny and Nanny. Now she has to learn proper queening, which is enough work as it is, but in addition, there are strange things going on at the standing stones in the woods. And around midsummer night, the walls between worlds are especially thin. Things might break through…

This was a particularly fun Discworld novel. I never liked Magrat as much as I did in Lords and Ladies and even though I know that she will be replaced by Agnes Nitt (she of the angelic voice, large body, and personality disorder), I believe that I will end up missing Magrat Garlick. That quiet, too-nice-for-her-own-good girl kicked some serious fairy butt!

I was also pleased to discover a different side to Granny Weatherwax. She always seems so aloof, so unconcerned about her private life and especially all things romantic (and I like her that way) but the peculiar kind of havoc wrought by the fairies shows us that, at the very least, Granny could have led a very different life. But whatever may or may not have been, we still get to enjoy Granny’s wonderful wit and incredible practicality.

‘Some­one got killed up here.’ [said Granny]
‘Oh, no,’ moaned Nanny Ogg.
‘A tall man. He had one leg longer’n the other. And a beard. He was prob­a­bly a hunter.’
‘How’d you know all that?’
‘I just trod on ’im.’

You may not guess immediately from the title – I didn’t – but the Lords and Ladies it refers to are fairies. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for fairies, but for some reason, the Disney version never did it for me. I like the mysterious, dark ones that aren’t all bad but most certainly aren’t all good either (the real Tinkerbell is still one of my favorites). Terry Pratchett ditched the wish-fulfilling, glittering good fairies and instead opted for a seductive, dangerous, alluring, and most importantly, stylish kind of fairie folk. The way they are set up makes them more creepy than funny but as soon as people decide to fight back, there are a few absolutely hilarious scenes involving fairies, Magrat, and Greebo. I don’t think I need to say any more.

lords and ladies cover image

Comparing the Witches books to each other (as I inadvertently do), I believe this was also one of the better crafted ones. The plot lines start out seemingly unconnected but run together towards a fantastic ending. Ridcully and Ponder Stibbons make an appearance, and the Librarian of Unseen University saves the day more than once. I’m still not too fond of the wizards, but I’ll take the certainly-not-a-monkey and his exclamations of “Ook.” any time to spice up the plot. The fact that the storylines do converge helps flesh out Discworld as a whole and makes the place feel more real. Without actually going to Ankh-Morpork, with the wizards visiting Lancre, we are reminded that even in the Witches’ storyline, Discworld is a large place where lots of things happen at the same time. Just not necessarily all in the same place.

Given that I still have no idea how big exaclty Discworld is supposed to be, it also came as a bit of a surprise to find out that some characters knew each other from “way back when”. In one clever stroke, Terry Pratchett breathes life into his world, its mythology, and its characters. All of this is achieved without long expositions or boring info-dumps. After all, the characters know who they are and how their world works. We have to figure it out from the context – something I immensely enjoy and that far too few authors trust their readers to manage.  Thanks again, Sir Terry, for believing that your readers have the ability to think for themselves.

As you see, I have very little to complain about. The only thing that makes me sad at this point is that I only have one more Witches novel to look forward to (I hear there will be vampires). Carpe Jugulum will have to wait a litte, though, because a few days ago I started listening to the audiobook of Making Money. I had almost forgotten how much I like ex-swinder and now Postmaster General Moist von Lipwig.

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The Witches novels (Discworld):

  1. Equal Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching (sub-series)
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook

It’s been very quiet on this blog lately. I have been swamped in work and, seeing as I just got promoted this month, I will probably continue this way until I’ve settled into the new job. This leaves little time for reading, but I did manage to squeeze this gem of Discworld fun into my busy schedule. Oh, Nanny Ogg, how much poorer the world would be without you.

Created with The GIMPNANNY OGG’S COOKBOOK
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2001 (1999)
ISBN: 0552146730
Hardcover: 175 pages
Series: Discworld Companions (after #18)
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: We have received another manuscript from Mrs Ogg.

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach which just goes to show they’re as confused about anatomy as they gen’rally are about everything else, unless they’re talking about instructions on how to stab him, in which case a better way is up and under the ribcage. Anyway, we do not live in a perfect world and it is foresighted and useful for a young woman to become proficient in those arts which will keep a weak-willed man from straying. Learning to cook is also useful.

Nanny Ogg, one of Discworld’s most famous witches, here passes on some of her huge collection of tasty and interesting recipes. In addition to such dishes as Nobby’s Mum’s Distressed Pudding, Mrs. Ogg imparts her thoughts on such matters as life, death, and courtship, all in a refined style that should not offend the most delicate of sensibilities. Well, not much. Most of the recipes have been tried out on people who are still alive.

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I had known about Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook for a while, being surrounded by Terry Pratchett fans in my internet bookosphere. But until I read Maskerade, I never quite saw the appeal in reading a book of recipes written by a fictional character. Once I had that little background knowledge (and got to know Nanny Ogg in all her glory), this became a must-buy. I found a second hand hardback copy and began reading the day it arrived.

The format allows for quick reading and it doesn’t matter if you only manage to read one recipe on the train or one chapter about etiquette before bed. There is no plot you have to keep in mind, this is just Nanny Ogg’s wisdom as she shares it with the world, complete with misspelled words and her translations of words in “foreign”. The editor’s notes, shown as little post-its, remind us that grammar has been fixed, whenever necessary, and – to my chagrin – all the potentially dirty bits were left out.

nanny oggs cookbook nanny and greeboThe book is divided into two larger parts. The first is Nanny’s collection of recipes, including submissions from friends and famous Discoworld characters. My personal favorite was the Librarian’s recipe for Bananas which goes “Ook.” (and translates to “Take one banana.”). But Lord Vetinari, Rincewind, Sergeant Angua and many more also submitted their favorite meals, and Nanny Ogg – being a woman of the world – dedicates an entire section to dwarf cookery.

My greatest surprise was probably that most of the recipes could actually be made without poisoning anybody. They are, so to speak, Roundworld-friendly. Some recipes, such as the one submitted by the president of the Assassins’ Guild, or anything made for dwarfs, should probably stay in Discworld and only be eaten by someone whose digestive system can process gravel (or arsenic)…

That said, some of the more mundane recipes almost bordered on being boring, if only because of their juxtaposition to hilarious ones. And despite the editor’s best efforts, some innuendoes were left in the book and are easily spotted by those with a slightly filthy mind.

nanny oggs cookbook nanny granny casanundaThe real joy came in two parts. One is the wonderful illustrations that accompany you throughout the book. Each of these is intricate and lovingly drawn. But they are not just pictures slapped in the margins to show Nanny in her kitchen, they all tell you something about the characters and amused me greatly, even without reading the text.

My second favorite part were Nanny’s lessons about etiquette. She distinguishes between Discworld in general and Lancre culture specifically. Whereas somebody may be knighted in Lancre for managing to make the castle less draughty, in Ankh-Morpork, other rules apply. Nanny mostly gets by with her confidence and warm heart, or in case that doesn’t work, with a nice jug of something alcoholic.

The entire book is infused with her wonderful sense of humour and her love for food and friends and family. There is even an entire section about etiquette with Granny Weatherwax, seeing as she is a rather special person, even for a witch. I particularly enjoyed Nanny’s take on weddings, funerals (“If you go to other people’s funerals they’ll be sure to come to yours.”), and courtship. I swear to the Small Gods that when I grow old, I want to be as cool as Nanny Ogg.

The companion book may not be a must-read, even for Discworld fans, but its design and illustrations are definitely worth looking at. I am very happy to have Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook on my shelf, next to the other Discworld books, and I may even try out one or two of her recipes. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know it was either the blowfish or the one with arsenic…

THE GOOD: Hilarious recipes and advice, fantastic illustrations, Nanny Ogg as she lives and breathes.
THE BAD: I’m a bit mad at the Discworld editors for cutting the interesting bits out.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to Discworld fans and fans of the Witches in particular. If Nanny Ogg doesn’t make you laugh, I don’t think anybody will.

RATING: 7,5/10  –  Very good

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The Witches novels (Discworld):

  1. Equal Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching (sub-series)
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight