The Redemption of Althalus–David and Leigh Eddings

I first read this book about half of a lifetime ago. It was one of the first fantasy novels that I read (wait, surely that can’t be true!) Okay, it was one of the first stupidly-thick, can-be-used-to-club-seals fantasy novels that I read. It was described to me as nine hundred pages of Fetch Quests. (Gather your party, go to a place, do a thing; rinse and repeat, making sure to check in with the Quest Giving Non-Player Character often enough.) I don’t remember whether I thought that this was fair at the time, but that description has definitely influenced how I’m approaching this reading of the novel.

I’ve mentioned David Eddings previously when I reviewed the Belgarion novels: Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit, Castle of Wizardry, and Enchanter’s End Game.

Author stuff: David Eddings was an American fantasy writer. His Wikipedia page is here and his Amazon page is here. Along with his wife Leigh (she is getting co-author credit by now–Wikipedia and Amazon) he wrote more than twenty fantasy novels, most of which were best-sellers. Their partnership is regarded as a staple of the fantasy genre.

Athalus, burglar, armed robber, is paid to steal a book by a sinister stranger named Ghend. Althalus sets off to the House at the End of the World where the book is kept. There, in the same room as the book Ghend described, he finds a talking cat. What he can’t find when he turns around is the door by which he entered.

By the time he sets out again, Althalus can read. He’s read the book and discovered that the evil god Daeva is trying to unmake the world. The cat, whom Althalus calls Emerald, is in fact the god’s sister, and she needs Althalus to prevent Daeva returning them all to primordial chaos. Althalus will teach her what she needs to know, which is how to lie, cheat and steal — ‘Whatever works,’ Emerald reflects.

Althalus is the first and foremost of a band of colourful helpers who will batlle Daeva and his bizarre, deadly minions. The existence of the world hangs in the balance in this glorious epic fantasy.

That’s pretty much it. And damn you person who is going to remain anonymous who fifteen years ago described the book as an epic series of Fetch Quests, as I couldn’t not view it in those terms upon this reading! Althalus is presented as a likeable rogue, but he is a thief, he is an (occasional) murderer, he fraternises and cavorts, and generally leaves people worse off! Dweia (Goddess of Change, sister to Deiwos (God of Creation) and Daeva (God of Destruction), for reasons absolutely unknown sees him as the saviour of the world, and spends two-and-a-half millennia somewhat falling to break him of his unsavoury habits. From there, it’s finding his companions, who are presented well-enough, but eventually (sadly!) become caricatures who occasionally don’t quite ring true. It honestly felt like the authors had the big plot points written, and wrote the bridging parts later. There is nothing wrong with this, nothing at all! But, it doesn’t quite integrate naturally in places. The motivations sometimes just feel a bit “off”.

It’s an easy nine hundred pages, mind you. There cast of characters, both main and supporting, are well-presented (barring some minor motivation problems, as mentioned above), and the mixture of literary styles is well done. Using the mental link between the members of the group and Dweia allows the story to nudge up against the fourth-wall at times, which generally works quite well. There is a heavy emphasis on the importance of stories, and the importance of narrative, which is quite interesting.

So, should you read it? Sure. It’s not the best example of fantasy literature, but it’s light, it’s enjoyable, the characters are fun enough, the plot is uncomplicated (a very nice way of saying completely linear with almost no subplots whatsoever), and the authors generally did a good job.

It’s available in hardcover, softcover, and is probably available in your local second-hand bookshop. Well, if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those!

Amazon linky:

The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter)

The Long Earth is the first in a series of books (three so far!) by renowned British fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett, and British science fiction author Stephen Baxter. It is anticipated that there will be five books in the The Long … series.

Author bio stuff: I’ve reviewed one of Terry Pratchett’s books previously. He really is one of my most adored authors, and I cannot help but love the vast majority of the Discworld novels. I was quite surprised to see him venturing into Science Fiction territory, though he’s dabbled in it previously. I have, however, found the last few Discworld to lack the sparkle and magic that I had come to expect. This is almost certainly because “Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) in 2007, a condition where the symptoms root themselves more in the physical rather than cognitive.” (Source) The following quote is from Neil Gaiman, Pratchett’s collaborator on Good Omens, one of my beloved books: “Terry still has all of his faculties. He’s fighting Alzheimer’s, but he has a rare kind of Alzheimer’s which means physical objects no longer make sense to him, but he still has memory, and he still has a mind, and he’s still very much the sharpest knife in the drawer. But he couldn’t read the script, so I had to give him his lines. … And it was this very strange, sad, sweet, funny, odd moment, as the two of us sat in the car with Dirk’s lines inspired by a line that one of us had written 26 years earlier. With me saying my line first and then Terry’s line. And then Terry echoing his lines. It was a little moment for me and Terry. I don’t know if we’re acting terribly well, but it’s a moment that made me extra happy.” (Source) Given that, it was quite surprising to me that Pratchett was collaborating on a new series.

Stephen Baxter, Wikipedia page and Amazon page. I will admit to not having heard of Baxter prior to this collaboration. He writes hard science fiction (emphasis on scientific accuracy or technical detail), and has been quite prolific over the past two decades.

The basis for the story was from an unpublished short story by Pratchett, The High Meggas, details of which can be found in a collection of his short stories, A Blink of the Screen. The Discworld series took off, and the story was never pursued.

The Long Earth is a (potentially infinite) series of parallel worlds similar to Earth that can be reached by almost anyone who has build a “Stepper” device, the plans for which were released anonymously on the internet. It is believed that each of these worlds are present on some probability tree, with the defining changes occurring longer ago as a person travels further from the original Earth (or “datum” Earth). Humans in the form of homo sapiens appear to be unique amongst the Earths, though not the only form of sapient life. The story primarily follows Joshua Valienté, a level-headed young man who is a natural stepper–that is, he can step between worlds without the use of a stepper box. He is co-opted to an exploratory journey by Lonsang, an artificial intelligence who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. (I’m sure that there are references there to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values that I’m missing.) As they explore more than a million parallel Earths they encounter other sapient humanoids (the peaceful “trolls” who carry their history through song, and the violent “elves”), as well as humans who discovered that they were natural steppers prior to “step day”, and an extinct race of dinosaur descendants. There is plenty of political commentary and social and scientific speculation on how humanity would act and develop if freed from the constraints of limited land and resources.

The book is good. Fantastically good. And I’m surprised. As I mentioned in my author bio section, Pratchett is sick, and his writing has been suffering badly as a result of that (in my opinion). But this book is strong! The pacing is good, the story is well-crafted, there are sufficiently many storylines interweaving with each other, and there is a good overall arc to the narrative. I’m sure that a lot of that is due to the strong influence of Stephen Baxter as a coauthor.

I really hope that Terry Pratchett remains healthy enough to finish the series. At the moment it is at three books: The Long Earth, The Long War, The Long Mars. The Long Utopia is scheduled for release mid-2015. The novels have been released on a fairly strict yearly schedule (second week of June each year). With Pratchett’s failing health, I don’t hold out too much hope, sadly.

Of course, the book is available on Amazon: (I read it on Kindle, but Amazon is still refusing Affiliate links to Kindle titles):

Films adaptations of books–an opinion of characterisation

This has been swirling around in my head for a while, and I currently have a stretch of time free and uninterrupted (in theory) to try to sort out some opinions.

The Lady of Shalott [of Tennyson’s poem] was of an indeterminate age and might once have been plain before the rigours of artistic interpretation got working on her. This was the annoying side of the Feedback Loops; irrespective of how she had once looked or even wanted to look, she was now a pre-Raphaelite beauty with long flaxen tresses, flowing white gowns and a silver forehead band. She wasn’t the only one to be physically morphed by Reader Expectation. Miss Havisham was now elderly whether she liked it or not, and Sherlock Holmes wore a deerstalker and smoked a ridiculously large pipe. The problem wasn’t just confined to the classics. Harry Potter was seriously pissed off that he’d have to spend the rest of his life looking like Daniel Radcliffe.

Jasper Fforde–One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing.

I suppose that’s a good place to start. Harry Potter will forever be Daniel Radcliffe. Hermione Granger will be Emma Watson. Ron Weasley will be Rupert Grint. And so on and so forth.

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(The providence of that picture is unknown, but for sure it is not an original piece by 9Gag.)

Until movie adaptations are made, the reader has to use their imagination. I read the Harry Potter novels, and looked at the cover illustrations, and the descriptions within the books, and an amalgamation of memories pasted themselves together, and the characters formed where unique to me. No one else shares my past and my memories, and so the characters are unique to me. The same thing happens with Lord of the Rings, The Fault In Our Stars, Twilight even; every reader had a mental picture of the story, and they were more actively involved, because their imagination was providing part of the story.

And now? Frodo Baggins is Elijah Wood. Gandalf is Sir Ian Mackellen. The Fault In Our Stars have the same actors as Divergent (another book adaptation), and the story melt together a little once you’re aware of that! Even Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattison have filled the admittedly empty spaces that were Bella and Edward Cullen. (Interestingly, the character of Bella was deliberately left as blank as possible to allow the teenage female reader to more easily insert herself into the role.)

To me, this is something of a sad thing. Books are more of an interactive medium than a film. With a film, you are most definite a passive participant–the pacing is set for you, the characters are [i]shown[/i] to you, there is nothing that can be done by the viewer to alter the story. Sure, there is plenty that can be done afterwards with analysis, finding nuances, connections, dissecting meaning, intention, but the viewer is not a participant in the story. With a book? You can be Katniss Everdeen. You can be Scout Finch. You can shape the characters in your mind, because the author is giving the outline of the action, and you, the reader, are filling in the details with your memories and imagination.

The Keepsake–Tess Gerritsen (Rizzoli & Isles 7)

The Keepsake (or Keeping the Dead, depending on which region you’re in) by Tess Gerritsen is book seven of her Rizzoli & Isles series.

Amazon DVD and Amazon Play links to the TV Series. Click on them. Buy stuff. Rizzoli & Isles First Season (Amazon Play) and on DVD. Rizzoli & Isles Season 2 DVDs and on Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 3 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 4 DVDs and Amazon Play. Rizzoli & Isles Season 5 on Amazon Play. Enough of that!

Author notes in brief: Tess Gerritsen is a living Chinese-American author writing romantic suspense and medical thrillers, as well as the Rizzoli & Isles series. Her Amazon page, Wikipedia page, and personal page have plenty of personal details. I have previous reviews of The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, Body Double, Vanish, and The Mephisto Club.

I have only moments previous put down my Kindle to write these notes, yet I’m struggling to form sentences to describe the book.

It feels awful to say, but it is kind of more of the same. It’s not bad, but nothing outstanding. Dr Maura Isles disappears from the last fifteen of the narrative. Detective Jane Rizzoli is kept in the background until needed to advance the plot. Isles’ affair with the catholic pries Fr Brophy advances to its inevitable doom. Detective Barry Frost, who is yet to develop as a character suffers marital troubles, which comes across as some clumsy social commentary from the author. Or possibly just a weak effort regarding some character development. The problem is the story never returns to this particular subplot!

We open with a media circus surrounding a CT scan of an Egyptian mummy. Dr Isles is there only as an observer. She is drawn in more significantly when the scan shows the mummy is a murder victim mummified! The archaeologist Jennifer last-name-unimportant, appears to be the target of a deranged personality, as a shrunken head, followed by a peat bog body appear; all creative disposals of murder victims.

Aside: I studied the poetry of Seamus Heaney at school. He wrote on many subjects, of course, but is well-known for his compositions on peat bog bodies of Ireland. There you go.

The book is fine. Honestly. It’s solid detective fiction, I’m just being finicky and picky. (So unusual, that!)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers #1)

We have a slight problem here; the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series is very possibly one of the most beloved series to me. There is absolutely no way that I am able to review this in a fashion that is anything approximate to impartial. Though, since this is a blog purporting to be about my love of books, and my subjective opinion, I suppose that it will be okay.

A little on Douglas Adams: (he’s brilliant…. wait, you need more?) His Wikipedia page and his Amazon page have some fairly standard biographical detail: he was an author and a technophile, a lover of music, a visionary, and passed away 11th May, 2001, at the gym. Hence, don’t go to the gym. It leads to dead authors. (Sidenote: 11th May is now International Towel Day in Adams’ memory.) He wrote the radio play, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the subsequent trilogy-in-five-parts of books that are tangentially related to the radio series, the TV series with the same name (also, tangentially related to the radio series and the books), was a writer for Dr Who, as well as a gifted public speaker and advocate on environmental issues. In fact, whilst I love and adore the Hitchhikers series, it is his work (Last Chance To See) with zoologist Mark Carwadine that I rate most highly. He is also responsible for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and its sequel The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.

“But the plans were on display . . .”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

Arthur Dent is about to have a very bad day. He is attempting to stop the local council from demolishing his house to build a new bypass, when he discovers that his friend, Ford Prefect (a name chosen to be “nicely inconspicuous”, a joke that makes a whole lot more sense when you know that the Ford car company made a car named the Prefect) is not, as previously suspected, human, but from a small planet near Betelguese. This is terribly helpful, as the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value — you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble‐sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand‐to‐hand‐combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might have accidentally “lost.”. What the strag will think is that any man that can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

Hence fans celebrating Adams’ death by declaring it Towel Day.

Arthur and Ford are rescued, and then flung into space to die (after being subjected to the third-worst poetry in the Universe), only to be rescued by Galactic President, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Tricia MacMillan (“an awfully nice girl that Arthur completely failed to get off with at a party”.)

Same as you, Arthur. I hitched a ride. After all, with a degree in maths and another in astrophysics it was either that or back to the dole queue on Monday. Sorry I missed the Wednesday lunch date, but I was in a black hole all morning.

That really concerned me when I first read the novels, given that a degree in mathematics was the Big Plan.

We are introduced to Marvin, the Paranoid Android, brain the size of a planet, and only ever needed for menial tasks. Together, in a stolen spaceship based on an Infinite Probability Drive (there’s a good quote here on the extension of a finite improbability drive to an infinite improbability drive, but I’m going to make you read the book yourself!)

The books other main influence on popular culture, and it’s a big one, is that 42 is important. Like, really important.

“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm. “The Answer to the Great Question, of Life, the Universe and Everything”

That quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
“But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” howled Loonquawl.
“Yes,” said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, “but what actually is it?”
A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.
“Well, you know, it’s just Everything … Everything …” offered Phouchg weakly.
“Exactly!” said Deep Thought. “So once you know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.”

(We find out later what the question is, in another book. It’s … well, that would spoil the surprise.)

I read these novels so much that my first copy wore out. I love them to pieces (literally!)

Douglas Adams books on Amazon

(Usual rant about Amazon and not allowing me to link to the Kindle version…)

Enchanters’ End Game–David Eddings (Belgariad 5)

The following quote is actually from Castle of Wizardry, not Enchanters’ End Game, but it’s a nice summary of how things stand as we get to the last book of the Belgariad series.

He would meet Torak alone. Mandorallen or Barak or Hettar could not come to his aid with their superior skill at swordsmanship; Belgarath or Aunt Pol could not intercede for him with sorcery; Silk would not be able to devise some clever ruse to allow him to escape. Titanic and enraged, the Dark God would rush upon him, eager for blood.

Just in case you want some story so far, my reviews of Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit, and Castle of Wizardry, and check out the Amazon page for David Eddings.

The pieces are in place: Belgarath and Belgarion are tramping across Mallorea towards a final confrontation with Torak, the Dark God, who is slowly stirring from his sleep after Belgarion’s coronation. Ce’Nedra, Belgarion’s betrothed, is fulfilling her part of the prophecy by raising the armies of the West as war draws closer. There is a quiet reservation from those informed that what will be will be, as it is all dictated by prophecy. The war kicks off, valiant deeds are done. The hero pieces are moved across the board by a variety of hands for the final confrontation. The final confrontation runs essentially to course, as could have been predicted. (I’m avoiding some of the more explicit details, as I’m sure the worst thing after wading through fifteen hundred pages is having the ending spoiled by a blog post.)

The resolution is good, I’ll leave it at that.

Amazon links!

Castle of Wizardry — David Eddings (Belgariad 4)

Already then! We have reached book 4 of the Belgariad series. See my previous posts on Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, and Magician’s Gambit for the Story So Far. See David Eddings’ Amazon page for some more background on the author (and use that link to purchase some books!)

Book 3, Magician’s Gambit, ended with Belgarath and Ctuchik fighting over the Orb of Aldur, and Ctuchik very foolishly trying to unmake the Orb, thereby angering the Universe, and causing himself to be unmade. (Don’t fear, if that didn’t make any sense, just know that the Universe takes the Principle of Conservation of Matter very seriously.) Garion feels that their epic quest is done, and life can get back to normal. He once again displays his complete inability to recognise the foreshadowing for the previous three books.

A long and mildly eventful journey to the Isle of Winds and the city of Riva ensues. Garion is forced to assume a leadership role, and Polgara and Belgarath are otherwise occupied and exhausted. Again, upon arrival to the ancient city and home of defenders of the west, Garion thinks that he’s done, a notion that is quickly disabused when he is crowned king over all. Yes, that’s right, all of that foreshadowing that was clear to absolutely everyone else came as a complete surprise to him. Ce’Nedra takes it quite badly, as prophecy indicates that upon her sixteenth birthday she is going to have to submit to the Rivan King and wed him. They are betrothed, but Belgarath and Belgarion (he can probably be considered to have earned his title as a sorcerer by now) recognise that the rest of the prophecy (that Torak and Belgarion will eventually duel for the fates of the world) means that it might be convenient to escape and attempt to resolve the prophecy. Ce’Nedra finally recognises her part in the prophecy, and the final pieces move into place for the resolution.

So, I recognise that I’ve been a bit uneven with my summaries of this series, and this summary was a little longer than some of the others. My opinion still stands–the series is fun, light, fairly straightforward, but quite readable.

Amazon links!

The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)

Allow me to wave hello to my readers. Hi there! In particular to Lauren who decided to write a blog post every day this week. This has spurred me towards making an effort to write more. Since books are generally slightly more than a one day effort (usually :P), I’m doing to write a review of a book from one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett.

Author bio stuff: Terry Pratchett, sorry, make that Sir Terry Pratchett was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1998, and was knighted in 2009. His first book, The Carpet People was published in 1971, and the first book of the Discworld series, The Colour Of Magic, was published in 1983 (a good year!) According to his Wikipedia page, he was the best selling author in the United Kingdom during the 1990s until usurped by J. K. Rowling, and is amongst the world’s most-read and most-popular authors. And I think that he’s brilliant. In 2007 he announced that he had early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He subsequently donated a million dollars (US) to research on the disease, and his fans donated another one million dollars as part of a “Match It For Pratchett” scheme. Various news reports discuss it further, as well as the fan-site.

Let’s jump to the punchline: The Colour of Magic is good. It’s really quite … good. But. And it’s a rather significant but, it is not anything close to his best work. It was his first real attempt at comic fantasy, and the balance isn’t quite right. The world that we are introduced to is a little too generic fantasy. The characters rely a little too much on the standard tropes. Many people hear wonderful things, glowing and effusive praise for Pratchett and the Discworld series, they read the first book (because starting at the beginning is logical, right?) and are left a little cool on the experience. Most of the books are quite stand-alone (there are recurring characters: the Witches books, the Watch books, the Unseen University books, the books that centre on Death, etc, and it’s good to be introduced to those characters in the correct order, but it really isn’t important), and so reading order doesn’t matter here. This is the not the book that should be the introduction to the Discworld series.

The principle characters are Rincewind and Twoflower. Rincewind is introduced as a street-savvy failed wizard who was forced out of the Unseen University due to his inability to retain any spells. Twoflower is a tourist to the city of Anhk-Morpork (you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…) from the Agetean empire where, well, things are done a little differently. For a start, gold is quite abundant, to the extent that the entire economy of the city is somewhat warped by his presence. And, unfortunately, he makes the mistake of introducing the idea of fire insurance, leading to the city being burned to the ground. (There are more than a few jokes about “echo-gnomics” and “in-sewer-ants”….) Unknown to Rincewind and Twoflower, they are but pawns in a game of the Gods, and are being directed by The Lady, Fate. They are diverted to the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth, where they are rescued by Hrun the Barbarian (hello slight mockery of standard fantasy tropes) who bemusedly acts as their hero and guide in exchange for photographs of himself produced by Twoflower’s imp-driven picture box.

They escape to the upside-down mountain of the Wyrmberg, a gentle parody on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (on the list of “things to read”–I’ve only ever managed some of the short stories), where magic rules everything, and there are some very amusing scenes with a cowardly wizard and the child-like curiousity of a genuine tourist who believes that nothing wrong can ever happen to an innocent bystander.

The novel, which is divided into roughly four mini-stories, finishes with our characters being rescued (or, depending on their point-of-view, kidnapped) by the city-state of Krull, where they are accidentally launched into space to determine the gender of Great A’tuin oh damnit I forgot to mention something really really important.

Why is called Discworld? Because the world is carried through space on the backs of four elephants, who are in turn standing on the back of the space turtle, Great A’tuin. No one knows where he (she?) is swimming toward, or what will happen when they get there. There was speculation that the world was a great sphere, which is patently nonsense: all of the people would fall off the bottom half.

Anyhow, Rincewind and Twoflower are accidentally jettisoned into space, and the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is resolved in the following book, The Light Fantastic, the pair of which complement each other quite well, and stand as a neat little Pratchett-package, separate thematically and stylistically from the rest of the series. Well, at least, that is how is feels in my opinion. Pratchett once said that he wanted to do for comic fantasy that Blazing Saddles did for Westerns. It just took him a little while to find that sweet point of comedy and fantasy.

Like I said, it’s a good book, and if you read it, you really should follow it up with The Light Fantastic. But, it probably shouldn’t be considered representative of Pratchett’s work in general. (Actually, if you’re going to start out, don’t start out with the latest works either. They are, in my opinion, a little smug and cheesy. There was a golden period of about twenty years where he wrote amazing literature. He won the Carnegie Medal during that period.)

Postscript: massive points in its favour for this book though as it introduces the Luggage. A magic trunk made of sapient pear-wood, with hundreds of little legs, that will follow its owner anywhere, in any point in space and time. It’s very devoted. And quite quite deranged.

Oh! There was a TV series a little while back that combined The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic: The Color of Magic [Blu-ray]

The books have been republished in some many different formats over the years: I prefer the artwork of the UK versions, but since I’m linking to Amazon, you’re going to get the US-style illustrations: The Color of Magic: A Discworld Novel There were twentieth anniversary special releases a while back. Nice editions. (Again, Amazon won’t let me link to the Kindle version, it exists…)

There was also a graphic novel: The Discworld Graphic Novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic The artwork is very very good.

The Cuckoo’s Call

Annnnnd we’re back to detective stories ! Very good.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is billed as a Cormoran Strike (the lead character) novel. Perhaps this is going to be a series. I wouldn’t object. (That’s a hint (and summary) for the rest of the review, I guess.) This book was forwarded onto me, and so I came into it with no expectations. (Note: I have found out since that this will likely be a series.)

About the author: most of this review was written on the iOS WordPress app, with gaps left to fill in the details that I needed to look up. The author is listed as Robert Galbraith. Cool. That name rang no bells, so I read the book, and quite enjoyed the book. Wrote the review. Turns out Robert Galbraith doesn’t exist. Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling. Yes, that J. K. Rowling. Okay. Wow. I suppose that she doesn’t need much introduction. She, uh, wrote some books about a boy wizard, a book about depression, misery, and drug-taking in middle England, and apparently is writing detective fiction under a male pseudonym. There’s a quote, “Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience… It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name”, which I can’t link to the source, because it’s behind Murdoch’s paywall protecting the Sunday Times.

Cormoran Strike is a contradiction, like all good private detectives. He is physically imposing; large in all dimensions, somewhat brutish, and rather intimidating. This is paired with an incredibly sharp, disciplined mind, and some rather limiting personality flaws. He is ex-Army, physically disabled (these two facts are connected), and recently separated from his cheating, manipulative partner, and is living in his dingy office. His downward spiral is interrupted by Robin Ellacott, a temporary secretary that he can’t afford. Robin is enarmored by the work, but not by Strike himself. A former friend contacts him about the apparent suicide of his (the friend’s) half-sister, Lula Lantry. He is convinced it was murder, and despite initial reservations, Strike investigates. So far, so standard. However, the backdrop of London fashion, nightlife, wealth, and power provide an interesting flavour to the story. Very few of the characters are particularly likeable, with their flaws being highlighted as part of their motivations and character.

It is difficult to discuss the book without talking about the finer details of the story. I don’t want to spoil the narrative, which is one of the biggest issues with attempting to review detective fiction.

I’m in two minds about it: when I was reading it, I found it excellent. The following day, still excellent. When I was first thinking about this review, trying to pinpoint some of the reasons I rated it highly, I struggled. In retrospect, the characterisation was a highlight. There were excellent description passages, the story weaved together nicely, and the dialogue was definitely a notch or two above what is average for this genre.

The denouement is well-done. All of the pieces were there if you had been looking for them. If you were an aficionado of the genre, you may have thought that they were laying it on a bit thick. However, hindsight is always 20/20, so maybe I’m being unfair there.

It’s a good example of modern British character-driven detective fiction. I quite liked it, even if I seem to be unable to quite articulate the reasons why.

Epilogue: I wrote all of that before I know who the author was. I think I still stand by all of it.

Buy the book using these links! (For some unknown reason, Amazon isn’t allowing the link to the Kindle page. It’s available on Kindle, as well as dead-tree editions.)

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike)

Two for the Dough (Janet Evanovich) (Stephanie Plum 02)

And so the misadventures of Stephanie Plum, New Jersey’s accident-prone bounty hunter not-quite-extraordinaire, continues. This is the second novel in the series, the first was reviewed here.

As previously introduced, Janet Evanovich is an American crime writer. Wikipedia, personal page, and Amazon. She started off as a romance writer under a pseudonym, but came to fame when she moved to crime, winning several awards.

Stephanie Plum, is a fugitive apprehension agent, more excitingly known as a bounty hunter. Kenny Mancuso, a cousin of Plum’s love interest, Joe Morelli, has failed to appear for his court date, and is proving difficult to track down. He has just been discharged from the army, is suddenly flush with cash, and has just shot his best friend. Spiro Stiva, a childhood friend of Mancuso’s, is a sleazy mortician, who hires Plum to retrieve stolen military coffins, and later hires her as his personal bodyguard to protect himself from Mancuso’s incredibly erratic and violent attentions. (There is a particular scene that will make all male readers wince. Certain things should not be posted through the mail is all of the hint that I’m going to give.)

To assist with the investigation of funeral parlours and the business of death, Plum’s completely barmy grandmother (throughout referred to as Grandma Mazur) is enlisted to provide cover. This is a task that she utterly fails at, with Grandma Mazur causing chaos and mayhem wherever she goes. Early-on, Grandma Mazur is an interesting foil to Plum’s activities, but her time in the spotlight should be limited, since as a character she isn’t particularly well developed. Some of the charicaturisation that was lurking in the background in One for the Money is far more evident in Two for the Dough, an issue that becomes far more prevalent as the series continues. (I was going to say develops, but that implies change. Actually, it’s a little harsh to say that, the books are distinguishable, even if the characters become a little set in their ways.)

Joe Morelli provides a much better counterpart to Plum’s hijinks, and assists nicely with the plot development. Ranger, bounty hunter extraordinaire and mystery man, doesn’t have much of a role in this novel, but turns up occasionally to move the story along.

The showdown is well-written, and the story moves along at a nice clip. It’s light and easy-to-read, and shouldn’t be mistaken for more than it is. Judged on its own, it’s a decent light crime novel. Judged with respect to the rest of the books in the series, it’s more of the same. In small doses, that’s not a bad thing. However, it’s entirely possible to have too much of a good thing.

Obligatory Amazon Links

Actually, I’m a little cross at Amazon at the moment, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, their MP3 store is excellent, but is geographically locked to the US. I’m not in the US, and therefore can’t access the store. Damn. Second, they locked my account last night, much to my frustration. However, they have an automated callback system thing, and I talked to an actual person quite quickly to get it unlocked. For that, I’m actually quite impressed.

Two for the Dough isn’t available on Kindle, but there is a box-set of the first three Stephanie Plum novels here: Plum Boxed Set 1, Books 1-3 (One for the Money / Two for the Dough / Three to Get Deadly) (Stephanie Plum Novels).