From the Complete Discworld Reread
Though I will try to avoid it, this review may contain minor spoilers from ‘The Half-Made World.’
Stick around, read another!
A series I had my eye on for quite some time, ‘Obsidian and Blood’ intimidated me at first. It looked to be right up my alley, but I wondered if I would get lost in a world based around the ancient America’s, of which I have very little knowledge. I feared getting lost in the names, lost in the mythos, and feared the book would turn into a giant research project if I wanted to follow the story. My fears were unjustified; the book is a well-crafted, well contained story. I have mentioned it before, the books are surprisingly accessible, and at no point did I lose myself in the names.
Stick around, read another!
Part 4 of The Compete Discworld Reread
“Obviously we shouldn’t get married, if only for the sake of the children.”
Ysabell to Mort, after a friendly round of insults.
Mort is a bit of a dreamer, which isn’t the best thing for a farmer’s son to be. Knowing that something different is needed for his son, good ol’ dad takes Mort to town and tries to line up an apprenticeship up for him. While most of the professions go after the other boys in town, it turns out that Death has an opening. The actual Death, he who escorts souls after death, wears the black robe, and TALKS LIKE THIS.
At the start of the internship Mort learns several things. One is Death doesn’t have to be present at every death, only a few to keep the world running right. A second is that he uses a live horse, because the skeliton of a horse is impractical. But the strangest of all is that Death lives with an elderly butler and has a daughter named Ysabell.
After the intro the story basically splits into two major story lines. The main line is Mort, who is given complete control of Death’s duties after a while, and mucks it up almost immediately by interfering with what was supposed to happen, then mucks it up a bit more by trying to stop the world from correcting his mistake. The secondary line follows Death himself, as he uses his new free time to try to understand humanity a little better, usually played for laughs as we watch the reaper man go fishing, get drunk, and get a job.
As most of the “Death finding himself” subplot is played strait for laughs, this is understandable the funniest book in the series so far. Despite that Pratchett once again weaves a very smart and quick paced plot in Mort’s main storyline. The world is trying to correct itself, Mort is growing more comfortable in his job as Death, and Ysabell proves to be more than a silly girl. Oh, and there is a wizard and a princess that figure into the story as well.
Tropes attacked by Pratchett this time around are almost any about the personification of Death, the importance of love at first site, and the meekness of butlers.
If a reader started the series with Equal Rites they may find themselves disappointed by the lack of depth this book has comparably. Specifically Deaths side journey could be seen as some as nothing but humorous filler, as it adds little to the overall plot. Readers who have started at the beginning may note that Death has changed dramatically from his first appearance without much explanation. A forgiving reader would say there could be a time difference, but the Death who killed in anger during ‘The Color of Magic’ doesn’t really jive with a Death who adopts a young girl and cares for her.
But for fans this book joins ‘Equal Rites’ as an early highlight. While not as strong as that outing, I am giving it the same score based on the strength of the laughs.
*Possible Spoilers Below*
Ok, so this was one of the books I really wondered about when I started this re-read. I originally didn’t enjoy it, and as far as I know this is the first time I have reread it. Looking back, I am not sure why I had a problem with it. I had a memory of Ysabell being annoying, but she wasn’t. She was trapped in her circumstances but quite resourceful and a much better character than I remember. As stated above, it was surely the funniest book of the series so far, with Pratchett’s famous footnotes really making a larger appearance for the first time(before only one or two showed per book). The interactions between Mort and Ysabell were great, and were almost eclipsed by the interactions between the princess and the wizard.
Both the Princess Kelirehenna and Ysabell were strong characters. When Ysabell reveals that she has the knowledge Mort needs, she is asked if she can help. She lets them know that in this case, no, they can help her. When the Princess learns she is at the center of a flaw in the world, she is the one who looks for solutions to the problem.
Pratchett obviously loved the themes he started her, as this is the first of several books involving Death doing some soul searching. As well, this is the first book in which gods being powered by belief is shown, which will of course be very important in small gods.
Rincewind makes a small appearance, as does the Librarian(and I was wrong about Rincewind always being in mortal danger at the end of books, he is safe at the end of this one as well). The rest of the university staff still hasn’t been sorted out yet though, in ‘Mort’ the bursar is one of the most rational wizards.
I am racking my brain to figure out why I disliked this book the first time around, but finding nothing. Great book, and Pratchett is really starting to bring Discworld to life here.
First appearance of Albert and Blinkie. But not of Ysabell, who actually showed in The Light Fantastic first.
Third, and currently last, in the series, Master of the House of Darts once again follows Acatl as he investigates threats to the empire, and the mortal world itself. A quick recap for those unfamiliar with the series. Acatl is the High Priest for the Dead, who in his duties of ushering the dead to his master also does his best to keep people from messing with the boundaries that protect the world. Magic is real, gods are accessible (on their own terms of coarse), and blood fuels many things. Told in the first person, the book follows Acatl in his investigations.
Building off events of the second book, we learn that the coronation war for the new Reverend Speaker Tizoc-tzin was a disaster, not bringing in near enough captives for sacrifice. The Reverend Speaker is a weak, paranoid man, yet his coronation necessary to keep the boundaries safe. Thus matters are made worse during the celebration, when one of the captives falls to a illness. Tizoc-tzin sees it as a slight at best, a plot at worst, and Acatl is called in to investigate. He once again face hostile witnesses, political infighting, and magical enemies. Worst of all, some of the blame for the sickness may fall in his own lap.
Personally, I found this to be the best book of a very good series. The same positives from the first two books are still present, a very easy to read writing style(easy to read but not simple or dumbed down), a quick pace, and some incredible world building, incredible accessibility despite the lesser know pantheon and names. Even though the second book dealt with a possible end to the world, Master of the House of Darts took a similar fate and did it better. Perhaps this was because in many ways it felt more like a fantasy book than a mystery book, which lends itself better to the “save the world” type story. The magic felt more organic here, it was never used as a crutch, or perhaps it was just better explained. There was a bit less traveling this time around, which also led to a tighter story. The ending involved several confrontations that were tense and believable, including some between people who are supposed to be allies
Perhaps it is because I am more familiar with the characters three books in, but I felt several were seen at their best in this book. Acatl continues to build on his improvements from the second book, and is now more secure with his place than ever. Which is good, because as usual he is surrounded by people who are only friends if it helps their own cause. Nezahaul-tzin is back from the second book, still infuriating Acatl, but still helping in small ways. I have grown to enjoy any chapters with Acamapichtli, one time enemy of Acatl, whose master of political manners are in direct contrast to Acatl, who finds the politicing to be the worst part of his job. Mihmatini, Acatl’s sister, has a larger presence in this book, and makes the most of it. She is one of the most resourceful characters in the book.
The book is at its’ weakest when it is following conventions of the mystery genre. Constant dead ends in the investigation have started to get repetitive after three books. The “cryptic message” trope is also overused. Is there any reason that not one person cooperates fully with Acatl? Especially those innocent of wrong doing? But as this book is more focused on the weakening of the boundaries, this is a minor squabble at most.
There was also one plot point that seemed to rely on knowledge that I am not privy too. It was brought up that Acatl’s order was forced to expel many of the female followers, making it currently an all male priesthood. I know there were several short stories published before the novels, and wonder if the details are are in one of them.
All said, this was a great end to the series.
This review may contain spoilers from the ‘The Last Stormlord.’
Not long ago I discovered by chance ‘The Last Stormlord,’ and it may have been my favorite new read of the year. A well handled “adult” story, it was brutal without ever seeming overly grim. It had a strong cast of characters and a lot intrigue. In some way’s it read like a fantasy version of ‘Dune,” but with enough originality to stand completely on its own. It dealt with a land where water is king, and those with the magic to move it are near godly.
I couldn’t wait to get into ‘Stormlord Rising,’ the second book of the trilogy. The first outing ended with our two main protagonist safe, but tied to enemies through different circumstances. Shale, now called Jasper, is stuck with Taquar(his former kidnapper) as it takes both of them to move water. Terelle is being forced by her Grandfather to go back to his homeland through the power of his water paintings. And everyone is under threat from Davim, leader of the Reduners, who wants to go back to random rains rather than stormlord controlled water.
Larke is still incredibly easy to read, I often lost track of time and read longer than I intended. And a couple of story lines really stood out. Captured rainlord Ryka’s struggles are very real. She is going through hell, struggling with her emotions, and at times feeling a bit of Stockholm, but never really loses track of herself. Her captor Ravard is obviously of two minds in how he treats Ryka, exercising complete control but still wanted her affection.
Another great thread came from what I though was going to be a trite long lost identity plot line. Within 200 pages I knew that i had figured out someones old identity, and thought it was a weak attempt on the authors part. But while I had correctly identified the switch, Larke skilfully built up the reveal, and rather than feeling trite it was instead one of the smartest pieces of the story. A real nice surprise for those of us who try to out guess the authors sometimes.
While not an action story, fans of battle will not be disappointed in this outing. The big battle near the end of the book avoids the clash of swords and details of troop movements, and instead relies on the chaos and feelings of the participants. Plus the use of ziggers is a very unique style of weaponry, a single use nasty bug(though I find myself wondering things like where they come from, and what people did against them before they were domesticated as they are painted as almost unstoppable)
While I enjoyed this book, it did not live up to the first one for me. The main reason is Tyrelle. While as a character I enjoyed her, her power from waterpainting is starting to be a magic wand for all problems. It is a smart skill, and very unique in my readings, but right not the only limitation on it seems to be Tyrelle’s conscience. This seems more problematic when we learn that it is a fairly common skill in her families homeland.
And it may not bother everyone, but I was personally turned off by the “messiah” like character from this book. It is what made ‘Dune’ a slog for me, and it had the same affect here. The series already has a worship of the Stormlord, adding another savior for the Reduners didn’t add much.
One last complaint, this was very obviously a “middle book.” There was no resolution of Kaneth’s storyline, nor was there any movement on the rebel reduner Vara. Jasper and Tyrelle still have some details that need to be attended to, but at least their stories progressed and hit a logical end. And while there are some hints that something is under the dunes, we still have no hints at what.
Finally, a warning. If a reader wants to avoid rape in their fantasy, stop at book one. While I found it realistic and handled appropriately (i.e. never sensualized, nor used for shock value, and the characters struggles with the aftermath are shown), it is present throughout. Several characters are dealing with the aftermath of assaults.
Despite my complaints, I still loved most the book and flew through it. Our protagonists’ relationship was fun, as were the solutions they found by combining their powers. While Taquar was something of a caricature of a villain, his wife is wonderful in her scenes. Ziggers are just way too cool, and I love the world Larke has created.
3 Stars, and I am still very much looking forward to the third book, for I am very invested in this story.
A footnote: Larke’s very first foray into fantasy, the critically acclaimed ‘Havenstar’, has long been out of print, owing to the publisher imploding shortly after publication. The author is now self-publishing it in ebook form, and it’s available now, DRM-free, on Smashwords, and is, or will soon be, available via all major ebook outlets, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
Part 3 of the Complete Discworld Reread
Men are wizards and women are witches, and that is the way it is. But when a dying wizard tries to pass his magical staff on to a newborn boy, someone should have checked with the midwife on the baby’s gender. Now Granny Weatherwax has a problem. She can teach young Esk all about witchcraft, but the raw magic flowing from her is going to need training in wizardry. Sure the rules say only a man can be a wizard, but for Granny, rules are for everyone else to obey.
While the first two books were more about the world than the characters, this outing is much more focused. This is a book about Granny and Esk, the fact it is on Discworld is a side note only. Because of this we learn more about Granny, and what makes her tick, in this book than we learned about Rincewind in two outings. And learning about Granny is well worth it. She is strong, intelligent, and stubborn as ten mules. The contrast in her between the times she has to play to expectations of being a witch(faking fortune reading for example), and when she shows her full power(a shape-shifting wizards duel) are a real highlight.
Esk is a good character as well, though not as strongly fleshed out. While she may be a little too smart for an eight year old, the magic running through her body makes that forgivable. While insanely talented, she makes some very real mistakes. And even though she may act twice her age, the times she shows an eight year old’s emotion makes her even more real.
The plot is simple enough, Granny’s training of Esk, a short but memorable travel to the big city, and a ending at the university. There is also a possible end of the world plot line. If someone is looking for a detailed and complex plot they best move onward. Though well crafted, there is not much depth.
However if a person is drawn to great characters, this is the best novel of the series yet, and could easily be a starting point if someone wants to skip the more parody oriented ‘Color of Magic’ and ‘Light Fantastic.’
*Possible Spoilers Below*
Granny-fricken-Weatherwax. Easily my favorite character of the series, and she has a strong start here. Already we see her stare work on anyone she puts it against, her strength(and care) in burrowing, and headology. And for all her care not to use magic, we see her use more magic in this book than we will in later outings.
Esk is interesting enough, but pales in comparison to Tiffany in later books. In some ways this feels like an early attempt to write an Aching book. Esk is stubborn, extremely talented, and acts a little older than she should be able to. I know she is brought back in ‘I Shall Wear Midnight‘, but really she was brought back in the first Aching book, just under a different name.
A few things I noticed: The librarian has embraced his orangutang shape, creatures from the dungeon dimensions are so very common in early books, the wizard Simon wasn’t that different from Coin in ‘Sorcery‘, the town of Bad Ass is introduced(but name not explained), what happened to Archchancellor Cutangle(who was a good character)?, at this point the thieves and assassins are under one large guild of allied trades, and finally, Granny’s interest of Bees is already present.
This book makes me interested to reread both Sorcery and Wee Free Men, to see just how similar areas of the too books really are, or if my memory is playing tricks on me.