Fantasy Review: ‘Sourcery’ by Terry Pratchett

 From the Complete Discworld Reread

A dying wizard passes his staff on to a small child.  The child has power much beyond his age, and quickly gains the ears of the most powerful wizards of Unseen University.  Problems arise and the fabric of reality is threatened, where things from the dungeon dimensions await entry.  I just reviewed this book when it was called ‘Equal Rites’, only this time it was titled ‘Sorcery.’  Perhaps that is unfair, there is plenty about ‘Sourcery’ that stands out on its own,  but Pratchett clearly borrowed a lot of ideas from his first few books and recycled a lot of them here.
In ‘Sourcery’ we learn why wizards are supposed to stay chaste.  Coin is the eighth son of a wizard, which makes him a sorcerer.  While a wizard can use magic, a sorcerer IS magic, and really has no limit.  Guided, or controlled, by his dead father who escaped death by transferring his essence to Coin’s staff, the young sorcerer takes over the Unseen Univeristy and shows the wizards how they can rule the world.  Rincewind, everyone’s favorite inept wizard, sees early signs of trouble and does what he does best, starts running.  Along with luggage his flight leads him to the world’s richest man, a dangerous hairdresser, and a man learning to be a fierce barbarian from a book.  Of course eventually he has to help save the world, but that seems to be Rincewind’s cross to bear.
There is nothing inherently bad in this book, but it certainly isn’t one of Pratchett’s best.  The entire storyline is logical and well crafted, characters act as a reader would come to expect them to, and there is always a good amount of wit and laughs.  Coin is an intriguing character; he genuinely seems lost in his powers, a young boy who wants to both please his father and do something right.  Rincewind is still amusing, and his luggage doubly so, especially when they fall for the same girl(long story).  It is also interesting to see a hat used in place of the more typical magical weaponry.
My largest gripe is just how much of this book covers ground that has already been covered.  Creatures from the dungeon dimensions trying to get in are understandable; they are a constant threat to Discworld throughout the series, the closest the series has to a recurring villain.  But reusing the semi-possessed staff seems lazy.  The unconventional barbarian was used in ‘The Light Fantastic,’ and here it is brought back twice.  Even the ending is very reminiscent to Equal Rites, only with different characters.  My only other gripe is that very few characters ended up mattering to the story, Coin and Rincewind do everything of importance.
3 stars.  Still entertaining, but not the strongest of the series by any means.
*Possible Spoilers*
Not really much to add to this book.  I can see why it didn’t stick with me, it was too reminiscent of the other books.  All the Rincewind books start to follow the same trappings, which I would guess is why I seldom see them listed as peoples’ favorites. 
Rincewind did end this one trapped in the dungeon Dimensions, but at least luggage went in after him.  I am not sure there were any major recurring characters that show in this book, if there were I didn’t catch them.
All in all, I am glad this one is out of the way, and one of my favorites is next on the list.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Rise of Ransom City’ by Felix Gilman

Though I will try to avoid it, this review may contain minor spoilers from ‘The Half-Made World.’

‘The Half-Made World’ was one of the best books I read last year.  Almost impossible to put in a category, it mixed the fantasy and western genres almost perfectly, with a touch of steampunk.  Gilman did so many things right in that novel, but ended it almost abruptly, leaving fans like me desperately hoping for a sequel.  Obviously we got one, but perhaps not the one we hoped for.  Rather than follow the main characters from ‘Half-Made World’, Liv and Creedmoor, the ‘Rise of Ransom City’ is the story of one man, the Professor Harry Ransom.  Do we get a resolution from ‘Half-Made World’?  Kind of, but perhaps not the one readers were looking for.  It didn’t end up mattering to me though, as ‘The Rise of Ransom City’ is another great book, and fans should not be disappointed.

 ‘The Half-Made World’ was about a pseudo American West that was still fuzzy around the edges, almost as if an artist was drawing it from the inside out.  It followed Liv out west as she searched for a man who held the secret of a great weapon in his head(though an injury left him without memory of anything at all).  The weapon was thought to be able to finally take down the two supernatural entities that are warring over the new lands.  One is The Line, intelligent train engines who run an almost hive mind society, the ultimate of an industrial dystopia(hasn’t this term been around long enough for a spellchecker to recognize it?).  The Second is The Gun, larger than life outlaw figures under a pseudo-control of individual daemons.  The book ended without the characters ever really finding out if the weapon was workable or not.
While it’s predecessor followed three main characters, ‘The Rise of Ransom City’ is an edited memoir written by Harry Ransom himself.  This is a man who several times changed the history of the land, at least according to himself.  The ‘creator’ of the Ransom Process, his memoirs show his rise and fall while he tries to bring his process to the world.  Along the way he runs into Liv and Creedmoor(an agent of The Gun in the first outing), tying the book nicely to HMW without actually following the same characters.
The voice of Harry Ransom is a treat.  A completely unreliable narrator, he also isn’t much of a writer.  Often times details are given out of order, he talks about things he is sure he has pointed out before, and has to backtrack to give details.  Gilman had to have had a blast writing this, I can picture him giggling madly as he tosses in a double negative, because it would be completely natural for his character.  Because the entire story is coming from Ransom, some scenes have sketchier details than others, and some are nothing more than assumptions that Ransom makes.  Though he tries to point out when he is only guessing at conversations, it gives the reader knowledge that nothing he says can ever be taken purely at face value.  Readers will also never know what kind of details they are going to get.  Some very important events will be glossed over quickly, some minor characters will get pages written about them.  This would have driven me crazy if written from the third person, but feels natural coming from a memoir. 
Ransom’s story is quite an interesting one.  From his early childhood that influences his feelings on The Line, to his traveling days, to his ascension to one of the best known men in the West, his life is never boring.  Like all larger than life figures, sometimes he is in the middle of important events, even in control of them.  Other times he is a bit player in them who gets too much credit(or blame).  And sometimes, he is nowhere near the events he has attributed to him.  It all feels very authentic, as many larger than life personalities of the Old West were a product of dime novels more than their actual deeds. 
Plotting is harder to rate in this one.  Much of it reads as a travel memoir, as Ransom describes places and people he meets along the way(even two horses get part of a chapter).  Ransom and his assistant Mr. Caver try to sell  this new process(and I am being intentionally vague about what the process is, because the author keeps it that way).  Eventually a major event comes along, in which Ransom learns a little more about what his Process is capable of, but even that doesn’t escalate the tension.  Instead the pacing stays slow and steady.  I don’t want to imply that nothing happens, because there are some exciting confrontations with various enemies from The Line and The Gun.  But Ransom’s writing style is such that they are sometimes highlighted and sometimes dealt with briefly.  I personally felt the pace of the plot fit the writing style perfectly, but if someone hears ‘western’ and goes looking for a shoot-em-up, they will be disappointed.
Being the story of Ransom, who was a great character, there is less to say about secondary characters in this one.  His assistant Mr Carver is present for much of the book, but never really picks up a personality (other than strong and silent).  Liv and Creedmoor show up from the first book, and while events in this one give some closure to the first outing, nothing really new is learned about them.  Rival/Possible love interest Adela could be interesting, but we learn what Ransom knows about her is as unreliable as what we learn about him.  It all worked for me though, showing that to Ransom, his story is the one that needs to be told.
The story ends in many ways like the first, with most of the plot lines tied up, but with one major thread left completely open.  And like the first, it is open in a way that could show up in a future book, or could leave the reader forever unaware of how things really end.  

Series Review: ‘Obsidian and Blood’ by Alliette de Bodard

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.

What is the series about?  In short it is the story of Acatl, High Priest of the Dead in pre-colonization Tenochtitlan.  His duties are usually about ushering the dead to his master Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death.  But due to his position, he often spends time investigating deaths that affect the boundaries that keep the world safe.  The stories are told in first person from Acatl’s point of view, and his travels take him all around the capital.  Although these are obviously historical fantasy, in many ways they read like urban fantasy detective novels.  Our protagonist interviews witnesses, fights little political battles with his superiors, and races against time to bring justice and/or save the world.
The world building is superb.  Gods in this world are real and active participants, several times Acatl is forced to talk to one or more of them.  Blood sacrifice is a way of life.  There is no modern spin put on the realities of this world, sacrifice is necessary and there are no qualms.  It would soon seem out of place if Acatl didn’t use worship thorns to get blood from his ear.  The state of the supernatural is revealed as needed, without annoying info dumps, so that a reader will quickly understand recurring details such as the fifth world is under the protection of the Southern Hummingbird, and what is needed to keep it so.
The author’s writing is a no frills style that may not appeal to everyone, but may be part of the accessibility of the book.  I hate to call the books easy to read, because that seems to denote simplicity and lack of intelligence, which simply is not the case.  But it is true that de Bodard is not trying to be a wordsmith here, the economy of words keeps the pacing brisk and entertaining.   Perhaps it was the easy read style that allowed me to keep track of the characters so well.  I never had to go back to find who a character was, or which god they attended, or even what that god represented.
The characters in the book were both good and bad.  Acatl really grows through the series, from a brooding man who is almost ashamed of his position to a very competent High Priest.  His student Teomitl on the other hand was a single note player for most the series.  His devotion to Acatl doesn’t really fit with his pride and stubborn nature.   The Reverand Speaker was almost cartoonish incompetent.   But to counteract that several of the High Priests Acatl is forced to play politics with are fiendishly clever and fun to read.   Only a few female characters, but with a couple of strengths.  Ceyaxochitl was a master of politics, and a strong ally to Acatl.  Mihmatini quickly fit into her role as a Guardian.  A couple others seemed to exist only to give cryptic messages. All  forgivable in a very obviously patriarchal society, the interactions stayed realistic.
I only had a few issues with the books.  The main one came toward the end of the third book when we once again followed Acatl on a long runaround between witnesses.  I know it is a staple of the mystery genre, but after three books it grew tiring.  Just once I wanted a witness to reveal all the information, especially when they had nothing to hide.  There were also a couple of convenient “cryptic warnings.”  I also felt the second book got carried away with the magic.  Hard to describe, but it felt like a TV medical drama at times, with  “ok this spell didn’t work, so let’s try this one.”   Lastly, if a reader picks up the series in omnibus form, skip to the short stories at the end and read them first.  Several of Acatl’s relations are explained that would have been nice in the first book especially. 
Obviously, the strengths of the series far out did the problems for me, and I enjoyed the series a lot.  I would recommend to many fantasy lovers.  The historical setting and interactions with gods give the series an epic feeling, but the detective style will appeal to many lovers of urban fantasy.

Fantasy Review: ‘Mort’ by Terry Pratchett

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.

4 stars

*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.

Fantasy Review: ‘Master of the House of Darts’ by Alliette de Bodard

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.

4 stars.

Series Review

Fantasy Review: ‘Stormlord Rising’ by Glenda Larke

This review may contain spoilers from the ‘The Last Stormlord.’ 

Nathan’s Review:

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.   
Pauline’s Review:

This, the second in the ‘Watergivers’ trilogy, picks up exactly where the previous one left off, in the immediate aftermath of battle, and the surviving characters are all plunged into crisis without preamble. Having grumbled in my review of book 1 that so many major characters died, my complaint this time is over the number who miraculously survived, despite being believed dead. I suppose there’s just no pleasing some people. Given all these unlikely reincarnations, maybe we will yet see Lyneth and Moiqa? Well, maybe not.
The events of the previous book and the background of the Scarpen cities and their rainlords and stormlords are sketched in rather briefly here and there, but it might not be enough for anyone coming back to the story after a long gap. The pace is rapid from the start and never lets up, so anyone who’s not up to speed on the story so far is liable to get left behind.
All our main characters are trapped in situations not of their making. Terelle is a prisoner of Russet’s water-painting magic, Shale is forced to work alongside the devious Taquar, while Ryka and Kaneth are slaves of the Reduners, the dune nomads. This creates real tension, and the plot races along as they all work to set themselves free (with varying degrees of success), although not without useful dialogues which serve to keep the reader well informed about all the various options. It is a little surprising, actually, how often these people sit down in the midst of dire circumstances to talk at great length, and this reaches ridiculous levels near the end when Shale and Ravard hold a full conversation in the middle of a massive battle.
The world-building is necessarily less detailed in this book, but we do move out of the Scarpen cities and into some of the other regions. We saw a little of the Gibber plains last time out, but this time we also see the Red Quarter (home of the dune tribes) and the White Quarter (the salt plains of the Alabaster folk), and both of these are interesting scenically and in their societal structures, as well as giving us some insight into the economics of Quartern life. We haven’t yet seen the coast or the mysterious Khromatis region, but perhaps that will come in book 3.
It is nice to learn more about the indigenous lifeforms, notably the seriously scary ziggers, truly the stuff of nightmares, and the ubiquitous pedes, used for both riding and carrying. Rather delightfully, the pedes turn out to have personalities and memory, and even affection for humans who treated them kindly in the past, which is unexpectedly charming. I never would have thought I’d consider giant creepy-crawlies in terms of ‘Ah, how sweet!’ but that’s fantasy for you.
We also learn something of the various religions – the dune gods of the Reduners, the One True God of the Alabasters, and the delightfully earthly origin of the Sungod worshipped in the Scarpen cities, the giver of water-powers. This is hugely entertaining stuff. I particularly liked the thought tossed out, almost as an aside, that the innate water-sensing ability is god-given and not magical at all, while the power of water painting is sorcery and therefore totally evil. This is, of course, a question which should be considered by all fantasy writers (and readers, for that matter) – what exactly is magic anyway?
The characters continue to be interesting and (sometimes) to behave in unexpected ways. The changes to Kaneth as a result of his injuries are particularly intriguing, although his rapid recovery is slightly implausible. Most of the main characters are likeable and believable. The bad guys are still a little too bad to be truly credible, but on the whole (Taquar and Ravard in particular) they have enough depth to be more than just cartoons. I particularly like Kaneth and Ryka (and Kaneth’s friend), and all the squabbling rainlords (even Laisa and Senya). And I love the slightly bonkers Iani. And Shale and Terelle are OK too. Shale has grown up big time in this book, although still with an adolescent’s peculiar combination of angst and over-confidence, and Terelle is getting there too.
Ravard is especially interesting. I don’t suppose the revelation of his identity surprises anyone, but it’s still fascinating to see the man he’s become. I do have an issue with his behaviour, however. I’m not a psychologist, but I would have expected a boy who was abducted and enslaved, and who then worked his way up to leadership amongst his abductors would have wanted to show the strength of his loyalty by being even more committed to the tenets of his new society than everyone else. The Reduners espouse slavery and rape as well as bravery and warrior skills, yet Ravard keeps no slaves and is remarkably gentle and tolerant with Ryka. In fact, his whole relationship with Ryka felt quite unbelievable to me, given his age and the ethos of the society. Choosing an older woman, and visibly pregnant too? Odd behaviour. Choices of this type would be more consistent with a mature, self-confident character, which Ravard definitely isn’t. And yet, the author makes even this bizarre arrangement seem quite understandable.
The magic system is coming into its own now. I was astonished at the number of inventive ways that Shale could find to use his (rather limited) skills to good effect in battle. Who would have thought that a shower of rain would be so effective a weapon? I very much like that all the rainlords have different levels of ability. This makes for a much more realistic type of magic (if there is such a thing, of course). Terelle’s water painting is becoming exceptionally convenient from a plot point of view, but this type of magic was flagged up from early in book 1, so it’s not a cheat, any more than Shale hurling water around is – both are just extensions of a form of magic already in existence.
The book ends, inevitably, with a huge battle (or perhaps a series of battles would be more accurate). I found it a bit difficult to work out exactly where everyone was (the map on my Kindle version is minute) so I was a bit unsure who was going up the hill and who was going down. After a while I stopped trying to work it out and let it flow over me, but then I found myself surprised when Ryka bumped into the Reduners again. The author is remarkably good at gently reminding the reader of key information, and she also describes the scenery very clearly and succinctly, so the fault is mine for not paying proper attention. This was the only point in this or the previous book where I went into ‘wait – what?’ mode. Not that there aren’t twists in the plot, of course, but mostly it’s very clear who’s where and what’s going on.
The book ends with the immediate crisis resolved, but the big long-term problem (the shortage of stormlords to provide water) is still hanging by a thread, and everything is now in place for the final showdown. The Reduners are still looking to return to the pre-stormlord era of random rain, while Shale and Terelle try to find a new source of water power, Ryka and Kaneth head for the dunes, and Laisa, Senya and the priest manoeuvre for their own interests. And Taquar is still around, and will undoubtedly come into play again very soon. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a series so much that I wanted to move straight from one book to the next, but this is one that I just can’t put down. Four stars. [First posted on Goodreads August 2011]

The ‘Watergivers’ series consists of:
The Last Stormlord
Stormlord Rising
Stormlord’s Exile

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.


Fantasy Review: ‘Equal Rites’ by Terry Pratchett

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.’

4 stars

*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.