Fantasy Review: ‘Carpe Jugulum’ by Terry Pratchett

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23)Part 23 of The Complete Discworld Reread

And this, my friends, is why I have to do this whole reread thing. My memories have scrambled, perhaps even been merged with general consensus in places, and I have forgotten which books are which within this long series I have been plugging through for the past year and a half.

Case in point, Carpe Jugulum, yet another in the sub series dealing with Granny Weatherwax and her coven of not so evil (but certainly not nice) witches of Lancre. Considered by many to be the weakest of the witches’ books and it very well could be, but I was mistaken when I had written it off as a weak Discworld book. No my friends, this is just one more very good book for fans of Granny to go giddy over.

‘It’s a Johnson,’ she breathed. ‘I haven’t got my hands on a Johnson for ages.’

Oh believe me I understand why it is not as well loved. It is accused of recycling the plot of Lords and Ladies. In a way I can see this. Put Granny against seemingly immortal monsters, have her dance in circles around them, rinse and repeat. Vampires instead of elves this time, and it lacks the Shakespearian guide posts that Lords and Ladies had to keep it on its path. Without the well-defined goal posts it occasionally wanders into the pure parody territory that I tend to think of as Prachett’s weakest writing; lots of easy jokes making fun of some old horror clichés. Is this the first time we see an Igor? Not sure anyone will ever do Igor as funny as Mel Brooks did, all the other jokes seem tired now. And wow, as cool as the Nac Mac Feegle become later on in the series their entire plotline in this one added absolutely nothing.

It is also a bit preachy; not something Pratchett is known for and kind of surprising. Small Gods, many books before this one, already dealt with religion perfectly. It was certainly critical of aspects of the Christian faith but never did it try to preach something as the right way. But in Carpe Jugulum, where religion only played a small part of one subplot, it was handled with all the subtlety of a large hammer. The complete one eighty that the Omian priest makes in thinking through the book was presented as the only right path; Small Gods never made such a forceful assumption.

‘So we develop insights and pull together and learn valuable lessons,” said Magrat.

Nanny paused with her pipe halfway to her lips. “No,” she said, “I don’t reckon Granny’d be thinking like that, because that’s soppy garbage.”

But despite its flaws I found myself flying through the book because it is so…damn..funny. Really funny. For every bad Dracula joke there is two or three classic Pratchett one liners. It is also damn dirty. My man Mr. P can throw in some innuendo at times, it is true, but this one ups it quite a bit. Light on cursing, but we are closer to PG-13 territory than most of the series. Nanny has some of her best moments of the series while Granny spends some time missing in action. And Ms Nitt with her two strong personalities is a fine addition to the coven.

Oh look, it isn’t a perfect book. There are a few things that absolutely stink of just trying too hard; vampires pretending to be human because it’s cool I am talking to you. But taken as a whole there really isn’t that much to complain about. With the exception of the King and the Feegles the plotting is strong. It is funny as hell. The vampires are suitably nasty; thinkers rather than mindless beasts, and they have a plan much worse than the typical bloodsucker. Nanny gets to shine for a while. And Granny finally strikes in the most Granny way possible.

I am not sure why this book gets so much flack within the series. I certainly don’t think it is the most memorable outing Granny sets out on, but I was entertained throughout.

3 stars

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Sci-Fi Review: ‘The Red: First Light’ by Linda Nagata

The Red: First LightIn the grim darkness of the far future there is only war… No that isn’t right. The sentiment is right, but we are not dealing with the far future here.

Start over.

War is hell, war is eternal, and war is damn good for business. And if war is a business then that leaves very little room for peace. Lieutenant James Shelley leads a combat squad far from home, because there is an old saying about things that shouldn’t be done where one eats.   The squad is linked through the cloud, plugged in through a skullcap that leaves the soldiers of tomorrow forever connected. Emotions can be controlled, information disseminated, and every action watched through the eyes of these armored soldiers to keep the war machine moving.

Shelley is used to following certain premonitions to keep his squad safe, earning him the nickname of King David. Failing to follow them causes a disaster; and opens up a whole new path. The already cynical soldier finds himself learning more than he wants about the way his world works; war shown as entertainment and just how secure the linked net the army relies on are suddenly transparent. More importantly he learns to what lengths the powers that be are willing to go to in order to keep things going their way.

Dark military sci-fi with a distinct political angle. The military industrial complex is the true power in this near future story; political heads bow to its will. The ‘dragons’ that run it can start a new war on a whim; and wag the dog so people believe the justification just as fast. A civil war can be constructed in minutes and yet even the complex has no ideas when a rogue agent worms into the system they have ruled from.

The Red: First Light is action packed around its political maneuvering. Shelley finds himself a more recognizable and seemingly important figure as his story moves on, but we see the pawn he remains behind the scenes until he has a chance to maybe make a difference. Seeing the world through his cynical eyes and then watching how invisible hands work everything is a trip; even as the book ends it is hard to tell what was accomplished and who can be claiming victory.

“You will go to hell for it, for all eternity, and after the Devil has flayed off your skin, he’ll fuck you while you’re lying on a bed of coals.”

With its harsh language and obvious political bent I would imagine not everyone will be completely enthralled. The book can also be broken up into separate parts that play very different; the middle deals with the making of a new kind of soldier and is paced much slower than the rest of the book.  But I give you the most obvious book comparison, one Starship Troopers. Both deal with mechanized soldiers on the periphery, and the political ramifications front and center.  They just approach it from different views and I for one welcome our new cynical overlord.

Highly recommended for fans of military fiction, sci-fi, or for anyone looking to question everything about what drives the world economic decisions.

4 Stars

US/Canada Giveaway: ‘Chasers of the Wind’

This week I reviewed Chasers of the Wind, recently released from Tor.  Pehov’s ambitious novel has a little bit of everything; necromancy, war, assassins and exploding corpses.  It has been getting strong reviews around the blogosphere so perhaps you would like to check it out yourself?

Thanks to the good folk at Tor we can make that happen.  Three lucky readers from the US/Canada will win a copy of this fun start to a new series.  Here is the blurb.

Chasers of the Wind (The Cycle of Wind and Sparks, #1)Centuries after the disastrous War of the Necromancers, the Nabatorians, aligned with the evil necromancers of Sdis, mount an invasion of the Empire. Luk, a soldier, and Ga-Nor, a Northern barbarian, are thrown together as they attempt to escape the Nabatorian hordes and find their way back to their comrades.

Gray and Layan are a married couple, master thieves who are hiding out and trying to escape their former gang. They hope to evade the bounty hunters that hound them and retire to a faraway land in peace.

Tia is a powerful dark sorceress and one of The Damned—a group trying to take over the world and using the Nabatorian invasion as a diversion.

Unfortunately, for Gray and Layan, they unwittingly hold the key to a powerful magical weapon that could bring The Damned back to power.

Hounded by the killers on their trail and by the fearsome creatures sent by The Damned, Gray and Layan are aided by Luk and Ga-Nor—and Harold, the hero of The Chronicles of Siala. Realizing what’s at stake they decide that, against all odds, they must stop The Damned.

Chasers of the Wind is the first book in a new series from internationally bestselling author Alexey Pehov.

Interested?  I bet you are.  All you need to do is click the button on the rafflecopter for your chance.  Good luck!

7/21/14 – This giveaway is CLOSED.  Thank you for all the entries.

Tough Traveling- Northern Barbarians

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

The topic this week is NORTHERN BARBARIANS

NORTHERN BARBARIANS dwell in the snowy art behind the northern MOUNTAIN range. They are very barbarous and tend to kill strangers on sight… It is not certain what their females do.

First a confession. I dug and I dug and it appears that Northern Barbarians are a very male trope. I could not find one example in my backlog of this trope from a female author. I am desperately hoping someone proved me wrong this week, but it was interesting.

Now on to my list!

The Grim Company (The Grim Company, #1)Brodar KayneThe Grim Company by Luke Scull – And while you are at it, meet Jerek the Wolf. Here we have two barbarians with nasty reputations who have been forced from the north due to a little bit of a political upheaval. But Brodar genuinely tries to be good, making him a bit different than a certain other barbarian who he is in no way modeled after.

When is the second book of this series coming out?

The Black ThornThe Heresy Within by Rob J Hayes – Well it is a tricky old world ain’t it? You kill an arbitrator once and suddenly you are marked. You are a killer who did the impossible, but the mark it leaves on a man will never go away. So down the slippery slope you go, killing to get by and getting by through killing.

Anyone else read this book? I didn’t rate it too highly because of some very specific annoyances, but lovers of Grimdark should check it out, if only because I want more opinions.  And at the very least should check out my GRIMDARK TALK radio programing.

Cohen the Barbarian Discworld by Terry Prachett – It is very simple, okay? Cohen is a barbarian who has made his living raiding temples, fighting thugs of all varieties, rescuing princesses and generally doing everything he can to throw himself at death. And he has survived. For a long damn time. Get the implication?

There is no doubt about who would win if we throw all of these barbarians into a pit together then? Good, moving on.

Who said Kell's Legend (Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, #1)Conan? Huh? Well you can knock that stuff off right now.

Kell The Clockwork Vampires by Andy Remic – Digging through the old memory bank here. Um, Kell was retired badass living with his granddaughter when all hell breaks loose. He has a past that he has hid from her, and was a major force to be reckoned with. When invading horde looking to harvest Bloodoil attacks he proves that he still has something left in the the tank and works to save said grnd daughter before being dragged into the larger conflict.

Giant mess of a trilogy ensues. I can’t remember much more.

Dogman, Threetrees, Logan, Black Dow, ShiversThe First Law by Joe Abercrombie The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)– I will be completely honest, I almost made the entire damn post Abercrombies barbarians and made my life a lot easier this week. If I don’t see one of these on every single list I will be shocked. Everyone has their favorite, though I see Dogman lead the pack quite a bit in conversations.

There is also a huge debate on the relative goodness of the most famous of the group, Logan Ninefingers. I am firmly in the camp of people who think he is a villain who wants people to like him. Only once did he try to get away from his violent side. There, let that stir up the pot a bit.


 

Join us next week as we look at PIRATES

PIRATES range the seas in force, though most of them operate individually…The sole qualifications are that they must be rough and ruthless, which a penchant for dressing gaudily.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘Chasers of the Wind’ by Alexey Pehov

It took me a bit to get into Chasers of the Wind, and it was a rough ride at times, but I Chasers of the Wind (The Cycle of Wind and Sparks, #1)ended up enjoying this book quite a bit. Color me surprised because as I look back it was something of a grab-bag fantasy; a little bit of everything was thrown into the mix and most of it was worth keeping.

With a backdrop of an invading hoard led by The Damned, a collective of necromancers with individual names like Typhoid, the book focuses on a small core of characters of various interest.   A married couple, very much still in love, and with a strong reason to hide could be considered the protagonists of the story and carry it well. It is refreshing to see Gray and Layan take turns helping each other in true teamwork. A barbarian warrior is paired with a gambler to make up another pairing. While educated Northern barbarians are almost cliché at this point, the gambler proves to be more adept than his entrance would have suggested.

Then we get to Typhoid, a member of the damned who we first meet on the trail chasing Layan and Gray. On her own she is a compelling character; near immortal and incredibly powerful. On her own she makes a real compelling character who is almost bored in her power, playing small games to keep her interest. But early on she finds herself tied to character with serious intellectual disabilities that made her sections some of the weakest of the book. The poor soul, known only by the name Pork, is borderline vicious on his own and certainly not a character that would be considered a representation to be proud of. I could never tell if he was being played for laughs or supposed to be a tragic figure; mostly I just cringed when he showed up despite the relative awesomeness of his host.

Did I say grab-bag? Let’s see, I already mentioned Gray and Layan, an assassin and a mage of unknown power. We see a northern barbarian and an ancient necromancer. Did I mention archers with snake-like hind ends? Not really sure where they fit in other than a nice random encounter tm but they were there. Necromancers of course lead to zombies, but never before have I seen exploding zombie grenades. Kind of cool.

The story itself unfolds slowly. Where the various pairs fit into the larger picture is a bit hard to figure out; thus far none are taking a dominate role in the obvious battle to come. While their paths are interesting to be sure the lack of an overreaching destination makes the entire journey a bit of a letdown. I ended this book knowing a bit about each of the characters, but without any larger knowledge of the war that sits in the backdrop. I saw little to suggest where this series is going; a reader’s continued interest will largely depend on a cliffhanger ending and how much they connected with the characters.

As I sit right now I think I saw enough to make me want to read the next book; quick paced action and a low page count are definite points in this books favor. It is certainly good enough to recommend that epic fantasy fans should give it a try and make their own decision.

3 Stars

One last note. There was a major detraction to this book that had nothing to do with the story itself. Large amounts of world building notes were stuffed into the story in parenthesis, explaining various terms like an encyclopedia entry. I don’t know if the book was written this way or it was edited in, but it was horribly distracting at times.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Over-thinking It: I Want My Hat Back

Nathan is on vacation this week.  Just for fun he decided to to short reviews of his three year old’s favorite books.  It should have been simple and quick.  But if there is one thing Nathan is good at it is Over-thinking It.

Though it hides it within its simplicity, the messages held within I Want My Hat Back are no doubt integral to its recent success. While much of the decade showed children’s books written purely for the masses, often tied into popular TV shows such as Chuggington, Jon Klassen risked losing his audience by forcing them to think. Lucky for all of us an audience looking for something deeper responded with enough support to give the author the means to follow this outing up with a semi sequel, This is Not My Hat.

The story, for those that are unaware, involves a large bear (unnamed, as arcat and mousee all the characters in this story) who has lost his hat. He roams the countryside asking the other animals who if they have seen it. Upon meeting the rabbit, who claims to have not seen said hat, the reader is immediately made aware that not only is the rabbit lying but the bear is blissfully unaware of his blind spot. After a few more false starts he is forced to reflect on the situation. A frightening final third leads to the ultimate confrontation its aftermath.

Final hat

Haunting, ain’t it?

One of course cannot discuss this legendary work without delving into its frank look at sexuality. The entire book revolves around and is defined by a large pointing red object. That cat and mouse game that exists between rabbit and bear show strained signs of an already unhealthy relationship. While the rabbit keeps hold of the large red ‘hat’ the bear is forced by his deceit to seek comfort with other animals in the woods. Obviously the rabbit is taking advantage of the control he holds over bear, but the text leaves it unclear on if the bear is a willing participant in this power play or merely a pawn. Whichever it is the disastrous final act shows that the game was taken too far. While the murder of love is shown off screen, its effect on bear can be seen in his haunted look in the final pages.

hatIt is worth noting that while this article refers to the bear as ‘he,’ in fact no gender is assigned to any of the characters. It is up to each reader to make assumptions of gender based on their own biases. This gives the book another level of complexity as different readers reach different conclusions based on what they read into the story, then are ultimately forced to face the fact that it doesn’t even matter. The story is one of love, lust and power; a universal theme.

Tough Traveling- Necromancy

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is NECROMANCY.

NECROMANCY is, in Fantasyland, the art of raising the dead and you need a specialized MAGIC USER to do it.

The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal, #1)Johannes Cabal- Johannes Cabal the Necromancer –Why haven’t more people read this delightful tale? People like trains, carnivals, and Faustian tales right? Mark Lawrence proved with Jorg that completely despicable characters can become very popular; and Cable might be the most unlikeable character I have ever read about.

Fact is Johannes is at a crossroads in this book and the easiest way to get what he needs to continue his..NECROMANCY would be to deal with the devil. So he cuts a deal for one hundred souls to be delivered for requested materials. Watch out, the devil cheats. But so does Johanness. Roaming the country with his magic carnival made for a great read. So go read it. Please?

Chasers of the Wind- Alexey Pohav – There are Walkers, Embers, The Damned, and a few other magical beings. And bringing back the dead seems to be one of the main ways magical people take control of their situation, though I havn’t yet finished the book so you won’t be getting full details here. But necromancy is front and center. There is a war over this stuff in the past, and one brewing in the present.

A couple of cool things to mention. Fish, which are walking corpse grenades covered in shrapnel. And a woman that goes by Typhoid, who can jump in and out of corpses and use them at will. Damn cool.

AcatlServant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard – Acatl is the High Priest of the Dead in an Aztec empire in which gods and magic are very, very real. He doesn’t just deal with the dead, he is the high priest in charge of dealing with. And talking to their god.

HE TALKS TO THE GOD OF THE UNDERWORLD. Necromancy? He makes other necromancers look like amateurs.

Isyllt IskaldurThe Drowning City by Amanda Downum – Digging deep here, been a long The Drowning City (The Necromancer Chronicles, #1)time since I read it but I know this was a book where necromancy was front and center. Isyllt is a spy looking to fund a terrorist group in the city she infiltrates. Already a unique setup, but add in the fact that the ghosts within the city are front and center and I remember liking this book quite a bit.

Hope no one notices the slightly shorter list than usual, I will be on vacation when this post hits and wrote it quite early, trying to jam it in around everything else. I wanted to add in Three Parts Dead, and Death of a Necromancer, and and and…

Join us next week as we look at NORTHERN BARBARIANS

NORTHERN BARBARIANS dwell in the snowy art behind the northern MOUNTAIN range. They are very barbarous and tend to kill strangers on sight… It is not certain what their females do.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!