Fantasy Review: ‘Thief of Time’ by Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26; Death, #5)Part 26 of The Complete Discworld Reread

Start with the personal. It was Thief of Time that first got me into Pratchett. It was not the first book of his I read, but rather it was a review of it that first made me aware. At the time I was reading a lot of thrillers and a few mysteries and I see a blurb about the granddaughter of death fighting a war with chocolate. I knew I just had to read this man. And, after forgetting his name at the bookstore later that day, finally found a copy of The Color of Magic and a love affair began.

Despite that you won’t find Thief of Time anywhere near my favorite list. There are worse, much worse, Discworld books out there but there just was never a ‘click’ moment with this one. To start with it is a Susan book, which have a habit of going a bit south for me. I have lamented before about how Susan is a great character yet I never seem to enjoy her books. Soul Music remains one of my bottom two outings, and Hogfather is a favorite for many yet near bottom for myself. To its credit Thief of Time worked much better than either of those; completely without easy pop culture jokes that are a better fit for direct to DVD movies than a Discworld book.

The premise for Thief of Time is one of Prachett’s more original ones, borrowing several ideas from earlier novels and coming up with a few new ones to create a book that truly stands alone in the series. The Auditors, obsessed with perfection and order and viewing life as a nasty hindrance to all that is right, contact the world’s best clockmaker for a special job. The clockmaker is a young man named Jeremy who is much better now that he takes his pills (and thus will not speak in class today), and has an obsession with time that can’t be understated. A match made in heaven, the auditors will provide the resources and young Jeremy will use his unique skills to build a perfect clock. What they don’t tell Jeremy is such perfection makes a perfect prison for Time (capital T) itself. No time, no unpredictability, less works for the auditors of everything.

Because this may actually lead to the end of the world Death sets out to find the other horsemen (despite not being a Christian land the horsemen of the apocalypse show up a couple times in Discworld, and of course Death makes an appearance as-is in the set on Earth novel Good Omens). But perhaps because he has a soft spot for humanity he sends a message to his granddaughter who very reluctantly comes to the realization that it may be up to her to stop all this. She won’t be working at this alone though; the monks of time know something is amiss as well. High on the mountain top these monks are in charge of making things happen. They save time, spin time, and move time around but even they can’t fix it if Jeremy’s clock is completed. So the abbot sends his best man and an apprentice with uncanny abilities to Anhk-Morpork to see what they can do as well.

Sound crazy? It is, just like any Pratchett book this one follows at least six different plot threads. If Prachett has a weakness it is in sometimes spinning too many threads at once and losing one or two by the end. I can happily say that it didn’t happen here; most felt important to the overall story. Perhaps Death’s quest was superfluous but something had to get him out of the way so Susan could jump in.

There was plenty I enjoyed. As I stated I loved the uniqueness of the story. And Pratchett’s humor shined throughout, some of it among the best. There was some of the more knee-slapping style jokes; Lu Tze, the sweeper who acts as the ace in the hole for the history monks, follows a ‘path’ that consists of random quotes form a former housekeeper (The Way of Cosmopolite).   These usually consisted of complete non-sequiturs that only Lu-Tze could connect to the topic at hand. My favorite humor though came from little signs designed to keep out the very literal minded auditors; things like ‘don’t feed the elephant’ when no elephants are present.

The plotline was surprisingly focused in a book where Pratchett introduced so much new to the world. Well, perhaps not introduced as many of these aspects have been briefly touched before (Mrs Cosmopolite, Lu-Tze, riders of the apocalypse, etc). But never did he explore them with any depth. The background information of the history monks, especially the passages of Wen the eternally surprised, I felt these were great examples of everything Pratchett has been doing well. And they are hiding in a book that seems to get forgotten despite being fairly recent because it doesn’t fit the larger series in style, nor does it hold information vital for later books (though some of the time aspects will of course show up in Night Watch).

And of course Susan, as always, keeps a level head and is perfectly entertaining as the lead player in all of this.

With all that is is hard to say why the book doesn’t really connect with me. Perhaps it is the lack of a theme I care about. Time is not all that interesting to me and it just about everything in a book. Had it ever turned to time travel I would probably be completely turned off (then again, it worked better in Night Watch than anything else I have read so many not). Ultimately it sits on my shelf and gets reread every so often because it is a funny and well done Pratchett book. But it never makes my ‘what’s the best’ list because I just don’t think it belongs there.

4 Stars.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Blue Sword’ by Robin McKinley

Perfectly serviceable wish fulfillment fantasy. The Blue Sword is best compared to Star The Blue Sword (Damar, #2)Wars in that a young person is taken to a strange place, taught to use a style of magic they never knew they had, and then beat the evil bad guys with one huge explosion (oops, spoiler warning). There are a couple of differences of course. Instead of an annoying whiny farmboy the hero of destiny is a capable young woman called Harry. And instead of starting her journey by choice Harry is kidnapped in the night.

The second of a series (a fact I didn’t realize until after I had finished the book) The Blue Sword works perfectly fine as a standalone. The allusions to the first book work just as well as new visions for Harry to decipher, nothing is lost by not knowing previous events.

Harry joins her brother in a border outpost to start the book. She is bored by civilized life, longs to ride horses in the mountains, and is eventually stolen away in the night by Corlath, king of the mountain folk. There she learns she has a destiny, and a strong sort of magic, and a way with horses and giant hunting cats that makes others shake their head in amazement. She gets over being kidnapped in no time and commits to learning how to ride and fight like the mountain folk do. After wowing everyone with her new skills (and new magic) she learns that there is no time to celebrate for it is time to ride to war against and evil, twisted, almost human army (orcs?) that has a leader with magic that may be more powerful than that she shares with her new king.

Harry is a great character; I have to give that to the book. Stockholm syndrome aside she appraises the situation she finds herself in and makes the best of it from the start. Her magic gives her an EZ mode to play with but she still works hard and uses her charisma to actually become a leader. And she has to be good to carry this book for the first eighty percent of it is all set up for one fast and furious battle that ends with a whimper.

Probably best saved for reading slumps between long epics but it was worth reading. It makes up for its cheesiness with a bit of heart, and for every stock character placed to be a prop there is another that forces a reader to identify with them. Nothing wrong with wish fulfillment fantasies, I would have never fallen in love with Star Wars if I didn’t want to be a jedi. No doubt had I read this in my younger years it would be holding a place in my memory along with Pern and that space saga I keep comparing The Blue Sword to.

3 Stars.

Tough Travels – Beloved Mounts

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Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is BELOVED MOUNTS

A combination of suggestions from several people, as it seems many want to talk about the various animals that people in fantasyland ride. So be they horse, bear, or other let’s talk about favorite rides.

In hindsight I should have come up with a better title, an intense giggling fit followed when my wife asked me what this week’s topic was.  Oh well.

Mort (Discworld, #4)Binky Discworld – Death has a horse, imagine it. I know if you have not read Discworld you are dead to me then you are imagining a very specific look. You are thinking of a fire breathing, skeletal night mare; perhaps one that eats human flesh. And Death gave that a try. He ended up with piles of bones or straw bedding catching fire at inopportune times.

So now he uses a big white horse who likes carrots and his forehead scratched. Good with children (one of Susan’s fondest memories of her grandfather in fact). Binky is a horse, nothing more. Well, maybe with an innate since of where to be in time at any given moment, but otherwise just a beautiful horse.

RamothPern – I picked my favorite dragon from the Dragonflight (Pern, #1)series; you can’t go wrong with a giant golden queen can you? Especially seeing as the entire series takes off when Lessa and Ramoth learn that dragons can travel through time and space when they go between.

Not to mention Ramoth and Lessa are absolutely not content to let thread rain down death while the boys flame it away. Changing the course of history, one act at a time. That is the game Ramoth plays.

And it goes without saying that this is one beloved ride; dragonriders without a dragon are known to just end it all. Spoiler: not something you have to worry about in this series seeing as GRRM didn’t write it.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)Temeraire Her Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik – Have you read my review of this book? I can’t say it any better than this. (And it was one of my most popular early reviews, so you know, the chance to relink it can’t be missed).

Buckbeak Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by the third best-selling author in British history (edging out one Terry Pratchett by one slot)- How beloved is Buckbeak? Hermione is given the power to change time, going back to whatever spot she needs to at any time she wants. Dumbledore is well aware of this and when the time comes to change things around a bit he doesn’t have her go back and stop a major character from dying, or you know, kill Voldermort as an infant.

No no, instead he has her go back and save a fucking hippogryph from the axeman. So yes, I would say this is one loved screwed up flying horse thing.

Yoshi – Yall I own a Yoshi shirt. It is purple. Scream down the street purple with a neon green Yoshi on it. I wear it almost every weekend.  When I play Mariokart I will take my game home and quit if someone else takes the little green guy. Yoshi is the best, and I defy anyone to find a mount they would rather have when attacked by evil turtles and strange mushroom creatures.

Couldn’t come up with one could you? Told ya so.

Join us next week as we look at ENFORCERS

Some people are made to give orders; others are made to make sure they are carried out. Be it through muscle or guile there are just some people you don’t want to hear are looking for you.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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

Fantasy Review: ‘Fortune’s Blight’ by Evie Manieri

Fortune's Blight (Shattered Kingdoms, #2)Blood’s Pride was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog, and more noticeably it was almost certainly the first book I gave a two star rating to. A fast paced start and a fairly unique world with Mediterranean flair were enough to keep me reading but overall it didn’t leave a very good impression. It was an incredibly jumbled affair. It tried to juggle not just too many story lines but more so it tried to be too many different kinds of books. Rebellion, forbidden love, and a whole lot of ideas that seem to be thrown in without planning out how they fit. I thought for sure I was done with the series.

But time moves forward, tastes change, and I started seeing Blood’s Pride mentioned in favorable tones. So when Fortune’s Blight showed up in a slim three hundred and fifty page packet I thought ‘why not?’ Maybe it gets better. And in a lot of ways it does. This book is twice as good as I remember Blood’s Pride being. Unfortunately I don’t really think that it is good enough and this time I mean it; I am done with this series.  

Book one was about a rebellion against a northern race of peoples who had taken over. Book two is the story of the aftermath, expanding its scope to people from both lands. A sickness is spreading that thus far has no cure, plots are hatched and royal games are played, and notorious mercenary The Mongrel has disappeared from the scene (some claiming she is dead). It is a much more focused affair than its predecessor and as such tells a more coherent story all around. I still struggled with some plot threads because so many of the characters felt exactly the same, but as long as I reference the dramatis personae every now and then it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Still, some distinct voices would have gone a long way here.

While it may have been more focused I still think this series could do with a major culling of extraneous storylines. Because Manieri has some great ideas, and when one particular story line caught my attention I was hooked (after almost putting the book down half way through). But that one story line was really the only one that kept me going. It didn’t disappoint, I was rewarded at the end for working through the book. By design through it is really unclear that this particular thread would end up being so important and only a hunch had me looking closely at the validity of a text the people of the world were following quite literally.

That a series must be looked at as a whole doesn’t seem to be a very controversial opinion. So while I have no problem stating that this book is better than the series’ starting point I don’t feel it is good enough to recommend working through after a rough debut.

3 Stars

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Tough Travels- Bards

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Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is MUSICIANS/BARDS

BARDS often join questing parties and provide entertainment around the campfire.  Sometimes their music even holds a little bit of magic.  Or a clue to an ancient mystery.  Or…

Terry PratchettAs I am sure all of you know the world lost a great, great man last week. I have no tribute planned, nor appropriate quotes from the man’s works. When my wife sent me a text that my favorite author died I was on a shuttle with new co-workers and thus no tears were shed. But the thought that there will be no new Discworld books certainly leaves a bit of a hole.

Rest in Peace Sir Terry Pratchett, no single person has provided so much entertainment in my life.

I said no tribute is planned because I couldn’t do it justice. The best I can do is switch around my Tough Travelling post and give you nothing but the bards of Discworld.

Imp Y CelynSoul Music – A young harpist in the big city, Imp quickly learns just how tough life can be away from home. Guild fees, tough bookings, and a general lack of musical understanding from the masses do not make music thrive. But when his harp is broken and only a strange guitar is around magic starts.

Imp becomes Buddy, crowds start to show up, and Music with Rocks in it is born. Imp is the envy of everyone; by all accounts he is living the dream. Of course it is uncertain whether or not young Buddy has any control over that instrument he plays.

The MinstrelThe Last Hero – Cohen the Barbarian had it in his head to return the fire to The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable (Discworld, #27)the gods. After all, man stole it many years before, it was time it was returned…with interest. But a big final act is absolutely worthless without someone to write about it. A saga is needed.

Cohen being who he is he grabs a random poet and brings him along, willingness to go on a journey was not a pre-requesite. Funny thought, after seeing a big handful of rubies there wasn’t all that much hesitation. (So this example is not set to song, still using it due to the lyrical nature of an epic saga).

Agnes Nitt (AKA Perdita X) – Maskerade – Time was someone like Agnes would be a perfect fit for the city opera. After all she can sing better than anyone around. In anyone’s voice. In EVERY range. Hell, due to her strange relationship with Perdita (the thin girl who lives inside her head) she can even sing harmonies by herself.

Of course, opera needs a look these days, so Agnes gets to sit in the back. A pretty blonde face is what sells tickets. When it proves out that said blonde can’t sing? Well, Agnes can do that for her as well. Add in a completely sensible attitude and a gift for witchcraft and some idiot going around in a mask and killing people doesn’t stand a chance.

Nanny Ogg– (Any book she shows up in)- My favorite songstress of all, Nanny Ogg. Warn the people if it is time for the annual bath, something about the acoustics in that old tub sends her vocal stylings out for miles. And she knows all the classics. Perhaps you would like to hear a little old lady sing A Wizard’s Staff has a Knob on the End. Or better yet, the perennial favorite The Hedgehog Cannot be Buggered at All.

No matter what, expect all the young men to be quite red in the face when their brain catches up to the lyrics.

Join us next week as we look a BELOVED MOUNTS

A combination of suggestions from several people, as it seems many want to talk about the various animals that people in fantasyland ride. So be they horse, bear, or other let’s talk about favorite rides.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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

Fantasy Review: ‘The Godless’ by Ben Peek

The Godless (Children, #1)A siege of a single city thousands of years in the making. Three distinct eras of history in one book each with distinct characteristics and all important to events of the day. Gods with real power, a real sine of wonder, and thought processes that are alien to those on a lesser plain. More importantly these gods have a since of awesome in the truly biblical meaning of the word. The Godless is unique in style, deep in history, and just a little bit wonderful.

The story starts with Ayae, a young refuge living in Mireea with a promising future as a cartographer. Despite the city knowing war is coming there is still a safe feel for the inhabitants. An attack changes that in an instant for Ayae. Despite being saved by an enigmatic man the real surprise is how she came out unscathed; pulled of the burning mess without so much as a mark. Conspiracies start to show themselves all over from there. Dead gods, living gods, and ‘keepers’ who consider themselves to be ascending gods all start to show their hands.

Told in a fractured style this isn’t a book for someone who prefers linear plot lines. Chapters often alternate between the present and one of several time lines; be it recent or distant past. Somehow this is done without ever messing with the feeling of urgency in the present day. Peeks into he past allowed this world to gain its rich history without awkward info dumps, I found myself looking forward to jumps back each and every time one showed. Done especially well is each era feels like a different time period in style and background. Turns out that if something that should be immortal dies it is not an instant thing.

Moving between the characters the larger story slowly unfolds. Ayae’s path stays within one timeline; the siege of the city and the attack on her early in the book make up her concerns. She quickly runs with some illustrious company though not always by choice. The keepers eye her because of her affinity with fire and want her full support; truly enigmatic characters who seem to be on no side. A small mercenary force moves behind enemy lines and learn the enemies’’ plans involve so much more than simple conquest. And Zaifyr, the mysterious man who pulls Ayae out of the fire, quickly becomes the highlight of the whole book. His story can be found moving between times, showing the evolution of just what people think the gods’ fall actually meant. All the while he holds a piece of power from the gods’ fall that has sent him into a cycle of insanity and back.

A slow burn of a book but with enough zip and wit to hold my attention. Characters are easy to relate to and even to cheer for. Twists actually caught me by surprise and the villain’s plan and will to act on it was worthy of the battle to come. I have said it before; this dying gods sub-genre of fantasy can stick around for as long as it wants. The Godless is another great entry into this very specific classification.

4 Stars

Copy used for review received from the author (and signed, thank you good sir!).

Tough Travels – Fae

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is FAE

Surprisingly not in the Tough Guide.  How can this be?  Fairies are a constant in the fantasy world and it is time they get their own week.  Give us your Fae, be they sweet or nasty.

Nathan is out this week and once again passed the buck reluctantly gave up the reins to Tough Travels to another.  This week popular indie author Graham Austin-King takes over (and missed Good Fairies of New York somehow, for shame).  Enjoy!

Faeries, the fae… the creatures that lurk in the deepest forests or pass into our world through faerie rings, preying on those humans foolish enough to cross their path. We’re not talking about your saccharine coated, Disneyfied fairys, or even that freak with the tooth obsession. We’re talking about faeries, the wee folk, the fair folk, the fae… and they’re really not nice.

In my own fantasy series the fae are about as far from the Disney cartoon version of fairies as you can get. I wanted my books to be about a truth hidden inside fairy tales and the book grew organically from there. If the fae were real then where are they? If they’ve been forced into hiding or pushed away from the world, then how? If they’re coming back, then why? I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to let slip that they’re a bit cross about the whole situation.

In Fae – The Wild Hunt I pretty much had free reign to do what I liked with the concept of Displaying Fae_cover_final_vjh2013.jpgfaeries and the fae. Elves, and a reader’s expectation of them, have been pretty much set in stone by virtue of Tolkein, Brooks, Weis & Hickman and many other fantasy writers. The concept of elves is so entrenched that a writer might be in danger of being accused of getting it wrong if they moved outside these lines. The fae, on the other hand, are an ethereal concept that you can still play around with.

I wanted the fae, and my depiction of them, to be a little bit like GRRM’s Others. Mysterious, unexplained… scary as hell! When you first encounter the fae in my books that’s what I’m aiming for. Tales of faeries are very much about closing the shutters, huddling close to the fire, and making sure the candles are lit to ward away the night. They’re about the fear of the dark, strange noises in the night, and about the unknown. There’s a reason we hang horseshoes on the wall afterall, and it has very little to do with luck. Terry Pratchett said it best, he was talking about elves but it transfers well and I’m going to steal it. Nobody ever said faeries were nice… Faeries are bad! So here we go…

The King Killer Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss

Rothfuss keeps his fae delightfully mysterious. About all we really know about them is that they’re not fond of iron and enjoy a drink and/or a romp… or both! Kvothe’s apprentice/bodyguard Bast is swiftly revealed as one of the fae, cloven hooves and all. Capable of inexplicable magics and, in the case of Ferulian at least, carnal appetites no man could hope to match, their motives are unknown. What is clear is that they are far older and wiser than mankind. Faced with the very embodiment of carnal pleasure Kvothe is forced to try and keep up… it’s a hard life.

The Many-Coloured Land (Saga of Pliocene Exile, #1)The Many Coloured Land – Julian May – This is a fabulous series that doesn’t just blur the lines between fantasy and science fiction, it rubs them out entirely. On the other side of a time portal leading from our future to our pliocene past, aliens known as the Tanu and the Firvulag are waiting for you. These are fae only by implication, it’s pretty obvious that they’ve been borrowed from Celtic mythology but the concept is a fun one and who’s to say they aren’t the root of the myth? Let’s do the tick list: wielders of glamours and illusion? Check. Love a good drink? Check. Enslavers of humans? Check. Haters of iron? Check. Insatiable carnal appetites? Check, check, check! Do you see a theme developing here?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell -Susanna Clarke – Mr Norrell calls on the fae for help when he needs to bring a young lady back to life. In exchange the fae ask for half of her life. Seems reasonable right? When it turns out that the fae had something else in mind when he asked for half her life Norrell gets a bit stroppy really. Some people are just so ungrateful! Clarke’s depiction is probably my favourite. Hidden worlds, unseen forests Displaying headshot.jpgthat grow up overnight, faerie balls that none remember attending… just glorious

Graham Austin-King began writing with children’s stories for his own kids. He has always loved fantasy and so it is no great surprise that eventually one began to appear as he sat at the keyboard. He lives in England with his wife Gillian and an ever-increasing horde of small people.

You can follow Graham on Facebook and Twitter.

Join us next week as we look at MUSICIANS/BARDS

BARDS often join questing parties and provide entertainment around the campfire.  Sometimes their music even holds a little bit of magic.  Or a clue to an ancient mystery.  Or…

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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