Fantasy Review -‘Night Watch’ by Terry Pratchett

Night Watch (Discworld, #29)I am known as a Pratchett guy. Even before the blog this was a well-known fact about me. At one time my old roommate asked me why I seemed to have a Pratchett book in room of the house; she even called me out of the blue years later to tell me he had a new book on the shelf (as if I didn’t already know). Because of this I have answered the ‘where should I start in Discworld?’ question as more times than I could count. And while my answer has changed a few times a couple things were consistent. I never have recommended starting with Night Watch because of…reasons.

I retract this restriction as of now. Honestly I am not sure why I held out for so long. Go ahead and start with Night Watch. There is almost no reason not to an plenty of reasons to take the plunge right here. It is typically Pratchett’s top rated book by almost every fan for a reason. (Yeah yeah, Small Gods is right there on most lists too, WE KNOW).

Night Watch is the continuation of a sub-series that started as a way for the nameless guards that typically die early in fantasy stories to get their own voice. We have watched the watch itself grown from a group of four to a behemoth that is slowly adding law all across the land. At its head is Samuel Vimes, a character who has changed tremendously, but organically, throughout the series. While always the head of this series he has moved to the background some in later books. Night Watch brings the series right back where it belongs; on planet Vimes.

So you will miss some of Vimes growth and if you inevitably fall in love with the series and find you had a couple of minor things spoiled when you back to earlier books? Doesn’t matter. Because there are just so many reasons to read this book TODAY. Not tomorrow, but today.

Reason number 1: Tight, and I do mean TIGHT, plotting. If there is one thing Pratchett sometimes gets docked for it is the occasional loose end. He is one of those people that that effectively turns in a first draft; outlining is for other people. I wonder if he knew Night Watch was something special and it got extra care of if he was just in the zone this time because this story hummed from beginning to end. Little details built one big details until a perfectly crafted story emerged.

Reason number 2: Carcer. There are not a lot of memorable villains in Discworld. But there is Carcer. ‘I can see your house from here.’ Oh chills. Unpredictable, so insane he circles right back to a strange sort of sanity. I believe there are more decent books that involve Vimes in the future if my memory holds but really his story should have ended here because Carcer was his perfect foil. A man who actually does the things Vimes at times thinks about (including tricks that involve carbonated beverages).

Reason number 3: Time travel done right. Because let me tell you I hate time travel. I pick up on every paradox and plothole they present and it ruins the experience for me. But here, where explanations for what is going on includes ‘quantum…always bloody quantum.’ So when Vimes shows up looking just like someone in his own past while his younger self runs around we get this.

“Is that Narrative Causality, or Historic Imperative, or Just Plain Weird?”

No hiding the absurdity of the situation Vimes finds himself in, yet the serious nature of the revolution going on around him is never diminished. Which leads me to…

Reason number 4: The Glorious Revolution. Want to know more about it? Then read the damn book.

On top of all this Night Watch proves that Pratchett’s humor is even better when he holds it in check in his more serious outings. I laugh out loud every time I read this book. There are fewer throw away jokes, fewer gags hidden as asides, but plenty of humor; even if some of it was more of the gallows variety than normal. This keeps the serious nature of the book from ever turning grim. We know bad things are afoot and some bad things are going to happen. But there is always a ray of hope, laced with the humor.

I have thought all along Night Watch would hold up as my favorite Discworld book through this long reread. It may be conformation bias at work but that opinion has not yet changed.

5 Stars

 

Tough Travels- Gnomic Utterances

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 GNOMIC UTTERANCES

These are traditional and are set at the head of each section.  Culled from a mighty collection of wise sayings compiled by a sage some centuries before the Tour begins.  The Rule is that no Utterance has anything whatsoever to do with the section it precedes.

In other words… Those quotes that always start the chapter but rarely are connected to the plot.

I will just leave you with my favorite line from a gnomic utterance of all time.  I even used it as a forum signature in several fantasy forums around the land.  From R. Scott Bakker’s The Warrior Prophet.

I ask, Why should innocence answer to the world? Perhaps the world should answer to innocence…

I fully expect this to be a tough week around here.  A tough…tough traveling topic. As in tough.  There is a pun there, albeit not a very funny one.

Hopefully next week is easier, and in two weeks we have Magic Systems which will no doubt be the most popular Tough Travels of all time.

Join us next week as we look at LABORERS

Not everyone can be a Prince.  There is only room for one Queen.  A few spoiled nobles can sit around and play cards.  But fantasyland can’t build its own castles and roads, nor can it plow its own fields, nor cook its meals.  Someone has to do the hard work.  And often, as a reward of course, these laborers get pulled from their hard but simple life into a bigger plan.

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.  For a list of upcoming topics just keep heading back to this post.

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

Urban Fantasy Review: ‘Nightwise’ by R.S. Belcher

NightwiseI think I have used this opening once or twice over the last few years but it still rings true. I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this book after reading the first fifty pages or so. After getting over what we shall refer to as the ‘WTF hump’ I knew this book had me interested enough to finish but knew a few problematic points would ultimately hamper my enjoyment. I was pleasantly surprised by the end though; at a few points I had no idea how we had reached our current situation but I was enjoying the hell out of the ride.

As a fan of Belcher’s weird west series I should have known what to expect going into this new urban fantasy run. In fact this could almost be the same series, ripped right from one setting and placed in another. A lead character is born with some very unique magical gifts. Said character then has everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him in a loose plotline that cares a bit more about movement than sense.

If ever you have read Simon R. Green’s insanity disguised as fantasy you may have an idea of what to be prepared for here though I much preferred Belcher’s vision of an insane world to Green’s. If not let me give you a peak behind the curtain. Within these pages you will learn how a magical conspiracy may have been behind 9-11. You will see magic based on LSD, old Fae powers, and popular music. Human depravity of every kind is present. On the negative side of the ledger we see that our antihero can use his magic to influence women into bed (though he backs out of it before following through with this heinous act it is not out of goodwill but rather a lack of time). On the positive side of it I am hard pressed to think of a better or more creative final reveal in the long conspiracy that is being unraveled.

To enjoy this book one has to like anti-heroes and redemption opportunities.  Anti hero isn’t right, no, outright asshole is a better choice of terms here. Obviously there is a huge audience for this and at times I am one of them. But there also has to be a bit of forgiveness for a rather loose plot that leaves it real easy to forget that the main villain’s motivation and the protagonist’s involvement with him is less than clear. Still, the colorful cast of characters alone may be worth flipping the book open for. And a mid-book scene with a young man and his beloved grandma is surprisingly heart-wrenching.

For an urban fantasy with a little something different this is a book I can recommend with a few reservations. The plotting is quick enough to hide some issues but there are certainly some questions I couldn’t answer after reading though. And, by design mind, the main character comes through his ‘redemption’ as unlikable as ever.

For myself, I guess this style worked better for me in the ‘weird west,’ I am not nearly as enamored with this new series as I was with Six-Gun Tarot.

3 stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Tough Travels- Major Discoveries

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 MAJOR DISCOVERIES

While often the people of Fantasyland seem stuck in a time warp occasionally a major discovery can shock the land into changes.  Be they new lands, new peoples or new technologies fantasyland thrives on having something to jump start the next age.

I do enjoy a world changing discovery.  In Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God series a whole new continent was found; along with the magic that came with it.  I have no idea where it is going but in The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin these crazy floating obelisks have been around forever but one character learns a bit about them that I am guessing will be world changing.

Gunpowder is a common way to shake things up.  It is just starting to make its appearance in The First Law by Abercrombie, though its first use isn’t all that impressive.  K.J. Parker though has a character use it to great affect in The Engineer Trilogy.

I thought about cheating and making a list of nothing but Sci-Fi but that would have blown up to crazy proportions.  Still, I absolutely have to add 2001 to my list.  With no details because you absolutely should know what new discovery changed the world within its pages.

Join us next week as we look at GNOMIC UTTERANCES

These are traditional and are set at the head of each section.  Culled from a mighty collection of wise sayings compiled by a sage some centuries before the Tour begins.  The Rule is that no Utterance has anything whatsoever to do with the section it precedes.

In other words… Those quotes that always start the chapter but rarely are connected to the plot.

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.  For a list of upcoming topics just keep heading back to this post.

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

 

Tough Travels – Forbidden Love

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 FORBIDDEN LOVE

Even in Fantasyland parents are not always happy with their children’s choice of partners.

I am taking a pass on making a list this week because honest to god the first thing that came to mind was Jamie and Cercei and that ruined my frame of mind.

Sure hope everyone else had an easier time than me.

Join us next week as we look at MAJOR DISCOVERIES

While often the people of Fantasyland seem stuck in a time warp occasionally a major discovery can shock the land into changes.  Be they new lands, new peoples or new technologies fantasyland thrives on having something to jump start the next age.

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.  For a list of upcoming topics just keep heading back to this post.

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

Fantasy Review: ‘The Fifth Season’ by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)This one may have broke me.

I can look back at a lot of so called dark fantasy and laugh in its face at this point because The Fifth Season is a whole different level. Jemisin had my heart in hand from the first chapter and while I never quite hit tears it can only be explained by my reading in a quiet shock and awe of where she was willing to take us readers. Broken families, casual acts of violence, persecution and exploitation of those with gifts (curses?) is woven into each chapter. This book was never easy to read but always worth the journey. Do I want more? Oh yes please. Just give me a light hearted comedy to cleanse the pallet first (I had a very similar reaction to The Road by Cormac McCarthey).

With three separate plotlines the story focuses on people with the magical abilities that allow them to work with stone and the minerals within them. Those smarter than I should be able to spot the central link that holds the threads together but there is no doubt it is very cleverly crafted in its presentation. Each is compelling on its own; I never turned the page and wished I could go back to that other character’s story.  

The world very well could be earth in the far future but doesn’t have to be. There are no hidden Easter eggs to search for, no game of guess the real life location because none of that matters. What does matter is that this is a land that isn’t just post-apocalyptic but is post-apocalyptic many times over; human life has been nearly extinguished more than once and is being challenged yet again within the course of the story. Earth appears to be forever broken, even if it can feign normalcy for a few centuries at a time there are too many factors that can set it all off again.

The Fifth Season is a book about survival, love and lust, duty and cohesion, persecution, and quite a few impressive magical acts. I pity anyone who tries to wrap the plot into a tight little synopsis because it doesn’t lend itself to an easy explanation. Along with its ability to shred my emotions I found one of its most impressive aspects to be how alien it makes the unknown aspects of this world feel. Creatures called stone eaters play a big part in this story line but their motivations are completely unknown to all; the reader gets no insight that the flummoxed characters don’t have. Giant floating obelisks dot the landscape with obvious purpose but no explanation. Even the land’s history is shattered; a combination of lost records and a dominate cultures’ manipulation leaves people in roles without other options. Until of course the land shatters again at which point the Stonelore they follow is nothing more than a guideline.

It is almost trite to talk about characters that seem real at this point; what should be the expectation in a good book is still noteworthy though. I love characters that I care about without knowing if I really like them. Who sometimes do the right thing. Who have obvious soft spots and bias and act upon them or occasionally against them with reluctance. And with a book that focuses on only a few characters these type of characterizations are only more important. Jemisin has given me characters to care about before and she does it here again.

The Fifth Season has been one of my most anticipated books for quite some time. It was delayed for quite a while but I am happy to say it has been well worth the wait. One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.

4 Stars

Tough Traveling – New Beginnings

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 NEW BEGINNINGS

A new leaf, a new life, a complete change of pace for a character in Fantasyland is how most stories start.  Bad people get a second chance, farm kids leave the farm, or a soldier gets a new post.  From there adventure awaits!

It would probably be cheating to just suggest every book ever for this topic and be done with it.  So I will give it a touch of thought.

MaiaThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison- One minute you are nothing more than the forgotten offspring of very distant Emperor, more embarrassment for your family than anything.  The next minute you ARE the emperor and you learn that the transition for new beginnings is not always a smooth one.

Winter IhernglassThe Thousand Names by Django Wexler- How does an orphan with very little prospects make a new start?  The same way people have for thousands of years.  She joins the military and fights people she doesn’t know across the ocean.  Of course she has to hide her gender to have this opportunity (to, you know, die for her country).  But sometimes that is the only way.

CarrotDiscworld by Terry Pratchett- If you are a dwarf who keeps hitting your head on the mine’s roof then it is probably time to move on.  For Carrot the obvious choice is the big city seeing as he was orphaned under mysterious circumstances and was born human.  With a strange birthmark and a sword that never seems to lose its edge.

RavenorRavenor by Dan Abnett- Ravenor was once one of the most promising members of the Inquisition.  Strong, intelligent, and unstoppable.  Until he was stopped and left with a completely broken body.  His mental prowess is second to none though, locked in a metal chair he gets a second chance and continues to fight heresy throughout the universe.

SmokeThe Dread Hammer by Linda Nagata – Ruthless assassin who falls in love.  Doesn’t love always lead to a new beginning?

Join us next week as we look at FORBIDDEN LOVE

Even in Fantasyland parents are not always happy with their children’s choice of partners.

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.  For a list of upcoming topics just keep heading back to this post.

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