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Posts Tagged ‘Discworld’

A Review of A Blink of the Screen

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 16, 2016

A Blink of the Screen: Collected Short FictionA Blink of the Screen: Collected Short Fiction by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Blink of the Screen is a collection of short stories by the late, great Terry Pratchett, which has some wonderful pieces in it and is an absolute must for any Pratchett fan. The book is divided into pieces he wrote as standalone short stories about various topics beginning from the young age of 13 with “The Hades Business,” which was published in 1963. Published. Written at 13. It’s about Hell and its need for good PR. It’s pretty funny. The writing is obviously immature and it’s not a “great” short story, but you can see the beginnings of a good writer there.

The second section is of Discworld-related short stories, involving famous Discworld characters, such as Cohen the Barbarian, Rincewind, Lord Havelock Vetinari, and of course in the longest story in the book (“The Sea and Little Fishes” (1998)), two of the best Discworld characters, in a Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax story. Asked by some younger, snobby witches not to compete in an annual witchery contest because she always wins, Granny Weatherwax decides to “be nice about” the insult. The crux of the problem and, hence, the story is, her neighbors and, most certainly the other witches, aren’t used to her being nice. At all. A delightful, yet at times, quite sad story. Very well written.

Other good stories in this collection include “Final Reward” (1988), where an author kills off his most popular character and is shocked when the character shows up at his doorstep to “meet his maker.” The character is a seven-foot tall barbarian with a monstrous sword. What to do?

Another good one is “Death and What Comes Next” (2004). Death is my favorite Discworld character. Philosophers evidently think they can argue with Death when he comes for them. However, Death can apply some philosophical logic, too.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS.

There’s a story about the game, “Thud,” which I believe may have been a real game in England, based on the Discworld novel. “The Ankh-Morpork National Anthem” (1999) is short, but funny. “#ifdefDEBUG + `world/enough’ + `time'” (1990) is actually a pretty good cyberpunk story. Not William Gibson good, but startling good for an author who doesn’t usually dabble in such things.

Of course, there are some stories that are less interesting, but that’s always the case in any short story collection. Some stand out, some do not. Overall, this is a solid four star collection. And as I said, a must for any Pratchett fan. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Unseen Academicals

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 26, 2015

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37; Rincewind #8)Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It pains me to give a Discworld novel a less than stellar rating, but I found this one lacking in some way. It started out promisingly — the wizards at Unseen University find that in order to keep a sizable endowment, they must play a game of commoner “football,” or as it is known, “foot the ball.” They are aghast, but are more aghast at the thought of their losing any of their nine meals a day, so they begin to form a team led by Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully. Meanwhile, Lord Vetinari, the city’s benevolent tyrant, has decided he wants to control this game, forming leagues and handing out gold looking trophies and he wants the wizards to lead the way. Promising start, yes?

Unfortunately, it’s all ruined by a Romeo and Juliet love story between Trev and Jewels, two new characters. We also meet Glenda, a forceful cook in charge of UU’s Night Kitchen and Mister Nutt, a goblin (who later turns into an orc) who is adept at pretty much anything. Trev takes Nutt to his first football match, where the crowd does “the Shove,” and where the wizards are in search of pie, and Nutt is really taken with it. So much so, that he grabs the ball and scores the game winning goal.

Somehow it comes to the wizards’ attention that Nutt has some skills, so they make him coach of the team. They ask Trev to join, as he’s the son of a late, great football player, but Trev declines, saying something along the lines of “I promised me old mum” he’d never play. This is repeated so freakin’ often, Pratchett pretty much beats the reader to death with it. It gets old very quickly. And of course, you know Trev ends up playing. Duh.

So Jewels becomes a fashion model for dwarves and becomes quite famous and in demand. Glenda acts as her manager. Nutt seems to develop a thing for Glenda, which is odd because one traditionally doesn’t think of “things” happening between goblins and humans. But Glenda feels her heartstrings being tugged at for the first time in her life and she loves it.

I guess my main complaint is, the book really isn’t so much about foot the ball as it is about Nutt and his relationships with others, such as Trev and Glenda. And while that’s moderately interesting, the humor that could have been attached to a book devoted to a book of the wizards playing at foot the ball solely could have been pretty forceful. This, however, is rather mediocre. It’s a romance, with football as its backdrop. I feel disappointed. I’d recommend it to Pratchett fans, but not to anyone else.

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RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 13, 2015

Yesterday, the world lost one of its funniest and best writers ever — Sir Terry Pratchett. He was a fantasy writer, but a satirist too, perhaps the best ever. His wit was sharp, his jokes hilarious. He wrote a long series called the Discworld series, over 30 books, about a world riding on the backs of four elephants which were in turn riding on the back of a giant turtle hurtling through space. The times were largely medieval, but he made them relevant to our own. He had trolls, dwarves, werewolves, vampires, igors, goblins, witches, wizards, and more. His City Watch mini-series was much beloved. I’m reading the last Discworld book right now. Pratchett came down with Alzheimer’s eight years ago, still managing to publish two more books, but sadly died yesterday at the young age of 66. It’s a real tragedy. He sold over 85 million books. I wrote reviews of some of his books that I read. You can read them here:

 

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A Review of Feet of Clay

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 14, 2014

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19)Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read most of the Discworld novels now and have loved some and enjoyed most. Feet of Clay is now my favorite. This book has it all! First of all, it’s a City Watch series book, which I love, so that’s good. Then, there are mysteries to be solved. Two old men have been murdered, presumably by golems, and Lord Venitari is being poisoned. Someone has to save the day! And it’s the City Watch, led by Commander Sir Sam Vimes, followed by his loyal group of Captain Carrot, Angua, Detritus, Colon, and Nobbs. Additionally, there’s now a new member of the watch, an alchemist, Cheery Littlebottom. His job is forensics. His role in this book is to bring up questions of minorities and gender identity. Because this dwarf is actually a she — Cheri. It’s pretty funny to watch her progress to wearing lipstick and so on while the male members of the Watch look on, not knowing what to think.

The golems, hard working “things,” are going crazy in this book. We find late in the book that they have banded together to create a golem king, but it turns out to be really crazy, hence the crime sprees. However, other people are banding together to discuss succession should Vetinari so unfortunately cease to exist. The leaders of the community want a yes man in place, someone who will do what they’re told to do because they’re too stupid not to. But they’ve got to have some royal blood somewhere. Enter Corporal Nobby Nobbs. He’s found out he’s an earl, due to odd lineage, and is treated as such by the upper crust, who try to talk him into becoming king. But he’s pretty dense and it doesn’t work out as planned.

Vimes still has to find the poisoner. Could it be the Dragon, a vampire who maintains the history of the royal families of the area? Good question. Vimes will answer it too.

We don’t see Death in this book much, if at all, and he’s my favorite Discworld character, so that’s unfortunate, but there’s so much action and suspense in this novel, that it more than makes up for it. This is Pratchett at his best and I strongly recommend it.

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A Review of Small Gods

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 17, 2014

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It’s a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man’s a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it’s meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there’s a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he’s a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it’s become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there’s Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian “brother” to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don’t go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he’s going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there’s an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis “awakes” to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. “YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can’t stand to be alone and now he’s in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called “He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron.” Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, “In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone.” “There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites….” “And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving –” — well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There’s a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn’t take everything we’re fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett’s good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It’s a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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A Review of The Truth

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 21, 2014

The Truth (Discworld, #25)The Truth by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a marvelous Discworld novel, one that I enjoyed immensely. William De Worde, son a a “Lord” (wealth), leaves his family’s fortunes to strike out on his own. He starts a newsletter that goes, mostly, to foreign dignitaries, but at some point happens upon a “real” story and some dwarves with a printing press and his newsletter grows into a daily newspaper — the Ankh-Morpork Times. Soon, he has hired a writer, Sacharissa, and a vampire as a photographer who turns to dust whenever the flash goes off. He needs a drop of blood in his ashes to resurrect himself. (However, he’s a reformed vampire and has sworn off human blood to be accepted in society, instead going for songs and hot chocolate.)

Some local higher ups hire two thugs — Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip — to kidnap the city’s Patrician, Lord Vetinari, and frame him for theft and assault. Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip are crazy and violent and soon William is hot on the trail of this mystery, at times crossing the city Watch and Commander Vimes, at times aiding them too. I didn’t really care for Vimes’ portrayal in this novel, however. He’s portrayed as a very angry man, and I’ve really enjoyed his character in other Discworld books, so it threw me off. Someone to be avoided, whereas in other books, he was valiant. Whatever.

The short of it is William uncovers the plot, credits the Watch, Vetinari is freed, and the Times grows and expands to other cities and countries.

I enjoyed seeing what went in the paper. I enjoyed the wordplay. (“The truth will make you fret” as a typo…) I enjoyed seeing a competing paper, the Inquirer, a tabloid full of trash, print absolute hogwash and was mortified to see the people drawn more to it than the Times, a parody of our own world. I don’t know if this is my favorite Discworld novel, but it’s up there. It’s a really good story with a great ending and several layers to an alternating serious and hilarious plot. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Maskerade

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 18, 2014

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maskerade is a delightful book telling a wonderful tale of intrigue, humor, and female empowerment. Once again, the witches of Lancre are back and I think this is my favorite witch book. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg feel it must take three witches to make a coven, and since Magrat has left the coven to become royalty, they think Agnes Nitt might be a suitable replacement. The problem is, Agnes and her alter ego, Perdita X. Dream, have gone to Ankh-Morpork and joined the opera. Agnes is a young girl with a rather sturdy build (okay, fat) and she’s not viewed as star material. Instead, her beautiful, skinny, completely untalented roommate Christine gets the leads. Agnes sings in the chorus, but she sings the lead while Christine mouths it and thinks she’s performing beautifully. However, I’m jumping ahead. Agnes has a beautiful voice and she can even harmonize with herself. She doesn’t want to be a witch; she wants to sing. But the opera has a secret — there’s a ghost haunting the opera and when she happens along, people start dying. This ghost appears as the one in the Phantom of the Opera, which this book spoofs. Soon, everyone is terrified of the ghost and wonders just who or what it is.

Meanwhile, Granny and Nanny go to Ankh-Morpork to fetch Agnes and take her back to Lancre where they’ll entice her to join the coven. Their journey is hilarious. I think Nanny is especially funny in this book. When they reach the city, they stay at a house of ill repute, based on one of Nanny’s son’s recommendations. Additionally, Nanny has written a book — a cookbook. An obscene cookbook. And she’s not made any money off of it. So Granny takes her to the publisher and uses their magical skills to induce the publisher to pay her a lot of money. They were given free opera tickets by a fellow traveler who’s in it, so they go and hear about the ghost. They decide they’re going to get to the bottom of things and go spend thousands to get Granny gussied up as a grand dame. They then go to Mr. Bucket, the owner, and “donate” $2,000 to get Box Eight, which is always left free and empty for the ghost. Soon, the ghost appears and a chase ensues with Granny and Nanny cornering the right individual. I had guessed who the ghost was before it was revealed, but there were still delightful plot twists and turns in figuring out who the ghost was. In the end, the two witches save the day and Agnes goes home to join their coven.

Pratchett doesn’t take on the BIG themes he does in other Discworld books (like war and racism), but he does poke fun at opera and theater and I really enjoyed that. In fact, here is a translation of some typical opera-speak from its original foreign language:

This damn door sticks
This damn door sticks
It sticks no matter what the hell I do
It’s marked “Pull” and indeed I am pulling
Perhaps it should be marked “Push”?

Okay, how funny is that? This book is a great Discworld novel and I think just about anybody would enjoy it. Highly recommended.

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A Review of Going Postal

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 11, 2014

Going Postal (Discworld, #33)Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Going Postal is an utterly delightful book to read. My last Discworld novel wasn’t as good, so I was hoping for a return to form by Pratchett, and I am not disappointed. The book is a prequel to one I read a few weeks ago — Making Money — that I enjoyed just as much.

Going Postal is about con artist Moist von Lipwig, who is about to be hanged for his various crimes, until Patrician Vetinari, tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, gives him a new lease on life. Lipwig can hang until dead or he can take over the defunct Ankh-Morpork Post Office and use his many skills to fix things up. He, not too surprisingly, chooses the Post Office, and so his new life begins. Upon going there, he finds a broken down old building that hasn’t been in use in decades and that is filled to capacity with letters dating back decades. There are also two employees, Stanley and Groat, both of whom seem to lack some semblance of sanity. Vetinari has also given Lipwig a golem, Mr Punch, as a probation officer/servant. They make an interesting pair.

Well, Lipwig sets out to transform the Post Office. He starts by delivering an old letter from an old man who wrote it 40 years ago, asking for the hand in marriage of his sweetheart. She never got it, they never married, life moves on. Except that now that he has this letter, it’s delivered to the woman and as they’re both widowed, they decide to get married after all these years and make a big deal about it, which makes the papers. Lipwig then visits the Golem Trust, run by a feisty young woman whom he romances in the book, and gets her to donate several golems for mail delivery. Additionally, some of the old (okay, ancient) staff return to help out.

The primary form of communication on the Discworld is through clackers, and they’re run by the Grand Trunk, owned and operated by rich crooks. It’s like a cross between cell phones and email. They have towers throughout the countryside where they send and receive messages in code and “crackers” can hack in and disrupt things. The problem with the Grand Trunk is that it’s expensive and it’s always broken down. So Lipwig decides to go head to head against them and offers to deliver any message they can’t for considerably less, setting off a firestorm of publicity and controversy. Additionally, he comes up with the brilliant idea of creating “stamps” that people can buy for various denominations that, when stamped by the post office, will get their letters delivered. Amazing. Soon, all of Ankh-Morpork is bustling about the Post Office and everything looks good. Until it’s burned by arson. Von Lipwig pulls off a masterful stunt of publicity by publicly praying to the gods for $150,000 to rebuild the Post Office, goes out of town to dig up exactly that much that he had buried some time before from one heist or another, and the town thinks he virtually a god himself when he returns with the money. Brilliant. Soon, it all comes down to a challenge between the Trust and the Post Office — who can deliver a message to a far off country first? It’s about two months away by coach and hours away by clacker. Lipwig assures everyone he will get there first and people bet on him to do it. I won’t tell you how he pulls it off, but he does and winds up the hero, ending a great tale.

This book is chock full of Pratchett’s standard brand of Monty Python-esque humor, witticisms, and satire. There are a lot of laughs in this book. And of course, as is typical of Pratchett, he injects enough of our world into it to make the Discworld seem realistic and to show how silly ours sometimes is. This is the 12th Discworld book I’ve read and I’m reading them out of order, but they’re all good enough to stand on their own. If you want a fun, quick read, I certainly recommend this book. You can’t go wrong with it.

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A Review of Sourcery

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 9, 2014

Sourcery (Discworld, #5)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels so much that it pains me to not give one of them five stars, or at least four. However, I thought this one was lacking in some ways. It felt forced.

The premise is about the story of an eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son. And he was a wizard. A wizard squared… a source of magic… a Sourcerer. Coin is the boy’s name and he’s pretty vicious. He’s actually ruled by the staff his wizard father left him — and inhabited somehow, tricking Death in the process. At about age 10, he shows up at Unseen University, home of the wizards, and demands to be named Archchancellor. However, our favorite inept wizard, Rincewind, has taken the Archchancellor’s hat, and no one can be named Archchancellor without it. Coin demolishes virtually everything in existence and builds a new series of towers for wizards to rule in. Meanwhile, Rincewind and Conina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian, escape to Klatch (I think), which is Discworld’s version of the Middle East. There they encounter a magician who puts the hat on his head and starts battling Coin and the other wizards. And people die. Which disturbed me. See, in the numerous other Discworld novels I’ve read, the wizards have been loveable, incompetent, bumbling fools who hang out together. However, in this book, they’re all enemies of each other, constantly plotting each others’ deaths, and that didn’t mesh with my vision of Discworld. The scenes of the wizards doing battle reminded me more of one of the later Harry Potter books than of Discworld books. Dark. Not funny.

Anyway, along the way, Rincewind and Conina pick up a sultan and Nigel, the barbarian in training. These don’t seem to serve much of a purpose to the plot, other than to provide some easy jokes for Pratchett. Also, we see Twoflower’s Luggage make another appearance, but while it attempts to follow Rincewind around, it never actually does much of anything and seems to be another useless plot device. Additionally, my favorite Discworld character — Death — doesn’t contribute much to the book, appearing in the beginning, and then a couple more times later on. I missed his rye style of speaking.

Of course, Coin is ultimately defeated and then magically turns into a good guy, which I had a hard time buying, but not before he disappears for the entire middle half of the novel. That was strange. It was all Rincewind at that point. Don’t get me wrong — I like Rincewind. It was just a little jarring to see Coin disappear from the narrative like that. I think Pratchett had a good idea in this novel, but just wasn’t able to pull it off as he usually does with his Discworld novels. And even though this was my 11th or 12th Discworld book I’ve read, I know I’m not tiring of the series because I’ve already started another and I’m loving it. So, if you like Discworld, I’d read it, but if you’re unfamiliar with the series, I definitely wouldn’t start off with this one.

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A Review of Soul Music

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2014

Soul Music (Discworld, #16)Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good book, but I don’t think it’s Pratchett’s best Discworld novel at all. Still, puns abound. In this one, Imp the Bard goes to Ankh-Morpork to see his fortune in music as a harp player. He meets some other musicians, a dwarf who plays a horn and a troll who bangs on rocks, and they form a band. However, Imp’s harp is destroyed and they look for a replacement in a magical shop and come out with a magical guitar, unbeknownst to them. And the guitar takes on a life of its own. They get their first gig and the crowd goes wild as Imp — now Buddy — goes out of control on the guitar and the band puts on an amazing performance. Word gets out and they’re soon joined by the Unseen University’s Librarian on keyboards. The place is packed, wizards are in the front row, a riot ensues with women throwing their undergarments on stage and wizards (and others) dancing on tables. An unsavory type approaches them and convinces them to let him become their manager, because he already sees them as a cash cow and will pay them a pittance of what they actually earn. He then sends them on a tour around to various countries and people in the cities go wild.

Meanwhile, while all of this is happening, like in Mort (a book I enjoyed very much), Death wants to take a vacation. And it’s up to his granddaughter, Mort’s daughter, Susan to save the day as Death’s replacement. But she does a lousy job. However, the scenes starring Death (my favorite Discworld character) are hilarious. He tries to join the foreign legion and they bury him in sand up to his neck, I guess to toughen him up, and when they check on him to see how much he’s suffering, he asks if he can stay there one more day. And when he goes to the bar, he gets hammered, falls down flat on his back and is rolled by the customers. That said, I had a hard time tying these events in with the rock band. Susan has a “thing” for Buddy and as he is meant to die, tries to intervene, but something else does first. Buddy’s still alive. And we come to find out it’s the music that does that. The music wants him alive. And then it gets really confusing toward the end when Buddy and the band face a life and death situation and Susan and Death both get involved and something happens to music, but I’m not sure what. Oh well.

There are some very funny moments in the book. If you’re up on your music trivia, you’ll enjoy the inside jokes. Like Buddy’s band, the Beatles played early on at The Cavern. One very popular song is “Pathway to Paradise!” And on it goes. One of the wizards — the Dean — goes all rock and roll rebel on the university, and punks out his hair and gets leather robes with “Born to Rune” stitched on them. It’s all pretty funny. Still, while I enjoyed the book, I felt like the overlap with Death and Susan and with Buddy and the band wasn’t handled as well as it could have been and I found the ending lacking. That’s why I’m giving it four stars instead of Pratchett’s usual five. Still, recommended.

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