hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

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 Witches’ Brew

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 24, 2014

Witches' Brew (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #5)Witches’ Brew by Terry Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what to think of this book. This is the fifth book in the series and I loved the first one so much, I’ve wanted to read all of the others. And most have been decent — but not as good as the first one.

In this one, Ben Holiday and Willow’s daughter, Mistaya, is growing at an astounding rate. She’s two, but looks 10 and acts 15. In other words, she’s a spoiled little bitch and entirely unlikeable and I didn’t like this about the novel. And it centers around her, for the most part, so we’re inundated with her attitude. So, someone comes to the castle and issues Ben a challenge for the kingdom of Landover. If he can defeat seven monsters, he’ll keep his kingdom. If not, the challenger gets it. Strangely, though, Mistaya is kidnapped almost immediately and used as bait for Ben to follow this stranger’s rules. While traveling with Mistaya in a fruitless effort to find her safety, Questor and Abernathy are sent back to Ben’s home world of Earth, where Abernathy is turned from dog back to human and he is elated. Of course, not all is as it seems. Nightshade, the witch, is behind everything and steals Mistaya to train her to become a witch — and to unwittingly kill her father.

In the last book, I complained that Ben seemed pretty dense, which was odd considering that he had been a high priced, successful attorney in Chicago and was now king of the land. In this book, he’s just as dense and so is Willow. In fact, they spend most of their time together in the book “holding” each other for support — and that gets pretty damn old very quick.

There is magic in this book, of course. And we get to see some of the characters we know and like, such as the Earth Mother and her mud puppy and Strabo, the dragon. And Ben does somehow defeat several monsters through the help of his alter ego, the Paladin. But by the time Ben has figured out what’s going on, the reader figured everything out eons before and is annoyed by his ineptitude and I’ve got to fault Brooks for that. I want to give this three stars, but because it’s a Landover book and I enjoy the series and because it does introduce some new people and elements to the setting, I’ll give it four. Cautiously recommended.

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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 The Black Unicorn

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 22, 2014

The Black Unicorn (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #2)The Black Unicorn by Terry Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boy, a lot of people really don’t like this book. Well, I do. Granted, it’s not as good as the first book in this Landover series, but I still think it tells a good story. In it, one night Ben Holiday, the new king of Landover, his wizard Questor Thews, and the sylph Willow all have dreams that compel them to go on individual quests because of what they see in their dreams — Ben sees his former law partner in Chicago in trouble and crying out for Ben’s help, Questor sees some magic books he can acquire, and Willow sees a black unicorn and a gold bridle meant for it. However, the evil wizard, Meeks, reappears and is the source of these dreams. He follows Ben back into Landover and exchanges identities with Ben, getting Ben kicked out of the castle and taking over the rule of the land. He then takes possession of the books that Questor attained and goes on an extensive search for the black unicorn, which apparently possesses some serious magic that he wants to harness. Meanwhile, Ben sets out on a search for Willow, anticipating great danger for her and wanting to save her from it. He is joined by a fantastic character, a fairie creature in the form of a “prism” cat named Edgewood Dirk. He accompanies Ben on his journeys, saves his life on occasion, and tries to impart wisdom in a game playing, cryptic cat-like way that merely infuriates Ben. (Brooks seems to really GET cats in his portrayal here.) He learns nothing. And this is where people have a problem with the book. In the first book, Ben used his skills learned as a world class lawyer to guide his way through becoming king of Landover. In this book, he’s dense as a rock. I mean, dumb as hell. Midway through the book, a 10-year-old child can figure out what has happened to Ben, but it’s not til the end of the book that he himself does, this after Dirk has hinted at it repeatedly. Apparently this infuriates a number of fans. I take it with a grain of salt and knock the book down a star. Of course, since this is a four book series, you know Ben’s going to beat Meeks and win in the end, but it’s fun to see it occur. And there’s the love interest between Ben and Willow, although it’s also frustrating to see how dense Ben is about his feelings regarding Willow. Still, this wasn’t a bad book. I like magic and fantasy and there’s plenty of that here. I’ve already read the third book in this series and I think it’s a bit better, so chalk this up to trying to write a sequel to a really good first book and falling a bit short. Nonetheless, recommended.

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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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