Category Archives: Sword and Sorcery

Mort – Terry Pratchett

I’ve previously written about Terry Pratchett, please see my previous reviews of The Colour of Magic and Equal Rites.

In the third (or fourth depending on whether you count the first two books as one or two books), a young man is offered a job he can’t refuse, Death’s apprentice.  While the position has much to offer, free room and board, the use of the company horse, i.e. Binky, and much, much more….but, like many busy professionals, when does one find time for love, particularly when the one you fall in love with is one of your “clients”.

The story is one part comedy, one part romance novel, one part Final Destination and all parts entertaining.  By some, this is considered to be one if not the favorite Discworld novel.  Unfortunately, while I very much enjoyed the novel, it is not my favorite, but, then again there are 20+ novels to choose from.  It is however my favorite of the first 4 novels….in my opinion they just get better and better.

If you enjoy this, read any and all of the Discworld novels.

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Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is one if not my favorite author of all time. His books are witty, intelligent, funny yet with serious undertones, pure fantasy….yet, very much grounding in reality.  He can turn phrase that is at once hilarious but poignant at the same time.  This is the third (or second if you count The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic as one book) of collection of books (at the time of this writing number around 40 books and comics) based on a fictional world known only as the Discworld.  The Discworld is a flat micro-planet which rests on the back of four massive elephants which stand on the great world turtle, A’Tuin (whose sex is unknown…but that’s another story).

Pratchett was born in 1948 in Buckinghamshire, England.  Growing up, he wanted to be an astronomer and collected Brooke Bond Tea cards on astronomy. This eventually led him to space-based science fiction.  At 13, he published his first story in the school magazine which was later published commercially at age 15.  At age 17, he began his first job in writing working for the Bucks Free Press writing, among other things, children’s stories published under the name Uncle Jim.  One of these stories eventually led to the characterizations in his story, The Carpet People (not a Discworld novel).

In the 1980’s, Pratchett became the press writer for the Central Electricity Generating Board covering the nuclear power stations all the while writing his first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic which was published in 1983 and gave up working for the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1987 shortly after his fourth Discworld novel was published Mort.

He has been extremely proficient writing not only the many Discworld novels, which in itself contain several childrens or young adult stories, several children/young adult books not related to Discworld and several other fiction and non-fiction books.

In 2007, Pratchett was misdiagnosed as having had a stroke.  It was later discovered that he has a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, posterior cortical atrophy in which parts of the back of his brain began to shrink.  While his speech and motor skills have been affected, his cognitive abilities have not been impacted and he continues to write by dictation to his wife.

Having given so much joy to many lives including mine, I continue to wish him well.

Equal Rites, being the third (or second) novel in the Discworld stories and being an early work unfortunately show.  Don’t get me wrong, Pratchett’s wit and shear joy are present; however, the characters are slightly different than they are in the later stories.

The story begins by the death of a wizard who, upon passing, transfers his powers to the newborn child of a rural blacksmith. The wizard made a mistake though, he had thought the child was a boy…it was a girl!  On the Discworld, girls become Witches, boys become Wizards…girls do NOT become Wizards, it just doesn’t happen.

Granny Weatherwax, the local Witch, realizes that there’s not much she can do to help this young female Wizard, Esk.  Granny knows what she must do….well, she always knows, even when she doesn’t, that’s part of being a Witch, and takes Esk on a long journey to the seat of all wizardry on the Discworld, Ank-Morpork and the Wizards at Unseen University.

This story is a great introduction into what a Wizard is and what a Witch is in the world of Discworld and what it means to be one or the other.  In this story, Equal Rites is both an allusion to Women’s rights  and to the commonality of rites between the Wizard and Witches on Discworld.

If you enjoy this story, by all means read the rest of the Discworld novels, too many to list individually here.  I will likely review them over time.

 

 

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman was born in 1960 in Portchester, Hampshire, England.  He loves to read and claims to have been able to do so since he was four years of age.  J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorecock, and many others inspired him.  In the 1980’s he conducted a number of interviews and wrote book reviews which ultimately was beneficial in getting him published later in his career due to connections in the publishing industry he acquired in those days.

In 1984, he wrote a biography of the band “Duran Duran” and a book of Kim Newman quotations called Ghastly Beyond Belief, which sold very well although he though they were terrible.

What really got him noticed was writing “Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion” and collaborating with Terry Pratchett with the hilarious doomsday novel “Good Omens”.

Ultimately, his most enduring fame came from his re-write of the old DC Comics character “The Sandman” in which he changed quite drastically from the original, making it more hip, gory, and since it was being published by DC’s Vertigo label, nudity, blood and cursing were allowed.  “The Sandman” is to this day considered to be a classic work of graphic novel fiction and I myself have the complete collection in both graphic novel form and in bound collectors editions.

In 1999, Gaiman released Stardust which is a fantasy novel (and also a graphic/illustrated novel version).  The story is primarily about Tristran Thorn (a half-Faerie, half-human) and Yvaine (a fallen star) and their travels through the lands beyond the wall.

Tristran lives in a small English village named simply “Wall” which is set against a massive stone wall which devides the Human world from the world of faeries (which to my memory was never actually named).  Tristran knows he’s different and wishes for more. He desires “the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around” (i.e. Victoria Forester), who only enjoys his attention but doesn’t love him.

One night they witness a falling star and Tristran claims that he will cross over the wall and collect the star for her if she will marry him.  Thinking that Tristran isn’t serious, she agrees.  Tristran does indeed cross the wall into the faery lands and comes across a crater which has a beautiful young woman at it’s center with an injured leg, Yvaine, which Tristran comes to realize is actually the fallen star.  He forces Yvaine to go with him as he is intent on bringing her back whether she’s a person or a rock to win his prize, Victoria.

The story follows the two as the experience hidden dangers at every turn, dangers such as the Lords of Stormhold who are also after the fallen star to gain the rule of Stormhold while killing off each other.  The witch, Ditchwater Sal and worse of all the Lilim which are three sister witches who have grown quite old and wish to capture Yvaine to cut out her heart and consume it to become young again.

I have to say, I loved this book in both forms; however, I preferred the book form over the graphic/illustrated novel.  The charcters are enjoyable and the story is both memorable, unique and at the same time vaguely familiar.  While over the wall, many characters and situations resemble fairy tales we learned and read when we were children, yet, they aren’t at the same time.  They’re not as terrifying as the actual originals, yet are creepy in the way only Neil Gaiman knows how to tell them.  It’s hard to describe exactly what it is about Neil’s style that makes it so creepy and in this case “sweet” at the same time, so I won’t try…just sit back and enjoy, again and again.

As of note, there was a theatrical release of Stardust in 2007, staring Charlie Cox as the renamed Tristan Thorn (face it Tristran doesn’t roll off the tongue as well), Claire Danes as Yvaine and Michelle Pfeiffer as the Witch Queen, with Robert De Niro, Peter O’Toole, and Ricky Gervais.  The movie was good, but, but much of what made the novel greate wasn’t present.  The journey was too short and the campy portrail of Captain Shakespeare as a cross dressing pirate was way too over the top.  The movie couldn’t decide whether it was a fantasy, comedy, or romance.  The movie was OK…it just wasn’t as good as it could have been, which is often the case when a beloved book is turned into a movie, particularly when it’s done by an American big distributor.  What was a saving grace was that it wasn’t produced by a big studio.

If you enjoy this, try:

  • The Sandman (graphic novels)
  • American Gods
  • Neverwhere
  • Anansi Boys

 

We’ll Always Have Parrots – Donna Andrews

Donna Andrews is an American mystery writer and winner of numerous awards, and justly so.  This is the fifth of the Meg Langslow series of novels.  Meg is an talented, passionate, amateur blacksmith with a quirky family.   While her family are not central, they are very successful providing comic relief.

In this story, Meg and her fiance, Michael, are attending a fan convention for a fictional fantasy television series in which Michael is an actor, Porfiria: Queen of the Jungle.  Someone has killed the Queen B (short for bitch) who owns the rights and portrays the queen herself and the only witness is a talking parrot that has escaped one of the many cages of birds brought in by the convention organizers.  Cages which were opened by the monkeys which opened their own cages.  The hotel is overrun by wild animals, including a tiger.

The suspects are running rampant.  Could it be Michael’s agent?  The aging femme fatale that was fired by the Queen B?  The cast, which all hated her?  And who is this man who is this man that the organizers claim is the original author of the graphic novels from the 70’s that the series is based?

While the police investigate, the convention must go on.  Meg and a casual acquaintance have chosen to sell swords in the vendor area of the convention, but that doesn’t stop her from getting involved with the investigation…a decision that nearly cost her her life.

Donna Andrew’s novels are funny, bright and engaging.  The characters are interesting and quite believable in motivation.  The one thing that I really have an issue with is that the story did go on a bit.  Possibly because she thought that every character needed further expansion and there are LOT of characters in this story, but, it’s only a minor gripe.

If you enjoyed this:

  • Try one or all of the 13 other novels in the Meg Langslow Series.

The Eternal Champion – Michael Moorecock

I received this novel in my early to mid teens from the Science Fiction Book Club when I signed up like so many of us did after seeing the ad in the back of a comic book.  The novel isn’t terribly long, but, the writing is rather cinematic in nature, the entire time I read it I kept imagining this done as a movie.  Moorecock’s volume of work, much of it that is considered to be classics, spans more than 40 years and several critical and commercially successful series.

This entry is not really the first of the “Eternal Champion” and multiverse mythos that Moorecock created; however, it is a very good starting point.

John Draker unexpected (and even though he doesn’t want to) finds himself transported into a different world and time to fulfill his destiny as the defender and protector of the human race, called by the use of a deadly, magical sword which can only be wielded by the current incarnation of Erekose (i.e. The Eternal Champion)…which just happens to now be John Draker.

The humans describe their plight to Erekose/Draker as being overrun and in a battle with a non-human race, Eldren also living on the planet.

Erekose, despite having doubts, leads a battle against the Eldren and capture an Eldren princess Ermizhad.  In retaliation, the Eldren attack the humans and capture Erekose.  Erekose proposes a trade which prompts the prince to explain the realities of the situation.  The Eldren are not the vicious creatures bent on domination that Erekose is told they are.

The story, while being an introduction to Moorecock’s worlds and the concept of the Eternal Champion, it successfully stands on its own as well.

If you enjoy this, read:

  • Phoenix in Obsidan
  • Elric of Melnibone
  • The Knight of Swords
  • The Queen of Swords
  • The King of Swords
  • The Ice Schooner
  • Etc…