Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Book Review Club: March

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@Barrie Summy

I'm just finishing a revision (yay!) and then, I swear, will get back to telling you all about Ghana. (God. I'm such a loser.) In the meantime, I have been working my way through my Christmas books, and I've fallen in love once again with the verbal stylings of Sir Terry Pratchett. So, here's his latest book.

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By Terry Pratchett
HarperCollins, 2011

It took me a long time to cotton to Terry Pratchett, and now I have catching up to do.

Especially when it comes to Samuel Vimes, who commands the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork, the starring city-state in Pratchett’s Discworld. There are around forty Discworld novels. I’ve read six or seven, mostly the ones for kids, and this is the first involving Commander Vimes.

My trouble with Pratchett early on was that, although I loved his style, I couldn’t get comfy with his characters. I can’t put my finger on why: Maybe they were too foreign or not sympathetic enough, or maybe I wasn’t in the right mood. Then I met Tiffany Aching, the apprentice witch of the four middle-grade Wee Free Men novels, and I pretty much wanted to adopt her and/or be her best friend.

My dear one gave me SNUFF, the latest dispatch from Discworld, for Christmas. Now I would like to have several beers with Sam Vimes, except he doesn’t drink alcohol so he’ll have to have beetroot beer with chili peppers and celery seed. I’m happy to report that he turns out to have appeared in at least a dozen books, usually as the star, so I have more blissful encounters in store.

Discworld, in case you don’t know, is a flat world supported by four elephants balanced on the back of a turtle. Humans, a few of them wizards and witches, live there in varying degrees of harmony with every fantasy creature you can name, including vampires, werewolves, dwarves, trolls and goblins. Some of the humans and creatures are very nice. Others are utterly the opposite. Their city is a festering den of iniquity. Daily life is a dangerous undertaking.

Also hysterical. On the first page of SNUFF, we learn that goblins have a cult of Unggue, “a remarkably complex resurrection-based religion founded on the sanctity of bodily secretions.” Every goblin makes gorgeous ritual containers for earwax, nail clippings, and snot. Fortunately, water and food are viewed as passing though the body without becoming part of it.

Unggue containers play an important role in the mayhem to follow.

Sam Vimes grew up in the back streets of Ankh-Morpork. Now, after many years as a copper, he is Duke of Ankh and the Commander of the City Watch, as well as a former blackboard monitor. He is married to Lady Sybil, the richest woman in the city. Their six-year-old son, Young Sam, is obsessed with poo.

In this installment of the Vimes saga, the commander is being dragged from the city to his wife’s ancestral home, ostensibly for a forced vacation. He has barely adjusted to the absence of city noise when a goblin girl is murdered and it becomes apparent that the countryside is rife with intrigue and evil-doing. Vimes solves the case with help from a goblin, a local policeman, a bartender, and his trusty valet, Willikins, a handy man with a cross-bow and brass knuckles.

I won’t tell you what happens next, partly because I don’t want to spoil the book for you but mostly because I couldn’t possibly do it. One peculiarity of the Discworld books is that the plots are so convoluted you’d need a computer to keep track of them. This is not a criticism—I loved every minute. But it is peculiar.

What I will tell you is that there’s a serious undercurrent about the treatment of goblins, who are underestimated to the point of enslavement. And Sam Vimes is a serious undercurrent all by himself, convinced as he is that a moment’s inattention and the right combination of circumstances will unleash The Beast in him. He’s a total sweetheart: A loving father, cheerily downtrodden by his wife, with a good eye for the hidden diamond in other people’s souls. But he also fights dirty, and he’s worried that he might lose control.

My next act will be to forget I ever read this book and get my hands on GUARDS! GUARDS!, Vimes’ debut novel. Can’t wait to start at the beginning and get to know this guy.


Barrie said...

It sounds as though it would be good to start at the beginning of this series? A little off topic, I once dated a guy who saved his ear wax. If I had any idea where he was now, I'd send him a copy of Snuff! :) Thanks for reviewing, Ellen!

Linda McLaughlin said...

I've heard Pratchett is great, and this sounds fun and quirky, but the idea of 40 Discworld novels is pretty intimidating. So much catching up to do once started! The whole earwax thing is hilarious though!

Ellen Booraem said...

I don't think there's any reason you HAVE to read all of them--or more than one. Pratchett does a great job of providing enough back-story to make the current novel work as a stand-alone. The one thing he's stopped doing is explaining the whole elephant/turtle/flat earth thing. But even that's not essential.

Ellen Booraem said...'re kidding about the earwax guy, right? If not...Did he say why he did it? (future sculpture, perhaps?) What did he keep it in?

Fascinated beyond all reason

Sarah Laurence said...

How interesting to have an author write about one world but for different ages of readers, although the humor sounds more MG than adult.

Ellen Booraem said...

Oh, no, adults love his humor, although obviously not all of them. Most of the Discworld books are for adults--there are only about four or five that are for kids. They're not all potty jokes, although I probably made them sound that way. Monty Python-esque, maybe. British,certainly.

Sarahlynn said...

Ew to the earwax. I have tried a little Discworld and never gotten into it, but perhaps I just haven't stumbled upon the right characters. Regardless of the fact that I haven't followed Pratchett's writing, I was saddened to hear that he has developed a form of Alzheimer's.

Ellen Booraem said...

Yes, his Alzheimers is a cruel trick to play on him, and us.

On the other hand, I can ever write a book as good as Snuff when my mental capacities are supposedly diminished, I'll be a happy woman.

Ellen Booraem said...

Oops. That would be IF i can ever write a book as good as....

And that would be a mighty huge "if."

jongleuse said...

If you like Tiffany Aching (like you she was my first foray into Discworld!) You must must must read the other Witch Novels, Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and I can't remember the other one. Also read the Hogfather recently which is brilliant. I am quite comforted to know there is so much Pratchett out there to be discovered and devoured!