Review: Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

Going Postal cover artGoing Postal, by Terry Pratchett (Corgi Books mass-market paperback, 2005)

Moist von Lipwig (yes, that’s his real name) is a con man forced to go straight. His assignment: revive the 20-year-derelict post office in the city of Ankh-Morpork. In what seems to be typical Discworld fashion, shenanigans ensue.

Mail has been replaced by the clacks (a network of semaphore towers). But the clacks are breaking down, the posted letter is making a nostalgic comeback, and Moist’s instinct for showmanship and for raising the stakes pits him against a master con artist operating on a grand scale.

It’s silliness, absurdity and pure fun. It’s commentary on progress and society. And it’s surprisingly engaging. I really cared about Moist and his oddball team, and kept turning pages to see justice done and arch-con Reacher Gilt (we don’t know if that’s his real name) put in his place.

In spinning the tale, Terry Pratchett uses some delightful and very visual turns of phrase. Here are two of my favourites:

It wasn’t a very loud word, but it had an effect rather like that of a drop of black ink in a glass of clear water. the word spread out in coils and tendrils, getting everywhere. It strangled the noise. (p. 450)

It was raining now, a grey, sooty drizzle that was little more than fog with a slight weight problem.” (p. 461)

Going Postal came highly recommended, and it did not disappoint. It’s only the second Discworld novel I’ve read, and I’m happy to see how much catching up I have to do. There are almost 40 novels, plus other books about Discworld.

The official Terry Pratchett website has plenty of Discworld resources, including an artist’s rendering of what the Disc itself looks like.

[Book from my personal library.]

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Review: Mort, by Terry Pratchett

Mort: a  novelMort, by Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch, 2001)

It’s rare to find a book that prompts a snicker on nearly every page. Mort falls delightfully into this category, and I had to restrain myself from interrupting everyone around me to share the best lines.

The title character, Mort, is an awkward teen whose father decides to apprentice him out instead of putting him to work on the family farm. At the apprentice fair, Mort is the last one chosen… by Death.

As one might expect, Death is a bony fellow, although he rides a living horse (named Binky). Mort is relieved to discover he doesn’t have to turn skeletal himself to take the position.

Mort lives with his employer, along with Death’s adopted human daughter and their butler/cook. As Mort takes on more responsibilities, it leaves Death with more time for himself, and his attempts to relax prompt a sort of midlife crisis (if someone who’s not alive can have such a thing).

When Mort tries to save a girl he’s supposed to help die, reality begins to warp. The harder he tries to fix it, the more desperate things get. And Death can’t be found.

Thank you to my friends who’ve been suggesting I read Terry Pratchett. Starting part-way through his Discworld series may not have been the wisest idea, but Mort stands alone quite nicely and I don’t think I lost anything this way.

If you’re not familiar with the Discworld universe, suffice to say the planet isn’t a sphere. It’s flat and highly unusual. Book one is Going Postal, and since one of my friends said it’s her favourite, that’s the one I’ll read next. [Edit: Thanks to Tamara, who commented that Going Postal is not book one although a fine read. For an overview of the Discworld series, see Terry Pratchett’s Discworld at Fabulous Realms.]

The official Terry Pratchett website has plenty of Discworld resources, including an artist’s rendering of what the Disc itself looks like.

[Book from my personal library.]

Review: Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker cover artWarbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books, 2009)

Warbreaker is proof that Brandon Sanderson is one of the best fantasy novelists in the game.

On the surface the story sounds a little like a fairy tale: in a futile attempt to prevent war with a larger nation, a king marries his youngest daughter to its tyrant leader to produce an heir. Then his favourite daughter sneaks into the enemy city to rescue her sister.

Of course there’s much more to it than that. The two countries used to be one, and now each one’s culture defines itself by being “not like them.” The people of Idris dress in brown and make a virtue out of not drawing attention to themselves; the Hallendren are as colourful and ostentatious as can be. In Idris they worship the unseen god, Austre, while the Hallendren have a pantheon of gods-in-the-flesh, ruled by the God King (new husband of the Idrian princess, Siri).

The magic in this world relates to colours and to something called Biochromatic Breath, which can work wonders but comes at a high cost. It’s fantastic and outlandish but it makes sense within the story world, a world that’s so carefully crafted that it’s believably real, with a complex history, mythology and cultures.

One of the viewpoint characters is the god Lightsong, who doesn’t believe in his own divinity. He and two of Princess Vivenna’s contacts, Denth and Tonk Fah, add a lot of humour to the novel. Then there’s the dangerous and mysterious Vasher, with his telepathic black-sheathed sword that likes to kill. And some squirrel shenanigans, but I’ll say no more.

Brandon Sanderson has a way of keeping the nastiest scenes off-camera but yet evoking them well enough that we feel whatever darkness he wants to convey. And there’s nothing gratuitous in the book.

This is one of those satisfying novels where every major plot point took me entirely by surprise, although in hindsight I see all the clues in place. It’s faster-paced than fantasy tends to be, with a rich and fully-developed world.

The Warbreaker project was a bit of an experiment. Brandon Sanderson posted a number of drafts on his website for reader interaction, prior to the final version being released in print. I read one of the final drafts as a free download, but it’s definitely worth the cost of buying a final copy.

Brandon Sanderson may be best known for his Mistborn series and for being the author chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series (which he is doing in a most satisfying way). Visit his website for information and forums on his various books. The Warbreaker Portal includes an introduction, various versions, chapter-by-chapter commentary and deleted scenes.