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Re-reading Discworld: Part Three
This week, our intrepid Booksellers' exploration of the Disc leads them to far flung continents in search of the Truth. And educated rodents...
21. Jingo (1997), Stu Durston, Waterstones Reading Oracle
A satirical take on the absurdities of human behaviour delivered in Pratchett’s poignant and witty prose.
The mysterious island of Leshp has risen from the sea between Ankh - Morpork and Al-Khali, capital of Klatch. Both cities lay claim to it based on ancient claims of dubious origins and who saw it first.
Inevitably the two cities go to war over the disputed Island (sound familiar?). Only Ankh-Morpork has no army, which as the Patrician reminds the ruling council is “vital to the successful prosecution of a war." With no standing army, our unlikely and reluctant hero, Commander Samuel Vimes, and his rag-tag City Watch find themselves forced into an invasion.
A hilarious and satirical review of governments, pointless wars and prejudice that will have you crying with laughter.
22. The Last Continent (1998), James Gray, Waterstones Lancaster King Street
The Unseen University has lost its Professor of Cruel And Unusual Geography, possibly through the window in his study. The window opens onto tropical beach. They also hope to find a fellow wizard, Rincewind, as he may be the only person alive who can remember the name of the University’s Librarian, who is normally an orang-utan, except at the moment he is a deck chair…
Meanwhile, Rincewind is learning survival the hard way in the deserts of EcksEcksEcksEcks, a recently formed and densely magical continent very far from anywhere else where rain has never fallen and clouds are mythical. This is a place where most things are designed to kill and even cuddly bears drop out of trees to stun their prey. Unfortunately for Rincewind he is also destined to be the only one who can save the continent as it is rapidly drying out.
A story of creation and evolution, exploring myths and folklore common to our own part of the universe as much as the Discworld. It’s also a fantastic study of academic institutionalism, colonialism and exploration.
Pratchett at his best. No Worries!
23. Carpe Jugulum (1998), Rebecca Gransbury, Waterstones Sheffield Orchard Square
Carpe Jugulum is mostly about vampires. But it is also about witches, pixies, birds and... tea. As with all the Discworld books, Terry Pratchett brings his unique sense of humour to the tale, along with a sheer joy for storytelling that shines throughout.
The King of Lancre has invited vampires into the country, only for the fanged newcomers to attempt a takeover with a plot to turn the population into willing cattle. Needless to say, the local witches can't be having with that.
I love the hidden depths of this novel, as binding together a rollicking good plot is a theme of duality. There are vampires who gives humans a sporting chance, and vampyres, who don't. There is Agnes Nitt, discovering that the little voice in her head has become a full blown second personality. There's a Phoenix, that lays not one egg but two and there is an edge between light and dark. Treading a path along that edge is the always wonderful Granny Weatherwax. Physically and emotionally she appears at her most vulnerable in the novel and her character is all the richer for it.
As I said before, Carpe Jugulum is mostly about vampires... but it is also about faith and friendship and how those two things can be a light that we take into dark places.
24. The Fifth Elephant (1999), Andy Stevens, Waterstones Bolton
The tights of office loom once again, with no sword.
In Ankh-Morpork a replica of the Scone of Stone has been stolen and a manufacturer of various *ahem* rubber items has been found dead in a vat of his own molten latex but His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on the case: or at least he wishes he was.
In Bonk, Überwald, the scene is being set for the crowning of the new Low King of the Dwarves against a background of political tension, not helped by the expansion of the clacks network, and into the midst of this Sam Vimes is sent to be Ankh-Morporks’ sole representative, after the last ambassador mysteriously disappeared. With his retinue, Corporal Cheery "Cheri" Littlebottom (a rare openly female Dwarf), Sergeant Detritus (an openly Troll, erm Troll) and Lady Sybil Vimes (Sam’s wife, who has some very important news), Sam is starting to see conspiracies everywhere and so is only mildly surprised to finds the real Scone missing and ends up wearing the gloomy and purposeless trousers of Uncle Vanya, carrying a suspiciously sharp axe and on the run from a pack of werewolves.
25. The Truth (2000), Kirsty Whittingham, Waterstones Derby
Pratchett’s twenty-fifth Discworld novel sees Mr William de Word inadvertently embarking on a career as editor of The Ankh Morpork times. It all starts when some dwarves turn up with a printing press to help him print multiple copies of the gossipy newsletters he sells to foreign dignitaries for extra cash. They print hundreds thanks to the press, and decide to try and flog them to the citizens of Ankh Morpork. It works like a charm and they sell like hotcakes (unlike like Mr. Dibblers pies). Then the Patrician attempts to murder his assistant and suddenly the press have a real mystery to sink their teeth into.
You don’t really need to have read the other books before as there’s plenty of new characters but if you have, there’s a few old friends to welcome back too (I’m in love with The Watch). This is a real mystery story with lots of intrigue and it had me guessing until the very end.
I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett since I was about 11 and I’ve never been disappointed. This sits right up there with Men at Arms in my Discworld hall of fame.
26. Thief of Time (2001), Jenn Morgans, Waterstones King's Road Chelsea
All right, guys, hold on tight. Because this... This is the big one.
Thief of Time is the apocalyptic action movie of the Discworld series, only with far better dialogue and a plot that does stuff other than blow things up (though there’s plenty of that too). The first ever truly accurate clock on the Disc is about to be built, but if it’s completed the world will end. Frantically trying to stop this are Susan Sto Helit – Death’s unflappable and seriously cool great-granddaughter, a personal literary heroine of mine – Lu Tze and Lobsang – monks of History, following one of the most unusual sets of guidelines ever written – the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, and a mysterious woman who seems to have come from Downton Abbey on acid. There’s a lot of threads to this one that Pratchett masterfully intertwines, managing to write a full-on thriller – albeit one peopled by yetis, baby monks, creepy floating cloaks, witches, clock enthusiasts and more chocolate than you can possibly imagine – without losing eye-watering humour, heart, or his trademark pitch-perfect characterisation. Thief of Time is a sprawling blockbuster of a novel; one that will make you examine what it really means to be human.
27. The Last Hero (2001), James Donaldson, Waterstones Kirkcaldy
Cohen the Barbarian is the greatest hero the Disc has ever known. He’s stolen treasures, rescued maidens, and trampled the thrones of the Disc beneath his sandaled feet.
And he’s grown old.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to be for heroes. They die valiantly in battle, not peacefully in bed.
Well, he’s going to do something about it. He plans to return what the first hero stole. Gods may play games with the fates of men, but they’re about to find out what happens when you let a piece get all the way up the board.
Unfortunately, that will mean the end of the world.
Luckily, Leonard of Quirm has built a craft that might stop Cohen in time. All he needs is a brave crew. What he gets is the Disc’s tallest dwarf, a man who invents horrifying war engines as a hobby, and Rincewind, assistant librarian, failed "Wizzard", and abject coward.
Ankh-Morpork, we have a problem…
This is, for me, the best of the Discworld series. It marks the turning point between the high fantasy of the earlier books and the ‘fantasy noir’ of the later books. It’s also a Discworld all-star team-up book, with dozens of recurring characters making appearances. And it manages to be genuinely moving, too.
It’s probably not the best introduction to the series, but if you’re already a Discworld fan, you’ll adore this.
28. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (2001), Janette Fraser, Waterstones Wakefield
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is possibly the most neglected of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, and I think quite unjustly. It was his first for younger readers, and introduces the series beautifully without including any characters from previous books, so you can read it as a standalone. It's full of his trademark humour and references to the history and culture of the Roundworld, in this case fairytales.
A group of rats living on the Unseen University rubbish heap have begun to think and talk, giving themselves names from the waste around them - Peaches, Hamnpork, Nourishing, and Dangerous Beans. Along with Maurice the cat, the brains of the operation, they are travelling the countryside with piper Keith bringing a plague to towns to con them. Bad Blintz in Uberwald is to be their last job, but there's more to this little town than meets the eye. The people are starving, there are no rats to be found, and something evil is lurking in the warren of cellars. Maurice must overcome all his cat instincts to solve the mystery, and hopefully earn some gold in the process.
29. Night Watch (2002), Lucy Lyndon-Jones, Waterstones Oxford
Night Watch truly demonstrates Pratchett’s genius. For established fans its biggest point of interest is that we get to see characters we love in a totally new way when Commander of the City Watch Sam Vimes travels back in time, and meets not only himself, but other well-loved characters. However I read this novel without any prior knowledge of Discworld, and it spurred me on to reading the rest of the series. It's perfect for new readers because it has all the elements of a Discworld story – insofar as it is bizarre, satirical, hilarious yet serious – but it also has a particular cohesion which some of other books occasionally lack.
Vimes finds himself in the middle of a revolution he has already lived through, and he can’t go home because the unexpected time travel has already altered events to such an extent that there’ll be no home for him to go to. His only chance lies in seeing the whole thing through – but being Vimes, he’s going to do it his own way. Night Watch is solemn, exciting, and one of the few books that have made me laugh out loud.
30. The Wee Free Men (2003), Kate Holmden, Waterstones Wolverhampton
We all know what happens when someone is stolen away into Fairyland: they are never seen again by their family, and will be found wandering about in one hundred years time looking very old fashioned and asking silly questions about technology. Well, that is what happens to most people, it won’t be happening to Tiffany Aching’s baby brother Wentworth because Tiffany is going to get him back. Armed only with a frying pan (everyone knows fairies hate cold iron), and assisted by the disreputable Nac Mac Feegles (thrown out of Fairyland for being drunk and disorderly). Tiffany must rescue Wentworth before she’s late for the butter-making.
This is the first of the Tiffany Aching series, and our second encounter with the Wee Free Men (a clan of whom were last seen leading King Verence astray in Carpe Jugulum). It’s an excellent introduction to the Discworld for younger readers, and a thoroughly enjoyable read for those whose youth is further away than they would wish it to be.
Read more Discworld reviews from our Booksellers:
Waterstones Cardholders earn extra points on Terry Pratchett in October
To mark the publication of the fortieth Discworld novel in November, we’re offering 100 bonus points on the rest of Terry Pratchett’s titles – including our exclusive Discworld Kindle cover.