The Big Discworld Readalong: The Light Fantastic

This is a readalong commentary rather than a review, so won’t necessarily make sense if you haven’t read the book!

I will be aiming to get normal reviews up as well in the near future.

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.

No chapters, thankfully. Phew, I can properly relax into this Discworld book with its traditional line break layout.

The quality of storytelling has shot up. Like, it’s very impressive. TP clearly learned a lot from TCOM. I’m starting to see more of the asides and detail that make the Discworld so wonderful, as well as the humour. Not that those things are absent from TCOM, just that they are not so well balanced.

Galder Weatherwax! I always forget him, because he is only in this book, but he’s an absolute delight! Obviously related to Granny… Speaking of, the structure of the Unseen University is so different here. Everyone is the head of a separate order, and they all have entertaining and complicated names. Luckily, they all turn to stone at the end of the book so TP can then do something entirely different.

Rincewind crossing the terror threshold never ceases to amuse me. Just, the point at which he is too scared to be scared of anything else is always such a wonderful bit of writing.

Cohen the barbarian! I love him! I love that we only meet this legend when he’s in his eighties and bitter.

Also, I forgot that we met Ysabel (Death’s daughter) in this book. It’s interesting, because what it means is that right from the beginning of the Discworld, Death is a being who has a more complicated relationship with humans than it seems on the surface. In this book, one gets the feeling that he is really just trying to do his job well and with care.

The old magic necromancer woman, unnamed and only having a brief appearance, is great. We’re starting to see TP seem to go “oh shit, need to have women in here” and it’s nice. I’m always really happy seeing an author trying to improve, and TP does an alright job here. All the women are still background characters at this point, but they’re interesting background characters. We get Bethan, who was going to be sacrificed by druids but marries Cohen instead and goes on to yell at useless wizards, Ysabel, who threatens Rincewind with Death’s scythe, aforementioned necromancer lady, and  Herrenna the Henna Haired Harridan, who gets one of my favourite descriptions, included here for you to laugh at: …this particular hero is a heroine. A red-headed one.

Now, there is a tendency at a point like this to look over one’s shoulder at the cover artist and start going on at length about leather, thighboots and naked blades.

Words like “full”, “round” and even “pert” creep into the narrative, until the writer has to go and have a cold shower and a lie down.

Which is all rather silly, because any woman setting out to make a living by the sword isn’t about to go around looking like something off the cover of the more advanced kind of lingerie catalogue for the specialised buyer.

The description goes on to say that she’s wearing pretty sensible clothes, actually, and followed by a group of men she’s hired, who aren’t going to be described because they’ll be dead soon. The reader is invited to imagine them in leather if this makes us happy. I nearly spat food on my book laughing.

Twoflowers is a lot less annoying in this book. I think he’s grown on me. Like a fungus. In some ways he’s a bit like Carrot, now that I think about it.

The Luggage continues to be wonderful.

It’s funny meeting trolls, because the trolls later on are so different. I like the trolls in TLF though, especially about them moving backwards in time somehow. And the way that the Spell is just messing about with Rincewind’s life.

Aha! An answer to something that has bothered me! We never meet the Librarian before he is an Orangutan. He is turned into one in this book, before we meet him.

The star cult is an accurate representation of people reacting to stuff to be honest.

Love the magic shop. And the idea that there’s just a very grumpy sorceror to blame for all of them.

And then baby star turtles! This is why I never remember what else has happened in this book – we get to the baby star turtles and I stop caring about everything else! And this has happened again; I know there was a lot of detail, and things I was enjoying (Ymper Trymon is a fab baddie), but BABY STAR TURTLES!

Anyway, I am heading excitedly on to the next book now. TLF still doesn’t quite feel Discworld, which is odd seeing as it’s one of the first. It still feels a bit underbaked. I think the main difference is that at this point TP is really just poking fun at the fantasy genre, and that is great and a lot of fun, but the later Discworld books all have quite a lot to say in terms of thoughts about the world and humanity, and I feel that lacking here.



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The Big Discworld Readalong: The Colour of Magic

I though I’d call it a readalong, because it won’t precisely be reviews: more just the whatever popped into my head while re-reading, edited to be a bit more coherent. Maybe. Probably unsuitable if you haven’t read the book.

ALSO, a possibly tricky question: should Strata be involved in a Discworld readalong, and if so, when?

The colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett cover, I think by Josh Kirby

In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…

My first, horrified thought was “chapters?!” because this is a Discworld book! Why does it have chapters? Part of why I originally fell so hard was because my cunning child self would smile and nod when my parents said I had to stop reading at the next chapter and then just finish the book. But this one has chapters, and it’s extremely weird.

Bad puns. How have I never noticed how many there are before? Hundreds. I may drown in them.

Early Ankh-Morpork is odd, in that way that things that have become familiar are when you go back to their beginnings. It feels slightly under-baked. But then it is quickly burned down, so that solves that problem. Extreme baking!

When I first read this book, I had never played DnD. I have now, and the narrative makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE! In that it reads exactly like a game in which the DM is a group of competing deities and the players are clueless and would rather be at home with tea/beer.

Early Death characterisation is now extremely jarring. I am looking forward to watching that develop. He’s so grumpy and vindictive. Maybe he hasn’t discovered how much he likes cats yet?

The same for the Patrician, but just about the characterisation, not the cats. Lovely one-liners though.

Rincewind really just never changes, does he? And yet, an oddly endearing useless man. I am not usually endeared to useless men in fiction; there are too many in real life…

Mana? Does Terry Pratchett ever call magic mana again in a Discworld book? I guess I’ll find out, but it was extremely jarring.

The Luggage! I love the Luggage! And A’Tuin, who I always forget is weirdly one of my favourite characters. And the elphants have names!

Not many women, are there? I think we get more in The Light Fantastic. It’s worth noting also that the first Discworld book I ever read was Equal Rites

We never go to the Wyrmberg ever again do we? That’s kind of sad – I’d like to know how Hrun is doing… Also TP taking the mick out of fantasy names is one of my favourite running jokes.

I actually love the ending, with everyone just falling of the Disc. Brilliant stuff, though probably enormously frustrating when you couldn’t just buy the second one straightaway. And the Krullians are fun.

The Lady! One of my favourite recurring deities. Especially the way she is described. I think “waitress in the last chance saloon” is one, though that is possibly not from this book.

 

Overall, I struggled a bit to get through, and am way more excited about all the other Discworld books. You know, the ones that behave like Discworld books. I think it’s strange reading this because it doesn’t quite feel formed yet. However, we’d never have got the others without this one, so that’s fine. Solid re-read, wanted more grumpy Death. Love the whole thing of Rincewind just refusing to die if Death himself isn’t there.


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Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Cover of The Fifth Season NK Jemisin

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?

This is a BLOODY BRILLIANT BOOK. I have no idea if I am going to be able to do it justice but I am going to try. Reading it was painful, and hurt, and felt a little like dragging my heart across a floor covered in glass AND YET it was deeply and brilliantly moving. The Fifth Season starts, as the sentence indicates, with the end of the world: a personal world, and a much larger one. It has some of the most skilled use of the second person that I’ve come across, bringing the reader directly into the story. It has a central character who is strong and bruised and who really shouldn’t ever have had to be any of those things. It seems to ask, repeatedly, how bad things have to get before we accept that ripping down the entire structure is the only way forward. And it does so using some of the most incredible fantasy writing I’ve read. Ever. And I read a lot of fantasy. I’m still sort of smacking myself for taking so long to find N.K. Jemisin.

I took a little while to cotton onto the structure, so spent the first part of the book quite confused. Once I figured out that POSSIBLE SPOILER the three different characters were actually the same person at different times in her life END SPOILER everything made a lot more sense. And even before that, I was utterly absorbed by the world; by this shifting, belching, volcanic supercontinent. By its civilisation, clinging onto the surface of the land. By the vastness of the story and the incredible imagination at work. I found the characters completely compelling. I was inexorably drawn into the plot and I am going to be haunted for a long time to come; by the images drawn in words across my mind, by the threads of story that are coming together, by the immense skill, by the depth of connection I felt to the characters. This is fantasy at its best, and I recommend it. I cried. I cried on the first page, and I cried more and I swore under my breath and I wanted, so badly, to know what happened next at every juncture of Essun’s story. I wanted to know how this incredible woman was going to cope. I wanted to know if she would continue, and what would happen next, and where she came from and I still want to know more.

Rating: read this book, fear the angry earth.



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Ramblings on fantasy genre: why I have no patience for people asking why I don’t read ‘real’ books

So, a ramble. Because why not. It’s late-ish, I’m tired, and I have a bee in my bonnet. Consider this blog a response to people who made me feel daft for loving fantasy back when I was young and impressionable.

I love fantasy. I always have. I want my stories to have magic in them. I’ve always been interested in witches, mermaids, dragons (I love dragons), selkies, magic carpets… I want stories to transport me. I want stories to take me somewhere else, somewhere I’ve never been. I want stories that travel to impossible places, where saving a single ant in a path may change the whole course of what happens. I want stories in which the protagonist might sometimes be a swan. I have always enjoyed magic.

And when I was a child, this was never an issue. People expect children to enjoy magic. Lot’s of children’s books have dragons, princesses, knights, improbable transformations, falling down rabbit holes into different realities. And this was normal and good and I enjoyed them (although not Alice in Wonderland, and that is a different discussion). In fact, I loved them. I was a child who lived in books, just as soon as I figured out this reading thing. And then I discovered Tamora Pierce and that was it. I was gone. Here was the fantasy I had been waiting for, with women front and centre, knights, magic, swords, dashing villains, goddesses. Also in it were well informed depictions of puberty, menstruation, difficult friendships, and well researched animals THAT BEHAVED LIKE ANIMALS and training – the characters have to work for things, they aren’t just suddenly good at a skill. The knights have to go through lots of training, and some of them fail. I was entranced. I am still entranced.

And again, this was fine. Until the strange, undefined moment when it wasn’t. When I hit some age barrier I had not known existed, and people started expecting me to read ‘real’ books. As far as I can tell, when certain people say ‘real’ books, they mean fiction in which everyone is miserable, or some teenagers find a body and somehow it’s a metaphor for growing up, or Classics in which everyone is miserable while wearing period costumes and suffering from period typical sexism and racism. Personally, I do not understand the appeal. I did not then, and I do not now. But, having some form of politeness and consideration, I would not tell someone that the book they are reading and clearly enjoying is not a ‘real’ book. It’s there, it’s a book, it has words on the page (or kindle screen), so it is a book. Strangely, this did not always seem to come into other people’s consideration of my reading choices. Fantasy, apparently, is not a real genre. Unless it’s written by white men, in which case we make really expensive films full of sweeping shots of landscapes and rugged men running around in the landscapes.

I have tried reading the books that have been thrust at me. I fought my way through Of Mice and Men at school. I read numerous of those books aimed at teenagers about having a Difficult Friend Who Shoplifts, or having a Difficult Friend Who Is a Bully, or being suddenly homeless with a serial killer stalking you, or having to run away from your abusive dad, or going through puberty and finding out that your aunt is actually your mum, or being a teenage spy. And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy these books; I just didn’t enjoy them as much. None of them have survived when I’ve had to make book culls. And I want to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with these books – I just don’t like them. I liked fantasy. I love fantasy. And that was treated as a childish thing, which I deeply resent because I am not convinced I would have made it through my adolescence (which was rough for various reasons) in anything near as good shape as I did without fantasy books.

Fantasy books, in many ways, saved me. Because they were an escape. Because they let me go somewhere else, at least in my head, and I desperately needed to. Because they taught me that I might struggle, but I could fight through and come out the other side stronger. Because they took me to other worlds, in which there was magic and beauty and you could fight evil. Because they taught me that standing up against something bad is never wasted, however small your action. Because they taught me that women are strong and important and deserve respect (I was damn picky about the fantasy I read, okay? I had the good luck of picking up woman-positive fantasy before I came across the other stuff, so I expected everything to live up to at least those standards). Because the first time I learned about meditation, a practise that has helped me through many difficult times in my life, was in a fantasy book. Because I figured out my sexuality through fantasy books. Because fantasy could talk about things I didn’t have the strength to confront directly at the time. Because fantasy taught me that a person can survive staring into the darkness day after day. Because fantasy made me laugh when I did not have lots to laugh about. Because fantasy taught me that you respect Nature, because it is so much huger than you and there are forces you shouldn’t mess with. Because fantasy speaks to my soul in a way that fiction does not; it speaks about the knife-edge doorways between here and there, and about the magic inherent in living. Because fantasy is fun, and why on earth would you read a story that’s not fun (unless you’re rage-reading so you can go argue with people in a more informed way, which I totally understand)?

I am 27 now. I read stuff that’s not fantasy; sci-fi, dictionaries, books about etymology, poetry, quirky science books, comics, and history books. But fantasy is still my favourite. It will always be my favourite because I love magic, and dragons, and adventure. Because very little makes me happier than slipping into a book that’s been written well enough to convince me that the imagined world here is real. Because werewolves are cool. Because fantasy at its best is a genre in which your imagination is the limit, and that’s fun. Because reading things that are fun is brilliant and wonderful and I do not understand why people look down on this.

I’m not naive enough to think that fantasy is perfect: there are problems, and big ones. People who aren’t men and white have a hard time, both as characters and as authors. There is a subset of fantasy fans who are happy to learn an entire made-up language but will flip out if you put, say, a couple of words of Yiddish in there. This is probably the same subset of fans who think that having women in fantasy doing things other than being murdered or sexually assaulted or looking pretty is unrealistic because “insert vague excuse about the fantasy book being based on medieval Europe here” (I think these fans don’t know a lot about medieval Europe)(also if you can imagine orcs and elves and a villain who is a FIERY EYEBALL ON A TOWER then you can imagine women and people of colour. And if you can’t, you can walk out the door and see some and then you don’t even have to work at imagining them because, unlike orcs and elves and dragons, women and queers and nonbinary people and people of colour actually exist although if you have to do this you need to ask yourself some really soulsearching questions). And this is a whole big conversation that I cannot cover in this blog post, or indeed in one blog post alone, but it’s important to say I know. I know there are problems. My love of the genre does not mean I am blind to its flaws.

Fantasy, for me, has been a place of escape, safety, fun, and growth. It is rooted deeply in me, and I get really angry when people just dismiss the whole genre. No-one is forcing you to read this. You don’t have to come here. But if you have never read any, you should not just be dismissing the whole genre and saying it’s childish. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You don’t have to like it. No-one is saying that. But there is a tendency to assume that, somehow, fantasy is less; it’s less grown-up, it’s less serious, it’s less skilled, it’s less ‘real’. To which I say, well of course it’s not real. It’s fantasy. That’s rather the point. Fiction isn’t real either, if you want to get into it. Fantasy is still important. Because fantasy is about exploring the limits of the imagination and storytelling, and those are things that shape the world. And because there are a lot of people who need to escape who cannot actually escape, but hopefully they can read. And if a fantasy book can keep them alive long enough to give them hope and get them into a better situation, that’s worthwhile. Even if it is a book about magic talking dragons, that you personally don’t like…


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Update: totally not dead

Hello, it has been a while. I have been surviving Winter Doom Festival and look at that! Completely alive and not at all a ghost possessing a laptop…

I have done not a lot of reading to be honest – hoping to get back into it. I have finally finished The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin which was excellent – I hope to post a review soon but it’s going to be tricky simply because I am not sure I can do it justice.

Writing: I am aiming to get some exclusive content written for Tales from Tantamount and look into the cost of making a hardcopy. My current thoughts for the content exclusive to the hardcopy are Notes from the Historians’ Handbook, and possibly Haikus about (or by) the Carrion. I don’t have a timeline for this at the moment, as everything is super busy so I am just getting things done as and when they are possible.

After that, I want to take a look at a series I started a while back – this is a series of lighthearted adventures in space, and mainly full of queers and zero scientific reality… I have some of it written, and would be looking to get another 6 episodes written in advance so that I can post them on here at a rate of one a week for the duration of the story.

The Life and Times of Angel Evans is sadly no longer available as an ebook, as the BookSmugglers are no longer publishing. The story remains available on their website, and the rights will revert to me so I will be looking for a new home but again, there’s a lot happening in my life and I will have to do this as and when I am able (that said, if anyone thinks of a publishing house that would like to rehome an awkwardly lengthed novelette about a depressed pansexual hero, please let me know!). I will update my website soon to reflect this.

Reading: I am thinking of doing a mega Discworld re-read and posting those re-reads here as low-key reviews, though they will mainly be suitable for people who have already read the Discworld books. I think this would be fun, and you’ll be the first to know if I decide to do this!

Enjoying: Into the Spiderverse! That film was absolutely stunning!

Pondering: why I have to keep having periods every.damn.month…………………….. one day the menopause will come.

 

And that’s all – hopefully back soon with a review of The Fifth Season and maybe some Pratchetty goodness.

Take care!

Book Review: Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorceror to the Crown Zen Cho cover

The meeting of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers was well underway, and the entrance hall was almost empty.

I am not sure I can actually recommend this book highly enough. It is excellent. Those of you who read a lot of fantasy will likely have come across the subsection of it that goes “let’s set a magical drama in 18th/19th century England” or something very similar.  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is probably the best known of these, and is a fantastic book (irrelevant to this review, just wanted to say). However, this subsection does have a tendency to fall into certain traps. Like ignoring that England had an Empire (bad!), or that sexism was worse and real (bad!) or classism (bad) or racism (you get the idea). Sorceror to the Crown is wonderful in that it falls into this subsection of magical books set in England and refuses to ignore those things. I loved it.

There are two main characters. One is Zacharias Wythe, the new Sorceror Royal and also the first African one. Zen Cho does not pull punches about how this works against him or about how complicated his feelings are on the subject. The other is Prunella Gentleman, a mixed-race orphan with a talent for magic, considered at the very least an embarrassment in a woman. They are a fantastic duo, with different yet aligned agendas. And together they have to deal with assassination attempts against Zacharias, a shortage of magic in England, a highly talented and (rightly) pissed-off sorceress from Janda Baik, recalcitrant familiars, and social etiquette. The whole thing is an absolute delight. Zacharias and Prunella fill the centre of the story wonderfully. Mak Gengam is a wonderful presence, and I loved every moment she was on page. I could, in fact, probably list every character in the book and why I found them fascinating, because all of them were.  But instead I am just going to encourage you to read this book yourself. It is a unique and magical thing, and certainly belongs on your bookshelf.

Rating: read this book. Be polite to the King of the Fairies, as well as his subjects.


*waves* hello, look, a review! Short but sweet!


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Tales From Tantamount: An End of Sorts, Year of the Sad Plastic Bag

So here we are – the final (for now) episode of Tantamount. It’s been a long and difficult year for the town, and here we are, at the endish. Enjoy!

A Quick History of What Just Happened by Natalie Ventura
So, many of us are baffled and afraid, although excitement also abounds. For those of you who were away/asleep/astral projecting/Elsewhere/just not paying attention etc here is a quick rundown. The history of what just happened is sure to change, but I am putting it to paper in the hope it will prove enlightening or at least interesting to future historians.
First, the consequences: Tantamount has washed out along the Severn and into the Ocean. The railway lines are working perfectly, snaking out across the waves, and the Carrion and the Magpies have come to some sort of truce (or possibly just absorbed each other). These consequences are unlikely to change. The sequence of events leading up to it probably will. Currently, it goes something like this:
The Carrion swooped across the sky, a feathery, toothed, black cloud of impossible screeching sounds and mindbending terror. The Magpies flew straight up into it, cackling and chirking. Very few people saw what happened next, as anyone with half a mind left was looking stoically in the other direction. Some of the things that people saw while looking in the other direction:

  • The Eldritch Terror having some kind of hormonal reaction to pregnancy, possibly sobbing, and stress eating seagulls
  • Terrifying feathers.
  • A being made of holly wood cavorting through the streets: they seem to have taken a complicated route that involved moving between Ogbjern street, Abyssal Lane and Crepuscular without visiting the intervening streets.
  • A very beautiful snail.
  • An entire civilisation of hedgehogs, building fantastical cities in the leaves, using the heat of friendly salamanders to warm themselves, orating beautifully on many subjects including philosophy, art, poetry, mad science, the terrifying beauty of the stars, the perfection of the globe as a defensive shape, and badger avoidance tips.
  • The ghosts of dead shoes.

I did manage to find someone who had watched and was almost in a state to describe it. For the sake of their privacy, I will not include their name here. They described what happened as: “Confusion of movement, lateral. A walking through of ideas built on shifting ground. The pinfeathers shatter through. Beaks. Beaks Beaks! Beware the nightingale. Please make it stop.”
At this point, there was a break in the presumed battle. Light poured in through it, leaving shadows of birds scattered across the ground (the shadows are still sneaking about). The Shadow Council descended from the sky, glimmering, in a translucent smack. And then, stillness. Complete stillness. And a sensation, as if the town were held in a pair of large, caring hands. And Tantamount drifted out into bigger waters. We await further developments.

Lost: Husband, human. Taxidermist. Last seen running swiftly across a field at midnight. If seen, please let him know I have converted the shop into a lovely barn. Dewdrop xxxx765889
Found: A pea under a mattress. Who the hell put it there and why? I would like to know, as it has been very annoying. The pea sings sometimes, and it keeps me up at night. Esperanza xxxxx811266
For Sale: unwanted memories, bric-a-brac thoughts, and a large amethyst cave that in no way resembles female genitalia. I don’t know why people keep saying it does. Alex xxxxx763445

Proverb of the day: You can take a donkey to water, but you cannot force it to grow scales and become a fish. Found scratched into the stone of the Very Queer Fountain.
Hello Tantamount. We know you have had an interesting time recently (for the past few thousand years in fact). You have mostly noticed the ocean and the salt and the drifting. A lot of you have noticed that the railways have reconnected, and that the trains actually go places now. We are connected, as we were not before, to other places. Thousands of them, full of people. The people may be strange. They may wear their clothes differently or eat different food or have little claws and antlers or speak in languages that you don’t understand. This is all good. The world is a big place. Tantamount is part of it. We cannot force you to understand or like what has happened, but we can take you to the water. We think it would be good to share. Enjoy the trains. Enjoy the boats. Take little pieces of Tantamount with you, and bring little pieces of other places back. The Daughter is awake now, and she cares very deeply. Grow scales. Fish have wonderful adventures.
Tantamount Shadow Council.

Notice
The airballoon is powered by steam, clockwork, and forgotten childhood dreams. It is an experimental vessel. It is not for public use at this time. Please do not bother the Airballoon, as it is sensitive to disturbances. Singing it calming songs about the wind is encouraged.

…am glad to hear that you are coming with me. After so many years I did not want to face the outside alone. Of course, one never really leaves Tantamount, but it will be exciting to see things from a new, less Well-like perspective. I am glad we can do this together, the three of us. I love you both so deeply that it is hard to describe. You are adventures, a pair of them, and I want to explore everything now that I can. I love you, I love you, I love you…

Fragment of a letter, found drifting among the Magpie feathers, as the Airballoon took off into the sky.


I shall keep you all updated on anything regarding the possibility of a Tantamount booklet..

You could always buy the author a drink!


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