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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Discworld series Volumes 18-22

Discworld series Volumes 18-22

by Terry Pratchett

Volume 18: Maskerade: Last time we met them in Lords and Ladies, the Lancre witches Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg were helping the third member of their coven become the queen of Lancre. Now that the coven is down to two, it's time to look for a replacement. As it happens, Nanny has a perfect replacement in mind. There's just one hitch: this person is hundreds of miles away in the metropolis of Ankh-Morpork trying to become an opera singer. No worries though as Nanny and Granny have an errand in the big city, mainly getting Nanny's fair share of royalties from the publishing of a scandalous cookbook.

Meanwhile, at the Ankh-Morpork Opera House strange things are afoot. For many years the Opera House has been haunted by a mask-wearing phantom, who generally likes to watch the first performance of any opera from a specially-reserved box. But now the Ghost has started murdering people and it's up to Granny and Nanny to put a stop to it.

Really, since most of the story focuses on murders in the city of Ankh-Morpork, I kept wondering why this wasn't a City Watch book instead of a Witches book. I suppose since much of the story is (probably) taken from "Phantom of the Opera" it's fitting for Granny and Nanny. I didn't like this as much as some of the other Witch books like "Witches Abroad" or "Lords and Ladies." For one thing the newest witch, Agnes Nitt, doesn't have much to her yet. She's very fat, has poor self-esteem, and a good voice. Not all that interesting really. As well some of the gags like the cat Greebo turning human had already been used, so there was some staleness as well. And really, the story seemed like it could have been a "Scooby-Doo" episode--Now we'll find out who you really are, Opera Ghost! (3 stars)

Volume 19: Feet of Clay: Maybe you're like me and never quite understood what a golem was, or at least I didn't until I saw a Simpsons Halloween episode featuring one--which is how I learn most everything. Anyway, in Judaism there's this idea of making big people out of clay and then a rabbi marks it with a symbol and it comes to life. It will do anything you tell it to do by putting scrolls in its mouth.

In the Discworld, golems are used like a cross between industrial robots and illegal aliens. Since a golem can work continuously without food or sleep it means less people are needed. And a golem can do all sorts of hazardous jobs like working with acids or other chemicals because they're extremely tough and never complain. Then one shop owner gets more than he bargained for when he buys a golem that goes off on a killing spree.

Meanwhile, the City Watch is expanding its operations. In "Maskerade" we learned about a new undercover unit and now in "Feet of Clay" comes a CSI unit, which consists of one female dwarf who works in an old privy. This comes in handy when someone begins poisoning The Patrician, Ankh-Morpork's leader. Commander Vimes, Captain Carrot, and the rest of the Watch have to put together the pieces before it's too late.

This was a really interesting book because the plight of the golems touches on serious issues. These issues are brought up again later in the series with "Going Postal" and presumably "Making Money." It's a good reminder that while the plots of these books seem outlandish, they bring up topics that are still in the news today. What really got me though were some great references to movies like "Terminator 2" and "Robocop." As well the mystery, or really conspiracy, wasn't so easy that I could figure it out, which is always a good thing in a book like this. There were a couple of times where I thought I had it figured out and turned out to be wrong, just like Vimes and company investigating the crimes. So it's a great crime story ripped from today's headlines as they say in "Law & Order" promos. And you can't beat the thought of a dwarf in drag. (4 stars)

(NOTE: Volume 20 is "Hogfather" which I have previously reviewed.)

Volume 21: Jingo: When an island rises from the ocean between the metropolis of Ankh-Morpork and the desert kingdom of Klatch, it's the impetus for war. There's just one slight problem, as Ankh-Morpork hasn't fought a war in centuries, content during that time to invite its enemies to come in and stay awile, followed by robbing them blind in their sleep. Because of this, the city's gentry take to raising private armies, which includes Commander Vimes of the City Watch. As expected, his unit is composed of Watchmen like heroic Captain Carrot the "dwarf", Angua the werewolf, and Detritus the troll. They face a race against time to prevent an all-out war.

This was an interesting book in that it takes the City Watch out of the city. There's references to the JFK assassination and it's hard not to think of the desert kingdom of Klatch as Iraq, though this book was written in about 1997. Certainly the sentiment that war is good for absolutely nothing rings true these days, especially when the leaders fighting the war are dopes. (4 stars)

Volume 22: The Last Continent: Everyone's favorite cowardly wizard Rincewind returns for his last full-length adventure. At the end of "Intersting Times" Rincewind ended up on the continent XXXX (so called because no one else has ever gone there and returned). With his usual luck, Rincewind is embroiled in an adventure against his wishes when this barren continent runs out of water. A helpful kangaroo helps him find his way through this strange desert continent where everyone says things like "G'day!" and "no worries" and drinks lots of beer. At the same time the orangutan Librarian of Unseen University is sick, so the school's top wizards go in search of Rincewind, as he's the only one who knows the Librarian's real name. In the process, the wizards end up stranded in time on a remote island with a god who is far from omnipotent. Somehow this all ties together.

One of the running jokes in the second half of the book is that a lot of ideas sound better after midnight and copious amounts of alcohol. This book would be best read in that state. It's not that it's not fun or interesting; it just doesn't make a lot of sense--even less sense than most Discworld books make. There are references to Australian-themed movies like "Mad Max," "Priscilla Queen of the Desert," and "Crocodile Dundee" that work best if you've seen those. I was disappointed there wasn't a "shrimp on the barby" reference. No worries! I'd recommend this one only for Discworld completists. (3 stars)

That is all...for now.

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