Witches Abroad (Discworld #12, Witches #3)

Witches Abroad (Discworld, #12; Witches #3)Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

“Witches Aboard” follows the Lancre coven across the Disc to the Big Easy, well Terry Pratchett’s version of the Bayou, as they attempt to save the day by not allowing the servant girl to marry the Prince.  The happily-ever-after and fairy godmother tropes do not survive either Pratchett or Granny Weatherwax.

I will be honest, the previous Witches’ book (Wyrd Sisters) wasn’t my favorite Disc book and so I had reservations when beginning.  After what I felt was a stumbling start with numerous “mirror magic” asides that didn’t help explain anything, the main story of the Lancre coven’s cross-continental trip to the city of Genua took over and really grabbed ahold of me.  The interactions of Granny, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat amongst themselves and with “foreigners” is hilarious especially when they come into contact with the local witch in Genua, Mrs. Gogol (the voodoo priestess).  Once in Genua, the coven members realize that someone is making fairytales become real life by any means necessary resulting in a whitewash, forced-into-happiness city instead of the generally jovial one that most residents once remember.  The revelation that a relative of Granny’s and the duality of fairy godmothers just adds more spicy to this story.  However, the best thing throughout is the tomcat Greebo especially when he gets into human form.

After the inconsistent start with the weird “mirror magic” explanations that really didn’t help anything, the only other complaint was again Magrat’s character because not only did she remain flat like in Wyrd Sisters but she was almost reduced to “minor” status by the end of the book.  Given that she is one of the titular characters, it’s a bit weird seeing being less relevant than a cat.

Besides those two gripes, “Witches Abroad” is a improvement in my view over “Wyrd Sisters” in Pratchett’s Discworld series.  The vast majority of the Discworld books I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed so to anyone looking to get into Discworld please don’t considering my not-so-liking of the Witches books be a stain on the other Disc books.

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Reaper Man (Discworld #11, Death #2)

Reaper Man (Discworld, #11)Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DEATH is not only the main character of “Reaper Man”, he becomes a humorous metaphorical concept in the hands of Terry Pratchett when imagining if the Grim Reaper got replaced and the consequence to the Disc.  Pratchett is at his comical and narrative best, further developing previously established characters and introducing memorable new ones.

The Auditors, which I first learned about watching The Hogfather miniseries, make their first appearance in the Discworld novels and target DEATH because he’s gained a personality.  The result DEATH is forced into retirement, it’s short but he decides to learn to live in what time he’s got.  While living on the farm of Miss Flitworth, DEATH learns about every day things and personal interactions as “Bill Door” all the while checking his golden watch tick down.  While DEATH is on the farm, the Auditors didn’t have someone to immediately fill his position resulting in people dying but not “moving on” as in the case of Windle Poons, a 130 year old Wizard who had a more active undead “life” than his actual life.  Poons, the Wizards of the Unseen University, and many other assorted characters must contend with the build up of Life Force that could result in something that can be the death of a city.

The two plots are vaguely intertwined and only combine with one another at the very end, however each has little subplots that Pratchett uses not only to humorous but narrative effect that drives the book forward.  Honestly, I could not find a fault in this book and probably because since I’ve started reading Discworld I’ve been looking forward to reading the DEATH series of books with anticipation.  However, the time I spent reading this book has been with a smile on my face as noted by my co-workers who shared a table with me during lunches and breaks.  I can’t give a better recommendation than that.

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Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail

Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of SailOutlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The common man, whether he be a sailor, a slave, or a pirate is the focus of Marcus Rediker’s “Outlaws of the Atlantic”.  Rediker shows how the lowest individual influenced not only the culture of their day, but shaped the world into what it is today.

Through seven essays Rediker looks at how the daily lives of individuals who worked the Atlantic’s waters, both willingly and unwillingly, and how their experiences affected their own time and ours.  The first was the common sailor who informed “men of learning” who only went to the docks about the all the new places opening up to the European mind.  The next was following the career of a individual sailor who left a memoir of his experiences, showing the ups and downs of an average sailor’s life.  The sailor’s response to his life took many forms, some of which was social revolution in various forms.  Other individuals who lived below decks were those who did not want to be there, either convicts or enslaved individuals, who responded to their predicament by trying to escape by either running away or willingly ending their life.

Throughout the book, the term “motley crew” is used by middle- and upper-class individuals throughout the time period of Rediker’s history.  As the author explains, this was term used for a multiethnic crew of individuals.  These motley crews were involved in many “rebellions” or violent protests against what they saw as unjust practices or laws, many of these were connected to the various protests of the late 1760s and early 1770s leading up to the American Revolution.  As Rediker explains, the more well-known Sons of Liberty organizations were formed to present a better image than the low class and mixed crews.

The most informative sections of the book featured the life and public views of pirates.  Rediker details how and why piracy occurred as well as the counterculture it fostered away from the expected one that English foreign and economic policy demanded.  The most surprising element was how the Amistad Rebellion’s public reaction was influenced by the newly “romantic” image of the pirate in popular culture.

Upon finishing “Outlaws of the Atlantic” the reader has a better understanding of how the common man experienced the age of sail, either willingly or unwillingly, and how it still influences our world today.  Rediker’s essays make the reader want to know more about certain events he covered because of his thorough research and writing style, and luckily for Rediker he has written some of the books those readers could be exploring to learn more about sailors, or pirates, or rebel slaves.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about how life was for the majority of individuals who call the sea home during the “Age of Sail”.

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The Once and Future King

The Once and Future KingThe Once and Future King by T.H. White
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

There have been many accounts of the Arthurian saga over the 1500 years, the best thought of the past century has been T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”.  Though White’s prose is good and engaging, the narrative arc through is tetralogy-in-one edition is problematic enough that it sometimes overshadows the wonderful characters he has developed.

The first of the four individual works, “The Sword in the Stone”, is the best of all four.  White’s writes wonderful characters, especially young Arthur (aka Wart), in well-rounded depth.  The narrative flow of this work is the best of any of them and sets up the reign of Arthur that makes the reader look forward to seeing what happens next.  Unfortunately in “The Queen of Air and Darkness” the characters are not well rounded and the narrative aimlessly wanders between England and the Orkneys without connecting the two until the last chapter when an evil scheme comes to fruition that the reader did not know what actually happening.  The third and longest of the individual works, “The Ill-Made Knight” focuses on an ugly Lancelot, his love affair with Guinevere, and the knightly exploits of the Round Table.  While this individual work is somewhat engaging, White emasculates Arthur both physically and mentally that continues into final individual work, “The Candle in the Wind”, while other characters aren’t even given much depth or story arc.

Throughout the entire writing, White injects himself and modern day elements throughout the entire book making it hard for the reader to keep to the narrative flow and maintain a “suspension of disbelief”.  Another unfortunate decision by White was to insist his story was real history of a part of the medieval era then mention “the supposed Henry III” or “the supposed Richard the Lionhearted” throughout.  Also White assumed that his readers were versed in Thomas Malory’s “The Death of Arthur”, which I must admit a half century ago might have been the case, nowadays readers ironically look to “The Once and Future King.”  And there were White’s tangents, whether it was philosophy or history, that were beautifully written but had no bearing whatsoever on the plot or characters or anything else he had just written about before he went down those literary side roads.

Upon completing “The Once and Future King”, I can see why many people enjoyed it and rated it highly.  However, I personally can’t ignore narrative stumbles or downright tangents that made three-quarters of the book harder to read than the section covering “The Sword in the Stone”.  My advice before reading T.H. White is to read Malory’s book first and be prepared for references from the 1930s to the late 50s, or you’ll be taken aback.

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