Thud! (Discworld #34, Watch #7)

Thud!Thud! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Whenever long bloody feud between dwarfs and trolls heats up the cry, “Koom Valley”, springs up just before both sides decide to fight the next one but now it looks like it’s in Ankh-Morpork but not on Sam Vimes watch. Thud! is the 34th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and seventh in the “Watch” subseries focusing Sam Vimes pursuing culprits across the Ankh-Morpork and beyond to bring them to justice, no matter the species.

A dwarf demagogue is killed and a troll is the only witness, all of this as the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley is approaching with tensions in Ankh-Morpork between dwarfs and trolls reaching a boiling point. After Sam Vimes learns that the murder was supposed to be hidden from him, he leaps to action to solve the murder as well as not sending both species into war. Unfortunately Vimes has to contend with a new vampire member of the Watch, an auditor, and always making it home by 6 to read to Young Sam. And then the case begins to involve mystical elements, really annoying Vimes especially as they travel to Koom Valley in pursuit of justice.

Although the overall plot was well thought out, especially concerning Vimes there were problems. The various secondary arc, the humor, and quality of writing were noticeably not up to Pratchett’s earlier standards and ranged from bad to passable.

Although Thud! isn’t the best of Pratchett’s work nor the best in the Watch series, it is still a good read for any fan.

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Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2)

WoRWords of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world of Roshar thought it had survived its great cataclysm four millennia ago, but days are slowly counting down for when the next Desolation begins. Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series’ second installment, Words of Radiance, brings numerous characters together in the middle of the Shattered Plains as Roshar faces the beginning of the apocalypse as well the rebirth of it’s great heroic warriors that fought to save life.

Although the four main characters are once again front and center, but unlike the previous The Way of Kings it is Shallan Davar who dominates the majority of the book’s narrative either through her own point-of-view, flashbacks, or through the eyes of other major characters. Shallan and Jasnah are headed to the Shattered Plains by ship when it is attacked, Jasnah murdered, and Shallan dissolves the ship to save the crew and herself using her recently discovered Radiant abilities. Shallan continues to learn her new abilities as she travels through the Frostlands towards the Shattered Plain meeting several interesting people including Kaladin and the ringleader of Jasnah’s killers then takes her place as the agent of the group that killed her to learn what they know of the things Jasnah has been studying. Once at the warcamps, Shallan juggles multiple balls that eventually leads her out into the Plains at a critical moment to save the Atheli army.

Kaladin, Dalinar, and Adolin take up the vast majority of the rest of the book, essentially interacting a lot with one another or with Shallan once she gets to the camps. Kaladin’s is the major secondary arc of the book as he transforms the bridge crews into a guard force to protect Dalinar and his family while also continuing to deal with his issues with lighteyes and the responsibilities of his Radiant powers. Using his new position as Highprince of War, Dalinar along with Adolin attempt to combat the political intrigue of Sadeas and attempt to end the war either through peace or crushing the Parshendi in battle. Interlaced throughout the book are interludes that were dominated by the Parshendi general Eshonai and the Assasin in White, Szeth, whose own arcs help give an epic feel to the overall story while adding to the book’s main narrative flow.

While the length of The Way of Kings and the repetitive descriptions during scenes were my main complaint, Sanderson’s Words of Radiance were and wasn’t the same. The length of the second book is something to give pause (1300+ pages), the repetitive descriptions during the same scenes were cut out and narrative replaced it. Honestly, with more narrative then descriptions the length of the book becomes less noticeable especially once you’re a quarter of the way through the book but it’s always in the back of your mind.

Overall Words of Radiance is a very good book, building upon and improving over its predecessor and setting up anticipating for the read to see where Brandon Sanderson is going to take this series next.

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Going Postal (Discworld #33, Industrial #4)

PostalGoing Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ankh-Morpork’s primary communication system has become inefficient and is losing money, so Lord Vetinari decides to reopen the Post Office. The 33rd book in Terry Pratchett Discworld series, Going Postal introduces a new ‘main’ character Moist von Lipwig who would have rather not be involved but once he was couldn’t get enough of his new profession.

Moist begins his first book by dying—or rather one of his con-artist aliases does—and is given a job offer by Lord Vetinari to run the Ankh-Morpork’s long defunct Post Office. Moist accepts then runs away only to be recaptured by his parole officer, a golem named Mr. Pump, who joins him as part of the Post Office staff with a long time employee and a young pin collector who has “issues” who live in the Post Office building amongst the millions of undelivered letters pile around the building. As Moist figures out how to slowly begin operating the Post Office, he finds himself at odds with the Chairman of the Grand Trunk Company who Moist recognizes as a conman in his own right. Through the staffing of volunteer pensioners and the hiring of other golems, Moist starts getting the mail moving and becomes a target on a hit list but avoids death. Now in a fierce competition, Moist outduels his opponents and as Vetinari’s masterplan to solve the continuing breakdown of the Clack system which the city and many other’s rely on.

While the overall plot and many of the characters are entertaining, there was something missing when it came to the satire and overall humor of the book. While “deregulation” of the economy and “finance” seemed to be a part of it, there was possibly an undertone of against a particular philosophy as well. Yet even without a seemingly overarching satirical theme the book wouldn’t have felt different if Pratchett hadn’t attempted to through in so much early 21st century parallels or shadowed references in addition to everything else going on. The humor and satire were there, but it just didn’t seem really laugh-out-loud funny with a few exceptions.

While Going Postal is not only of Pratchett’s best work, it is still an entertaining installment in the Discworld series that finds one looking forward to seeing what Lord Vetinari might have up his sleeve for his government employed con artist.

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A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld #32, Tiffany Aching #2)

Discworld32A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The young witch of the Chalk downlands goes begins her apprenticeship not knowing that she’s being stalked by a long-lived lifeform that likes taking over “hosts”. A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the second following Tiffany Aching and her friends the Wee Free Men.

A year and a half after Tiffany Aching took on the Fairie Queen with only an iron skillet; she’s finally going to learn proper witchcraft as an apprentice to Mistress Level, who apparently has two bodies. However that is the only thing extraordinary about Tiffany’s experience with Miss Level because instead of magic, she’s just doing chores and learning practical knowledge. Yet unknowingly Tiffany is doing magic as she has immense power in “borrowing” just like Granny Weatherwax, but unlike the area’s most renowned witch Tiffany doesn’t know how to defend herself from those wanting to borrow her. While Tiffany doesn’t realize the danger she’s in, the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles keep an eye on their “wee big hag” and know what’s stalking her and go racing to the rescue with hilarious results. But in the end it’ll have to be Tiffany who gets her body back from this immortal foe.

The second book of featuring Tiffany and Feegles goes right into the story quickly while also giving information about both early on without taking away from the narrative or unnecessary exposition. One doesn’t need to have read The Wee Free Men to learn information about the Feegle’s culture as Pratchett also included a nice little “article” about them before the story begins, mainly to allay fears from parents that the Feegles are cussing in a children’s book. Frankly the only negative from the point of view of an adult is that one could see the major plot points coming, it was just how Pratchett would make them entertaining—which he certainly did.

While A Hat Full of Sky is a young adult book, Terry Pratchett’s satirical and narrative writing makes it a great addition to the overall Discworld series. Both new readers and longtime fans will have a good time reading Tiffany learning about being a witch.

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Monstrous Regiment (Discworld #31, Industrial #3)

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polly Perks cuts her hair and leaves home to join her nation’s army to find her brother and bring him home; however her act of defiance against her country’s social norms turns out to have consequences geopolitically. Monstrous Regiment, the 31st book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third of the Industrial subseries in which the vast majority of the book comes from Polly’s point-of-view in which gender, religious, and military issues play a big role in the narrative.

The nation of Borogravia is always at war in one neighbor or another, their god Nuggan is dead because they believe his Abominations more than him, and their ruler The Duchess is probably dead after not being seen for decades but is slowly becoming defied in replace of Nuggan. All of these things conspire to make Polly go to find her brother Paul in the Kneck valley and bring him home so that she doesn’t lose the family inn. After signing up, she and the rest of the new recruits become the new “lads” of legendary soldier Sergeant Jackrum but on the way to the front Polly finds that all the other recruits are also women having joined for their own reasons. Throughout the book, the regiment starts impacting the war on an international scale as the Anhk-Morpork Times details the adventures of the troop making them underdogs back home even as they oppose the alliance that Anhk-Morpork is a part of.

Although the geopolitical aspects of her regiments actions comes as a surprise to Polly, most of her concerns throughout the entire book is understanding a “woman’s role in a man’s world”, the insane religion they’re dealing with, and finally military culture between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Pratchett’s use of real world issues into his fantasy world might annoy some readers but I thought it was handled well especially in his dry satirical style. The only really big irritation was that after a while the surprise of another woman-as-a-man in uniform lost its impact because you could basically guess who was going to be eventually revealed to be a woman, so it became less important and just Pratchett check off another reveal.

Monstrous Regiment deals with a lot of real world issues in a dry satirical style that Pratchett is famous for. Although the book’s long running gag of revealing women-as-men in uniform gets old and easy to predict as the book goes along, it doesn’t take away from the overall good quality of the book. If you’re a Discworld fan you’ll like this book but if you’re new to the series try another book first.

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The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30, Tiffany Aching #1)

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30; Tiffany Aching, #1)The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Chalk is a place of sheep and shepherds but never a witch was known to be there, however that might have been incorrect. Terry Pratchett’s 30th Discworld novel, The Wee Free Men, is the second time he’s written for young adults but his writing and humor are top notch as well follow a nine-year witch Tiffany Aching going up against the Queen of Elves with only a horde of six-inch blue little men.

Tiffany Aching finds her family farm being invaded by monsters from dreams as well as a horde of little blue men, the titular Wee Free Men. Tiffany is very smart for her age and sees things as they are just like her grandmother, so when strange things pop up she uses an iron pan to beat them back. Although she later figures out that her grandmother was a witch, Tiffany has her first encounter with one in the form of Ms. Lick who tells her to be careful but not to tackle the problem on her own but when her brother is kidnapped by the Fairie Queen, Tiffany knows she’s going to need help while not sounding desperate. Tiffany’s help comes to her when the local clan of the Wee Free Men shows up looking for the new “hag ol’ the hills” because of the invasion of the Queen. Tiffany and the Wee Free Men invade ‘Fairyland’ and manage to return with her brother, a feat that Granny Weatherwax finds impressive for someone so young and untrained.

The Wee Free Men features Tiffany as the only point-of-view character, save from a narrator, which keeps the book fairly orderly when reading as well as being in line for a book for younger readers. The story itself is somewhat familiar for long time Discworld fans with the antagonist being the Queen of the Elves invading, but Pratchett changes things up with the use of dreams and the conflict as seen from a nine-year old. The cameo appearance of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg at the end, sets up further adventures of Tiffany and connects her subseries with the Witches subseries with the hopes of seeing favorite characters in future books.

The second young adult and first Tiffany subseries book of the Discworld canon is a fantastic book; The Wee Free Men gives someone new for long time fans while introducing older characters for younger new readers. While it’s intended for a younger audience, older fans will appreciate Pratchett’s humorous fantasy writing with his twists and turns.

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Rogues

RoguesRogues by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rogues, the short story anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, contains over twenty stories of above average quality and wonderful use of the titular quality that connects all the stories. The twenty-one stories from several genres features significant characters as rogues no matter gender, species, and orientation from authors both well-known to general audiences and some note so.

Of the twenty-one stories featured in Rogues the three best not only were high quality writing and features very roguish characters, but also were able to introduce a reader into the already established universe they take place in that only enhanced the story. The opening story “Tough Times All Over” takes place within the First Law world that Joe Abercrombie established himself writing about, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes takes place with in the world of Archonate, and “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix takes place within the world of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. While these were the best, the stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Stanwick, and Patrick Rothfuss set within an establish world they had create were also very good.

The stories especially created for this anthology is a mixture of the very good, the bad, and those that were just missing something. Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love”, David W. Ball’s “Provenance”, and Scott Lynch’s “A Year and A Day in Old Theradane” were wonderfully written stories in two separate genres that were in the top seven stories of the whole collection. “Now Showing” by Connie Willis is unfortunately one of the worst stories of the collection which was a shame considering that she wrote about several interesting ideas, but the execution with the characters crushed the story. Yet some of the stories while good and having roguish characters just felt like they were missing something: “Heavy Metal” was missing a fuller backstory to the main character and a better understanding of the supernatural powers at work yet once done could become a fascinating future series for Cherie Priest, and “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” was fantastic homage to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson by Lisa Tuttle that just felt it could have been more.

Yet some of the biggest disappointments in this collection were from established authors and their established series. The worst story of the collection is “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell that takes place in his alternate history timeline that features the spy Johnathan Hamilton but the reader has no idea about the world if you had never read an earlier story that featured Hamilton. And my personal disappointment was “The Rogue Prince” that George R.R. Martin wrote as an Archmaester of the Citadel as a biography of Daemon Targaryen but was more of a history of the events leading up to The Dance of the Dragons that he told in “The Princess and the Queen”.

The twenty-one stories that make up Rogues feature–more than not–very good short stories from across genres whether in established worlds or one-offs. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag in quality and expectations, but often than not the reader will be satisfied after finishing these stories with time well spent in several wonderful settings following some very unscrupulous individuals.

Individual Story Ratings
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (4.5/5)
What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (3.5/5)
The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (5/5)
Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale (4/5)
Tawny Petticoats by Michael Stanwick (4/5)
Provenance by David W. Ball (4/5)
Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn (3/5)
A Year and A Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Bad Brass by Bradley Denton (2.5/5)
Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest (3/5)
The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (4/5)
A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell (1/5)
Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor (3/5)
A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix (4.5/5)
Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams (3/5)
The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (2.5/5)
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (3/5)
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)
Now Showing by Connie Willis (2/5)
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (4/5)
The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin (2.5/5)

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