Book Review: The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett

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“Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the Discworld. Tourist, Rincewind decided, meant idiot.

Somewhere on the frontier between thought and reality exists the Discworld, a parallel time and place which might sound and smell very much like our own, but which looks completely different. It plays by different rules. Certainly it refuses to succumb to the quaint notion that universes are ruled by pure logic and the harmony of numbers.

But just because the Disc is different doesn’t mean that some things don’t stay the same. Its very existence is about to be threatened by a strange new blight: the arrival of the first tourist, upon whose survival rests the peace and prosperity of the land. But if the person charged with maintaining that survival in the face of robbers, mercenaries and, well, Death is a spectacularly inept wizard, a little logic might turn out to be a very good idea…”

I love Rincewind.

Wildly.

Unconditionally.

Irrevocably.

The Colour of Magic?

Not so much.

Here’s why:

Entertaining, clever, and populated solely with the kind of unique characters that are a staple of Terry Pratchett’s novels, and that never fail to delight, The Colour of Magic is the type of novel that I’ve always enjoyed – and probably will continue to enjoy, being something of a creature of habit. It’s also action-packed, a grand adventure story complete with a hero, an enthusiastic tourist, some dubious Luggage, and Rincewind, of course. There’s a Princess, some very strange and more or less hostile trees, and, would you believe it, an aeroplane.

Rincewind, Ankh Morpork’s resident failed wizard, is ordered to accompany Twoflower on his travels through Discworld, ostensibly to keep him safe. The Colour of Magic then relates their subsequent shenanigans, which involve, among other things, a Princess, some very strange and more or less hostile trees, and, would you believe it, an aeroplane.

(You’d better believe it)

That said, The Colour of Magic is [i]not[/i] my favourite Discworld novel.

(Shock, horror)

It has many good qualities, but it doesn’t read as the first book in a very long, well-known series. Rather than establishing a particular universe for our enjoyment, it reads like a sort of dissertation on the physics of the Discworld itself, with a few random characters thrown in for good measure. Additionally, a lot of those characters are, arguably, just archetypes, albeit skewed ever so slightly sideways. They provide excellent entertainment value, and are often the catalyst for a joke or ten, but they’re less unique than many of his other characters, and it makes for a novel that is, in my humble experience, not quite as creatively exceptional as many of the others are.

Plot:

The Colour of Magic doesn’t so much have a distinctive plot as it has a general premise, which is, to term it loosely, and without any of the pizzaz that Terry Pratchett’s novels are composed of, ‘the tourist experience of Discworld,’ with accompanying wizard. Twoflower, said tourist, is determined to travel far and wide across Discworld, and does so with Rincewind in tow, as reluctant protector, a more or less failed wizard, and generally confused and uncertain citizen of Ankh Morpork (which is occasionally a good thing, but usually bad).

Twoflower and Rincewind find themselves thoroughly immersed in many and varied difficulties, from creepy temples to lapses in the space-time continuum. It’s entertaining, but lacks definition as a consistent plot, and although it’s not hard to follow, it is difficult to relate each event to the next. Personally (as if this whole thing isn’t achingly personal), I feel as if this makes it difficult to read, not in the sense that there are several big words that I sadly don’t know the meaning of, but in the sense that it’s somewhat hard to follow.

Only somewhat. I was an English student, after all.

Secondly, this is not a novel for the fainthearted. The Discworld books are far from simple, but The Colour of Magic is especially difficult to comprehend, playing host to a considerable variety of complicated concepts that I struggled to grasp. Maybe I’m just not wired that way – very likely – or maybe, in the form of a novel, it just didn’t work.

Characters:

Twoflower is a fantastic character, entertaining, relatable, and fundamentally realistic. If, dear reader, you have ever been in the position of the enthusiastic tourist, camera in hand, then I think we both know that you can see something of Twoflower in yourself. I remain unconvinced by the plot, but I’m of the opinion that the characters work very well.

(To clarify)

Concluding Comments:

As I’ve already mentioned numerous times on this blog, Rincewind is easily my favourite Discworld character. In The Colour of Magic, he’s equally entertaining, and his exploits are glorious to behold. As such, including Rincewind, there are many aspects to The Colour of Magic that I enjoy. However, there are equally as many, if not more, reasons as to why I’m likely to avoid it in the future. This is a well written book, but not, arguably, a well written novel.

TV Review: iZombie – 2×01 ‘Grumpy Old Liv’

izombie-titleAnnndddd…

We’re back!

How good is that?

Might I suggest: very good?

Anyway.

This episode begins in much the same way as the previous series ended: with a murder, brains, and Blaine’s vaguely unsettling presence. But the stakes are higher, light, easy-going conversations are fraught with deep meanings and deeper tension, and Peyton is missing, and while there might be – and is – humour in abundance, it is somewhat over-shadowed by, well, everything else.

iZombie-2x01-6Personally, I think it works.

There has been a shift in tone from the first season to the second, but it is a shift that works. That, contextually, makes sense. That is, to put it simply, believable. These familiar characters now occupy a different world to the one in which the first episode of the first season was launched, and if that hadn’t been acknowledged, it wouldn’t have felt right. This is a necessary change in tone, and, furthermore, one that does not undermine the consistency of language, style or attitude of the show as a whole.

Nicely, cleverly, done.

Have I said that I liked it yet?

Plot:

The episode settles quickly enough into a familiar structure, offering a murder that will soon become suspicious, the subsequent involvement of the kick-ass Detective team that is Clive and Liv, complete with interesting wardrobe choices and an apparent dedication to hard work, and an all-new personality to consume in the name of justice. It’s a tried-and-tested arrangement that works well, and with the addition of several overarching plot points brought into play during the previous season – such as that involving Liv’s brother, badly injured last season, and now in hospital – offers plenty of action alongside the expected acknowledgement of the ground yet to be covered.

With both long- and short-term plot points to sink one’s teeth into, the episode was, to stretch a metaphor I haven’t really applied, and that I’m not sure I really want to, a meaty one, with the apparent assertion of similar depth to follow in the future.

So to speak.

At the very least, the ante has been well and truly upped, with well-established, familiar characters furthering new plot points, generating new twists, and lending the action an additional tension. Now that the viewers know the world and its characters, there’s no need for any handholding – and there’s a refreshing certainty to what remains.

Characters:

Liv is, as ever, a delight, under the influence of brains or otherwise, but Liv in the form of ‘grumpy old man’ is better still, and the scenes involving her and Clive are particularly entertaining, tapping into a brand of humour familiar from the first season. It was fun, cleverly put together, and wonderfully enacted.

I have a few reservations in regards to keeping Clive in the dark – that’s getting a little old – but I’m sure the show will resolve them soon enough.

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Final comments:

There’s plenty to enjoy in this episode. It’s well constructed, tastefully and cleverly done, and, as ever, humorous. It also does a great job at hinting at what is to come without erasing any possibility of surprise, develops some groundwork for future plot points, and treats its characters well.

TV Review: Gotham – 2×03 ‘The Last Laugh’

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You’ve looking at one very happy consumer.

Last week, I asked – well, demanded, petulantly – for more Barbara, and this week Gotham delivered in fine style, meeting every single one of my expectations and seemingly thoroughly convinced of its place among the brilliantly vibrant spectrum of shows offered to the standard viewer.

And why not?

The early episodes of season 2 lack the uncertainty that emerged so often in the first season – like a bad penny – typified by an apparent inability or unwillingness to commit to one particular genre. They have, seemingly, left any attempts at creating a defined crime drama procedural in the metaphorical dust, turning, instead, to a more fluid – although still recognisable structure allowing various characters to take centre stage – sometimes literally – without seemingly to forget quite so fundamentally about the others. There was the touch of the ensemble to this episode, and it worked.

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I do like a good ensemble.

Now, onto the particulars:

In 2×03, the merry band of Arkham Asylum escapees hit Gotham city with a good old-fashioned hostage situation, complete with hysterical women, lots of innocent-looking youngsters – yes, Bruce, I mean you – and Alfred. It’s the perfect theatrical follow-up to last week’s stunning (pun intended) debut, and ups the ante nicely, driving into the new season on a particularly destructive note.

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Jerome, naturally, takes pole position, conning his way into the fundraising gala as the replacement magician – an assured nod to the circumstances under which he appeared in the first season, if a little predictable – with Barbara in tow, and from there, he takes the entire group of rich, vaguely benevolent people hostage. Tension builds nicely, ramped up by Bruce and Alfred’s involvement in the rapidly worsening situation, and is broken only by a concerted effort of opposition, led initially by Gordon, but circumvented by Galavan himself.

Now that’s a turn up for the books.

The episode was low on further surprises, however, including Jerome’s death. I’m no sleuth, but ‘The Last Laugh’ implied enough, given Jerome’s role so far, to set me onto the right track. Neither was the manner of his death much of a shock, as it was, again, implied, but it was certainly nicely done – she says, graciously – and had an effect, even if that effect wasn’t shock.

I enjoyed the implication of the title – that Jerome’s death enabled him to have the last laugh, as he would have wanted it – and the final few scenes of the episode, which suggested that it would be far from the only laugh, too. That’s the kind of foreshadowing I can get behind, placard in hand.

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I would, however, have liked to see more of Selina. As amusing as her ability to appear almost at random is, she deserves more.

Maybe next week?

TV Review: Gotham – 2×02: ‘Knock, Knock’

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The new season of Gotham was heralded by a refreshing shift from the ‘villain of the week’ structure that typified the first season, and, of course, the standard crime drama procedural that I know and love, and this pattern follows through into the second episode quite smoothly. Arguably, when the focus of the episode does not rest, solely, on the ‘whodunit’ aspect of the crime that’s been committed, then there’s less pressure to conform to the often-labyrinthine twists and turns typical to the modern crime drama, and more space to establish a unique identity beyond that.

Now, onto the particulars:

(Hooray!)

In episode 2, the Arkham escapees conduct their debut performance, led by Jerome – I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I saw that coming at least three miles away – and wreak merry havoc on the poor citizens, who seem to be, in the main, utterly unaware that they’re living in the kind of city likely to be extremely bad for their health – and that’s on a good day. Leading the opposition is, Jim Gordon – naturally – but without his usual partner in crime prevention, as Bullock is giving life as a civilian and bartender a go.

Gotham 2x02 This episode was, as I’ve already rambled on about, absent of the usual crime of the week, and that allowed for a much freer, looser structure centered more or less entirely around the main plot point of the Arkham escapees, with the occasional side trip to the Wayne manor. As an episode, it felt far more cohesive than some of those in the first season, and thus much easier to follow, too.

(Which, as a more or less dedicated fan of multiple shows, all of which have returned at roughly the same time, I appreciated)

Although they were, relatively speaking (I like to speak relatively), sparse, I found the scenes involving Jim and Harvey to be the most enjoyable. They were well crafted, alluded nicely to the strong friendship developed throughout the first season, and while not as humorous as the viewer has come to expect from the duo, were far from dull. Additionally, while it was somewhat predictable for Harvey to return to the force, and at such a critical time, too, it was nice to see their partnership restored.

Yes, I’m a sap.

Other than that, I enjoyed Jerome’s scenes – great acting, wonderful dialogue, etc., etc., – but I had hoped for more of Barbara. Now that she has a part beyond that of Jim’s girlfriend, she’s become an asset to the show and an interesting development to follow, and I’m very interested in watching her character arc pan out.

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To conclude with Bruce and Alfred, I think the show has established a wonderfully realistic spin on the origins story, and with each episode bringing another hint of what is to come, and another shift made by Bruce into the kind of person that he’s going to grow up to be, it’s cleverly done and great to watch.

As for Alfred…well. I think we all deserve someone like Alfred in our lives.

Book Review: Sabriel – Garth Nix

Sabriel

“Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories.

As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death – and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.”

If nothing else, Garth Nix’s Sabriel treats the reader to a Strong Female that is not A) emotionless, B) fundamentally opposed to All Men, Ever, or C) in possession of a trademark tragic past that will inevitably – and tragically – influence every future interaction, related or not, that she is unlucky enough to have. For that reason alone it’s a breath of fresh air, and a worthy contribution to a genre to a contribution that has, arguably, become somewhat bogged down with the exact opposite.

Tada!

That’s it – that’s the review.

Well, not quite. There is, of course, more.

Probably.

For instance, Sabriel is, at least in some sense, a combination of the coming of age story and the journey of self-discovery, complete with a quest, awkward and mostly unhelpful relatives, and a cat with a dubious attitude towards hard work, travel, and the truth. Yet although Sabriel – the main character from whom the title of the book is derived – undoubtedly experiences enough to encourage change, and although Sabriel gains both strength and confidence throughout the entirety of the novel, it is by no means an easy, inevitable, measurable process. She experiences setbacks and failures, takes one step forwards and at least three – potentially even a leap – backwards worryingly regularly, and even at the conclusion of the novel experiences and displays the kind of realistic emotional responses that many similar novels steer well clear of unless they happen to involve the opposite sex.

Which is, needless to say, a little bit dull.

Additionally, although as I’ve previously mentioned – or should have mentioned, as my intended structure for this was chucked out long ago, alongside a particularly shocking title – Sabriel does change and develop, she doesn’t magically become a good person, free of the flaws that plagued her at the start of the novel, and suddenly in possession of every single skill that she previously lacked. Neither does she turn into a paragon of moral virtue, whatever one of those happens to be, or discover her confidence, belief, and power all in one measly afternoon.

Not to sound like a cliché self-help book, but her development is into a better version of herself. She changes, and grows, but she remains ultimately recognisable, an interesting, layered character, developed well, and portrayed consistently.

She also falls in love, which is far from a revelation, I’m aware, but it’s not presented as the most important plot aspect – in fact, it’s hardly a plot point at all. It simply happens, quite naturally, alongside the action, as two hitherto unattached people become aware of exactly what feelings have developed over the course of the unexpected acquaintance. It neither eclipses the plot, nor detracts from the importance of Sabriel’s personal growth. Both Sabriel and Touchstone are fully developed as independent characters before any hint of romance as introduced.

The only aspect of the novel that I didn’t like – I’ve finished waxing lyrical about it, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know – is the pacing. It starts slowly; setting the scene very deliberately, and then seems to rush ahead as soon as Sabriel crosses the wall. It more or less fluctuates between the two speeds throughout the novel, and although there’s more than enough description to set each scene, and more than enough imagery to encourage the reader to become thoroughly immersed, the jarring pace ruined that aspect for me.

To conclude, then, I enjoyed Garth Nix’s Sabriel for many, many reasons, not least of which is the introduction of a strong heroine given shape not by a sudden inexplicable romance, but by her own development. Although there are aspects that I think work less well, they do not detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel.