Book Review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6; Witches #2)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wyrd Sisters was the second Pratchett book I tackled after not picking up any of his Discworld novels for many years. I decided that I’d start reading these books again, starting with the Witches thread. And I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying them a lot..

Published back in 1988 it re-introduces Granny Weatherwax of Equal Rites fame. If you recall, Equal Rites was the first of the Witches books. With Granny we have Nanny Ogg, matriarch of a large tribe of Oggs and owner of the most evil cat in the world. Next is Magrat Garlick, the junior witch, who believes in occult jewellery, covens, and bubbling cauldrons, much to the annoyance of the other two.

Without going into details about the plot they get involved in royal intrigue. This leads to an attempt to get the rightful King back on the throne.

I’ve now worked out that even though Discworld is set in a fantastical world the eccentric characters tend to be are down-to-earth individuals who find themselves in ludicrous situations. Of course, this creates readable and amusing mayhem. This is especially the case for the three witches who are fleshed out as warm, relevant people. Of course they are strange but are immediately likeable, especially when they are together.

One of the prominent themes in Wyrd Sisters is how language, both written and spoken, can affect how individuals perceive reality:

… “the past is what people remember, and memories are words. Who knows how a king behaved a thousand years ago? There is only recollection, and stories.”

The book makes references to the works of Shakespeare and uses themes from Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear. These are both ridiculed and paid tribute to; not an easy feat for an author. They are also weaved into the story so they don’t seem to be out of place. I’ve also realised that Pratchett is good at using the text to discuss modern issues. For example, in Wyrd Sisters we question the applicability of the monarchy, a topic which is in the news almost daily.

So in summary, this is the best of the handful of Pratchett books I’ve read so far. I’m starting to “get” his peculiar sense of humour. While the book can be read as pure entertainment and a nice way to while away a few hours in a world of witches and Shakespearean plots, it contains deeper philosophical questions too. I can see how he became one of the world’s most popular authors capturing the interest of people who are not generally attracted to fantasy fiction.

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Book Review: The King Beyond the Gate (The Drenai Saga #2) by David Gemmell

The King Beyond the Gate (Drenai Saga, #2)The King Beyond the Gate by David Gemmell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Published in 1985 The King Beyond The Gate is the second book by Gemmell, after Legend. While the book is set in the same world it’s not a direct sequel. Many years have passed and all the previous characters are long since dead. My first impression was that this decision to set the novel so far into the future helped to give the book more of an epic feel. It was a tale that spanned generations. I also felt that Gemmells writing had improved.

The plot is like Legend, as are the characters. As with Gemmell’s previous book one of the main themes in The King Beyond The Gate is how the main protagonists manage to survive. Especially as they are all past their physical prime. They are each haunted by their past. Gemmell does a fine job in familiarising the reader with the details of their own internal conflicts, hopes and fears.

Being a Gemmell book you get the obligatory gore and blood. He is one of the best authors I’ve read for writing heroic combat and battle scenes. And of course these are always against overwhelming odds. He also weaves in misfortune, heartbreak, friendship, love and sorcery too.

Mentioning sorcery, one of my minor criticisms with The King Beyond The Gate is that it uses magic more than other instalments in the series. I would have also preferred to hear about how the Dragon had fallen and Ceska rose to power at the start of the book too. As this doesn’t happen, at the start of the book we get the main characters bumping into one another by chance. I felt at this point the plotting could have been somewhat tighter.

So in summary, I’d recommend The King Beyond The Gate if you love exciting action driven fantasy novels. Perhaps not my favourite Gemmell book but The King Beyond The Gate does what is says on the tin: it doesn’t try to be any more than enjoyable entertainment.

Quotes

As with all Gemmell books, I love to pick out the quotes which resonated with me. Here are the ones I highlighted when reading The King Beyond The Gate:

– Too many people go through life without pausing to enjoy what they have. /Ch. 2
– Nothing in life is sure, my son. Except the promise of death. /Ch. 4
– Evil lives in a pit. If you want to fight it, you must climb down into the slime to do so. White cloaks show the dirt more thank black, and silver tarnishes. /Ch. 10
– All things in the world are created for man, yet all have two purposes. The waters run that we might drink of them, but they are also symbols of the futility of man. They reflect our lives in rushing beauty, birthed in the purity of the mountains. As babes they babble and run, gushing and growing as they mature into strong young rivers. Then they widen and slow until at least they meander, like old men, to join with the sea. /Ch. 12
– “Foolish: It’s all foolish. Life is a farce— a stupid, sickening farce played out by fools.” /Ch. 16
– “I had a teacher … He said there were three kinds of people in life: winners, losers and fighters. Winners made him sick with their arrogance, losers made him sick with their whining, and fighters made him sick with their stupidity.” “In which category did he put himself?” “He said he had tried all three and nothing suited him.” “Well, at least he tried. That’s all a man can do, Lake. And we shall try.” / Ch. 19
– A man makes mistakes, but he lives by them. Foolish it may be on occasion. But in the main it is the only way to live. We are what we say only so long as our words are iron. /Ch. 19
– All things are possible, … Except the passing of regret. /Ch. 20
– Life is sad enough, Magir. Laughter is a thing to be treasured. /Ch. 22

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Book Review: Dark Moon by David Gemmell

Dark MoonDark Moon by David Gemmell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Dark Moon for two reasons:

1. It is a stand-alone work with no follow-up books, and
2. I like the way Gemmell writes (or should I say wrote).

With Dark Moon he doesn’t disappoint. He was one hell of a storyteller being able to develop characters that the reader cares about. He also placed them in situations which demanded to defeat their opponents they become more evil than them. Of course, sometimes his characters choose to use love, compassion, and self-sacrifice instead.

In Dark Moon the story is about the survival of the human race. Humans are stuck between one race (The Oltor) who are good and another who are completely evil (The Daroth). Gemmell plays with the usual evil versus good theme, suggesting that both must exist together. Also in the character of Tarantio we see the powerful extremes of good and evil as personified in one man.

I always got the feeling that redemption featured a lot in Gemmell‘s work. He explores this in Dark Moon in both the epic set piece battles and more quiet emotional sections too. These events all go toward influencing the characters, their decisions and their fates. You’ll find yourself caring about what happens to them, even though many of them have almost no redeeming qualities.

The story flows as well as, if not better, than most other fantasy stories read. The addition of wit and minor sub-plots also gives the reader a breather from the main action and presents a welcome diversion.

In summary, I can recommend this book primarily because David Gemmell was one of the finest fantasy adventure storytellers ever. No matter how familiar or stereotypical his villains, heroes, landscapes or worlds were they never fail to be adrenaline-charged, original and inventive. Dark Moon is not only excellent heroic fantasy but it is also a tribute to the genius and talent that was David Gemmell.

Quotes:
Gemmell never disappoints when it comes to thoughtful quotes. Here are some of my favourite from Dark Moon:

“Heroes are people who face down their fears. It is that simple. A child afraid of the dark who one day blows out the candle; a women terrified of the pain of childbirth who says, ‘It is time to become a mother’. Heroism does not always live on the battlefield.”

“There’s no shame in fear. But understand this – the coward is ruled by fear, while the hero rides it like a wild stallion.”

“The truth. Men will blind themselves with hot irons, rather than face it.”

“Men don’t change. They just learn to disguise the lack of change.”

“Love is both wondrous and yet full of peril. Love is a gateway through which hatred – disguised and unrecognized – can pass.”

“Yours is a race whose imagination is limited to its own small appetites. Greed, lust, envy – these are the motivating forces of humankind. What redeems you is that in every man and woman there is a seed that can grow to encompass love, joy and compassion. But this seed is never allowed to prosper in fertile ground. It struggles for life among the rocks of your human soul.”

“How many hopes and dreams are trapped within these bones? How many wonders lie never to be discovered? This is what war is. Desolation, despair and loss. There are no victors.”

“Life is a struggle, from the agonies of birth to the railing against death. Devour or be devoured. The law of the wild.”

“Like light and shadow, love and hate were inseparable. One could not exist without the other.”

“No man should curse love. Ultimately, love is all there is.”

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