Terry Pratchett, The Carpet People (1971/1992)

Just a few quick words in-between longer posts. As I’ve mentioned here and there, I’ve decided to do a big, complete Discworld re-read a couple of years ago. I’ve sped it up last year, went from Mort to The Amazing Maurice… and this year I’ve already listened to the Night Watch  and The Wee Free Men to start The Monstrous Regiment only yesterday.

I love it! Even more, then the first time. And some books I read for the first time. I will sum it all up after I finish. But, it was not enough Pratchett. I’ve read his nonfics, and now I’ve also read his first novel (although in its re-written, later version), The Carpet People.

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What a funny little book! I don’t know how much it’s changed from the original version – anybody here read that? – but it’s a great debut and clearly a work of a beautiful, brilliant mind.

The humour is already there, Pratchett’s satirical sense, his ability to show us an absurd fantasy world – and through this, the absurd of the one we created here on Earth. Sure, it was refined later on, but this book is nothing to be ashamed of.

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An excursion into non-fiction #2: Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011)

Author: Yuval Noah HarariIMG_20181211_210646

Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Edition: Vintage Books, Paperback

Pages: 498

Piotrek: Ambitious title for a 500 pages book, ain’t it? This young (born 1976) and charismatic Israeli historian – and his is a professional historian, with his DPhil thesis titled History and I : war and the relations between history and personal identity in Renaissance military memoirs, c.1450-1600. written in Oxford – aims to catch the essence of our history, as a species, in one tome. The result is certainly very successful, since 2011 published in multiple languages and its author became a public intellectual with TED Talks and countless interviews available on Youtube and elsewhere. We are here to judge if the world is right 😉

Ola: Oh well, there’s nothing like a catchy beginning, is there? 😛 But on a more serious note, Harari’s ambitions were huge, and a bit of hubris was, I guess, unavoidable – especially if you want to market a de facto historical book to a wide, mostly lay, public. Harari’s book, however, deserves its hype, for it’s written in a flowing, precise style, and delivers an abundance of catchy, well devised examples to better explain the more abstract concepts.

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Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood (1984)

Author: Robert Holdstock

Title: Mythago Wood (Ryhope Wood #1)

Edition: Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks, Paperback

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I love this series! Only one shelf now, but expanding…

Pages: 302

Robert Paul Holdstock was a British s/f and fantasy writer best known for his Ryhope Woods sequence. Novels that draw inspiration from Celtic mythology and the classic tropes of fantasy to create something original and mysterious, but decidedly not hear-warming. Readers beware, magic comes at high cost here and every bit of happiness is accompanied by pain and loss.

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Ursula Le Guin, The Other Wind (2001)

One of the high points of the recent Witch Week was a discussion on Ursula Le Guin’s The Other Wind, the final Earthsea book. Inspired beyond our contribution to the comment section there, we decided to post this special two-shot review. Warning – there will be spoilers, there’s no point in avoiding that. This is a short novel, if you liked the previous ones, read it. If not, you will not like it, we promise…

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Prószyński i S-ka published one of the beautiful editions of the Earthsea, with one weak point – lack of illustrations. Saga Press (Gollancz in UK and I have this version) published the ultimate illustrated edition, with great art by Charles Vess.

Piotrek: I love Le Guin and I consider her to be one of the giants of the genre, quite close to Tolkien on my personal Olympus. I was happy to re-read the final book before the Witch Week – originally I wanted to re-read the entire cycle, but I only found time to read Wizard and this. To my astonishment I realised I’ve never read The Other Wind before! Why? It was published in 2001, Polish translation in 2003, after my last re-read of the Earthsea. Between then and now I’ve read a few of the Hainish novels, Malafrena, and some other one-shots and short stories, even her poems, but I somehow missed The Other Wind. It was a great joy to read it now, as I really find it a worthy conclusion of the cycle and a very good read in its own rights. Some of the loose ends come together, some stories end, Le Guin neatly ties up the world we revisit for the last time (in a novel format).

Ola: I’ve read The Other Wind before – but as a much younger person 😉 It defied my expectations then; not that I thought Ged’s retirement to be a punishment, as some of the readers apparently believed, according to Le Guin – but his drastic (to my 15 years younger self, at least) change of role and status – as well as the limited amount of space he took in the book – was a definite surprise. This time I see much more clearly how deftly Le Guin altered his role from the original hero to the wise man and mentor aiding a new hero on his new journey, still keeping Ged within the heroic cycle. The cyclical nature of life is, after all, one of the main themes of the novel.

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Leigh Bardugo, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (2017)

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Author: Leigh Bardugo

Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Pages: 288

Format: Hardcover

A collection of fables set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, The Language of Thorns first came to my attention through Trang’s review on Bookidote. As a novice to Bardugo’s writing, without any reading experience in Grishaverse, but with rather better knowledge in the areas of myth, fairy tale and fable, I can conclude that Language of Thorns is an inventive, pleasurable read, which pleases the eye as much as the mind, owing that to wonderful illustrations by Sara Kipin. Though it would certainly do better without the lengthy and slightly cheesy subtitle, I think I understand the sentiment, especially that this book is advertised to an audience slightly younger than me ;).

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Tim Powers, Declare (2001)

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Author: Tim Powers

Title: Declare

Pages: 517

Format: Hardcover

Thy story is a marvelous one! If it were graven with needles on the corners of the eye, it would serve as a warning to those that can profit by example.

A Cold War era spy thriller/horror/love story, centered around the life of the infamous Soviet spy Kim Philby, where French, American, British and Soviet secret services are viciously fighting for access to a supernatural power – djinn, or nephilim, or fallen angles, residing in remote wildness of Arabian deserts. And the famous Mount Ararat. So, in short, if you want to know why USSR fell in 1991, read Declare ;).

Tim Powers did it again. He found a nexus of happenstance, coincidence, inexplicable historical facts, and, diligently digging around through archives and his own subconscious, created an improbable, but inherently logical explanation to it all. One that involves Thousand Nights and One Night, T.E Lawrence, British Secret Service, Mount Ararat and Dead Sea scrolls, as well as baptism in Jordan River, a disgraced nun, an inhabited fox, the vagaries of Heaviside Layer and a colony of djinn.

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Brian McClellan, Wrath of Empire (2018)

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Author: Brian McClellan

Title: Wrath of Empire

Pages: 656

Format: Hardcover

A sequel to Sins of Empire, Wrath of Empire picks up where Sins ended. General Vlora Flint leads her Riflejacks turned mercenary army away from Landfall in a doomed effort of protecting refugees. I say “doomed”, because two Dynize armies literally race each other to finish her off more quickly and efficiently, and a Fatrastan army on the other side of the river wants her imprisoned and tried for treason. Mad Ben Styke accompanies Vlora with his own unit, reborn from the ashes of old Mad Lancers, and ponders the difficult dilemmas of vengeance, while Michel Brevis, still in his role as a Gold Rose Blackhat, smuggles families of other Blackhat members from the occupied capital city. Sounds tough, but that’s only the beginning: they all will soon face even greater dangers and more impossible tasks, because, as usual in McClellan’s books, the neck-breaking pace of action doesn’t relent for even a moment.

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Wrath of Empire can be described as an impressive string of pitched battles, deadly ambushes and duels, balanced with a huge amount of politics, internal struggles of various factions, torture, and betrayal. I’d go as far as to say that the military part of the book is the lighter one. The dark, underground maze beneath Landfall, in which insurgent/terrorist cells of Fatrastan Blackhats are hiding and from which they plot bombings and assassinations, is an apt metaphor of McClellan’s vision of politics. It’s as off-putting as it’s dangerous, and yet it remains an integral part of the life of the city above, connected to it through various hidden tunnels and cellars. McClellan seems to maintain a romantic view of war, full of heroic acts of selfless bravery and beautiful cavalry charges, miraculous deliverances in the last second and improbably lucky coincidences. In contrast, there is nothing romantic in the image of political struggle he paints in the Wrath of Empire, where even heroic, selfless deeds are met with suspicion, allegiances change with the speed of light, while the final goal seems at best unattainable and at worst non-existent. Yet more than the pitched battles I enjoyed the descriptions of  tangled politics of the Dynize occupying force, and really appreciated the complexity of the Dynize image, who weren’t portrayed as universally bad guys. Having Michel operate in the midst of the occupying force served very well as an opportunity to show all shades of personalities also among the notional enemy.

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