Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Everyone in fantasy knows Terry Pratchett. He's one of the big guys in the genre. And yet I am almost, but not quite, ashamed to admit to not having read any of his works until now. When I was young and living in Puerto Rico, I never saw any of this books in the science fiction and fantasy sections of bookstores I frequented. Once I got older and explored more of speculative fiction I heard about the Discworld novels, but again never spotted any of this books in the wild. It was only in an independent bookstore in Seattle a few years back that I first saw his books in the shelves. Since then I've also spotted them here in Chile, coincidentally as one of the few English-language books they sell here.

I've had his series on my radar for several years now and decided to start at the beginning, The Color of Magic, particularly given that it was 1.99USD on the Kindle a few weeks ago. A cheap price on something I've been meaning to read means an instant buy. I doubt the remaining 38 books will be similarly priced, but I'm now hooked and will buy them regardless of price (though probably not all at once...).

After the jump: my review of Terry Pratchett's The Color of Magic, first in the Discworld universe.

Overall Impression
This book was very good. It was sharp and witty and it revelled in it. While I do enjoy some good humor in my books, I either prefer the book be entirely devoted to it (like this one) or the humor be sporadic (like on many occasions in the Malazan series). I've had bad experiences with books switching tone halfway through. No such thing happens with Pratchett. You know the book will be ridiculous and you take it for what it is: good natured fun. There is, after all, no way a giant turtle flies through the sky with four giant elephants on its back supporting a flat Discworld. As long as you know it's crazy, you'll find something to love in the book.

The story jumps around a bit and is basically the adventures of the Discworld's first tourist, Twoflower. He is a bit naive or absentminded and arrives with a ton of gold ready to explore the greatest and most dangerous city in the Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. He meets the failed wizard Rincewind, who reluctantly joins him in adventures that take them all the way to the Edge of the Discworld.

There are two main characters in this book: Rincewind, a failed wizard who only knows one spell, and Twoflower, the tourist. Rincewind reminded me somewhat of Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit: he is reluctant to go on adventures and just wants to stay home were it's safe. However, Rincewind is quite willing to lie, panic, and run away if he feels it'll lead to a slightly longer life.
Twoflower couldn't be more opposite. He'll gladly go into the most dangerous temples, taverns, and caves to see what's in there and take pictures. In the face of certain doom, he'll be the one that politely asks to hold still for a picture. I think I identified a bit more with Rincewind and railed at Twoflower to not do X or Y (yet secretly glad that he went along and did so anyways).

In addition to these two fine characters, we have many secondary ones, my favorite of which is probably Death. He appears often trying to get Rincewind to die. I had watched the movie before reading the books, so I read Death's phrases with Christopher Lee's deep voice, which I think is completely appropriate.

Setting / World Building
The world is a flat disc, suspended on the backs of four giant elephants that stand on the shell of a giant turtle as it flies through space. When I first heard of that I was immediately sold. I love fantastical settings and nothing is more fantastical than Pratchett's universe. A lot of fantasy tries to meld itself with our reality, portraying a world that is only slightly different from ours. If it weren't for magic or dragons or elves or whatnot, you could think you were on Earth. Pratchett will have none of that: the world is flat, a disc; it spins and a tiny Sun and Moon (about a mile across) orbit the turtle bringing light to the Discworlders. Naturally, you can fall of the edge, and indeed there is a constant fall of water at the Rimwall. Where does the water go and how come the oceans haven't drained off the disc? Easy: this is fantasy, it doesn't have to make sense. When in doubt, blame it on magic.

Despite the amazingly crazy setting, the world does have its internal consistency. Magic is commonplace and the number 8 holds an important place in magical societies. The eighth color, octarine, is the color of magic and is ever present, for those who can see it at least, when magical things are afoot. We are told that one of the eight Great Spells is looked into Rincewind's mind, something that will become more important in the following book, The Light Fantastic.

Final Thoughts
The book is good and probably serves as an excellent introduction to the Discworld universe (though if there's a better book to start with, please let us know in the comments). It's funny and witty and a very light read. While it's a good book, I personally prefer darker, longer, and more serious books. Hence, it didn't end up among my Top 5 of 2012. And yet I would still recommend the book for those looking for a light read and will certainly be catching up on the rest of the Discworld novels throughout the following years.

1 comment:

  1. Howdy!

    I'm a Pratchett fan, but I think the Rincewind books might be the weakest of his works. I'd recommend "Guards Guards" and the rest of the Guards books as him at his absolute best. The Wyrd Sisters books are fantastic as well.

    I see you've got Mort on your list. Death is an excellent character. Hogfather is one that you could go to after Mort.

    All that said, these are some of the finest books being published today, and there's not a one of them that I would hesitate to recommend. If you liked Colour of Magic (and maybe Light Fantastic, no review yet) then you're at the beginning of a one of the finest of literary journeys available today.