REVIEW SUMMARY: Someone please tell me this series gets better!
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The misadventures of incompetent magician Rincewind who acts as a guide for the rich-but-naïve tourist named Twoflower.
PROS: “The Lure of the Wyrm” was the strongest story; well-conceived world.
CONS: Not as funny as expected; uneven stories, some of which hovered near mediocrity.
BOTTOM LINE: Considering the expectations fueled by the series hype, this was a letdown.
Terry Pratchett’s long-running Discworld series of novels (now up to, what, about thirty-something books?) has to be one of the most talked-about and loved series. It was, I thought, to my great misfortune that I hadn’t read any of his books. I attempted to rectify this back in 2005 with a read of The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – a book I enjoyed very much – but I still hadn’t read the Discworld-proper novels. Recently prodded by JP’s impromptu Great Pratchett Reading Project, I finally got a chance to remedy the situation. With hopes set extraordinarily high I eagerly dove into the first book, The Color of Magic.
What a letdown.
The book itself is divided into four novellas given continuity by appearance of the characters of Rincewind, a dropout magician who knows only one spell (which he never uses) and Twoflower, a naïve tourist to whom Rincewind acts as guide. In the first story, “The Color of Magic”, Rincewind meets two barbarians, Bravd and Weasel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), and tells them story of how he recently met Twoflower and how both were witness to the destruction of the mighty city Ankh-Morpork. In “The Sending of Eight”, Rincewind and Twoflower are joined by a barbarian named Hrun and encounter tree elves and a monstrous beast named Bel-Shamharoth. In “The Lure of the Wyrm” (the strongest of the four stories) they battle with dragons in a magic-infused upside-down mountain. In “Close to the Edge”, magician and tourist have an adventure near the edge of the world that ultimately involves space flight.
There are other recurring characters in these stories. The most notable is Twoflower’s living Luggage, a trunk with many feet that is not afraid to bite looting hands. Death is also a recurring (and humorous) character but somehow Rincewind always seems to elude his fatal grasp. Other characters come and go but they are not as memorable.
What are the problems with the book? Simply put, the stories were uneven and the writing not nearly as funny as I had expected. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this type of read, but it took most of the first story before I got into the feel of the book, and that was a second attempt after a false start. Also, this has been billed as one of the funniest series of all time. I was willing to forego my usual distaste for fantasy to give it a go. Where were the laugh-out-loud moments? I wondered. I can only hope that subsequent books in the series are funnier, if I can muster up enough resolve to go at this again.
There were high points, to be sure. “The Lure of the Wyrm” was very enjoyable. But I can’t ignore that the other stories were less so – some to the point of mediocrity. Once I got the hang of the dry humor, it seemed to work better, however, as I said, it could have been funnier. Somehow I felt that it should have been funnier considering the hype surrounding the series. Also a plus: the world-building part (the astronomy and magical qualities of the Discworld) was well-conceived.
I have to believe that all that brouhaha over these books is somehow warranted. Maybe the dozens of other books are more representative of the series reputation?