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REVIEW: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

REVIEW SUMMARY: A good book overall, but weak on plot.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Discworld plunges towards an ominous red star and the only thing that can save it are the most powerful magic spells, one of which lives inside the head of the reluctant Wizard Rincewind.


PROS: A quick and funny read.

CONS: Light on plot; seemed to drag on a bit despite the humor.

BOTTOM LINE: A better overall reading experience than The Color of Magic, even if only slightly.

Terry Pratchett will never be accused of writing Great Literature, but then that’s not his goal in his popular Discworld series. The aim is to parody the fantasy genre with stories both fun and funny. My understanding is that he does this across the series to varying degrees of success. The latest Discworld book to cross my path on the journey that is The Great Pratchett Reading Project was The Light Fantasic. This is the second Discworld book written – still early in a series that is up to thirtysomething books – and as such, there is room for improvement.

The Light Fantastic continues the story of inept wizard Rincewind that began with The Color of Magic. This time around, Rincewind and his cohort, Twoflower the clueless tourist – who is forever accompanied by his magical, walking luggage – get some help from the old and toothless hero Cohen the Barbarian. They set out to save Discworld itself from certain doom as it plunges towards a red star. Meanwhile, at Unseen University, Trymon the wizard is making a power play to become the Supreme Wizard by reciting all eight of the most powerful magic spells from the Octavo, the ultimate book of magic. But one of those spells has escaped the book and lives inside Rincewind’s head. Can Rincewind save the world?

That’s more than a brief synopsis, that’s about all there is to the story. The focus here is on witty wording and farce instead of plot. It mostly succeeds at what it aims to do; there are some funny moments when our fearful heroes are addressing (or more likely running away from) one threat or another. Pratchett’s humor comes across casually and can catch a reader unaware. There’s not only funny dialogue; the narrative is humorous as well. All told, his witty writing makes this a quick read.

Still…that lack of focus on plot…

While The Color of Magic was a collection of short fiction patched together to form a book, The Light Fantastic is a true novel-length story. Sadly, that story does not take a whole novel to tell. The result is a fair number of times when the book seemed to plod along too slowly despite the humor. Perhaps it’s too much to expect a meatier plot from humorous fantasy; but is it too much to expect a story to move quickly enough to keep a reader interested?

See also: JP’s review

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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