Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: SMALL GODS by Terry Pratchett

small-gods-2Having read the “Wee Free Men” series by Terry Pratchett, which I enjoyed thoroughly, and one Discworld one-shot, I decided to read another of his books that’s more part of the main Discworld mythology. This one seemed recommended by many readers, as a good way to get a handle on Discworld. And, as it involves and explains the many gods of the series, it succeeded in that.

At first I found it not too engaging, though, as none of the characters appealed to me. The story takes place in Omnia, largely in a great city devoted to the worship of their god Om. But we soon find that god has fallen very low. He’s stuck in the body of an ordinary tortoise, and only one person can hear his voice: a simple-minded acolyte named Brutha. As it turns out, while nominally the god of Omnia, in practice no one really believes in him anymore except simple, faithful Brutha. Om and Brutha begin a long process of trying to change that, and soon find themselves on a visit to the distant land of Ephebe where many gods are worshipped, but more credence is given to philosophers, who are granted all kinds of special treatment. The leader of Omnia’s Inquisition is a nasty and powerful man called Vorbis, and he’s planning to overthrow Ephebe. He soon discovers that Brutha has special powers of memory: he remembers everything he sees and hears, and Vorbis enlists Brutha in his schemes, to the dismay of both Brutha and Om, still in a tortoise, still trying to get some respect.

As the book went on, I began to enjoy the characters of crochety Om and idiot savant Brutha, even as I rooted with them against Vorbis. There are plenty of twists in the plot, and a large amount of Pratchett humor in the book. In all, I enjoyed it, though not as much as others I’ve read.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: A SONG FOR ARBONNE by Guy Gavriel Kay

SongArbonneCover painting by David Jermann.

It’s been a while since I read a fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, and I’d forgotten how good he is. The setting is essentially medieval western Europe, with countries similar to France, Spain, Germany, etc., though with just enough differences to make it fantasy. The book has a remarkable amount of symmetry. First there are opposing belief systems. Arbonne, the France-like country is the home of courtly love, and their main worship is to a female deity and female preistesses. Gorhaut, the Germany-like country to their north follows the more common male-deity worship and warlike attitude. They think Arbonne is soft and sissy to be ruled by women. The ruler of Arbonne is an elderly woman, the ruler of Gorhaut a young male with ideas about invading Arbonne and conquering it. His chief advisor is the patriarch of their religion who eggs him on in this plan, as he dreams of destroying the goddess of Arbonne and her priestesses.

That’s just backdrop. The main characters are drawn from all the classes of Arbonne, from traveling musicians and swords-for-hire to important dukes and sons of kings. There is plenty of intrigue, romance and action, and the stories of the main characters, who at first seem to have little or no connection to each other, gradually intertwine and form a rich tapestry of human life that is fascinating to read. There are battles, tournaments, midnight raids, assignations, songs and poetry, political intrigues, smoldering affairs, assassinations, carnivals, death marches, duels, dalliances, drinking, deadly poisons, and just enough magic to make things interesting without it being an easy solution to problems. The book is divided into four sections named for the seasons, another nice piece of symmetry, and the year the main story takes place is one that will forever change this world. If you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones,” here’s a book that handles some of the same material equally well without the soul-crushing cruelty and unhappy endings for many of the characters, though certainly there’s some of that too.

Really well done and highly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE WATER CASTLE by Megan Frazer Blakemore

WaterCastleIllustration © Jim Kay.

Ephraim Appledore-Smith and his family have retreated from the world at large to a long-empty family mansion called the Water Castle because it was built with money from the family’s natural spring water business — think Poland Springs — though that business is long defunct. Ephraim’s father has had a stroke, and his mother hopes that the Water Castle might be a good place for him to recover. Ephraim and his siblings have a lot to deal with; not only their father’s illness but changing schools and adjusting to life in a very small town where their family is infamous. Mallory Green is a girl whose own family has long been the caretakers of the Water Castle, and Will Wylie’s family has been at odds with Ephraim’s for decades, so when the three of them are drawn together by a mutual desire to find out the secrets of the Water Castle, everyone is surprised, even them. Turns out the mansion and its grounds do hold lots of secrets, and maybe even the fabled fountain of youth. Could that be the cure Ephraim desperately wants for his father?

This is a great read combining a puzzle mystery (lots of puzzles) with well-developed and believable characters, some science, maybe a little magic, and many exciting discoveries and adventures. It doesn’t shy away from real world problems and difficult relationships, nor does it allow them to spoil the thrill of the chase. In all, an excellent book.

Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE LAST OF PROFESSOR CHALLENGER

whentheworldscreamedI’ve read the final two Professor Challenger stories by A. Conan Doyle, and I’m happy to report that one of them is the second-best Challenger tale, in my opinion, right after “The Lost World.” The story, probably of novella length, though it’s hard to tell as I read it on my phone, is, as above, “When the World Screamed.” It features a pretty unbelievable premise of Challenger’s: that the Earth (and other planets) are living beings, and our world is alive deep below the surface world we know, but Doyle makes that premise great fun to explore, as he did with the surviving prehistoric animals of “The Lost World.” Professor Challenger himself is back in top form: immensely bombastic, curmudgeonly and rude to everyone, especially the press once they’ve gotten word of his research. That research is a tunnel extending several miles deep into the ground from the English countryside, and Challenger’s plan is to reach the body of the living planet and “sting” it to see what happens. The experiment is conducted with all the pomp and regalia: invited guests, press, and lookers-on, and we the readers are taken into the tunnel by the men prepared to set the explosive charge to gain the potential creature’s attention. Reporter Edward Malone is once more on hand, though not narrating this time, but Challenger himself is in full theatrical mode, lecturing to the crowd in an entertaining way about his theories and experiment. And what happens next? Well worth reading to find out.

The other final short story, “The Disintegration Machine” is much less interestingly told, and reads more like an average bad SF pulp short story than the work of Doyle. But, if you’ve read only “The Lost World,” and would like a second, if shorter, helping of the same, “When the World Screamed” is right up your alley.

And Then I Read: THE SECRET BOX by Whitaker Ringwald

SecretBoxCover art © Erwin Madrid.

The puzzle mystery has entered the computer age in this entertaining book for younger readers. Jax Malone has just turned twelve, and a mysterious box has arrived from her great-aunt Juniper, but Jax’s mother doesn’t want her to have it, or to have anything to do with her rarely seen relative. With the help of best friend Ethan, Jax manages to get her hands on the box and finds it has an LED screen with cryptic clues that leads them on a wild chase to find out not only what’s inside the box, but many other unusual things her great-aunt has been involved in, from ancient curses to legendary goddesses. Before long Jax and Ethan have recruited Ethan’s older brother Tyler, a hard-core computer game wiz, and are headed off to Washington, DC, but along the way the box is stolen by a pair of clever thieves who seem to know more about it than they do, and who may also know where to find Jax’s missing relative.

This is a fun adventure story with well-written characters and lots of action, suspense and mystery. It’s told alternately by Jax and Ethan, each with a memorable point of view and entertaining insights, and the book manages to tell a believable, realistic story with modern themes as well as some fantasy elements, not an easy thing to pull off. I had a good time with it.

Recommended.