54. Equal Rites

“Women can’t be Wizards… it’s in the Lore…” 

I am determined to read more Terry Pratchett this year and I have recently made it my private mission to liberate as many Pratchett novels from charity shops as I can. I was recommended this one a few years ago by a friend who happened upon it while he was travelling for three months. The Discworld is always a light easy escape, it’s silly place, it’s a fun place, and a good pallet cleanser between books. It is probably unsurprising how much I enjoyed this one as Equal Rites is the struggle for a young girl to rightfully become a Wizard, no matter how many Wizards laugh at her.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

In this one, we meet Granny Weatherwax. Weatherwax is now one of my favourite characters, alongside Death (yes, the skeleton with the black cloak, gravely voice and flying horse). She is very much a Witch who has lived in the same part of the world for a long time and is suspicious of anything or anywhere new and she doesn’t like to admit she is lost when she is, nor does she like Broomsticks very much. And she is a force to be reckoned with.

This novel is focused on the life of Esk, a young girl who is the 8th daughter of an 8th son. We start the novel with a Wizard coming to Esk’s birth, insisting on passing on his Staff and magic to the child in question. Of course the Wizard assumes Esk is a boy and doesn’t check the gender of the child before the ritual.

In the Disc Wizards are always men, and Witches are always Women and that is the way it is has always been. This is a terrible turn of events as Wizardry and Witchcraft are very different kinds of magic that are supposedly, not interchangeable. Wizardry is about words and books, Witchcraft is more to do with the forest and herbs and fortune telling. Supposedly women just aren’t supposed to be Wizards or given Wizard’s magic… until Esk, anyway.  At the birth Granny Weatherwax scolds the Wizard for his foolishness before he dies, and she hopes all of this mess will some how go away of it’s own accord.

Of course, life is never that simple in the Disc and although things are quiet for a time Esk ultimately learns she can turn her brothers into pigs when she wants to and that her Staff has a tendency for violence on her behalf. Granny Weatherwax does her best to instruct Esk in the ways of Witchcraft, much too Esks frustration as this is simply not enough and they decide to go to the Unseen University. Weatherwax writes ahead without response, hoping to convince the Wizards to accept Esk and provide training that she cannot provide.

The novel is fast paced and flutters all over the place, into magic, into the brewing and spoiling of ales and into some of the mystic of the Unseen University itself. I am a big fan of objects that have a mind of their own in the Disc, Twoflower’s Luggage being the most important example of this. I enjoy knowing a Staff has a will of it’s own and will beat people who upset it, just as much as I enjoy a chest that runs around of its own accord eating people that upset it.

What starts out as a simple journey to the city very quickly turns into protecting the disc from being invaded by slimy things that aren’t sure what animals are so buckle lots of horns and claws and wings onto themselves to appear menacing but in fact, look rather comical. But I’m not going to spoil it any further, you should experience the fun for yourself!

This is one of the better Discworld novels and I really enjoyed it! Equal Rites is a better balance of character and narrative and it is one of the better paced novels with a satisfying ending. This also gave me a good laugh at times, and I’d recommend it if you need a bit more fun in your life!

53. Leviathan Wakes 

Leviathan Wakes, is the first novel of The Expanse series and I am in love in a big way. It’s sci-fi, it’s a detective story, there is intergalactic war brewing, there is something horrific happening in space that is maybe going to cause this war, there is the alcoholic detective, the do-gooder righteous space captain, the rogue war-hero, and a missing girl who is at the centre of all of this. There are heads floating in space asking for the help, hands creeping along by themselves, something building something out of organic matter. This is not a novel for the faint of heart.

Leviathan Wakes – James S. A. Corey

James S. A. Corey is the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, as collaborations go it is a snappy read and not weighty like some sci-fi, this is the kind of book you can read half of in one sitting. And this book seduces you in the ways you would demand from a good read. It’s been heralded as ‘a block buster’ read and I agree, no matter how much I jumped in and out and tried to make it last longer this is a novel that really gets in your head and stays there vividly.

The novel is set in the far future, humanity is in the infancy of space colonisation, and Leviathan Wakes sees most of our species flung across space into Mars and the Belt (along Jupiter’s mineral rich rings). However this colonisation is still aware of its dependency on Earth. Despite an advanced navy, Mars is still in the process of terraforming and relies on Earth for survival. The residents of the Belt have become almost another human species with generations having never experienced planetary gravity. The Belt itself seems almost like a scattering of shanty towns that are kept destitute by comparison to Mars and Earth, but this is thanks to trade agreements and tariffs enforced by the planets. The pressure on the Belt is gradually pushing the rebellious Outer Planetary Alliance (OPA) and others into escalating acts of violence.

The narrative is set within the Belt and told by two perspectives: Joe Miller, a jaded, alcoholic Belter cop who is searching for a missing rebel girl from a rich family, and Joe Holden, the ex-navy, now good-guy ice miner who stumbles into the wrong place at the wrong time.

Holden and the crew of the Canterbury stumble across a call for help signal while making runs from the rings of Saturn. They find a derelict ship, the Scopuli, seemingly abandoned or pirated and evidence of something that could cause war. Holden being the righteous good-guy, broadcasts his information to who ever that will listen and while all the guns point in the wrong direction, muddles his way through the mystery of what has actually happened with his crew.

It’s Miller’s job and hopeless luck to find Julie, a rich girl and run away, for her parents. He is the archetypal detective going to seed, divorced, alcoholic, not a people person, and obsessive when he’s got a puzzle to solve. While he hunts for the missing girl he witnesses his space station crumbling into riots and political turmoil. Miller reveals racial frictions between Earth and the Belt and the hardships of life trapped in a tin can surrounded by a vacuum. Unsurprisingly Miller’s obsession with the puzzle of where Julie is leads him to Holden and the Scorpuli.

This is a very cleanly written novel with good pacing, there are several climactic events that are handled very well. The world feels and reads as plausible, attention to detail and physics are put at the forefront of concern. The threat of being smooshed into jelly thanks to high velocity travelling or being crushed by gravity or suffocating from oxygen loss or through shoddy maintenance of filters aren’t understated, this is life for our characters. Little details really make the world pop, they are real threats that aren’t solved through shortcuts or miracle tech gadgets. There are means and rules to this world and nobody is safe from the dangers of space.

Holden and Miller are also two very different men. Miller is used to making his problems disappear by (probably) throwing them out of airlocks and he is genuinely a hard and bitter man. But when Miller is faced with the need to survive he takes it at any cost. Holden is righteous to the point of recklessness, he acts before thinking of the consequences but unlike Miller, Holden is not alone. Holden gets reigned in a little by his crew and the camaraderie that cements them together as a unit. The differences between these two characters also give two very different perspectives on how to handle the correct application of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The readership also ultimately questions whether Miller has a tenuous grasp of reality and how far that has gone into his dealings with right and wrong.

As well as a wonderful pace and narrative, this novel delivered a really satisfying ending, there comes a point where there is a lull and you think everything may be okay now. Wrong. The tension rises again and there are space fights and rebels and a high velocity space chase. Over all this novel was brilliant. Distinct characters, a pressure cooker of a universe waiting to erupt and something sinister lurking on the fringes of a mystery. I cannot recommend this one enough. Bring on book two, Caliban’s War.

52. Fahrenheit 451

I find myself dragging my feet lately when it comes to literature, which is ironic because Fahrenheit 451 is a little about a crisis of faith and book burning. I decided a while ago that I have wanted to revisit this one, partly because it is one of my all time favourite reads and also because it marked the point where reading became a much larger part of my life. I can’t say the two were especially related but the perhaps the undertones of the novel did have a bigger influence than I’m admitting. In Bradbury’s world all books have been banned and those who have them have their homes burnt for it.

Farehrenit 451 – Ray Bradbury

It is one of my personal nightmares to have books banned and burnt. It is also one of my personal nightmares for books to die out entirely and reality tv to take over the masses. This is the world that Bradbury paints, shockingly two-dimensional wives glued to tv walls, engaging in no-narrative nonsensical tv ‘families’ and denying the reality of having their stomachs pumped at night when they neck a bottle of pills. This is a world where ignorance runs riot and everyone is unhappy but pretends they are not.

Guy Montage is our protagonist, a book burning Fireman, a little out of sorts with his place in the world and with his home life. He suppresses his sadness and has a good mask as he begins the novel, he has accepted the hand he has been dealt and seems to be pulling up his socks and carrying on because it is his duty. The start of Guy’s spiral into his refusal to accept things as they are, is a chance meeting with a free thinking teenager. Clarisse is unlike anyone he has ever met before and they bond quickly. There are few people in this novel that acknowledge on-coming war, but Clarisse is one of them. After her tragic disappearance we witness Guy stealing books at work and hiding them at home. But bizarrely this is not his first time.

He begins his long struggle with the reality of what he is doing and his relationship with books. He has no real answers as to why he is doing this, it is an impulse, perhaps curiosity, perhaps he is also coming to terms with how much he despises the world he lives in and what it tells him. His wife finds out his secret of course and pressures him into confessing to his boss, Captain Beatty. Beatty gives some insights into why they burn books and the decline of trust in the written word. But he is also the kind of character you want to punch, right in his stupid face, ya know? Beatty has obviously read a lot of the books he has burnt on the sly and is quite candid with spouting quotes at Guy to provoke him.

But Guy has an ally during his struggle, Mr. Faber an old academic, attempts to console Guy and explains the central idea Bradbury tries to deliver with Fahrenheit 451. It seems Bradbury is trying to warn us against the dangers of new forms of media, and the impact that they will have on literature. Bradbury also hits on the censorship of information and considering this novel was written in the 50s the social comments on reality tv and misdirecting the audience is incredibly contemporary. This is not a novel that feels dated and it is a little disturbing.

The entire novel is set to the backdrop of a war that is over within two minutes, but society at large is oblivious or have no grasp of the danger they are in because they are spoon fed by media outlets. Brainwashed – is a word that comes to mind. This is novel that sits beside Orwell’s 1984 very happily and nods it’s head in slow agreement and invites it over for coffee. It is a haunting read that comments beautifully on people actively attempting to protect ignorance, regardless of the cost. I will certainly read this again.

It was a pleasure to burn. – p.9

51. The Dragon Reborn 

Hello! Here we are again with another instalment of the Wheel of Time. I have steadily been falling in love with this series. The Eye of the World repaired some personal, unsatisfactory gaps left by Tolkien’s Lord of the RingsThe Great Hunt was a little slower to get started but began hinting at the true weave of such a mammoth narrative. Three novels in and am I bored yet? Absolutely not.

The Dragon Reborn – Robert Jordan

This novel marks the first real shift in Jordan’s writing. Things have felt a little formulaic but what I am learning is that characters in the Wheel of Time series all have their own turn to be your hero, or to be irritating, or somewhat stupid.

The Dragon Reborn has several main storylines, one of which is of course our hero Rand who was unavoidably annoying in the last novel. In this one however Rand abandons his friends in the forest after they are attacked at night. His story is pretty simple in this one, he travels on alone to Tear with the intention of liberating the sword from the prophesies, Callandor. Only the Dragon Reborn can touch and wield the sword so it isn’t clear whether Rand is testing his role or if he is accepting it. But it seems that the only way for him to reject entirely the idea that he is the Dragon Reborn is to be rejected by the sword of Callandor. I guess it’s a little bit like tossing a coin to accept the outcome.

Rand actually spends the majority of the novel backstage. He only really flits into say hi when someone has found him in the Dream World and I must say, it’s a bit of a relief to get some respite from him. The Dragon Reborn finally gives some of the other characters a bit more to do and a bit more of the stage for themselves.

Because Rand has ‘run away from home’, Perrin gets his chance to carve a good portion of the narrative out for himself. Perrin, Lan and Morraine are hot on Rand’s heels as they try to catch up with him. In the earlier books we learn that he can speak to wolves and he is finally given chance to find out a little more what that means to him and how, if at all, he is to accept and adjust to it.

The Dragon Reborn also gives us another layer to add to all the magic of the world, the Dream World is a focus point for several characters including Perrin, as dreams and wolves are somehow intertwined. Perrin seems to take on a lot of the emotional mantel of this novel, he longs for home and returning to his life as a Blacksmith’s apprentice, he longs to put down his axe full stop, and he is afraid he will loose his mind entirely to the wolves. He even takes up some of Rand’s role and discovers his own frictions with Morraine and even meets a pretty girl, Faile.

Mat is finally cured of the shadow curse that has tainted him for the last two novels! Finally he also has a bit more of the narrative to strut his stuff and give us a bit more of himself. Of course he would lead you to believe that he is a gambling, womaniser with no sense of responsibility but there are moments where his humanity and morals shine through, usually through his own charity. In this novel Mat also learns how to use his own superpower, Luck, in both gambling and escaping assassinations. He is charged by Elayne to deliver a letter to her mother the Queen, but while he does so discovers someone plots to kill Elayne and her traveling companions, Nyaevene and Egwene. So against his better judgement he also ends up heading to Tear to warn/protect them.

Nyaevene, Elayne and Egwene are also off having their own adventure. While being busy and learning to become Aes Sedai, the Amyrlin Seat charges them with a secret task to find  any Black Ajah (i.e evil witches) left within Tar Valon. Egwene is also trying to learn how to navigate her own connection with the Dream World. Nyaevene seems to dominate the other two while they travel however, leaving Egwene’s pride feeling hurt. Ultimately these women can be a little annoying in their adolescent bickering but they pull through when it matters and become endearing once more. Of course, they find evidence that the Black Ajah are in Tear and end up going to investigate.

Weirdly, nearly everyone at some point meets an Aiel. In the Dragon Reborn we have a bit more to do with these mysterious people, beyond knowing they are fierce killers, and they end up very much part of a wonderful ending that fulfils another prophecy. There are other things going on as well, the Forsaken are popping up everywhere and the world seems less safe than it was in the previous two novels.

There is a lot going on in this novel and it is very much the action packed quest story of The Eye of the World, mixed with the brilliant ending of The Great Hunt. Finally we get to see more of a few of the other characters and a few new faces join the ride. Though there is a little bit of a hive mind that seems to converge all of the characters to one location with relative ease and some of the repetitive actions (Nyaevene’s braid pulling) and sometimes the thoughts of some characters can get a little annoying. Despite a couple of minor flaws this is still a solid fantasy novel that is pushing the series along beautifully.

I don’t think I can state it enough. This is a great series. But there is one character that I am looking forward to seeing more of though because he seemed to be very quiet in this novel, give me more of Loial!