Sourcery – Terry Pratchett (Book Review)


The fifth of Pratchett Discworld series: Sourcery – one which people correct me on when I told them what I was reading (“Sour-cery”, “Sorcery”?)…

There was an eighth son of an eighth son. He was, quite naturally, a wizard. And there it should have ended. However (for reasons we’d better not go into), he had seven sons. And then he had an eighth son … a wizard squared … a source of magic … a Sourcerer. Sourcery sees the return of Rincewind and the Luggage as the Discworld faces its greatest – and funniest – challenge yet.

The book brings us back to Rincewind in Ankh Morpork as a new member joins the university – a ten-year-old boy with seemingly unlimited magic potential, set on the goal of immediately achieving the highest rank in the university.

With the danger apparent, Rincewind escapes with the Arch-Chancellors magic hat, and travels abroad led by the voices of the late arch-chancellors. With the wizards blinded by power led into declaring supremacy over the land, the end of the world nears (with the 4 horsemen drinking at a bar in preparation, led by Death of course).

The book as a whole reads a lot better than some of the previous books by Pratchett: it just seems to flow a lot better and generally be better thought out. The humour too seems a lot less forced and more on level than before, and some lines were genius in the setting.

The ending is satisfying too, and I didn’t find myself rushing to the last page. A criticism perhaps though is that quick introduction of the sorcerer, who even to the last I felt like I hardly knew despite, in a manner, being the main antagonist.

I will be reading the next shortly, as I continue to make way through War & Peace at the same time!


Piercing – Ryu Murakami (Book Review)


After reading and enjoying In the Miso Soup, I spotted this book shortly afterwards! Fairly short and so I gave it a go:

Kawashima Masayuki is a graphic designer living in Tokyo with his wife, Yoko, and their healthy baby girl. Outwardly, their lives are a picture of happiness. Every night, however, unable to sleep, Kawashima creeps from his bed and stands over his newborn child with an ice-pick in his hand, and an almost visceral desire to use it.

The book follows the decision by Masayuki to carry out a murder in order to satisfy the desire in him to harm his child. He decides that this best be a prostitute, and done under a false name. He makes his excuses and books a hotel room for a week.

His plan is set – he will hire a prostitute specialising in BDSM, have her tied up, and use that opportunity to carry out his plans. Only it turns out the prostitute sent to him is just as traumitised psychologically as he is – her upbringing too is effecting her thoughts.

The book is creepy in it’s own way as two damaged people misunderstand each other through the own false interpretations of the world: one perhaps through over-trusting, the over through distrust. This leads to some interesting insights into how the thought life of each person can interpret the same events in very different lights; a sort of cognitive-dissonance.

Though not as engaging as In the Miso Soup, this book follows very much a similar vein of writing – people with evil intentions facing various challenges in Tokyo night-life. Brutality and no barriers to descriptions of cruelties present, and absence of resolution completes it. I quite like this about Ryu Murakami though – the endings are very interesting in their “incompleteness”.

I felt in some ways that this book was trying to be creepy though. There were some clever bits, but other parts felt a little forced and predictable.

Perhaps if you have read In the Miso Soup this might be worth a read, but I certainly preferred the former! I will read more Murakami though, certainly an interesting guy in a strange way.

In the Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami (Book Review)


I’ll be honest, I was attracted by the strange title and interesting front-cover. I’m also trying to read shorter books in preparation of facing down War and Peace later in the year. But this was a pleasant (?) surprise:

 In the Miso Soup tells of Frank, an overweight American tourist who has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife. But Frank’s behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion—that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It is not until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

Kenji, a young Japanese man, makes living from taking foreigners around Tokyo’s nightlife, most those with the intention of finding strip clubs or hiring prostitutes. Kenji being well connected makes a fair living from this, though un-registered as a tour guide.

When he is hired for three nights on the run up to New Years Eve by an American named Frank, he first suspects a similar job to usual – a business man in the country for a few days looking to find a prostitute before leaving back to his home life in America. But, something about Frank is very strange, and Kenji becomes unnerved by suspicions of Franks true identity and desires.

The book, unsurprisingly, is very dark and described in such detail as to only be recommended with those who approach it expecting this. The descriptions of murders around Tokyo and the “sleazy nightlife” are skimped out on, and are given as graphically as possible. Though perhaps in a way to shock the reader to the realities of the life there.

It was truly saddening to hear even fictitious lives of prostitutes in Japan who are often young and down on their luck, meaning they sell “there only marketable thing”: their body. The men who approach them are looking only for a bit of fun, but for them it’s a life which has become inescapable.

I found myself drawn into the darkness of the world portrayed, and I found it hard to stop reading out of curiosity for what will happen next. I don’t often read thrillers but if many are like this one, perhaps I should…

I recommend this for anyone interesting in Japanese life or literature, but only if you approach it knowing it’s a little dark: not as bad as American Psycho, but certainly in a similar vein!

The ending was very poetic in a way, and left a lot of things open intentionally it seems, as fitting for the story.

Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames (Book Review)


I was interested in this book when I first heard about, though never actually got around to buying it until recently, and am I glad I did!

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. 

Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.

It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld.

The book follows a group of mercenaries, who were once regarded as the greatest band of fighters, coming out of retirement for one last mission: to rescue their leaders daughter from a city under siege.

Gabriel, once “Golden Gabe” is now a nervous, middle-aged man and seeks the help of his friends for what is essentially regarded as a suicide mission. Clay “Slowhand” has since settled down and has a young daughter; Moog the magician has retired to his tower to search for a cure of a disease regarded as incurable; and Matrick, their former rogue has become an over-weight king. Ganelon, they assume, hates them all. Gabe sets out to recruit the team again and cross thousands of miles of treacherous terrain to return his daughter home.

The book contains all sorts of great fantasy tropes and nods to popular series, and the “band” dynamic of mercenaries, though strange, works really well!

There are parts in this which are genuinely hilarious and I found myself re-reading paragraphs that were so great. The characters are all unique and I wish we had access to their old adventures often alluded to as well. There are also some moving parts of the book which, intertwined with the comedy, works seamlessly, making it hard to believe that this is Eames first published book; and well deserved it is!

The next book in this series is due for release this year and I for one can’t wait for it to be published – a book I’m very likely to re-read; a genuine pleasure.

If you are a fan of fantasy books or games, then this book is definitely worth your time. Eames writes like someone who knows how to make you laugh and pull your heart-strings too, and seemingly effortlessly draws out a story which makes finishing the novel sad for the reader.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (Book Review)


I read this after reading much about it in Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I often saw it in book shops on the “Must Reads” tables, and so reading it was inevitable:

Hundreds of years in the future, the World Controllers have created an ideal civilization. Its members, shaped by genetic engineering and behavioral conditioning, are productive and content in roles they have been assigned at conception. Government-sanctioned drugs and recreational sex ensure that everyone is a happy, unquestioning consumer; messy emotions have been anesthetized and private attachments are considered obscene. Only Bernard Marx is discontented, developing an unnatural desire for solitude and a distaste for compulsory promiscuity. When he brings back a young man from one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old unenlightened ways still continue, he unleashes a dramatic clash of cultures that will force him to consider whether freedom, dignity, and individuality are worth suffering for.

The book essentially follows two main characters who are living in a future where amusement and consumership are held in the highest regard, and where it is considered the height of barbarism to commit to only one other human in a monogamous relationship, or to (worst of all) became a parent. Babies are grown in test-tubes in this future, and abortion clinics are there for emergencies (though from a very young age, contraception is taught to be of the utmost importance).

Bernard Marx struggles in this society as he has found within himself another desire – a desire to be an individual. This world which humans exchange sex and drugs so casually sickens him, and he wishes to abandon his base desires in order to search deeper meaning – though this is actively discouraged!

Upon bringing back a “savage” (raised by a mother, taught monogamy, and to whom religion is very important) to “civilised” society, the savage shocks many with his views and disgust towards this world. Even when the girl he is in love with offers him sex so casually, he is infuriated and refuses this meaninglessness she has attached to offering her body to men.

The book is a strange one as it differs from Orwell’s 1984 in a few stark ways:

Firstly, the world is controlled through the means of pleasure and an abundance of amusement. This keeps the population so disinterested in seeking out individualism or meaning, as they are kept sedated from doing so by having all they seemingly need.

Secondly, the characters revolt against the system isn’t so much a physical one in attacking the government, but a mental one in which he must battle the things he has been taught as normative since birth (and often failing to do so).

Thirdly, the number of those in revolt against the system are so few as to make their impact near negligible. Rather than groups of “rebels”, there are only two people within the novel who seemingly want to change the world, or at least survive it differently.

There are moments when the book took a little inferring due to leaps in character development with little build-up, but otherwise it was written fairly well and with haunting clarity.

Postman suggests (and I would tend to agree) that insofar as predicting the future, Huxley was much more on target: We now have an abundance of entertainment and attach a great deal to being constantly amused (affecting all areas of our life from religion to education); we take little to no interest in politics or meaning unless it directly affects us and our comfort; and (without perhaps sounding prudish) we have diminished the meaning of sex to little more than a physical exchange, and monogamy to little more than an outdated way of viewing relationships. We are entering this “Brave New World”, not in such a dramatic way, but step-by-step.

The Man Who Laughs – Victor Hugo (Book Review)


This was a tough find, and stayed on my shelf for quite some time beforehand due to my editions tiny font; but it’s finally read:

Raised by Ursus, philosopher and entertainer, Gwynplaine is the Laughing Man. Found at age 10 when abandoned in southern England, caryying a blind child in his arms, Gwynplaine’s face is disfigured into a constant laugh.

As Gwynplaine’s fame grows among the commoners of London, he is found by the police and his true identity revealed to him – peer of England.

Ultimately the novel is a love story between Gwynplaine, the man whose face has been intentionally mutilated into a laugh, and Dea, the beautiful blind girl he rescued whilst she was still a baby.

Replete with Hugo’s typical use of language, the novel is a pleasure to read, though I did it find moments where essentially the same paragraph was repeated multiple times, as though Hugo couldn’t quite decide who to describe the scene.

The novel is set in 17th century England and draws a strong distinction between those in the aristocracy, and the commoners of the land. Gwynplaine transcends both in some ways, raised a commoner, and ascending to aristocracy in an instant.

This creates problems for him however, as aware of the struggle for the common man, he finds it difficult to settle in to this new life of luxury which is thrown upon him.

This is a tragic story of conflicts between social classes and love, and the values which battle when success is suddenly presented to someone. The manipulation of the common people for the comfort of the aristocracy is apparent though when Gwynplaine joins them in the high seats, but tough for him to stomach.

Hugo’s views on social reform are very clear throughout. Like his books, The Last Day of a Condemned Man, execution is shot in such a gruesome light that at times it felt as though the corpses of the convicts where feet away from the reader. The need for equality across social classes perpetuated throughout, and the values of each struck constantly in every chapter.

Overall though this wasn’t an easy read, and I found myself finishing it just because I had started by the time the last 100 pages were in sight. Recommended for fans of Hugo, but not as first – unrepresentative, perhaps, of his other work…

Mort – Terry Pratchett (Book Review)


The fourth in the Discworld series which I began earlier in the year:

It is known as the Discworld. It is a flat planet, supported on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims majestically through space. And it is quite possibly the funniest place in all of creation…

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.

After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice.

The book centers around a young man named Mort who has found that he has little to recommend him in many professions often undertook by people of his age. After unsuccessfully waiting in the market to be offered an apprenticeship, Death arrives at midnight and invites him to work in his unique profession – ushering people into the afterlife.

Mort accepts and begins learning the profession, and exploring much of what lies beyond mortal understanding in the afterlife.

Death, finding himself with some free time, also begins exploring new avenues, and finding himself quite apt at being a chef, begins working in a kitchen in Ankh Morpork

The book contains much of the comedy as the other books but feels a lot more structured, which is a good thing. That being said, the storyline is still very simplistic, and though identifiable, it isn’t particularly captivating.

Another positive though is that the comedy in this book feels a little bit less forced than it does in the previous one: the jokes seem to fit the context a lot better, and often simply wordplay on the situation is employed.

I will continue to read the series, however, finding them a good “light” read in-between other books. They are certainly worth a read for fantasy fans looking for something other than the typical high fantasy doorstop books.