Book Review: Sourcery


Note: This is book #32 of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challence for 2008.

Ah, another parody of the fantasy genre by Terry Pratchett. This one returns to the Unseen University, home of powerful wizards and Rincewind, one of my favorite Diskworld protagonists. On the Disk, the 8th son of and 8th son becomes your ordinary wizard, but the 8th son of an 8th son of an 8th son (i.e., the 8th son of a wizard) is a sourcerer, a source of magic so powerful that he endangers, well, everything. Normally wizardly celibacy keeps sourcerers out of the picture, but not everybody plays by the rules, and thus you get the events in this book. Coin, a sourcerer, is born to the world and attempts to remake things more to his liking while Rincewind and the other inhabitants of Unseen University flip-flop between opposing him and just going along for the ride.

At this point I’m not sure what else to say about Pratchett’s work. It’s funny, madcap, and particularly satisfying if you’re familiar with the conventions it parodies. I will say that Sourcery nicely highlights Pratchett’s ability to stamp out a huge cast, mainly focusing on what by all rights should be one-joke characters that somehow go on to carry the show and not wear out their welcome. There is, for example, Conina. She comes with a fine barbarian pedigree (being the daughter of the Disk’s greatest barbarian “hero” Cohen, who himself is a Conan the Barbarian parody) and she can kill five different ways to Tuesday, but all she really wants to be is a hairdresser. And then there’s my favorite, Nijel the Barbarian, who unlike Conina has absolutely no aptitude for the barbarian business. Instead he resembles a typical adolescent nerd who is trying to be a fierce barbarian by following a how-to book, which itself seems to read a lot like the Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook, complete with random encounter tables and other impractical rules. As you might guess, Nigel isn’t very good and being a barbarian, and Conina isn’t very good at NOT being a barbarian. And the three-way relationship between them and the cowardly wizard Rincewind results in a lot of fun.

The best bits of the book still focus around Rincewind (and, relatedly, his magical and homicidal Luggage), though. For some reason Pratchett seems to be at his best when he’s taking us through Rincewind’s rationalization for any given cowardly action, and I haven’t gotten enough of it yet. Sourcery meanders a bit towards the end so it’s not the best Diskworld read I’ve had to date, but I still liked it well enough.

Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week:

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Sourcery

  1. I’ve read this book several times and I still love it. Pratchett can be hit and miss sometimes but when he’s on form, he’s *really* on form. To be honest, even when he’s not on form, his books are still hugely entertaining.
    What I like most about Pratchett, however, is that although his books are ostensibly parodies of other genres and of real-life things (the movies, historical events and so on), there’s actually a lot more depth to them and he rarely sacrifices the plot in favour of a joke. The Sam Vimes books, in particular, stand up quite well.

  2. Oooh, I should point out that although Discworld novels rarely sacrifice plot for humour, the Discworld *games* do. Bloody illogical puzzles purely for a jokey pay-off. Bah!

  3. Yeah, what I like about Prattchett is that he doesn’t get mired down in the act of parody so much that he forgets to tell a story. There was some of this in the first few books, but he gets a lot better.

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