Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Hogfather cover

“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”

It’s safe to say that the Discworld series are some of my most beloved books, ever. And so, when asked to run a reading challenge over December, it made sense to reach for the Christmassy Hogfather.

If you’re new to Discworld, this is often given as a possible starting point – the first couple of books written, Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic, are ones to go back to rather than start with, as the series hadn’t quite reached it’s stride. There are several ‘streams’ in the series, including the Watch books, the Witches books, and the Death books. The latter are probably my favourite, so I tend to suggest Mort as the best start. However, if you’re jumping in here – and that works, too – then just know that Mort and Reaper Man will give some background to this.

So… it’s almost Hogswatch on the Disc, but this year the Hogfather is suspiciously… bony. It’s less “Ho ho ho” and altogether HO HO HO. What would cause Death to step in to deliver presents across the world? And, quite frankly, how will the world cope with an Anthropomorphic Personification who takes everything a bit more literally than the rest of us?

There are a lot of elements crammed in to this book. Toothfairies, verruca gnomes plaguing Unseen University, Death of Rats, assassins, and Hex, the thinking machine, all make an appearance and add to the plot. We mainly follow Susan Sto Helit, Death’s granddaughter, although she’s working as a governess and would quite frankly rather be done with all of that nonsense.

The thing I love about Pratchett’s writing is that underneath all the fantasy, the humour pokes a sharp stick of fun at very real world issues. And, 22 years on, the satire is still highly relevant. But beyond this, there’s also a very profound message about the human condition. You get to read on whatever level you like, of course, but this is far from dumb, silly fantasy.

Hardback: 285 pages
First published: 1996
Series: Discworld book 20 / Death book 4
Read from 27th November – 11th December 2018

My rating: 9/10

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

“Shadow had done three years in prison.”

Shadow Moon is due to be released from prison, sustained over the years of his sentence by thoughts of home and his wife, Laura. But when tragic news reaches him, he allows himself to be caught up in the schemes of the odd and disreputable Mr Wednesday. Soon employed as a driver and general aide de camp, Shadow meets strange people, witnesses improbable events, and generally experiences the weirdest shit he’s never thought of.

And meanwhile, ‘Somewhere in America’ (as the between-chapter interludes are called), other powers seem to blossom. From an embodiment of every fertility goddess statue you’ve ever seen, funeral home directors who are part of a long tradition, and a middle eastern ifrit working as a taxi driver… America is a melting pot of cultures. Almost every part of the world has sent people to its shores over the centuries, and in this book the question is: did they bring their gods with them? We are aware of the Norse gods, for instance, but when the first Vikings came to the Vinland shores and offered sacrifice, did they call across the oceans? And when the explorers left, what then of these American gods?

This was my second reading of American Gods, spurred by the upcoming TV series and getting my hands on the extended anniversary edition. It had a lot to live up to, as my memories of my first read were hugely positive – in fact, I’d touted this as easily my favourite Neil Gaiman book (although as a friend pointed out, his books are all so different that ‘favourite’ can mean many different things). Alas, those high expectations made for a slightly less than ideal reread. It’s still a good book, but…

I think my main issue was the pacing, probably not helped by the reintroduction of however many thousand of previously edited out wordage (nothing fundamental changes, some scenes are just more fully fleshed out). Which, to be fair, shouldn’t be a complaint – and indeed wasn’t on the first reading. However, having remembered only the highlights, I was a little frustrated with the diversions.

Overall, though, American Gods is a book of some quite brilliant ideas. The gods of the piece, old and new, pose questions for both faith and cultural mixing, as well as the differences in modern life. I think I was wanting something just a little more concrete, and this is not that: this is ideas, and a meandering story (I do wonder how they’ll tackle some of this in the TV adaptation!), and very much something that will stick with you. It might still be my favourite work of Gaiman, through all that.

eBook: 674 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2001
Series: American Gods book 1 (followed by Anansi Boys)
Read from 10th April – 6th May 2017 (reread)

My rating: 8/10