Read Recently — July 2014 — Dark, Interesting Times

What Darkness Brings: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery by C. S. Harris

The latest  St. Cyr mystery finds our favourite Regency Lord called upon to solve the murder of a sleazy diamond merchant. The authorities aren’t looking into it because they have a suspect in custody already: Russell Yates, husband to St. Cyr’s former lover, Kat Boleyn. For her sake, Sebastian takes on the investigation even though there is no reason to believe Yates innocent (other than his word, of course).

Good series, still got legs. Recommended.

Interesting Times: a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

This is essentially a direct sequel to the first two Discworld novels, even though it’s number 17 in the series. In the first two, Twoflower, an insurance worker from the Counterweight continent, travels to Ankh-Morpork, the greatest city in the western Discworld, as the Discworld’s first tourist. He falls in with Rincewind, the world’s worst wizard, mostly because Rincewind is one of the few people in Ankh-Morpork who can speak to him in a language he can understand. The two of them wind up having a series of adventures through satirical versions of various popular fantasy tropes (including a dragonriders-satire and a take on H.P. Lovecraft). At the end, Twoflower goes home to the Agatean Empire, an old, powerful and rich state that the Patrician (at the time unnamed; by the time of this book definitely Vetinari) hopes will ignore Ankh-Morpork rather than, say, get angry and roll over them with their huge, well-armed, well-paid armies.

Unfortunately, at the start of this book, the city has received a message (via pointless albatross, the only bird that could/would make the journey), the first one in a decade, demanding that they send the “Great Wizzard”–misspelling due to how Rincewind had it spelled-out on his hat. Rincewind is not immediately available, but they shortly procure him and then Rincewind is on his way to the Counterweight Continent.

It seems that when Twoflower went home, he wrote a book about what he did on his vacation. And of course, life in the Agatean Empire is so terrible for most people that Ankh-Morpork seemed like a paradise to them and now there is a rebellion. And the government would like Rincewind so they can destroy him (because he was a major character in the book and now seems a symbol to the rebellion) and the rebellion would like to have him for a symbol (or possibly a cymbal. Rincewind isn’t a very good figure to base a revolution around unless you’re into running). And then he runs into Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, a collection of about a half-dozen barbarian warriors too old and tough to die. They intend to conquer the Empire and put Cohen on the throne. This involves lessons in etiquette.

The main problem with this story is . . . hard for me to express clearly, but I’m going to try to muddle through it. Life in fantasy Asia is horrible; so horrible that, as I said, Ankh-Morpork seems good by comparison. The peasants dare not look at a noble or they may get their heads cut off; the noble might cut their head off anyway, they’re allowed to. Government is determined by exams that never take into account useful knowledge, only knowledge of poetry, so anyone who knows what they’re doing isn’t going to be running things. And of course the peasants have so little food that “Cut-me-own-throat” Dibbler’s sausages–meat so notoriously bad that no local would ever eat one, not even Throat himself–are taken as mana from heaven because they might actually contain some pork. The problem is not that Pratchett is making fun of Asian culture (cause there’s only one, you know) as that he is presenting it as a nightmare while presenting western culture (at the same time period) as flawlessly good.

None of that is exactly what I wanted to say, but it’s as close as I can get if I’m ever going to get this thing written. It’s disappointing to think that the writer of Nation wrote this.

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