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A novel by Terry Pratchett
(1989, Corji)

Discworld Rincewind, book 3

When a young Sourcerer arrives to take control of the Unseen University and the world, wizards are swayed by his magic, while all magical objects try to leave in fear.


-- First reading (paperback)
July 5th to 8th, 2022


I laughed out loud several times, because the author has a great way with words, especially the asides and analogies. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t do much with its characters. For most of the book, they are observing events from afar, barely even reacting –just running. The wizards endorse Coin, and they disappear for half the book. Rincewind runs away to another country, where he also observes the influx of magic through somebody else. I thought he would turn into a real wizard in the snake pit, but that fizzled out. Rincewind finally decides to take some action at the end, but it so anti-climactic that I wonder how it can be so easy. Still, the dialog and writing were so engaging that the book was fun to read, despite its flaws. My favorite parts were without a doubt anything that came into contact with the Librarian, who was hilarious. Whenever I have the chance, I’ll continue to pick up Diskworld books, because there’s enough in them to keep me truly entertained.

Spoiler review:

I’ve read a few Discworld books, and they seem to be following an unfortunate pattern. The characters observe too much of the story from afar, or even up close, without interacting with it. It was a little different for many of the Granny Weatherwax books, because they influenced so much of it, but even at the end her series turned the witches into little more than observers.

I could only read this book for sprints of 45-60 minutes, because the humorous banter the author parades got tiring after a while, and I found myself underappreciating it. When in the mood, so many of the asides were hilarious, and terrific observations or analogies. I loved the aside about inspiration, having to hit the right person at the right moment, instead of say a frog or a brick.

The story takes place at the Unseen University, during the naming of a new arch-chancellor. The son of a wizard who wanted a family and was therefore kicked out of the University long ago, and who turned himself into a staff to accompany his son, to defeat Death, shows up and takes control. He knows it’s his destiny because the staff told him. But it seems that the staff wanted more and more power, because Coin changes the University to his style, grows a huge magical tower into the heavens, and starts a magical war with other wizards, and eventually the gods.

I liked the discussion between the wizards when Coin arrived, but when he became too powerful one of them died and the other disappeared for half the book, which was unfortunate. There was very little to say about the University after that, except the hilarious parts with the very practical librarian.

It’s the orangutan Librarian who saves all the historic magical books in the end. He, like the books and all sorts of magical creatures, could sense the impending doom of the Sourcerer before he came. The creatures fled, and the Librarian moved them of their own accord to another tower, so that when Coin turned his attention to the books and burned the Library, most were saved. The book doesn’t ascribe a believable motive to Coin for destroying the books, but I suppose he doesn’t want to take the chance that somebody could learn so many spells that they could eventually challenge him. He says that there’s nothing left to learn, but I find that difficult to believe, even coming from this kind of power.

Only one wizard can feel the coming of the Sourcerer, and that’s Rincewind. A weak and cowardly wizard, he flees the University before the Sourcerer comes. There he meets Conina, thief, and daughter of Cohen the Barbarian. She’s stolen the dead Archchancellor’s magical hat, because the thing is sentient and asked to be stolen before the Sourcerer arrived. Rincewind and Conina provided what was probably the funniest part of the book, as they discuss his cowardice and her inner nature of barbarianism, while she secretly wants to become a hairdresser. Their boat is attacked by pirates, and while the captain is happy to have a wizard aboard, it’s Conina who fights off the pirates, while Rincewind cowers as far from the fighting as he can. They follow the pirates, who stole the hat, to Al Khali, where the prince has shirked off all his duties to the vizier, because he wants to be a poet (he’s a bad one, which is pretty funny).

The vizier Abrim takes the hat, sends Conina to the harem, and Rincewind to a snakepit. The discussion of how to torture Rincewind was funny, as all the usual painful methods were either unavailable or required time to set up. The snake, it turns out, is shy, and a Barbarian boy is hiding within its coils. The observations of the snake were very enjoyable, as was learning about Nigel, who has a book on how to become a Barbarian, written by none other than Cohen himself.

With all the magic permeating the air, Rincewind manages to do some powerful spells, and they escape, and find Conina in the harem (Nigel falls instantly in love), and they take off in a magic carpet, summon a genie, who was also hilarious (he has a time-share, so can’t always be in the lamp that’s rubbed). Abrun has put on the archmage’s hat, and summons himself a tall tower with which to battle the Sourcerer, under the guidance of the sentient hat.

I didn’t quite get the concept of why the Sourcer would instigate such a war, especially when he’s so much more powerful that the normal wizards. Wouldn’t he just do as he did to the gods, and encase his rivals in a bubble and avoid the war? He had wizards working for him, while it seemed that Abrim and the competing wizards might have also had help. Coin, under the guidance of his father/staff, wants to rule the world, but has given no thought to anything but power. I guess that’s the danger of Sourcerers.

Rincewind, being the protagonist, manages to get himself back to Ank-Morpork and into the tower of Sourcery, where he knocks the staff out of Coin’s hand, and tells him he doesn’t have to do everything the staff tells him. Coin, who is starting to break down at all the power he has accumulated, hesitates, and he likes the feeling, and eventually refuses to wield the staff again. It breaks, and Death finally gets the father.

It was a bit anti-climactic –I guess nobody ever thought of telling Coin he didn’t have to obey everything, especially the killing part of his job. My biggest problem is that this small gesture from Rincewind is the only thing the characters do of their own accord, and except for the theft of the archmage hat, it’s the only thing the characters do intentionally. The rest is reaction to what’s going on around them, with no influence on anything.

There is a brief tack-on the story that doesn’t add much, as the ice giants are released from another layer of the world when Coin imprisons the gods, and they try to freeze the world. Nigel tries to talk to them, but it’s Coin who saves everybody, by bursting the bubble and releasing the gods, who re-imprison the ice giants.

That could have been a whole story in itself, as I was just beginning to enjoy Rincewind, who decides to take action, and Conina/Nigel, who try to confront the ice giants, even though they fail to achieve anything. At least they weren’t just hiding, as they did for most of the rest of the book. Fortunately, the author’s writing style led to a lot of laughs, some of which were audible as I read. It was a fun read, if just for the asides and commentary of the narration. I would have preferred a better story, but on the whole it balances out to something enjoyable.


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