Book Review: The Color Of Magic

I was asked to review this book by Fiziko who had recieved a request for it. He asked me because he knew I was a fan of the series and thought I might like to review it. Here is certain proof that “fan of the series” doesn’t mean “fan of every book”.

General Information

Title: The Color of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett
Original Publication Date: 1983
ISBN: 0-06-102071-0
Cover Price: US$3.99, CAN$…umm….not listed for some reason.

Once again, a review before the “template”.

I’m actually not looking forward to this review – I’ve been more or less dreading it ever since I agreed
to write it. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t regret agreeing to it, it’s just that I don’t like what I’m about
to have to do. I’m going to have to tell you that this is just Not A Good Book. I love Terry Pratchett.
He is absolutely at the top of my list of favorite authors – he’s right next to Neil Gaiman in my pantheon
of authors. In fact, I’m signed up to go to a book discussion he will be attending on the 30th of September –
in four days. The man is a genius. But that doesn’t change the fact that his first few Discworld books
were just plain BAD. (bear with me, though. it *is* worth reading)

Let me set this up for you – the Discworld is a world balanced on the backs of four elephants, balanced
on the back of an enormous tortoise. It’s an idea that’s been incorporated into mythology more than once,
and Mr. Pratchett simply appropriated it for his own use. In doing so, he created a world where things work in
a very different way. Over the course of the many (MANY) books set on the world, he’s shown a surprising depth
and consistency and an amazing grasp of the way people think. The first two of these three concepts
are exactly what is missing from this book. After the first two books in the series (one might call it a
“universe” more than a series) it becomes apparent that he’s gotten hold of this thing by the right end.
He starts to settle down and work hard to try to tell a cohesive story and let it be funny where it wants
to be. And Pratchett knows his stories well enough to know how badly they do want to be funny. Unfortunately,
that doesn’t come through in Color.

The Color of Magic falls into the vast majority of the “fantasy humor” traps that were just laying there
for it to wander through. The first one that springs to mind after reading the book is how hard he worked trying
to squeeze spoofs of every major fantasy series into this volume. It’s a common problem – very few things work well
when trying to accomplish so much in such a short time. Movies have managed to get a hold of it by ripping off
a single plot and interspersing slapstick references throughout (see Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, etc. They’re
not GOOD, but they manage to avoid this hole). This book is instead broken up into four sections that are
almost distinct stories and parodies in their own right. The first one, it’s been indicated, is a spoof of a style
I’ve never before heard of – the name “Grey Mouser”, however, was mentioned. The second is a combination of
Conan the Barbarian meets HP Lovecraft, the third almost a direct ripoff of the Dragonriders of Pern. The
fourth escapes me entirely. Each has its moments, its high points – and there are some stories woven in to give it
a sense of a whole. Unfortunately, it reads as though it was written in chunks and then glued together – Pratchett
spends a lot of time reminding us of the main character’s specific plight, going into great detail time and again
to explain exactly what happened to him so long ago. I understand that he’s letting it trickle out a little bit
at a time, but he goes back to the beginning every time, and it gets tedious. There’s also the slew of standard
gags – things that just don’t turn up in later books (which leads one to wonder – maybe he ran out? maybe if you
keep at fantasy humor it gets better?), such as the annoying magical talking sword.

Something a little more subjective is the characterization. I don’t really fault him for this, as he had
no way of knowing what was coming the future, and he obviously wasn’t trying to write a character driven book.
On the other hand, the characters become the soul of the Discworld. The books are usually grouped into
chunks based on the characters they focus on. Here, however, Death (one of my *favorite* characters, normally) acts
completely counter to his basic nature, kills things for spite (something in later books he is clearly incapable
of doing) and has underlings he sends out to collect other people’s souls. Almost none of this actually fits
into the later Discworld framework. Death isn’t the only one out of character – the Patrician is almost a completely
different man, even though he’s physically identical.

It’s more than a little frustrating to read after the other books, but I’ve
been told that it’s also frustrating to read first. I *never* recommend this book as the first one to read. If
you absolutely must read them in order, fine. But promise me you’ll keep with it until at least Equal Rites
if not further. Otherwise start with Guards! Guards! or something else later. I usually recommend Small
Gods
because it’s a story in and of itself, and it shows off his writing style well. It’s a bit more serious
and a bit longer than the rest of them, but it’s quite worth it.

High Point

The end. No…I’d actually have to say the Luggage. This is the single most enjoyable portion of this book, and
it’s the thing that keeps me reading Rincewind focused books when they come out.

Low Point

The lack of footnotes. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? The truth is, Discworld books are FULL of footnotes, and they’re
usually the funniest part.

The Scores

The originality is actually VERY low. That’s the biggest problem. I give it a 2 out of 6.

The imagery is quite good – this is one area Pratchett has always shined – even when he can’t come up with an original
plot he can describe a simple valley with the best of them. imagery gets a 5 out of 6 (would have been 6/6, but he’s
still warming up.)

The story is pretty weak – lots of more or less unrelated stories strung together for the hell of it. Story gets
a 2 out of 6

I had a good feel for these characters before I ever got to this book, so I’m not sure how much characterization is
really here – on the other hand, Rincewind (the main character) has always been pretty one dimensional, and the other main
character doesn’t seem very consistent. The Luggage is actually the most developed character in the book. For him (her,
actually?) alone I’ll give it a 2 out of 6.

Unless disgust counts as an emotional response, I have to say very little. I laughed seldom (though I *did* laugh,
keeping in mind this was my third time through this particular book). On its own, the book gets a 3 out of 6. If I were
to put it on a scale with its brothers, wherein I cry from laughter and sadness within the space of three pages on a regular
basis, let’s just say we’d need a negative end to the scale.

The editing was fine. Keep in mind this was a 2000 repring of ’83 material. It had *better* be fine by this point.
Still, I give it a 5 out of 6.

Overall, I have a soft spot for this book just because it was the first. On the other hand, I’m saddened by
how many people will do like I could have and pick it up first, only to be furstrated and miss out on the rest of the series.
Fiziko mentioned that he’s one of these people – I encourage you all to go get some of the later books. I give this a 3 out
of 6 overall.

In total, The Color of Magic gets 20 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

I did a little “research” the other day and noted that Terry Pratchett’s books started their upswing around the time he
started his collaboration on Good Omens with Neil Gaiman. I don’t know if Neil was the influence that helped, or if
it was just the work he did leading up to it that made Good Omens good in the first place, but that’s a great book –
published around 1990 – pretty much any Discworld book from 1990 on is excellent.

13 replies on “Book Review: The Color Of Magic”

  1. daniel_yokomiso says:

    Originality 2 of 6??
    I don’t agree with this review, particularly about the originality. The book is original if you don’t compare it to the later books in the series, because it’s the first book. But this entire review is written comparing it to the later books. That said reviews should consider only earlier books on a series, because it’s inevitable that continuity holes will appear.

    • hitch says:

      Re: Originality 2 of 6??

      I don’t agree with this review, particularly about the originality. The book is original if you don’t compare it to the later books in the series, because it’s the first book. But this entire review is written comparing it to the later books. That said reviews should consider only earlier books on a series, because it’s inevitable that continuity holes will appear.

      actually, no, the originality was given based on all the OTHER “fantasy humor” that was written before this. The only reason the Discworld is original at ALL is that he managed to get away from all the baggage that comes with the label. Go buy “the big book of comic fantasy”. read it. beat yourself over the head with it to try to forget it. you’ll see what I mean. it’s all the same.

  2. jayhawk88 says:

    Reading this now
    This book was given to me by my sister-in-law of all people, a couple weeks back when we were at my SO’s mother and I was complaining that I had forgotten a book to read. It’s the first Pratchett book I’ve read; heard the name before of course, but never read his stuff.

    I haven’t finished reading it yet; about 30 or so pages left to go I’m guessing. My impressions: I thought this was easily on par with Hitchhikers the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book, cooled on it slightly around the middle, and am struggling to find time to finish it towards the end. What was a nice, tight, entertaining story at first (inept wizard escorts clueless tourist through dangerous world) kind of unraveled for me right about the 3rd time Rincewind and Twoflower were saved for certain death. It like Pratchett got obsessed with throwing his characters into increasingly dangerous and bizarre situations as he went on, forgetting that the strength of the first part was the characters dealing with the mundane danger from the every-day.

    That said, though, I found the book good enough that I have more than a passing interest in Pratchett now, and will definitely be picking up other books of his in the future.

    • hitch says:

      Re: Reading this now

      struggling to find time to finish it towards the end. What was a nice, tight, entertaining story at first (inept wizard escorts clueless tourist through dangerous world) kind of unraveled for me right about the 3rd time Rincewind and Twoflower were saved for certain death. It like Pratchett got obsessed with throwing his characters into increasingly dangerous and bizarre situations as he went on, forgetting that the strength of the first part was the characters dealing with the mundane danger from the every-day.

      That said, though, I found the book good enough that I have more than a passing interest in Pratchett now, and will definitely be picking up other books of his in the future.

      Good. he gets much better. and the “saved from certain death” thing doesn’t crop up much later. Death is the only character that appears in every book – and after the first few it’s usually to claim a character that was pretty central to the story at some point.

  3. Tom Wake says:

    Rest of the series?
    Will you be reviewing the other 30 Discworld novels?

    • hitch says:

      Re: Rest of the series?

      Will you be reviewing the other 30 Discworld novels?

      heh….from the reaction to this, no. but I’ll be reviewing the other 30 minus the light fantastic. Since that’s pretty much more of the same, I don’t see the point in doing it again. but ya. most of the rest. like I said…loved them.
      might even review the johnny series and the bromeliad…if I can get my hands on all of the johnny series.

      • y42 says:

        Re: Rest of the series?

        might even review the johnny series and
        the bromeliad…if I can get my hands on all of the johnny series.

        I once held “Johnny And The Dead” in my hands, put it back thinking “I’ll
        buy it later”. I rue that day : (

        I can’t find it anywhere anymore! Stupid printing industry…

  4. JimPooley says:

    Things change…
    Yep. The Colour Of Magic is absolute crap when you compare it to Pratchett’s later books. But then again it’s only his fourth published novel and the first Discworld book.
    While Discworld started off as a parody of fantasy novels, it’s gone a long long way since then, and it’s now become just a distored mirror of the real world.
    It would be interesting to see Terry leave Discworld behind and write something set in the real world. He’s obviously got that in him just waiting to get out.
    From what I’ve heard of his next book, it’s the one that will have them being burnt in parts of America…

    • hitch says:

      Re: Things change…

      Yep. The Colour Of Magic is absolute crap when you compare it to Pratchett’s later books. But then again it’s only his fourth published novel and the first Discworld book.
      While Discworld started off as a parody of fantasy novels, it’s gone a long long way since then, and it’s now become just a distored mirror of the real world.
      It would be interesting to see Terry leave Discworld behind and write something set in the real world. He’s obviously got that in him just waiting to get out.
      From what I’ve heard of his next book, it’s the one that will have them being burnt in parts of America…

      yah….though I haven’t heard much about the next book (expect I will on Tuesday) I’ve been MORE than impressed with his work starting late 80’s, early 90’s. I had the good fortune to randomly pick up “Interesting Times” as my first one. Not my favorite, but good enough that I wanted to read more. I’ve actually got a few “theories” on Pratchett – that what makes him so good is the characters – and that since he works in such an unrealistic world and doesn’t have to make real-seeming characters, he’s free to write people as they really are/want to be. I love that his “villains” are rarely truly *evil*. usually just misguided or stupid or thoroughly unpleasant and bureaucratic. The only evil people are also thoroughly *sick*. He’s also got the unique distinction of being the only author whose books I’ve given to philosophy professors, science professors, religion professors, CS professors and performing arts professors. Each one gets a different book, but when you can cover that many topics competently (and have something genuinely interesting to say about them) you’re far better than an average author.

  5. y42 says:

    Nitpicking is fun

    The Discworld is a world balanced on the backs of four
    elephants, balanced on the back of an enormous tortoise.

    Actually, Great A’Tuin is a turtle

    • hitch says:

      Re: Nitpicking is fun

      The Discworld is a world balanced on the backs of four
      elephants, balanced on the back of an enormous tortoise.

      Actually, Great A’Tuin is a turtle

      d’oh….my bad…For some reason I still use those words interchangeably, even though I know they’re not.

  6. Canthros says:

    Re: four separate parts, off characters
    Well, it is the very first Discwold book. I read it as four separate short stories.

    I also assumed that the Patrician wasn’t the same person (i.e. someone other than Vetinari), but I haven’t stumbled across anything to really support that. Not that I can remember anyway. I haven’t seen the inside of a Discwold novel in a year or more.

    • hitch says:

      Re: four separate parts, off characters

      Well, it is the very first Discwold book. I read it as four separate short stories.

      I also assumed that the Patrician wasn’t the same person (i.e. someone other than Vetinari), but I haven’t stumbled across anything to really support that. Not that I can remember anyway. I haven’t seen the inside of a Discwold novel in a year or more.

      heh….I re-read them at a rate of about one every two months. but I looked pretty hard at that description of this patrician, and if he’s not supposed to be Vetinari, he’s the man’s twin. but the candied sea creatures are more than a little out of character, and the confusion at the message from the counterweight continent is COMPLETELY out of character. ESPECIALLY after you see him in Night Watch.

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