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”.
Title: The Color of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett
Original Publication Date: 1983
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.
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.
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 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.