Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Book Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix (Old Kingdom #1)

If you use Goodreads, then you probably noticed the website analyzes the history of your reading habit and recommends books to you. Goodreads has been a precious tool for me at discovering new books to read. If reading is your hobby but you don't have an account on Goodreads yet, then I recommend this website to you.

Goodreads frequently recommends Old Kingdom trilogy to me. This trilogy is a series of YA fantasy novels, written by Australian author Garth Nix. I was very reluctant at picking up these books. This is because I don't usually read YA books. Most YA books are about “coming of age”, and featuring characters whose moral alignments are often as clear-cut as good or evil. As a 30-something year old, I just can't relate to this kind of books.

However, critics and readers often rave about how good Old Kingdom trilogy is. After this trilogy appeared on my “recommended books” list for the Nth time, I decided to curb my bias and check out these books with an open mind. I picked up Sabriel, the first book in this trilogy and read it in 4 sittings. What do I think of it? Let me share my thoughts about Sabriel in a book review.


Beyond Ancelstierre lies Old Kingdom, a fantastic realm alive with wild magic cursing through its veins. On a moon-lit night, a woman in Old Kingdom swallowed her final breath after giving birth to a little babe. The baby's name is Sabriel and she is the daughter of Abhorsen, a powerful necromancer whose sworn duty is making sure the dead do not come back to bother the living.

When Sabriel was 5 years old, Abhorsen sent her to a boarding school in Ancelstierre. There in the safety of the boarding school Sabriel received her education, and spent most of her life away from her father, severed from her magical heritage in Old Kingdom.

Time flies as a swift arrow. In the blink of an eye Sabriel turned 18 years old and reached her final semester at the boarding school. Like her friends and classmates, Sabriel dreamed of an exciting future filled with potentials. However, Sabriel's aspirations and future plan took a 180 degrees turn, when a dire news reached Sabriel's ears; her father has gone missing.

Feeling distressed and concerned for her father's safety, Sabriel left the succor of the boarding school and journeyed to Old Kingdom in search for her father's whereabouts. This is a journey that will reshape both Sabriel's life and the face of Old Kingdom altogether.

My thoughts about this book:

Garth Nix published Sabriel in 1995. Since then, Sabriel (and the entire trilogy) gained a wide readership and fan devotions. It is sufficed to say this trilogy is beloved by many readers. I am a late comer to Old Kingdom trilogy. I read Sabriel last week and I liked this book despite YA fictions not being my cup of tea.

So, what does a 30-something year old man find captivating in a coming of age story about an 18 year old girl? Well to begin with, this book tells an engrossing tale. It brings to the table an interesting mixture between fantasy and horror. From the first page to the last, the story of Sabriel captured my imagination with fascinating characters and a beautifully portrayed fantasy world.

The world in Old Kingdom emanates a dark, Gothic vibe that came alive under Garth Nix's descriptive writings. When I was reading this book, I could feel an ongoing sense of danger lurking in the beautiful but haunted land of Old Kingdom. This sense of danger created an urgency in the story and kept the book moving at a fast pace. At the end of every chapter, I was compelled to continue on and explore the next chapter because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. When a novel makes you wanting to read it non-stop, then it is a sure sign of a successful novel.

Thus far I have praised this book, but this does not mean I think this book is perfect. There are a few things about this novel that I didn't like. First of all, Sabriel is not exempted from a cliched and predictable storytelling that has plagued most YA fictions. Like most YA books, Sabriel has a typical “ teenage romance story arc” at the end of the book. It is so predictable that I could smell a brewing romance when a young and handsome male character was introduced very early in the book. Secondly, very few characters appeared in the first 1/3 of the book. This made the beginning of the book felt a bit deserted and lonely. Perhaps it is the author's intention, to imbued a sense of bareness into the early chapters, thereby highlighting the evil forces' grasps on Old Kingdom. This means my 2nd complaint is more likely to do with personal preference (i.e. I personally prefer a fantasy novel buzzing with a large cast of characters).

Speaking of characters, this book presents some vividly depicted, and memorable characters. Sabriel is the protagonist in this book. It is refreshing to see a fantasy novel featuring a heroine instead of a male hero. It is usually said that male authors don't write female characters well. That is not the case here. Under Garth Nix's pen, Sabriel came alive on the pages as a well rounded, intricate and lively character. When I was reading this book, I cared for Sabriel and what happened to her. In turn, I was drawn deeply into the story.

My favorite character in this book, however, is a talking cat called Mogget, whose origin and background was shrouded in mystery. In this book, Mogget is Sabriel's animal companion. He played a crucial role in this book. Mogget usually talked to Sabriel in snarky words. Meanwhile, he also acted as a mentor for her. In this book, Mogget's moral alignment was not easily distinguishable and it remained so even at the end of the book, setting up the story for the sequel. I found Mogget to be an intriguing character, and I look forward to seeing the mysteries surround him revealed in the sequel.

Reading Sabriel turned out to be a delightful surprise for me. I am very glad to have curbed my bias against YA fictions and read Sabriel. Sure, while this book is not free from cliches commonly found in YA fictions, but these minor flaws are easily overcome by Sabriel's engrossing story. A story presented in captivating narratives, and took place in a beautifully envisioned, imaginative world. I look forward to reading the rest of this trilogy. In the meantime, I would recommend this book to lovers of fantasy fictions.

Until the next time, happy reading!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Book Review: Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Reliquary is the sequel to Relic, a best-selling, techno thriller novel written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This adrenaline-pumping novel was published in 1997. It expanded the nail-biting story that began in Relic and brought it to a fitting conclusion. Where the story in Relic was confined to New York Museum of Natural History, the story in Reliquary impacts the entire New York city, and it is set in the city's shadow-haunted, subterranean underworld. I read this book during the weekend and it was the best entertainment I can ask for. Here is my review for this book.


Under the belly of Manhattan lies a warren of forgotten passages, abandoned subway tunnels, and derelict buildings. It is one of the largest inhibited, but unmapped areas in the world. Thousands of homeless people dwell in this subterranean refuge of darkness, while going about their own businesses.

Troubles began, when two strangely deformed, headless skeletons were discovered along Manhattan shoreline. Forensic analysis identified one of the skeletal remains belonged to Pamela Wisher, a wealthy “society girl” and a celebrity in New York city. Her gruesome death caused an outrage among the upper and middle class New York residents, putting the police under an immense pressure to solve this murder case.

As if things were not bad enough already, a murder spree began to spread as a wild fire across New York. All victims were mysteriously decapitated in the same grotesque and brutal fashion as in the Wisher murder. At this troubled time, a wave of paranoia and anger seized New York residents, and the city was sliding towards the brink of utter chaos.

The police called for the aids of museum curator Margo Green and the brilliant biologist, Dr. Whitney Frock, to assist the investigations. Meanwhile, FBI special agent Pendergast also arrived on the scene to provide support. Margo, Frock, and Pendergast teamed up once again with Lieutenant D'Agosta to solve the murder mystery. The clues soon point to the spidery, labyrinthine tunnels in New York's shadowed underground, where an indescribable horror awaits in the dark...

My thoughts about this book:

Reading this book was an experience both educational and entertaining. Prior to reading Reliquary, I did not know a vast, but unmapped subterranean world exists under New York. I also didn't know thousands of homeless people dwell in New York's underground. They are often referred to as Mole people, or the tunnel people. This is new information to me, and I am fascinated by the existence of this dangerous underworld and its communities (I did some search on the internet and confirmed this is a fact).

As for the novel itself, Reliquary is a worthy successor to Relic. This claustrophobic, underground adventure moved at a lightning fast pace. The writing is atmospheric and descriptive. Reliquary is a very well written novel, and it shrouds readers in a cloak of creeping horror and edgy suspense. When I was reading this book, the story kept me at the edge of my seat and all I wanted to do, was finding out what was going to happen in the next chapter. Having said this, keep in mind Reliquary brought a closure to the story that began in Relic. This means, while Reliquary is a stand-alone novel, but I highly recommend reading Relic first to gain a better insight into the story and its characters.

Speaking of characters. All past favorite characters returned in this book. From Margo Green, Pendergast, D'Agosta, Bill Smithback, and Dr. Frock, all these characters were cast to play vital roles in the story. I especially like FBI agent Pendergast, whose star power was enframed in a Sherlock Holmes like portrayal for his character. This book also introduced a new character, sergeant Laura Hayward, who impressed me with her distinctive personality and natural confidence. Many characters in this book are involved with major plot twists. I do not wish to spoil the story here, so let me just say if you read this book, then prepare to be hit by surprises that you never saw coming from miles away.

Reliquary is a solid, entertaining techno thriller. It has mystery, horror, tension, detective works, and sprinkled with heart-racing actions on top. This book tells a haunting, suspenseful yarn that will keep you reading and wanting for more. Furthermore, Reliquary also brought a fitting closure to the nerve-wracking story that began in Relic. I highly recommend this book (together with Relic) to fans of the thriller genre.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Book Review: Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Do you like reading thrillers but finding books in this genre repetitive? I love coming home from work then curl up on my couch, and loose myself in a page-turning, paperback thriller novel. This is my favorite way to relax. The problem is, today's thriller novels are formulaic. I don't know about my fellow readers, but I can only dose so many “Dan-Brownish”, conspiracy thrillers before feeling “burnt-out”. Indeed, “burnt-out” is how I would describe myself after reading about 20 thrillers which were all similar to Mr. Dan Brown's books. I reached a stage where thrillers no longer thrilled me, and I took a break from reading books in this genre. In the past six months, I have not read a single paperback thriller.

Then Goodreads illuminated my reading world with the light of hope. It recommend a thriller written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This book is a techno-thriller called Relic. I read the synopsis for this book, and it grabbed my interest. I hunted for this book in the dark recesses of a second-hand bookstore, and unearthed a used copy of Relic from the bargain bin. I bore this book home and read this 480 pages novel in 2 sittings.

Yes, 2 sittings! This book is a blast to read and I recommend it to you. Allow me to begin my book review with a synopsis.


New York Museum of Natural History is about to host its biggest exhibition. However, a few days before the exhibition the museum became a haunted slaughterhouse, bloodied by a series of mysterious and grotesque murders. FBI special agent, Aloysius Pendergast, was called in to investigate the case. Meanwhile, autopsies and forensic analysis showed the killer cannot be human.

Despite the murders, the museum director ignored the alarming signs and plans to open the exhibition with a grand celebration.

With the murder case unresolved and the savage killer roaming free, comes night fall, a creeping death plagues the museum as a terrifying menace lurks in its dark halls and forgotten basement. Who knows what tragedy may strike upon the opening hour of the exhibition? It is up to the young curator Margo Green, and special agent Pendergast, to identify the murderer and put a stop to the killing spree before it is too late...

My thoughts about this book:

The cultural phenomenon of paperback thrillers fascinates me. Literary critics often look upon paperback thrillers and blast these books as “cheap, dumb entertainment” or “graveyards of the English literature”. I am not an expert in literature but I have a different opinion to critics. You see, while I do think paperback thrillers' only purpose is to entertain, but I also adore the amount of writing skills and book designing works required to produce a good, entertaining thriller.

Next time when you read a good paperback thriller pay attention to its structure. You will probably notice the storytelling works in harmony with the book's page/print layout to intentionally produce a page-turning novel. I think it takes exceptional skills to write a fast-paced, suspenseful story. Furthermore, it must be an intricate art itself to design how the texts should be presented and laid out on the pages to ensure a captivating, fast-paced reading experience for the readers.

Relic is a fine example of a paperback thriller done right. It is is a fast-paced, techno-thriller novel. What is techno-thriller? I believe it is a genre mixing elements from sci-fi and thrillers, then pumped to life with plenty of actions. The best comparison that surfaced on my mind is James Rollins' Sigma Force novels (a superb thriller series, check it out if you haven't read them yet). I think Relic distinguishes itself from other techno-thrillers with a flavor of horror. Indeed, not only is Relic's story drenched in mystery and layered upon webs of suspense, but it also submerges readers in an atmosphere of creeping horror.

Relic tells an engrossing story full of surprising twists and turns. This atmospheric story mostly took place in New York Museum of Natural History. The descriptive, vivid writings captured a real sense of danger surrounding each character as the plot unfold. I could not put this book down when I was reading it. The end of each chapter didn't prompt me to take a break. Instead, the end of each chapter only fueled my desire to read the next one, all the way until the end.

In terms of characterization, Relic is supported by a cast of memorable characters. Sure, in this thriller novel you will not find three dimensional characters like the ones you will find in epic fantasy novels. Nevertheless, the characters in Relic are distinctive and interesting enough that will make you like and care for them. I especially like special agent Pendergast, who is portrayed as an intelligent man possessing an unique personality. I believe Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child wrote an entire series of books casting Pendergast as the protagonist, and I look forward to reading them.

In the past 2 years I read more than a dozen Dan-Brownish thriller novels. They all feel the same to me and the thriller genre became stale. Relic is a refresher and it reawakened my desire to read thriller novels again. This book has a ripping, fast-paced story that will entertain you for a few hours while keeping you at the edge of your seat. If you like reading thrillers but wearied of the conspiracy trope in the thriller genre, then I recommend Relic to you.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Book Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #40)

The river of human history remembers important inventions. Inventions that stand as symbols for human ingenuity and progress. One of these important inventions is the steam engine, born from the womb of the Industrial Revolution. During the 18th and 19th century, the steam engine found its uses in commercial applications such as locomotion and mining. These applications not only became irreplaceable norms in the everyday life, but the arrival of the steam engine also triggered progress in other aspects in the human society, which in turn, shaped ours today. Sure, there were some negative things during the Industrial Revolution, but suffice to say, if the steam engine never arrived to drive our ancestors forward, our world probably would been worse for it. (Just imagine how a lack of machine locomotion could impact all areas of our lives)

This leads us to ask two questions: 1) Is it better to have progress than remaining stagnant? 2) Is there such a thing as “the right time” for progress to come?

Sir Terry Pratchett explored these two questions in the 40th Discworld novel, titled Raising Steam. In this satirical fantasy novel, Terry Pratchett dragged Discworld kicking and screaming into the era of the steam engine. Raising Steam is the 2nd last Discworld novel and it is not as well received as other Discworld books. I finished reading this book a few days ago, then took a while to think about it. Today, I offer to share my thoughts on Raising Steam in a book review.


It is the century of Fruitbat and the steam engine has arrived hissing and smoking in Discworld!

The steam engine is a chiming machine harnessing the power of earth, air, fire and water. The steam engine is magic that can be controlled. It runs on the sliding rule, and it is the baby of Mr. Dick Simnel, a grease monkey who knows a lot about sine, consine and tangent. Mr. Simnel named his steam engine, “Iron Girder”, and drove it to Ankh Morpork. Iron Girder caught the attentions of zeitgeists and businessmen alike. In this case, Harry King, the richest man in Ankh Morpork envisioned great potentials in the steam engine and quickly partnered with Mr. Simnel in this venture. A venture that will change Discworld forever.

Meanwhile, Lord Vetinari, the patrician of Ankh Morpork, is feeling reluctant about the steam engine. Yet, he could do nothing to halt its inevitable arrival. So the best thing he could do was to steer its course. This is where Moist von Lipwig comes into the picture. Mr. Lipwig is an ex con-man who “re-directed” his talent into commercial adventures and achieved marvelous results in the past, such as the resurrection of the post office, and the reconfiguration of Ankh Morpork's failing monetary system. Vetinari was convinced Moist is the best man to handle this new business about the steam engine, so he offered Moist a new job he cannot refuse. What's Moist's new job? Making sure the steam engine arrives in Discworld for the benefits of all.

Moist took the job and soon discovered giving birth to Ankh Morpork Hygienic Railway is a monumental task. Not only does he have to grease up things on the business side, but he also has to deal with some angry, dwarf traditionalists who seek to derail this project. Some big challenges for Mr. Lipwig but there is no other way than the railway... it is time for raising steam!

My thoughts about this book:

Discworld series ended with 41 books in total. These books are beloved by fans and critics alike. In comparison to other Discworld books, Raising Steam received mixed receptions. Some people applauded Raising Steam as a master piece among Terry Pratchett's literary works. While some criticized the storytelling for being incoherent and slow paced. Meanwhile, a few readers expressed their unhappiness that Terry Pratchett was too direct about the subjects he was critiquing. As for me, my opinion is that while I did enjoy Raising Steam, but I also think this book has a few problems and its quality probably ranks somewhere in the middle of Discworld series.

Raising Steam is the 3rd book featuring Moist von Lipwig as the protagonist. This book also belongs to the “Industrial Revolution” series in Discworld library. Furthermore, Raising Steam is essentially the spiritual successor for Thud! and The Fifth Elephant, as well as a follow up story from Snuff. This also means, Raising Steam is not a stand-alone novel. I would highly recommend reading the City Watch series, and the other 2 Moist von Lipwig novels (that is, Going Postal and Making Money) before you read Raising Steam. I believe if you follow my recommendation, then you will come to have a greater appreciate for the story in Raising Steam.

In Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett brought back many favorite characters from the past. Some of these characters played crucial roles in the story, while some made cameo appearances. And here lies the greatest problem with this book; there are too many characters in the first 2/3 of the book. Each character has his/her own story arch and subplot. As a result, the first 2/3 of the book felt out of focus, disjointed, and the storytelling suffered from it. However, after the story finally gathered its momentum and focus in the final act (which is about 66% into the book) all pieces clicked together and the story began to fly. From here, the story became an exhilarating ride of intrigue and nail-biting suspense, until it reached a (very) satisfying finale. Having said this, the over-abundance of characters and disjointed sub-plots in the first 2/3 of the story made this book a bit of a sluggish read. Some readers may find the first 2/3 of the book difficult to sit through.

However, we need to remember when Terry Pratchett wrote Raising Steam, he was combating Alzheimer disease. So considering his illness, it is truly a marvel that he could write this novel at all (and to be honest, Raising Steam is actually not a bad book despite the flaw I mentioned above). In fact, I wonder if anyone could have written as well as Terry Pratchett did if he/she was put in Terry Pratchett's condition.

I suspect some people may have disliked this book not because of the theme, but at Terry Pratchett's directness. You see, in the past Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett was a master at using humorous dialogues to illustrate the absurdities of the human condition. His observations were often spot on, but his critiques ran subtly yet sharply under the guise of humorous satires. In Raising Steam, however, his style changed significantly. Gone are the witty dialogues that satirizes the subjects of his critiques. Instead, the satires are replaced by straight allegories. To some, they may feel Terry Pratchett was being overly preachy in this book. Meanwhile, some Discworld fans might miss the humor from the old Discworld novels. Make no mistakes, this is still a humorous book, but the humor changed directions and this book does not feel as comical as other books in the series.

I do miss the style of humor from previous Discworld novels. However, I personally don't have any problem with the theme in this book. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with the theme in this book. So what is the theme? In Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett heavily criticized fundamentalism. His critiques took on the shape of an allegory, in the form of the dwarf traditionalists, who were portrayed as villains. In the story, the rise of the steam engine moved hand in hand with a social movement for racial and gender equality. In this movement, despite race and gender differences, “people”, including goblins and trolls (which were traditional enemies for dwarfs) were given equal opportunities at employment and social advancement. While the enlightened, ruling dwarfs, such as the Low King of dwarfs advocated this progress, but some dwarf traditionalists clung to the past and rejected progress. They refused to participate in the multi-cultural, integrated society that Ankh Morpork was becoming, which was a movement rising with the arrival of the steam engine. In fact, the dwarf traditionalists wished to go back to the “good old days” and they resorted to terrorism, sabotaging the Ankh Morpork railway project. There is also a sub-plot concerning gender inequality in the dwarf community, but I won't discuss it here because it will spoil a plot twist in this book. Suffice to say in this story, Terry Pratchett blasted fundamentalism, and he used the story to communicate his view point, that while there are ups and downs for making progress, yet progress is better than stagnation, and liberty means everyone is given equal opportunities to achieve his/her potential unrestricted by the past or personal background. Perhaps some readers may disagree with Terry Pratchett's view on progress and liberty, but I agree with him.

I like Raising Steam. The storytelling may feel a bit congested in the first 2/3 of the book, but the core story is still very interesting. Furthermore, I appreciate Terry Pratchett's insight and humorous, sharp critiques about the problems in our society. I will definitely recommend this book to fans of Discworld. Here I wish to mention again, Raising Steam is not a stand-alone novel. Before you read this book, I strongly recommend first reading the City Watch series, as well as Going Postal and Making Money.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Book Review: Making Money by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #36)

 “How much money is this good/service worth?” Almost everyone has uttered this common question sometime in life. But I ask you a different question:

“What is money's worth?”

What a strange question, some may say. But this is an interesting question. When we get down to it, money by itself has no practical function at all. i.e. we cannot eat it, live in it, or wear it (perhaps you can burn it to gather warmth?). Instead, money's only function is to be spent. While money may not be food, shelter, clothes or other things we need in life, but in our society these things are only obtainable through the spending of money. I wonder if this means the worth of money is determined by the people. If so, then the monetary system is indeed a fascinating concept!

Either way, the truth is everyone needs money. $$$ makes the world go round. I have this personal motto: “Money can't buy you happiness, but without money you will be miserable.” If I have children one day I will make sure to pass this to them as well. In our world, it is almost impossible to live without money unless you become a hermit living in the wild (but pray you don't become sick). However, where do all this money come from? How do they make money, and why not just make more money so everyone can have it? I am pretty sure economists have a very good answer to this one. Nevertheless, money seems to be a concept that has values only because we give it values.

Does this have anything to do with the book I will be reviewing today? The answer is yes. In Making Money, the 36th Discworld novel, Sir Terry Pratchett invited his readers to explore the heartland of Discworld's monetary system (and much more). Making Money is a thoughtful satire/comedy about the economic system and it will tickle your funny bone. Allow me to begin my review with a synopsis for the book.


Ankh Morpork is having a problem. Its citizens no longer trust Ankh Morpork Royal Bank. Furthermore, following the success of the post office, people are beginning to use stamps as currency instead of coins. Lord Vetinari, the patrician of Ankh Morpork, weighs the gravity of the situation and is concerned about this unusual development. So he tried to persuade Moist Von Lipwig, the man who resurrected the post office, to take the job as the chairman of Royal Bank and reform Ankh Morpork's monetary system. However, Moist is content with his new life as the post master (although he is bored), so he turned down Vetinari's offer.

Our story doesn't end here, however. Moist was talked into visiting Ankh Morpork Royal Bank and Royal Mint. During his visit, Moist met an old lady called Topsy Lavish, who was the current chairwoman of Royal Bank. Lady Lavish was very fond of Moist. The night after Moist's visit, Death came and bore Lady Lavish away into the great beyond. She left behind a peculiar will where she gave 50% of shares in the bank to her dog, Mr Fusspot, who already possessed 1% of share in the bank. The combined share of 51% made Mr Fusspot the first canine chairman of Ankh Morpork Royal Bank. Furthermore, the second clause in Lady Lavish's will made Moist the owner of Mr. Fusspot. This effectively made Moist the “real” chairman of Royal Bank. Finally, to secure the deal, the 3rd clause in Lady Lavish's will stated should anything unnatural happen to Mr. Fusspot, or if Moist does not do as her will commands, then Moist can expect a “visitation” from the Assassin's Guild.

Moist has no other option than fulfilling Lady Lavish's will. As Moist stepped into Ankh Morpork's banking world, he discovered this is a cloak and dagger business with enemies at every front. If he is not careful then his life may be shortened, prematurely. With this realization, there is only one thing for Moist to do, which is making money...

My thoughts about this book:

Making Money is the 2nd novel to feature Moist Von Lipwig as the protagonist. This books also belongs to the “Industrial Revolution” series in Discworld and the story is once again, set in Ankh Morpork. I like Making Money, this is a good book that satirizes the economic system. However, I think Going Postal stands as a better novel than Making Money. The overall pacing and storytelling in Going Postal were smoother and more coherent than in Making Money. The narratives in Making Money seem a bit disjointed at a few places.

Having said this, Making Money is still a very good book. The story features a cast of interesting characters. Each character is comically depicted and will surely impress readers with their individual background stories. Moist Von Lipwig took the centre stage of the story. He remains a very likable character, and readers can see the events from Going Postal shaped Moist's personage and his new life. Moist also had an intriguing employer/employee relationship in this book with Lord Vetinari, who remains one of the most complex and dynamic characters in Discworld series. In Making Money, Terry Pratchett showed readers a bit more of Vetinari's motivation. This allowed readers to have a glimpse into Terry Pratchett's vision for future Discworld books.

What makes Making Money (or any Discworld novel) special is the distinct ethos and the moving pathos behind these stories. For me, Making Money glowed with brilliance where halfway into the story, a fake priest mumbled a pseudo religious teaching about “The first will become the last, and the last will become the first”. Then a kind woman sincerely asked the priest what will become of those people who are neither the first nor the last, but are just jogging along in the middle, doing their best? This particular moment was hilarious, but most importantly, it opened a can of worms in this discussion about class-based economic system. Here Terry Pratchett is caring about the people in the middle, who were taken advantage of and screwed over by large corporations, banks and bad governments. Here I really have to tip my hat to Terry Pratchett because he courageously tackled these problems and poked fun at them. Yet all the while, in his witty, humorous writing Terry Pratchett still showed this big-hearted attitude towards the things he made fun of. It is this humanness that made Making Money, and all of his Discworld novels such moving and compelling tales.

Making Money is a thoughtful book and a wonderful comedy about the class-based economic system. If you have already planted your foot in Discworld series but haven't read this one yet, make sure to check it out. If you have never read a Discworld novel then the question is, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Book Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #33)

Everyday I make the ritualistic journey of coming home from work. The highlight of my daily trip lies with the opening of my letterbox. As strange as this may sound, but without this climax of opening the letterbox my daily homecoming trip feels incomplete. I love opening my letterbox, because the prospects of what I might find inside it thrills me (but not so thrilled when I find bills inside it). Some of my fondest memories of coming home reside with the joys at discovering memorable items such as: a letter proving I owned my first home, a hand-written letter from my parents, and a set of books that I really wanted which I ordered online. Those magical moments will stay in my memory for the rest of my life. Yet, none of these would have been possible without the local post office working their magic, delivering items safely to my letterbox.

In this era of instant, digital messaging, the traditional post office is still in business. I think this is because there is always something you cannot digitize and therefore must remain in the physical format. For example, you cannot send clothes to your loved ones using an email, it has to be sent as a parcel via the traditional post. I think it is sufficed to say, that postal service remains an integral part in our lives and it is here to stay, for good. Meanwhile, I wonder how many people think about how their local post offices impact their lives, or how instant messaging has changed the way people communicate, let alone entertaining the idea of a fantasy novel that is all about the post office.

Yes, that is right! Sir Terry Pratchett wrote a novel called, Going Postal, it is the 33rd Discworld novel and it is all about the post office, advancing technology, and much, much more. Going Postal is 490 pages in length. It is one of the funniest and wittiest books in Discworld series and I adore this book. Here I offer to share my thoughts about Going Postal in a book review.


Albert Spangler was a con-man who excelled at cheating money out of not so honest people. Mr. Spangler's criminal career finally came to an end, when he was arrested at Ankh Morpork, the largest city on Discworld, and subsequently sentenced to be hanged.

On the day of his execution Albert stepped onto the gallows with a noose around his neck. When the executioner pulled the lever and dropped him, Albert's feet dangled in mid air while the damning rope tightened around his neck, then all went black and Albert thought he was done for.

Moments later, Albert woke up in confusion and found Lord Vetinari, the supreme ruler of Ankh Morpork, grinning at him. Vetinari explained to Albert that he was (literally) only hanged to within an inch of his life. Vetinari made Albert two offers: 1) Taking a government job as the post master, or 2) Continue his journey to the afterlife. Albert Spangler considered the circumstances and decided 1) was an offer he could not refuse. So just like that, a con-man was given a 2nd chance at life as the post master. From that day and onward, Albert Spangler died and Moist Von Lipwig was born.

Mr. Lipwig ventured into his new life as the post master. He arrived at Ankh Morpork post office only to discover a run-down, shadow haunted building piled with mountains of undelivered letters. In the failing building's corner sat a few old, creaky postmen accompanied by an unstable apprentice obsessed with collecting pins. Worse still, the post office also has to compete against a greedy, money-hungry corporation known as Grand Trunk Clacks, whose clacks towers can sent (almost) instant messages.

Facing these insurmountable challenges, Mr. Lipwig sits in his new office clutching his aching head in both hands. Moist Von Lipwig's new adventure going into the postal business is making him going postal. In his distress, Mr. Lipwig realized why the patrician hired him for the job. You see, only a master con-man with every trick in his sleeve can get this declining enterprise of postal service up and running again. The question is, can Mr. Lipwig succeed?

My thoughts about this book:

Going Postal is the 33rd book in Discworld series. This book belongs to the “Industrial Revolution” series in Discworld. The story is set in the metropolitan city of Ankh Morpork, a fictional city resembling Victorian London and brought to life by Terry Pratchett's vivid, descriptive writing. When I was reading this book, I felt as if I was exploring the cobble-stoned streets of Ankh Morpork, seeing its labyrinthine buildings and hearing the city's buzzing activities all round me. Terry Pratchett's superb writing transported me to the magical land of Discworld and it was an exhilarating ride.

Going Postal is a fast paced book. The story is gripping and full of humor. Who'd thought a story about the postal service could be so exciting and fun? Terry Pratchett has this amazing ability to spin wonderful tales out of common, day-to-day items. This use of “ordinary things in life” adds a sense of randomness to Discworld novels and it fits appropriately into the satirical nature of these books, shrouding the stories in the atmosphere of eccentricity and humor, while allowing readers to relate to these books easily.

The same can be said about Terry Pratchett's choice of characters. In Discworld books, heroes are not powerful warriors, wizards or chosen ones with great destinies (though he did satirize these fantasy archetypes in many Discworld books). Instead, Terry Prachett's heroes are common people; from humble watchmen, cowardly wizards, a school teacher and witches. In the case of Going Postal, the hero of the story is Moist Von Lipwig, a con-man who was given a 2nd chance at life and using his talents to benefit the society.

I like Moist Von Lipwig in this book. He is a very likable character and I think Terry Pratchett did an excellent job at weaving the theme of redemption into Moist's story. Furthermore, Moist also has an interesting relationship with Lord Vetinari, his employer and the patrician of Ankh Morpork. Speaking of Lord Vetinari, I think he is one of the most interesting characters in Discworld. At the first glance this character, often dressed in black, appeared to be a villain because he was labeled a “tyrant”. However, as the story unfolded I found Vetinari an intriguing and complex character whose motivation is to bring the greater goods for Ankh Morpork. Going Postal also features a cast of supporting characters. These characters are eccentric and they added tons of laughter to the story.

The villain in Going Postal is Reacher Gilt, an one-eyed, business tycoon who bought Grand Trunk Clacks and ran it with an iron fist. Both Reacher Gilt and Grand Trunk Clacks played vital roles to set up the themes for this book. Grand Trunk Clacks represents the theme of advancing technology. In this story, Grand Trunk Clacks is a company who sold instant messaging technology as a service to the denizens of Discworld. This put Grand Trunk Clacks in direct competition against the traditional postal service. In other words, Going Postal is a story about “changes”. However, while this story explores the theme of “changes”, but I do not think this story is about traditions replaced by progress. Instead, I think the moral of the story is that advancements and traditions don't need to be enemies, they can work together to benefit our society and bringing greater goods.

On the other hand, Reacher Gilt, the villain of the story, represents the theme of corporate greed and take over. In the story, Reacher Gilt and his board members seek to increase their company's profit margin. They achieved this by making staffs redundant, therefore increasing the workloads of the remaining employees (but obviously without pay-rises). To further increase the company's profit, Gilt and his board members also reduced the maintenance costs for these clacks towers. (If you find these cost-cutting strategies sounding familiar then you are not the only one). The result? Gilt put his employees in toxic work environment and clacks towers broken down all the time. I deeply resonated with this theme and it really hit home for me. Terry Pratchett is spot on about the problems of corporate greed. I am so glad Terry Pratchett wrote a satirical fantasy novel where he tackled the problem of corporate greed. I happily say Terry Pratchett speaks for me and this is why I love Discworld novels. There are many wrong things in this world, but some people twist wrong into right using clever words, sophistry, power and influence. Ordinary people are often powerless to do anything about it. At times, the only way to show how wrong these things are is to ridicule them, and no one does this better than Terry Pratchett, who wrote masterful satires.

One year ago I discovered the magic of Discworld when I read Small Gods. My past life experience led me to resonate with the theme in Small Gods in a deep, profound way. Since then, I have read a dozen Discworld books and I liked all of them. For me, Going Postal is another Discworld book whose themes really struck home. This book is funny, it made me laugh from page one to the last. Going Postal's story is also meaningful, it explores important topics in our society, topics that beg for our attentions and discussions. I highly recommend Going Postal to both fans and newcomers to Discworld.