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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

It's been far too long since my last Discworld novel, and after a string of books that I only kind of liked at best, I was hoping for something that I could be pretty certain that I would enjoy. Perhaps not the best reason to read something, but after a while you just get tired.

Small Gods follows the god Om who manifested on the Disc just as his next prophet is due to be chosen, only to find that he is stuck in the body of a tortoise and has lost his divine powers. Desperately trying to regain his former powers, he finds that the only person who can hear him is Brutha, a lowly novice who seems to be destined for mediocrity at best.
I was right to pick another Discworld, because this was just what I needed right now. Entertaining as always, but with a really interesting subject to satirise. Considering that Small Gods is focusing on religious institutes, a subject that can get people very angry if executed poorly or heavy-handedly, I was pleasantly surprised by how subtle this manages to be. This is despite the gods being arrogant and undeserving of praise and the clergy either being too cowed to do anything productive or sadistic enough that they're actively participating in the perversion of religious faith. This is probably down to the relationship between Om and Brutha, which is the kind of entertaining bickering that I love. On the one hand, Brutha is understandably a little doubtful that the talking turtle is his god given the distinct lack of divine power, but is quite happy to look after the little guy nevertheless. And then on the other is Om, who is endlessly frustrated by his lack of power and struggles to remember just who any of these former prophets are that Brutha keeps quoting. On top of those two, Pratchett has provided a fascinating villain in the form of Vorbis. In a way, he reminds me of Lilith from Witches Abroad. There is no doubt that what he does and what he makes other people do is evil, but because he is safe in the knowledge that he carries out his faith's doctrine, he can reason that it is all in the cause of a greater good. He is certainly not likeable, but he is intriguing to observe and in some ways incredibly pitiable.

Small Gods is, by far, my favourite of the standalone Discworld novels that I've read thus far. It's an intriguing criticism of the harm that can be perpetrated when faith is replaced in day-to-day life with aggrandising the institutions that have grown around them. I would definitely recommend this one. 4.5/5

Next review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Signing off,

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

So Found is probably not a book that I would have picked up, had I found it outside of a book bundle. While I don't have any problem reading books aimed at children, I find that my standards for them are tougher than they are for adult books. Maybe because I grew up with things like Pixar films that can be appreciated by all ages, but dumbed down children's fiction does nothing for me. But in this case, the premise seemed interesting enough that I could take more of a chance.

Found follows Jonah Skidmore, an ordinary teenage boy who has never thought anything about his being adopted as a baby. It is only when he and his new friend Chip, who has only just discovered that he was adopted, start getting mysterious letters of warning that he wonders whether he should be concerned about who his birth parents were. When he digs into his origins though, he finds himself entangled in a mystery that involves the FBI, a vast smuggling operation and people who appear and disappear in seemingly impossible ways.
When Found started on a really intriguing scene, that of an aeroplane appearing out of thin air and containing 36 babies and no flight crew, I was really hopeful. It's nothing if not an arresting image, so you can imagine what I hoped that it would turn into. As it turned out, I would be disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the story itself was decent enough, but it just needed to be tighter, go through a few rewrites. As it was, Found was decent enough, but had a few things just annoying enough to ruin the expectations that I'd had for this.
First of all, the characters mostly ended up being generically teenager instead of especially interesting by themselves. They were all kind of dim, overly concerned with what is and is not "cool" for their age group, and seemed to have really spotty memories about a topic that they've been focusing on for several weeks by the end of the book. For instance, there's a bit where they meet a woman who saw the plane that Jonah and Chip were on as babies, and she posits that there was time travel involved. Chip's reaction to this is to mock her relentlessly for her crackpot theories, completely ignoring the fact that one of the documents he has in his possession at that very moment contains information that they had previously established would be impossible to have without something like, oh I don't know, fucking TIME TRAVEL! Like, if you wanted to have him be that sceptical, don't provide him with reason to believe the theories that he mocks. Additionally, it seems at odds with his willingness to believe another character's assertion that she saw a ghost, just because she says so. I just need consistency, please.
Secondly, there seems to be this weirdly specific body language or voice tone going on throughout the book. I can appreciate communicating additional information or context with either body language or tone of voice, because that's a thing that people do, obviously. But in Found this is made into so specific and exact a form of communication that it becomes really distracting.
Lastly, it just started to drag, with little of actual substance happening between Jonah and his family meeting the FBI to discuss his adoption, and the showdown in the latter third. It's the three main characters investigating, poorly, and getting more and more panicky because of the vague and menacing dangers around them. It did pick up at the end, but by then my experience had been tainted by the slog of the beginning and middle thirds. And if I'm bored then I can't imagine a child or young teenager will do much better.

Found ends on a cliff-hanger, but I don't know if I'd deliberately go out of my way to continue reading the series. The characters are pretty much just generic young teens and haven't got much interesting about each of them individually. The writing can be distracting at times, with the sort of annoying writing tics that draw you out of your immersion. And while it did pick up towards the end, the first two thirds seemed to drag interminably through a pretty shabby investigation. Not terrible, but not particularly great either. 3/5

Next review: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,