by Terry Pratchett

Cover image

Series: Discworld #5
Publisher: Signet
Copyright: December 1989
ISBN: 0-451-16233-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 253

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This is the fifth book in the Discworld series, but it's most closely connected with The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. It can be read out of order, but reading the two previous Rincewind books will fill in some background details and introduce you to the Luggage (who plays a substantial role here).

Coin is the eighth son of a wizard who'd left the Unseen University for love, a wizard who himself was the eighth son of an eighth son. This made Coin a sourcerer, a living source of magic rather than a mere manipulator of it like the wizards of Discworld. When his father manages to dodge the clutches of Death by binding himself to Coin's staff and then lays a destiny on him to dominate all wizards on Discworld, trouble is obviously coming. Particularly given that sourcerers are banned precisely because of the magic wars that devastated the Disc long ago.

Years later, Coin, now as a boy of ten, starts to carry out his father's charge and heads for the Unseen University just as a new Archancellor is about to be named. The wizards are sadly unaware of his approach, but everything else in the Unseen University is all too aware and starts to flee for its life. Rincewind is the only one wise enough to take notice and run with the bedbugs and rats, which is why he and the Luggage are no longer in the University when Coin arrives and begins to turn everything on its head. Also not in the university, as it turns out, is the Archancellor's hat, the symbol and embodiment of hundreds of years of wizardry, which was nabbed moments before Coin's arrival by an expert thief. Whose aspiration, in typical Pratchett fashion, is to become a hairdresser.

Sourcery reminds me of The Light Fantastic in several respects: Rincewind and company, with occasional help from the Luggage, set out to prevent destruction, or at least severe disruption, of the world (or at least fall into doing so by default despite Rincewind's considerable attempts to run away). There's a barbarian. There's a love interest of sorts. There is much in the way of apocalypse.

This is a significantly better book, however. For one, I liked all of the characters in the party this time. Also, the villain was more interesting, there were fewer cheap puns and more plot twists, and the Librarian plays a major (and excellent) role. This feels like a more mature work. Pratchett lets his askew analogies and delightfully twisted world find its own humor rather than seeming like he's trying to squeeze as many jokes as possible into every page. Even the splash of romantic stupidity that Pratchett throws in didn't bother me (much).

As always with Pratchett, the point of the book is the humor. Sourcery is lighter on the simple puns and gags and rests more on twisted descriptions, bizarre but somehow perfect analogies, rampant anthropomorphism, and the Luggage getting entirely fed up with some otherwise terrifying danger. If you liked earlier Discworld books, particularly if you liked the situations but got tired of obvious parody and puns, this is one to read. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best in the series up to this point, handily surpassing even Mort.

As with all of the Discworld books, reading the Annotated Pratchett File for the book after reading the book is highly recommended and highlights references and subtleties that one might otherwise miss.

Followed by Wyrd Sisters in the chronological sense and (later) by Eric in the plot sense.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-09-02

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