Lately I presented my personal criteria to review and rate fiction books: The Ingredients For Greatness. I tested those criteria on the three books I reviewed back then. Now I have read three other books and while reading the very first one I realised that there is another criteria I definitively should add: Fun. But before elaborating this one here is a recap of the other four:
- Tension – it’s important to be left in the dark for a good part of the book. There have to be at least two possible and plausible ways how the threads connect in the end. The characters motives, the story’s background and the future should be revealed late, by showing not telling (where possible) and only to some minimum degree.
- Surprising twists and revelations – there need to happen some disruptive things and mysteries unexpectedly revealed. But it has to be believable. There shouldn’t be a lengthy explanation afterwards. Twists should be unobtrusively prepared throughout the prior part of the book.
- Engageable – the protagonist or the circumstances he happens to face should be relatable. I must be able to connect to the story, so that most things, the important things, have a meaning to me.
- Basics – Zero or close to zero spelling mistakes. Clean grammar and structure: clever paragraphs and manageable chapter sizes. No plot holes. Connecting the open threads and questions in a meaningful manner. A logical and believable flow. Not too slow paced. Confidence in the author’s voice.
Well and now it’s Fun additionally. The first book I have read after the first Ingredients Post was The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett. It’s funny and mysterious and has some nice twists. But back to the criteria for now. Regardless of how serious a book’s topic is, I love it when there are some clever jokes weaved into the drama; when I have to chuckle unwillingly. It’s definitely something that no really great book should lack.
Now let’s look at the books in chronological order of consumption. So we start with The Hogfather here. I have read also Windwalker by Elaine Cunnigham and Dark Hearts by T.R. Stoddard. I will review those in separate posts.
It’s a Disc World novel and in case you are familiar with Pratchett’s infamous series you should feel familiar with the strangeness of it all. I have only read one Disc World novel before: Going Postal. And I really loved that one. Now it’s The Hogfather. In sum it is quite good, but there are some aspects I don’t really like (or get).
It starts with a job for Ankh-Morpok’s assassins guild given by a very mysterious contractee who wishes the Hogfather (resembling Santa Claus, but with pigs instead of reindeer) dispatched. The head of the guild knows only of one of his ’employees’ who might be up for the job, Mr. Teatime. Mr. Teatime is described as a real maniac who is famous for getting his jobs done, all of them, but with a great deal of collateral damage and general devastation. We are left in the dark how a god-like creature, that is admittedly immortal, can be killed. Asked how Mr. Teatime would do it, he answers, that he already had laid out a detailed plan in his spare time and that it should be no problem. We are still left in the dark until close to the end, though. The contractee’s agenda is similarly open ’til the end – and possibly the craziest part of it all.
Besides Mr. Teatime, his recruiting activities and partially revealing the execution of his plan, there are some more POV characters and partially time-shifted story lines. There is Susan, the main protagonist. She is introduced as a governess, with a blue-blooded heritage and some really strange skills. She is able to see and handle all kinds of monsters (boogeyman and stuff). During the book it becomes (a little) clearer what is the reason for her being like she is. The second protagonist Death has obviously picked up the Hogfather’s job and is trying to grow in his role. The last major role is played by Mustrum Ridcully, a wizard and arch chancellor of Unseen University, the wizardry school.
Telling anything more might reveal to much of the story so I stop now and focus on how The Hogfather performs on my criteria. I did my best to keep most things in the dark. In case you want to read the book and absolutely don’t like spoilers, you shouldn’t continue to read and just look up the scores. Feel free to come back to compare and share your observations.
Everything is mysterious right from the beginning. Pratchett reveals only so much as is necessary to follow along, plus sum fuzz to guide us in the wrong direction. The shifted time of the story lines works great. And I was longing for answers that came timely and consistent with the facts he provided on the prior pages. Their were some lengthy passages repeatedly hitting the same nail, well, those were quite boring. The wizards finding out about the spare belief and constantly creating new ‘gods’ is more annoying then fun and Ridcully’s ridiculous shower experiments are absolutely unnecessary for the story, for example.
6 out of 7
Twists and Revelations
There are quite some decent twists and many things revealed. A few examples: the relationship between Death and Susan. How Death gets involved in this whole story. And prominently Mr. Teatimes plan. That last one was marvellous and really well thought through. There was one part I actually didn’t like very well: the Hogfather-hunt at the end of the book.
6.5 out of 7
Well thats really hard. Every main character is so far away from a normal person, that it is really hard to empathise wholly with any of them. Susan might be the closest to normal and surprisingly Mr. Teatime as well. The former is portrayed as a real person and evolves throughout the book. But some decisions are somewhat strange, some conclusion slowly arrived at. And there are those super powers.
Mr. Teatime doesn’t change during the book. He stays the calm and cold killer that follows his plan until the end. At least we met such characters in other books. The remaining characters are so far away from normal that it was impossible for me to put myself in their (partially pointy) shoes.
2 out of 7
It should be no surprise, that the basics are nearly perfect. Pratchett is an established author and professionally edited, after all. Flawless grammar and spelling, a good structure, well placed POV switches, …
But two points are worthy a little critique. The plot holes (no big ones). There were some decisions made I couldn’t really follow, but since it was nearly impossible to empathise with any of the characters, I guess this was to be expected. But the ending was awful. The second point is the pace. Some minor things were bloated and slowed the pace considerably and unnecessary.
6.5 out of 7
That is supposed to be a home game for Pratchett. Unfortunately it was too much for me, this time: Constantly bullying the Bursar. The stupid shower. The ‘Thinking Machine’, and it’s inner workings. The God of Hangovers, …
There were some good jokes and I had to giggle a lot, though. Otherwise I wouldn’t have read it completely, I fear.
Some major revision with cutting out 20 percent of the content would make it a much better book.
5 out of 7
Taking those subresults together culminates in a still recommended and an overall score of:
5.2 out of 7