8 January 2010

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett [book review]

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Published by Corgi
Paperback - 445 pages
Published December 1997
Borrowed copy

Okay, first review of 2010! I managed to read Hogfather before Christmas so I could have a clean slate for 2010 (I'm not reading much in the way of fantasy right now, I've got a ton of work to do, sadly) and so on that note I'll get the ball rolling:

Hogfather is the 20th novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and it is a satirical take on British traditions at Christmas (Pratchett is famed for satirising the theme of each book with his distinct British humour). Hogfather follows a number of characters who attempt to save Hogswatch (read: Christmas) after an Assassin is hired to kill the Hogfather (Santa Claus). Enter the Tooth Fairy, bogeymen, wizards and a variety of magical entities including the Verucca Gnome and the Cheer Fairy to add in the funnies for which Pratchett is now world renowned.

It's difficult to review a Pratchett novel. I've been reading through The Discworld novels since The Colour of Magic and I've loved every one of them. What can you say about the only book series that makes you giggle out loud on public transport (without fail, every Pratchett novel I've read this has happened). Add to this that a 3 hour made-for-TV movie of the novel was made in 2006 and I've got a tough task on my hands. I'll give it a go, though.

The dialogue and character interaction in Hogfather is brilliant. The interaction between Susan and the Raven are witty and well executed, and the relationship between Death and his servant Albert is simply brilliant. At the same time, there's a certain level of cynicism and a culturally introspective eye that makes you realise a few certain truths about the holiday season (at least if you're a Brit, I can't vouch for Pratchett readers in other countries).

Pratchett's world is flawless. He knows the ins and outs of every place on the Discworld like his own back garden, and the level of detail within the city of Ankh-Morpork is astounding. Unlike many fantasy cityscapes, Ankh-Morpork feels like a real, living city. He also manages to keep the reader aware of the relationships between vastly different areas so you can easily follow how everything connects together.

That brings me to the master stroke of Pratchett's writing. In Hogfather, like many Discworld novels, Pratchett has the different characters (and there are many) whizzing off in opposite directions for most of the novel, then they all come together towards the end in a way that links up all of their motives and actions from the very beginning. It's coherent, it's immersive, and it's damn funny.

If there has to be a down side to the story (since nothing's perfect) it's that I made the mistake of watching the TV adaptation before reading the book. Although the adaptation did its best to get as much of the novel in as possible, there was a lot cut out and it all had a definite end that people come to expect from TV. Reading the book afterwards meant that I'd gone past that end point and was still reading for quite a bit, and there came a few points where I'd think "this seems like an end to it" and there would be more again. Instead of a big finale, there were a number of small, staggered endings that didn't really seem right.

So to conclude, Hogfather is another brilliant Pratchett novel, one for first timers and veterans of his work (I will say, though, that it's best to start from The Colour of Magic and read them in the order that they were written for a comprehensive view of the Discworld, plus this way you'll understand all the in-jokes that he puts in). If you've watched the TV version already, you may get a little impatient with the novel towards the end, but it's still a fantastic read.

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