I had only read Small Gods (which is awesome) and The Unseen Academicals (which was on sale, but because I had not read any of the other books, not was into football/soccer, I missed all the in-jokes), so this is what I have been doing this year. This is pretty much all I have been doing this year, aside from some Connie Willis (Oxford Time Travel series) , Vera Nazarian (Cobweb Bride series) and Michelle Moran (Nefertiti, Heretic Queen).
If you try to read the Discworld novels in the order they were published, you are going to get lost. Fortunately, some fans have made handy maps to track the storylines of the major characters:
This is not entirely up to date as it is missing Pratchett’s last four books:
Watch Novels: Snuff
Industrial Revolution Novels: Raising Steam
I’m sure there are more up to date “maps” out there, but they don’t look this cool.
So far, I have read everything with a blue star next to it, twice (waiting in between purchases). 😀 My focus is to get through the novels and short stories. I’ll catch up with his YA books (which his last publication, The Shepard’s Crown, is one of) later. And I have to delve into the Industrial Revolution series.
What these separate sets of characters allowed Pratchett to do is to write different types of stories in the one setting. The Rincewind novels are all chase/adventure. The Watch/Sim Vimes novels are mysteries. The Witches novels are battles that have a lot of literary allegory. While the Death series and some of Pratchett’s One-Offs (novels featuring characters that do not appear anywhere else in the series) look closely at humankind; its world-view, attitudes, institutions, beliefs.
I will say Pratchett is the one SciF-Fantasy novelist I have read who has “discussed” faith and religion in the most unbiased way. He has much to criticize in religious institutions (he has much to criticize about social institutions in general) but he recognizes the power and benefits of faith and belief. Small Gods, Carpe Jugulum.
When you read Pratchett’s novels, you can see he borrowed a lot of individual pieces from here and there (Shakespeare in particular in the Witches stories.) But he puts them together in his own wonky way and still brings fresh insight into human nature.
But where Pratchett really shines are his characters: Rich, flawed, entertaining, striving, human and yes, funny. The two best things about Pratchett’s characters are that first, he recognizes that there is a wide variety of human nature. The characters are not merely different people, they come from a very wide range of different moral and emotional cores: from the “Naturally Good” (Magrat, Captain Carrott) to the “Naturally Evil, but Decided to be Good” (Granny Weatherwax) to the “No Scruples, but No Harm” (Nanny Ogg, Corporal Nobbs) to the “Good with a Dark Side” (Sam Vimes) to the “Amorals of Order” (Venitari, Death) and so on.
And these cores are only the basis of rich characterizations, all of which grow throughout their series of books. They are all fascinating, with little cul-de-sacs of personality traits that somehow all fit together to make a real person, even if they are a witch or a werewolf or the universally-known, but undeclared, King of Ankh-Morpork.
I’ll also add that he does a fantastic job writing women as women, with their own power. The Witches are of course the obvious example of that, but great female characters are scattered throughout Discworld; each unique, each with their own strength from the warrior woman archetype in Corporal Angua to Lady Sybyl’s personal charisma. Even those who may appear powerless at the outset (Magrat, Lady Sybil) find their strengths and grow from the experience.
My favorite series are the Death/Susan Death series.
Not only because Susan is my absolute favorite character (sensible woman of dry wit trying to be sensible in an unsensible world), but because these stories delve the deepest into human psyche and conceptualization. The Hogfather is required reading.
For like the entire planet.
Second favorite are the Watch/Sam Vimes stories.
Sam comes in #2 because is an honest flat foot in a corrupt world, who knows he is a flat foot in a corrupt world, yet he has to set things right. He can’t leave mysteries alone. He knows he is not the smartest (and Pratchett had a comment or two about the Sherlock-type of investigator), but he is the most determined and pretty damned clever. And as anti-authoritarian authority figure, he is going to go his own way and speak his mind, even if that means barging in to a Guild-leaders meeting and putting an axe through the table. Because of his successes, despite all his disgusted protests, he keeps getting promoted until he becomes a Duke. What I also love is that people around Sam expect much of him because he has “hidden qualities,” but what Sam knows is that some of his “hidden qualities” are not so pretty. He can be incredibly, animalistically, violent. But because he has wrestled with that side of himself (and drink) for so long, it makes him a stronger person (which comes into play in Thud). Yet despite the tough-guy facade, he is a loving (and respectful) husband and father.
Plus his feud with the Assassin’s Guild was pretty funny.
Most of The Watch mysteries are pretty good. I’m torn between Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant as my favorites. I’m going to with The Fifth Elephant because it’s a good mystery where we get to see Sam’s darker side really come out, and Sam’s wife Lady Sybyl shows her strength as well.
A lot of people also point to Night Watch as required reading for its take on how political power struggles manipulate the common people, who pay the highest price.
Another highly recommended novel is Small Gods, which is a One Off for Pratchett’s deepest look into religion, society’s effects on it and its effects on society.
I’m not a huge Rincewind fan, but Sourcery is a great book. I mean, one of the great, tear-the-world-assunder wars of magic ended by half a brick in a sock. Seriously, how can you beat it?
For the Witches series, it’s a tough call between Lords and Ladies (a Pratchett-esque take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Magrat finally comes into her own) and Carpe Jugulum. I’m going to give it to Carpe Jugulum, which is probably his most ambitious novel. He touches on different concepts of evil. He explores the Mother-Maiden-Crone aspect of the witches when Granny Weatherwax bows out, Magrat becomes a mother and a new, younger witch, Agatha Nitt, enters the fold. (This leaves Nanny Ogg not happy about assuming the role of “the other one.”). He examines the difference between religion and faith to the individual (where Small Gods had been more of religion and faith to society). And we get more insight into one of Discworld’s more fascinating characters: Granny Weatherwax.
So even if you are not a big fantasy reader, you have to give the Discworld books a whirl. They’re fun books that do not insult your intelligence; they have good stories with great characters that make you laugh, think and touch you with moments of insight and poignancy.