Book Review: “Hogfather” by Terry Pratchett

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The twentieth Discworld novel is a good read, solid entertainment.

The villain is a handsome young assassin named Teatime (Teh-ah-TIM-eh) who is, unlike most assassins, a raving psychopath. Together with a band of thugs, thieves, and misfits (including an expert at picking locks and a student wizard trying to pay off some debts) he takes on the job of a lifetime–or rather, of all lifetimes.

His target is the Hogfather, the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus, though he wouldn’t say no to killing the Tooth Fairy and Death Himself into the bargain. And of course, because Discworld is on the edge of reality, where the boundary between Real and Unreal is very, very thin, this sort of thing is bound to cause bizarre side effects. Like, for instance, the fact that every time the wizards at Unseen University happen to mention a fanciful creature, like the “Eater of Socks” or the “Cheerful Fairy,” it comes into existence. Like the fact that Death himself is doing the Hogfather’s rounds on a sleigh pulled by four wild boars, accompanied by his faithful servant Albert (in a gnome costume). Like the fact that death’s granddaughter, Susan Sto-Helit (the daughter of Mort and of Death’s adopted daughter), now working as a governess to a wealthy family in Ankh-Morpork, where her job consists mainly of using the poker on creatures conjured into existence by the tortured imaginations of her young charges, finds herself riding Binky the pale horse of death across the boundaries of reality, accompanied by Bilious the “oh god” of hangovers, while Teatime’s team of crooks is picked off one by one by their worst childhood fears in a castle of human teeth. And as a side-splitting side plot, you get to see Foul Old Ron and his team of filthy beggars changing places, for one Hogwatch Night, with the patrons of a gourmet restaurant.

I think Teatime may actually be the most frightening villain Pratchett has imagined so far. Though his accomplices mostly come to their own, more or less deserved ends without his direct intervention, the way he holds them in his fear is, well, fearsome. On the other hand Susan Sto-Helit is a wonderful, anti-Mary Poppins-type heroine. And you’ll have a lot of fun with the wizards and Death and the Hex machine invented by Ponder Stibbons (basically, a magical super-computer that is growing into something like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

There are already four recurring characters with a rather limited vocabulary but whose utterances, nevertheless, elicit warmth and laughter from the reader. To quote them: “Oook!” SQUEAK! “Buggrit! Millenium hand and shrimp!” and +++Out Of Cheese Error+++. (From Left: the Librarian, the Grim Squeaker, Foul Old Ron, and Hex).

The architectural marvels of Bloody Stupid Johnson continue to amaze, the charming simplicity of Death (accompanied by his not-so-simple man-of-all-service) continues to sparkle, and the whole idea of a haute-cuisine restaurant serving variations on mud and boots is simply not to be missed.

Recommended Age: 14+