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It's up to Rincewind to save the world. Oook!
on 28 November 2002
As a big Rincewind fan, I count Sourcery as one of my favorite Pratchett novels. This fifth novel of Discworld is the first to have a real epic quality to it. Seeing as how the plot is hinged around the "Apocralypse" (even though an inebriated Pestilence, War, and Famine cannot remember the proper term for it), it pretty much has to be an epic. Ipslore was a natural-born wizard, the eight son of an eighth son, who did the unthinkable (not to mention unwizardly) act of marrying and having an eighth son of his own--a sourcerer. By tricking Death, he enters his own wizard staff and later guides the ten-year-old boy Coin in assuming the Archchancellorship of Unseen University and trying to take over the world. A sourcerer has free rein over the use of magic, unlike modern-day wizards who talk about magic but rarely perform it. Sourcerers almost destroyed the Discworld in ancient times in the Mage Wars, and young Coin sets in motion a modern-day Mage War that can only end in disaster. Only one man can stop the sourcerer and save the world--most unfortunately, that one man is the inept wizard Rincewind. His only allies are the wise and good Librarian (who happens to be an orangutan), the beautiful yet deadly thief Conina (daughter of Cohen the Barbarian), and Nigel, the skinniest hero on the Discworld whose only heroic wisdom comes from a ghost-written book by Cohen the aforementioned Barbarian. The Luggage also plays a part, but he/she/it is not there at Rincewind's side.
I love how the character of Rincewind is strengthened and expanded in this novel; he's still the funny little man in a pointy hat that we met in earlier Discworld novels, but instead of running around all over the world trying to avoid dying, Rincewind is transformed in these pages into a hero--not a very good one, of course, but a hero nonetheless. His commitment to wizardry is steadfast and firm, while the vast majority of successful wizards go along with Coin, delight in the new magical powers they gain through sourcery, and eventually wage a magical war among themselves in the pursuit of raw power. Rincewind redeems himself admirably here by actually performing some acts of bravery, risking his life--albeit reluctantly--for the sake of the Discworld.
The book starts out like gangbusters, and although it loses a little steam and wanders a little bit in the later stages, the conclusion brings everything together rather nicely. It does, however, leave a few questions unanswered for the time being. The character of Coin, the ten-year-old sourcerer, could have used more thrashing out, I felt, but Conina and Nigel are very interesting new characters in Pratchett's universe. Sourcery is overflowing with typical Pratchett humor, but it also features an exciting, narrowly-focused storyline that provides a wealth of new information about the wizards of Unseen University, the brave and wise banana-craving Librarian, and the crucial role and importance of magic in the Discworld. Whereas earlier novels sometimes seemed to have stories built around the jokes, this novel is built upon a solid foundation of an epic fantasy plot--the comedy is just icing on the cake. Of the first five Discworld novels, this is by far the most exciting and entertaining.