Twas the night before Hogwatch, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring... because the only person stirring was Death in a Hogsfather costume.
With the possible exception of Tim Burton, only Terry Pratchett could come up with such a deliciously warped idea and actually make it work. "Hogfather" follows Pratchett's tradition of gutsplitting fantasy-satires, and manages to mingle plenty of unsentimental observations about human nature with a feel-good message -- not an easy thing to do, especially in a Christmas-related book.
On the night before Hogswatch, the Auditors enlist the Assassins' Guild for a very special job: "delete" the Hogfather (think a tusked Santa Claus). For this, Lord Downey calls on the psychotically childlike Mr. Teatime -- and soon Death finds that the Hogfather has vanished. So he takes on the Hogfather's duties for the night, much to the disgust of his granddaughter Susan, who is trying hard to have a normal life.
But realizing that something is very seriously wrong with the world, Susan begins investigating terrible reasons that the Hogfather has vanished: belief in him has somehow vanished from the world, courtesy of Mr. Teatime, a locksmith, a wizard and a little gang of thieves. And the wizards discover that strange creatures are coming into existence, such as the Verruca Gnome and the Eater of Socks (not to mention Bilious, the Oh God of Hangovers).
Now Susan must somehow find a way to bring back the Hogfather -- or else despite all Death's best efforts (AND WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR HOGSWATCH, SMALL HUMAN?) the world will lose much more than a jolly fat anthropomorphic personification.
"Hogfather" is quite recognizably a classic Discworld novel, with in-jokes, cameos by much-beloved characters, and a deeply weird sense of humor ("And who is Archchancellor of this University, may I ask? Is it Mrs Whitlow? I don't think so! Is it me? Why, how amazing, I do believe it is!"). And while the four main subplots seem scattered and sometimes unclear, as the book goes on they intertwine tightly and suddenly become very relevant to one another.
And since this is based on a Pratchett book, we're graced with some cynical views on humanity and the nature of belief -- and occasionally touching moments, like Death rescuing a little match girl. There's even a bittersweet edge near the end when Susan confronts the core of the Tooth Fairy's castle, and finds something very unexpected there.
But along the way, we're treated to plenty of hilarious dialogue (AND HAVE YOU BEEN A GOOD BO ... A GOOD DWA ... A GOOD GNO ... A GOOD INDIVIDUAL? the "Hogfather" asks Nobby), oddball characters and in-jokes (Bloody Stupid Johnson's bathroom). Barely a scene goes by without something to laugh at, whether it's Teatime's hysterically sick behavior or Death's attempts at yuletide jollity (including a list of things to do at each house, ending with a halfhearted HO HO HO).
The brilliant comedy hits a high note when Death invades a shopping mall's Grotto so he can have the children tell him what they want ("AND BE GOOD. THIS IS PART OF THE ARRANGEMENT. THEN WE HAVE A CONTRACT."), much to the dismay of the store owner.
Susan is not an entirely endearing heroine -- despite being efficient, strong and matter-of-fact, she's kind of chilly. But Death is always a lovable character, with his patchy understanding of human beings and his kindly personality... except to the Auditors ("When he spoke next, avalanches fell in the mountains. HAVE YOU BEEN NAUGHTY... OR NICE?"). The polite psycho Mr. Teatime makes an excellent villain, and Pratchett provides eccentric characters ranging from a hungover deity to the sweet, mentally-challenged Banjo.
"The Hogfather" is a Christmas story with a Discworld edge -- meaning it's funny and unique, but also riddled with deeper messages and sharp satire. Have you been naughty or nice?