The substance is called "narrativium" and Mr Watt-Evans is a Heavy Dealer of the material. And why not, since his book is concerned with the inventor of narrativium, Terry Pratchett? "Narrativium" has to do with telling stories and Pratchett is peerless in that regard. Watt-Evans has undertaken a momentous task in relating and assessing the many volumes comprising the [sort-of] series of Pratchett's Discworld. The collection is an outstanding synthesis, each piece addressing both the established fan and the newcomer to this magical world. Watt-Evans' own prose skills are amply displayed here in a highly personalised account.
It's telling that Watt-Evans must begin with THREE Introductions. That's a sign that Discworld books are anything but simple "fantasy" and that their readership is wide and varied. He follows this with some "Commentary" [of which there are two more sets in the book], then descriptions of the books in chronological order. That order causes some continuity problems as he notes things like "six[!] novels later" for readers to revisit certain characters. Each of the essays on the individual books necessarily imparts enough of the story to establish its place and value in the set, while struggling to avoid spoilers. He does this well, although there are a few giveaways that might have been avoided. The point of this string of chapters is to both entice the new reader to the Discworld books while offering insights regular fans may have missed. He offers "starting points" to the new reader, each explained with solid reasons for the selection. "Background" characters and villains are given a hearing, with The Luggage granted its own chapter.
If it's necessary to select an outstanding essay in this collection, that will unquestionably be Chapter 56 on Sam Vimes and the City Watch. While many characters in the Discworld series grow and develop over several volumes, Sam Vimes does so in a very special way. Although he rises in the hierarchy of the Watch, while at the same time marrying into the richest family of the City of Ankh-Morpork, he resolutely remains his own man. Vimes is beset by a need for justice as well as keeping his City intact and running smoothly. His anger often rises in response to events, and he has an internal Beast to maintain control over. The conditions for Ankh-Morpork's running smoothly are set by Vimes' chief foil [he has no trouble with criminals], the City Patrician, Havelock Vetinari. Watt-Evans offers fine portraits of both and why their interactions are so important.
There are a couple of small clangers in this book - omissions, mainly. He lets most of Pratchett's titles stand without comment, but "The Last Continent" is so named not just because it seems to have been the final effort by a Discworld creator, but because it was the last one visually encountered by European seamen. "Monstrous Regiment", an otherwise totally enigmatic title, derives from a 16th Century religious tract. Either because Watt-Evans is US-born or is pandering to that audience, he fails to inform readers of something every child in the UK would instantly recognise. These are minor things which detract nothing from an excellent summation of Terry Pratchett's work and his genius. Watt-Evans has no problem with Terry's international renown, but deftly avoids declaring that Discworld stories are more than entertaining, they are addictive. He's candidly envious of Pratchett's genius, which is only right and proper. Pratchett is without equal. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]