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As with magic science plays around the edges of reality, the edges of time, and the edges or borderlands of the less well known boundaries of human comprehension. And so ventures Rincewind again, still flirting with DEATH, not so much with humanity, but much more so with the portals of alternate universes, of Things beyond our realizations.
As always Pratchett delivers entertaining story-telling with wit and style. In this Discworld tale we return to Rincewind and the legendary Luggage, in a Discworld upheaval caused by the release of sourcery (essentially raw, wild magic) by a son held puppet by his father's power and consciousness that has been locked into an iron staff.
As a reader, it's refreshing to read a writer's work that suspends my disbelief (quite the feat given this immprobable world, and quiets the editor. Pure, entertainment at the top of its form.
"Sourcery" is the fifth novel in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series, was first published in 1988 and is the third to give a starring role to Rincewind, the cowardly one-spell wizard.
Wizardry is widely seen as the most appropriate profession for the eighth son of an eighth son - however, given that it's also a celibate profession, is isn't a job that is intended to run in the family. Unfortunately, accidents do occasionally happen and the eighth son of a wizard is known as a Soucerer - a wizard who is also a source of magic. They are hugely dangerous, and will increase the background levels of magic to such a degree that other wizards may just start building towers and launch another round of the Mage Wars...
Ipslore the Red is one of the exceptions : he fled the halls of the Unseen University, married and had a family. The inevitable eighth son, Coin, is only a baby when Death arrives for Ipslore and the ex-wizard decides to choose his son's destiny. The future he picks for Coin includes wearing the Archchancellor's Hat of the Unseen University and, in an attempt to cheat Death, Ipslore enters his staff when he leaves his body. His intention is to guide Coin to his destiny....
Coin is roughly ten years old when he makes it to the University, and isn't long in taking over. When he deals with two of the Wizards - including the incoming Archchancellor - in a swift and very final manner, the remaining members of staff are understandably reluctant to stand against him. However, two of the survivors - a rather devious pair called Spelter and Carding - smell an opportunity. In seeing themselves as Coin's most senior and trusted advisors, they don't realise that Ipslore already has that role to himself.
Coin's arrival isn't universally welcomed - the rats and the gargoyles are amongst the first to flee, while the books in the University's library are distinctly unsettled. Rincewind, now acting as the University's honourary assistant librarian, is the first member of staff to realise there's something strange happening and nips off to the pub in a panic with the Librarian (an orang-utan), and his Luggage. (Luggage is a large brass-bound box, made from sapient pearwood - the same material wizard's staff is traditionally made from. It can move around by itself, has rather a vicious temper and - like Dr Who's Tardis - appears to be much bigger on the inside than on the outside). While Rincewind has been lucky enough to avoid Coin at the University, he's unfortunate enough to be apprehended by Conina at the Mended Drum. Conina, a very successful thief, is the daughter of Cohen the Barbarian and has pilfered the Archchancellor's Hat from the University. In this case, however, she stole the hat at its own request. (It is a magic hat after all...and it has realised that Coin's arrival will signal the Apocralypse). Under the Hat's instructions, Rincewind and Conina travel to Klatch, where the Hat believes there is a mind devious enough to wear it...and stand against the Sourcerer.
As usual from Pratchett, this is an easily read, rather silly and very enjoyable book.
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.
There is, throughout Terry Pratchett's "Sourcery," a somewhat sorrowful tone being struck amidst the high spirited comedy and dramatic saving the world (again) sorts of action. Because, at the heart of this story of how a most magical being, one whose very existence could unravel the fabric of the universe, is a scared and cruelly tormented little boy. That Pratchett keeps this in mind, and indeed, makes his salvation just as important as saving the world, is a credit to his skills as a writer and heart as a person. The eighth son of an eighth son is a wizard. And the eighth son of a normally celibate wizard is a sourcerer, a living font of magical energies. But it's slightly more complicated than that: a father with a grudge against the magical establishment, a magical establishment (the cast of Unseen University, alternately pathetic and for once frightening) that's hungry for power, and a chain of events that quickly gets out of control all hurtle this story towards disaster. Along the way, we get introduced to the daughter of the greatest hero in Discworld's history, who just desperately wants to be a hairdresser but finds that some things are just in her blood. We also pick up a very unlikely barbarian hero and a literary minded monarch and his fabulous pleasuredome. And, of course, the magic-less wizard Rincewind and his animate Luggage make a triumphant (well, as triumphant as Rincewind gets) return. "Sourcery" is Pratchett's most heartfelt novel to date, and he puts the characters ahead of plot or jokes -- although there are plenty, especially concerning Conina and Unseen University -- and it makes for one of the best Discworld novels to date. Strongly recommended.