"There are many who say that the art of diplomacy is an intricate and complex dance. There are others who maintain that it's merely a matter of who carries the biggest stick. The oldest and most inscrutable (not to mention heavily fortified) empire on the Discworld is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise "What I did on My Holidays". Workers are uniting, with nothing to lose but their water buffaloes; warlords are struggling for power - and what the nation wants, to avoid terrible doom for everyone, is a wizard. Rincewind is not the Disc’s premier wizard – in fact, he can’t even spell ‘wizard’ – but no-one specified whether competence was an issue. And they do have a very big stick…"
Interesting Times is the seventeenth book in the Discworld series and the fifth to feature the hapless wizard Rincewind, the star of the first book The Colour of magic.
Rincewind is one of my favourite characters in the Discworld series, far from the typical fantasy wizard, he is not heroic or wise or even any good at magic. Instead, he’s a total coward whose first response to danger is to be somewhere else entirely. That said, I wasn’t much of a fan of the previous book to feature him,
Faust Eric!. Therefore I had hoped that this one might be a return to form.
Lucky for me it was…sort of…
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, the humour is as ever, spot on. The book is hilarious with a hundred jokes to a page and Pratchett proves again why he should be considered the greatest dialogue writer in fiction.
Though for the first time, a lot of the jokes feel a little awkward. The book is set in the Agatean empire, the Discworld equivalent of Asia and offers a clash of cultural parodies, mostly Chinese and Japanese.
Unfortunately a lot of these jokes come off as a little uncomfortable. It was released in 1994 and the parodies of Asian stereotypes often come across as a little dated. There are only so many “they eat dogs over there” jokes you can stand in one sitting.
To be fair, I don’t for a second think there’s any malice behind these jokes at all nor do I think Pratchett harbours any racist beliefs. I think these jokes are meant to be parodies of these stereotypes, poking fun at a stupid notion, rather than condoning them. Also I don’t think there’s anything in here that’s outright offensive, a little un-PC perhaps when viewed today, but nothing to really fret about.
I have to admit, I found the story here a little dull. Rincewind is transported to the empire and finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy by new villain Lord Hong to overthrow the Emperor.
Meanwhile, Cohen the Barbarian also returns, backed by a squad of other geriatric Barbarians named the Silver Horde who plan to overtake the Empire themselves under the tutelage of ex-teacher turned warrior Mr Saveloy who intends to teach the barbarians the ways of civilisation.
For whatever reason, the plot simply didn’t grab me. It felt a little all over the place and too messy at times.
When the story worked though, it really worked. Towards the end of the novel there is some real drama when the Barbarians come to terms with their own mortality. The question of whether it’s best to settle down and enjoy life or keep fighting until they die. It’s surprisingly powerful stuff and I found the rare moments of defeatism and weakness in Cohen oddly touching.
The book also sees the return of Twoflower, Rincewind’s companion in the first two books who gets a brilliant moment of his own which I won’t spoil.
So, a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a lot of fun don’t get me wrong. After all, as I’ve said before, even a weaker Pratchett book is still a brilliant piece of writing by anyone’s standards. It just never quite lives up to its promise or potential.
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