Keeping the faith in Pratchett's fantasy land
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (Corgi $95): Thank God for writers like Terry Pratchett, the court jesters of the literary world. Their entertaining prattle and throwaway lines often contain insights for those willing to be caught reading fantasy novels.
Although the 12th book in the Discworld series, Small Gods is as funny and fresh as the first, The Colour of Magic, which introduced readers to a world perched on the shoulders of four elephants standing on a turtle wading through space.
In Small Gods, novice priest Brutha discovers prophets are not always born, they sometimes have prophecy dropped on them; in his case, in the form of a tortoise.
His people had wrapped their religion in so many rites that their god, Om, had been cut off from their belief - the source of his divinity and power - and become trapped in the shape of a turtle. Only Brutha's absolute faith is keeping Om from joining the unemployment line for ''lost gods''.
So begins Om's battle to get back his worshippers. On their way to mutual enlightenment, the improbable duo encounter a power-hungry priest who believes being tortured to death is the best way to paradise, anger other gods, and start a war.
The Shining Ones by David Eddings (HarperCollins, $225): The second book of The Tamuli series, The Shining Ones does not live up to its title: the characters are one-dimensional, the plot threadbare, the once-comic dialogue now enlivened by only rare flashes of wit, the violence often gratuitous, the sorcery inconsistent.
In part one, Domes of Fire, Mr Eddings led the reader on a merry dance, taking his characters from place to place so they could have adventures and kill some villains.
The Shining Ones offers more of the same: Sparhawk (prince consort and upsetter of schemes divine and mortal) and friends gallop around trying to recover the Bhelliom, a gem with awesome magical powers. After finding it, they use its power to transport themselves all over the Tamul kingdom to confuse the enemy.
They succeed in part: the reader ends up lost and confused.
The author's first two series - The Belgariad and The Malloreon - were entertaining; The Elenium series had the novelty of introducing the characters who reprise their roles in The Tamuli .
Where has the magic gone, Mr Eddings? The Pretender by Louise Cooper (HarperCollins, $60): In The Pretender, book two in the Chaos Gate trilogy, the demon's daughter has come of age and is using her dark powers to coerce the mortals into accepting her as their empress.
Although no pretender to J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy throne at present, Louise Cooper weaves an adroit tale about the battle between the gods of Chaos and Order for the undivided devotion of the mortals.