March 12, 2015: We were saddened to learn of the death of Terry Pratchett and wanted to take the opportunity to repost this to introduce people to (or remind people of) his wonderful books.
Terry Pratchett is probably best known for his Discworld books, a series of satirical fantasies set on a disc-shaped world balanced on the back of four elephants standing on the back of A'Tuin, a giant turtle swimming through space. The series skewers typical fantasy tropes (one recurring character is Cohen the Barbarian, who is in his nineties and very grumpy; another recurring character is Susan, Death's granddaughter).
The premise and the satirical angle allow Pratchett to write novels in a number of different styles, from parody to adventure to detective story, and to comment on any number of subjects from religion to representation. The commentary, while specifically about the Discworld and its denizens, of course doubles as commentary on modern society. While the satire might lead lesser authors towards an arch approach rife with cynicism, Pratchett is simply too humane and too fond of people, warts and all, to let cynicism dominate his stories.
Among the Discworld books for adults is Going Postal, about an extremely skillful con artist who is hanged at the beginning of the story, cut loose below the gallows (just out of sight to the public), and taken to the Patrician, the city's tyrannical ruler. The Patrician offers him the choice of being hanged again, this time for real, or managing the post office (including its rooms full of undelivered mail) and getting its services in order. Von Lipwig reluctantly decides to take over the post office.
Among the Discworld books for teens are the award-winning The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents and the Tiffany Aching series. Tiffany Aching is a young girl who decides to become a witch despite the many objections that she couldn't possibly be one. She starts down her career path by hitting one of the fairy folk with a frying pan, befriending the Nac Mac Feegle (six-inch-tall blue-skinned red-haired Scottish fairies who love to steal, drink, and especially to fight), and setting out to rescue her kidnapped brother. The series starts off fairly light and whimsical, though the two final volumes (I Shall Wear Midnight) are both darker and deeper than the prior ones, taking on physical abuse, prejudice, the possibility of forgiveness, and the nature of social obligations.
One of the standout books by Pratchett--this one not on Discworld, but set in an alternate history--is Nation: a Printz-honor book about Mau, a boy who lives on an island and is sent off to a neighboring island to live alone (finding his own food, making his own shelter) as part of an initiation ritual. Mau returns expecting the traditional party, but what he finds instead is the aftermath of a tsunami: everyone he's ever known is dead. Crashed onto the island is a ship, and the only person who survived the wreck is Daphne, a young girl from a plague-stricken England. The two don't speak the same language and have wildly different upbringings, but together they must rebuild civilization. While Lord of the Flies (another lauded British book set on an island and about a small group of people re-establishing civilization) tells a very different story, Nation brims with optimism.
Though Pratchett is known for his humor and Nation is one of his most serious books, the story's plotting, characterization, warmth, and wisdom make it one of the best books I've read in the last decade.
For more info on Terry Pratchett's work, including his various series for adults, teens, and children, be sure to check out his site.