Terry Pratchett,
(Victor Gollancz, 1996; Corgi, 1997)

The oh god of hangovers is funny. So's Hex, the Discworld's first computer, and the bullying thereof by some very unimpressed wizards. And so is a gang of hardened Ankh-Morpork criminals, cowed into servitude by one scrawny assassin who loves his job a bit too much.

But for sheer joviality, little can beat the image of the Discworld's bony but conscientious Death substituting for the missing Hogfather. The Hogfather is, of course, the Disc's version of our Santa Claus. He may have been assassinated, or he may simply have vanished for a lack of belief. Either way, he's gone, and Death has vowed to restore belief in him and bring him back into existence. That means dressing in jolly red furs, wearing a fake beard, driving a rough-hewn sledge pulled by four fierce flying boars, and delivering toys and goodies to the world's children and otherwise needy.

Of course, Death has slightly different views about what's fair and what isn't when Hogswatch Night actually rolls around. And Pratchett makes some very good points about people whose holiday charity has more to do with their own feelings of guilt than any real desire to help people.

Meanwhile, who knows what might appear when waves of untethered Belief go rolling around the Disc, ready to manifest as just about any handy personification or incarnation which might get mentioned and, if even for a moment, believed.

Besides providing another crackerjack novel about Death and the wizards of the Unseen University, Hogfather also provides the return of Susan, Death's granddaughter, who has taken on a position as governess for two unfortunately named children in her effort to reclaim a "normal" life. (Normal for the Discworld, that is. In other words, monsters in the closet and bogeymen under the beds are quite possibly real, although they respond quite well to a well-wielded poker.)

Pratchett keeps racking up successes in this ongoing series. This one makes for a particularly good read as our own Yuletide approaches.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Hogfather from Amazon.com.