There was an eighth son of an eighth son. He was, quite naturally, a wizard. And there it should have ended. However (for reasons we’d better not go into), he had seven sons. And then he had an eighth son… a wizard squared…a source of magic…a Sourcerer.
Unseen University has finally got what it wished for: the most powerful wizard on the disc. Which, unfortunately, could mean that the death of all wizardry is at hand. And that the world is going to end, depending on whom you listen to. Unless of course one inept wizard can take the University’s most precious artefact, the very embodiment of magic itself, and deliver it halfway across the disc to safety…
Sourcery is the 5th Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, and the third one to focus on Rincewind, the cowardly and inept wizard. Going in I had a lot of mixed feelings. Rincewind has grown on me more and more, especially after this book, and Pratchett has definitely managed to keep his perspective interesting and little more nuanced. However, I was wary because this book seemed to follow a plotline that had become quite familiar: situation concerning magic and the wizards escalates to cataclysmic proportions. While quite different in their own way, that’s now three of the first five Discworld books that have a plot like that, two of which involve Rincewind.
The focus in this book is split between two places. The first focuses on Rincewind, who is roped into helping the Archchancellor’s Hat — the embodiment of the Lore of the wizards — flee the city of Ankh-Morpork to somewhere far away. This is done through Conina, a young woman who wants to be a hairdresser, but cannot help her hereditary impulses toward thievery, combat, and adventure. They take the hat from the Unseen University, where a Sourcerer named Coin has appeared. Coin usurps the hierarchy of the University and sets about establishing a dominion of wizards over the Disc. This is the second narrative the book focuses on, particularly on a couple of wizards and the Librarian, who must deal directly these dramatic changes.
This latter aspect of the story I liked a good deal in how it was concerned with the status of magic in the Discworld. It’s a world we know is populated by magic, but we come to understand why it isn’t dominated by it, or rather shouldn’t be. As I’ve praised Pratchett for before, he’s established a rather distinct idea of what magic is as a physical property in this fictional universe. It leaves you with a decent understanding of it that feels unique to this world, while at the same time it’s still a little veiled in mystery. It’s like that feeling you get when you understand the meaning of a word, but when someone asks you to define it aloud you find yourself at a loss for words.
Rincewind’s plotline, for a good while, is nothing particularly spectacular. Pratchett is a skilled writer, so I did have a good time reading it. His wordplay and comedic style are as strong as ever, things just felt rather typical for the type of misadventures Rincewind gets up to. It is after the matter with the hat gets resolved and he must decide what to do next that things get much more interesting. The highest point in this book for me was unusually in the climax and conclusion, rather than the lead up, leaving things on a rather poignant tone. The situation does not get nicely wrapped up without consequences.
The climax also has a sequence where I laughed harder than I ever have while reading Discworld novel by far. I don’t know if Pratchett intended the same humour in it I saw, but it tickled me in such a way that I had to put the book down for about five minutes. I won’t go into it too much, but I will say I respect someone who chooses to go against overwhelming odds with nothing but a half-brick in a sock. Had things gone just a little bit differently a dream of mine would have come true, but I digress.
Sourcery probably won’t be one of the standout great Discworld novels, but it was still quite good, and had a conclusion that was surprisingly better than I anticipated. I just wish the meat of the novel had a little more something to it. It is still worth reading. If you’re invested in the story of Rincewind, I do especially recommend not skipping it. He has a notable arc in this book. It also explores some themes about identity and being true to oneself despite failings and the opinions of others as well, which weren’t profound, but definitely meaningful.