Archive for england

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2010 by Jessica Lada

I had a copy of Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett on my shelf a long time and kept putting off reading it.  I didn’t have a good reason for avoiding it except that the cover says “Terry Pratchett” but has a space ship rather than an ogre or a wizard or Death on it.  Now I can safely say this book is a perfect reason why authors shouldn’t be pigeon-holed.  Pratchett doesn’t just write satirical fantasy for adults featuring bumbling wizards and trolls whose knuckles make bink-bink noises.    He also writes children’s books about video games and aliens, and he pulls it off splendidly.

Set in England during the Gulf War of the early ‘90s, when video games still looked more like games than real life, Johnny Maxwell has a lot on his plate.  His parents might be splitting up, there’s a war on, and most importantly he’s trying to beat a game called “Only You Can Save Mankind.”  But when he’s about to blast the alien spaceship, the aliens surrender to him.  And when Johnny falls asleep at night, he wakes up in the game.  When he dies in the game, he just comes back again.  But the dreams make him wonder, what happens when the aliens die in the game?   This book is only part one of the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy.

The story caught my attention immediately; it reminded me of “The Last Starfighter” in a good way.  Johnny’s playing the sort of game I remember from when I was a kid.  I’d play for hours on end and I can’t count the times I continued playing even in my dreams.  Johnny makes a compelling and likeable hero, despite his nerdiness.  As a trademark, Pratchett packs a punch even with the secondary characters.  This book is no exception and David’s friends add surprising depth and realism to the story.  I think I remember these kids from middle school.

I read the entire novel in one sitting and wished I had the remaining two books of the trilogy.  I also had an itch to dig out my Commodore 64 and play some old-school video games.  (And I kinda wish “Only You Can Save Mankind” was a real game.)  This novel reminded me how great Pratchett is at creating distinct and vivid characters in a very efficient way.  He isn’t just fantastically funny; he also tells really well-crafted stories that poke at your emotions and vices in just the right way.   No matter your age, if you like humor, video games, aliens, or geeky characters, you’ll love Only You Can Save Mankind.

–originally published on

Perfectly Bewitching — Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2010 by Jessica Lada

Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch was exactly what I needed during Ice Storm 2010 last weekend.  Delaney submerged me immediately into fantastical 16th-17th Century England.  His hero, Thomas Ward, is the seventh son of a seventh son and he’s apprenticing with Old Gregory the Spook.  Old Gregory deals with any erstwhile witches, boggarts, and other such ghastly creatures that put County residents in peril.   Gregory’s time as Spook won’t last forever.   Now the big question is, how long will Thomas last as his apprentice?

Joseph Delaney taught English before beginning his career as a novelist.   Revenge of the Witch is his first children’s novel and he wastes no time proving that he can tell a great story.  The world is rich and vivid, and it’s no surprise that Delaney based the setting on the area in England where he lives.  From the very first page of the story, I was hooked.   Delaney speaks through his thirteen year old protagonist without sounding forced.  As a graduate student in my (hopefully) final semester of college, I thought that a spooky fantasy novel aimed for a younger audience would be simplistic and somehow beneath me.  But somewhere between the ghast (a ghostlike remainder of a departed soul) of a murderous miner and the witch Bony Lizzie’s manky breath, I remembered that deep down I’m a complete coward.

I loved that Thomas stuck to his own sense of right and wrong even though in several instances he contradicted his Master’s opinion.  If somebody told me not to go into the forest because there’s a witch locked up alive in a hole in the ground, I wouldn’t be tempted to go there for any reason.  Not even on a bet.  And I definitely wouldn’t feel sorry for the old hag.  But that’s why Thomas is the Spook’s apprentice and I’m the one sitting up at three in the morning reading about him.

I’m glad I came to this series when six books are already in print.  If I had to wait for the next book to come out, it would be an impatient wait.  Delaney tied up the main story questions, but he also planted the seeds for a great series.  Thomas, his mother, Old Gregory, and Alice are all characters I want to know more about.

For fans of spooky witch and ghoul fantasy novels, this is a great series.  It would also satisfy any fans of master/apprentice stories who might want a change from the page/squire/knight/wizard blueprint.  My fiancé even picked the book up, and he’s usually not much of a fiction reader unless it’s something post-apocalyptic and utterly depressing.   Revenge of the Witch has definitely earned its place on my shelf.  I can’t wait to plug in a couple of night lights and pick up the next volume of the series.