This time the commentary is twofold. First as we are returning to the Unseen University, Pratchett is writing on gripes with traditionalism and bureaucracy. Touched upon in Equal Rites, the Unseen University is obsessed with the procedure of gaining wizardry levels like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Coin, the Sourcerer of the title, comes to the University and finds it laughable at the lack of power the so called “eighth-level” wizards have and immediately enacts changes. This brings up Pratchett’s second commentary, the throwing the baby with the bathwater in the changes. This is revealed slowly over the course of the novel as his initial changes of replacing the Archchancellor and allowing everyone to improve in magic and reach new heights. That changes when Coin decides that the library books must be burned down because they are of the old ways and he will bring the new ways of Sourcery. It’s okay though because the Librarian locks himself in and saves the books.
Coin, while responsible for doing these terrible things, is not the villain of this novel. Coin is just the victim of circumstance in this situation as his actions have been manipulated by the spirit of his father. Coin is just a child and has this childlike desire of escaping to what would be his perfect world, which he does in the end. His father, Ipslore the Red, is introduced on his deathbed with a scene with Death. Ipslore had passions of the heart and against the lore of Magic he went and got himself a wife and had eight sons. He was against the idea that wizards shouldn’t be falling in love and having kids, because he thinks that’s the pinnacle of life and without love life wouldn’t be worth living. Death responds with cat’s are nice in a lovely nod to Mort. Ipslore ends up cheating Death, who reacts appropriately. Ipslore’s soul is placed in his staff and it is through this that he influences his son. It’s his vendetta and Pratchett doesn’t actually explore this aspect of the novel that much except at the end of the novel when Rincewind is trapped in the Dungeon Dimensions, the University is saved, Ipslore is taken by Death, and Coin goes off to his own little world to enjoy the rest of his life.
Oh yeah, Rincewind doesn’t get a happy ending in this one. The Luggage is smart enough to get him out of the University before Coin’s reign of terror begins, but as the hat of the Archchancellor is stolen by Conina, Cohen the Barbarian’s daughter, he’s on an adventure in no time fast. Rincewind as a wizard hears the voice of the hat whispering in his ear to escape the city. This takes them to Al Khali, a parody of Disney’s Aladdin and stories of that like which is a large section of the novel. The party gains a few new members in the form of Nijel the Destroyer (a barbarian in training who falls in love with Conina) and Creosote (the seraph of the city who is just an idiot who allows his evil Vizier to run the city). There are shenanigans with magic carpets, snake pits, snakes, and a rather small genie before returning to Ankh-Morpork. The Patrician is turned into a lizard and Rincewind again has to face the Things in the Dungeon Dimension where he remains. I won’t ruin most of the best jokes of Pratchett, but the novel is a great one with some issues with choosing not to go down certain possible story paths in favor of returning to Rincewind. 8/10.