The Carpet People is a short book. Very short. If I wrote a long review, I’d be in danger of writing more than the author did. So I won’t.
The Carpet People is unusual, in that it was written twice – once by a teenager, and then again by a massively successful author. The result is something neither would have written alone – but that’s not where the problems come from.
The problem is: the book is altogether too slight. Events are essentially a series of vignettes, mostly very stylised, sometimes quite cliché. When any thought is put into the plot, very little sense can be extracted from it – and the same is true of the worldbuilding, where it seems inadequate proofreading has compounded the sloppiness of inadequate development. The conclusion is a deus ex machina, and also is strongly reliant on implausible tropes, and as a result is unsatisfying and over-familiar. Regarding the style, the teenager and the self-collaborator have colluded to produce exuberant but often quite self-conscious writing – it reads like a teenager who is trying to be Terry Pratchett. Much of the humour will be familiar from his other works, and here it is less developed, less sophisticated. The fantastic elements are… limited. The central conceit, of a civilisation in a carpet, is beguiling but lacks substance, and is not particularly well developed, although there are some smile-inducing moments here and there. In that regard, it stands up poorly next to (my memories of) the Bromeliad Trilogy; the second conceit, of a sort of Rome-analogue and its interactions with kingdoms and tribesmen, is weak and patchy; the third conceit, Pratchett’s traditional ‘trousers of time’ metaphysics, is merely invoked glamourously, not presented coherently, and is closer to a series of speeches from a self-help manual than an effective element of setting or plot. The book is too short to include an exposition, development, and conclusion: instead, we have an exposition of reasonable length, including an Adventure unrelated to the plot, followed by a couple of ‘incidents’ to fill in time, and a finale that requires no preparation, exacts no heavy toll, takes up the requisite number of chapters, but is almost entirely uneventful and feels written by numbers. There is zero character development, zero explanation of backstory, and more or less zero reason why any of it was worth writing about. In short, the entire thing feels childish – immature, unsophisticated… and frankly lazy, as though it were a piece of juvenilia rushed out with a little editing to make a quick buck off the author’s sudden fame.
That said: I’m being harsh because I’m disappointed. I liked the book as a child. I still think it’s not a bad book for children to read. Because it’s so lightweight and flimsy, I wouldn’t want any child of mine to have a diet solely of this kind of book – but as a side-order, it’s not bad. Yes, it uses very broad, gestural brushstrokes, but children are good at extrapolating from hints to imagine unseen wonders, and if you tell them something, they’re more likely to believe it without having to be shown. And it’s not badly written, in a technical sense. I read it through and felt kind of bored and underwhelmed and wanted to pick at various inconsistencies, or points not really thought through, but at no point was it so bad I was tempted to put it down. Unlike some writing, its problem was there wasn’t enough of it, not that there was too much – although perhaps the knowing tone might be a bit grating for adults, particularly if they’ve already read a lot of Pratchett, since this isn’t his best.
So: tired, lazy, immature, not thought through. May still seem wonderful to inexperienced readers. An introduction to Pratchett for children, perhaps, or a lighter course between Discworld novels or after the Bromeliad – but unlike much Pratchett, this one, I think, doesn’t have much to offer to adults.
Adrenaline: 2. Could be more boring. But incidents are too short, too flippant, and to childish to invoke real concern or curiosity.
Emotion: 2. Characters likeable, but too lightly sketched and too undeveloped (and unthreatened) to care about much.
Thought: 2. Hints at things.
Beauty: 2. He can write nice passages, and it’s a nice idea, but it’s too formulaic in plot and the prose can seem tiresome at points.
Craft: 3. I guess, for what it is, it’s not too badly done. As I say, the prose is a bit overdone sometimes, but it’s not that bad, really. The lightness is a result of its nature. My only real concern here would be balance – the buildup seems to call for a more substantial ending. As it is, the ending takes quite a while, but not a lot happens in it.
Endearingness: 3. As a child, I’d have put this 4 or even 5, but as an adult I’m more critical and jaded.
Originality: 2. There’s just not that much that’s unusual. The conceit is clever, imaginative – but hardly bizarre or unprecedented – and the plot is formulaic. Because it’s Pratchett, there are idiosyncratic moments, but they are far too few, subordinated to familiar jokes and parodies.
Overall: 4/7. Bad, but with redeeming features. It’s not really terrible in any way, it’s quite likeable, and it will probably appeal to children.