Place in series: #7 in The Discworld Series, #1 in the Gods Collection
Author: Terry Pratchett
Concerning spoilers: The Discworld Series is made-up of forty-one books, most can be read as stand-alone novels, but they are all connected, some more than others. I’m reading them in the order they were published. There will be no spoilers for this particular book. However, minor spoilers for previous novels in the series can occur.
For more information about The Discworld Series and previous reviews, you can find my introductory post HERE.
‘Look after the dead,’ said the priests, ‘and the dead will look after you.’
Wise words in all probability, but a tall order when, like Teppic, you have just become the pharaoh of a small and penniless country rather earlier than expected, and your treasury is unlikely to stretch to the building of a monumental pyramid to honor your dead father.
He’d had the best education money could buy of course, but unfortunately, the syllabus at the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork did not cover running a kingdom and basic financial acumen…
We are finally here! At long last, it’s time to review, Pyramids. This was the book that sold me on the Discworld series and showed me the magic that can happen when Terry Pratchett hits all my buttons.
Pyramids, is the first, and one of few, completely stand-alone books in the Discworld series. Thematically, it’s usually grouped with another independent entry in the series, Small Gods.
Known for not using chapters in his books—Pratchett disliked them— Pyramids is divided into four parts: The Book of Going Forth, The Book of the Dead, The Book of the New Son, and, The Book of 101 Things a Boy Can Do. Structuring the novel in this way is uncommon in the series. But, because of how the story is told, and the main characters change of geographical location between the parts, it makes sense.
The story begins in Ankh-Morpork where Pteppic—the P is silent—crown prince of the small kingdom of Djelibeybi, is about to graduate from the Assassin Guild. The Guild, being the place for any self-respecting family of note to send their sons and—since their implementation of a co-ed education—daughters, for formal, genteel education.
The Assassins Guild is one of the pillars of Discworld society. Having the first part of the book set within its walls is an entertaining and effective way to introduce readers to what will be one of the major players in the political realities of the Discworld, especially when the series takes us to Ankh-Morphork on a more regular basis.
After an unorthodox completion of his final test, Teppic learns that his father, the Pharao, has unexpectedly passed away and he’s forced to return home and resume his rightful place as the new ruler. Which is harder than it might seem. Djelibeybi is not only a small, fairly unimportant nation, because of an obsession with building Pyramids, it’s also perpetually broke.
The tiny kingdom also serves as a neutral zone between two rival nations, Ethebes and Tsort. Any destabilization in Djelibeybi could jeopardize the status quo and spark another conflict which would leave the tiny, defenseless kingdom in ruins.
Any history buff out there might by this point have figured out that we’ve now entered the Discworld’s answer to the Mediterranian region. Dejelibabyie being ancient Egypt, Ethebes, the city-state of Athens and Tsort most likely a combination of Troy and the Persian Empire.
Terry Pratchett has said that on the Discworld, everything takes the form of its most successful or prolific period in time, its golden age. Hence, Dejelibabye is a land of multiple gods, pharaohs, and pyramids, Ethbes is filled with philosophers, Ankh-Morphork has a distinctly Victorian feel, toymakers all look like Gepetto, and wizards wear velvet robes and pointy hats.
This is not only visually and narratively effective, it helps to make all the different regions and characters of the Discworld very distinct while also giving us as readers something to latch on to. Not everyone is interested in ancient civilizations, but most have some idea of what a Pharao looks like.
Both Teppic and the allies he meets when things, unsurprisingly, take a wrong turn, are fun characters that carry the story well. There’s not a whole lot of character development going on, but Teppic is refreshingly down-to-earth and grounded which is a nice change from The Witches and Wizards enormous personalities.
Pyramids also have one of the Discworld series best antagonists, Dios. He is the aged high-priest that knows and vigorously enforces every god, every tradition, every unspoken rule and, who in reality has been the de facto ruler of the kingdom for as long as anyone can remember. Meanwhile, Teppic is the first member of the royal family educated outside of the country and therefore has new, modern ideas of how to run the kingdom, like maybe not build so many pyramids?
Dios is one of the few antagonists in the Discworld series I’ve actually hated, fellow book lovers will understand the feeling, that physical reaction when every muscle tightens as soon as the character opens his mouth. Dios is brilliant. He’s a fantastic villain because he’s so recognizable.
Dios is the person who right at the end of a boring meeting says, there was just one more thing… and then the meeting drags on for another two, excruciating hours while you debate something completely inane.
He’s the person who, when standing behind you in the “five items or less” queue at your local supermarket, tartly comments that with the packet of gum you just took from the display beside the register, you now have six items, not five. Rules are rules!
He’s the colleague who’s worked at the company for thirty years, and whenever you put forward, an idea says, we tried that in 1989, it didn’t work. Then proceeds to give a detailed account—again—of how the current system/rules/procedures were first put in place and how they’ve worked perfectly well so far, thank you very much.
Can you feel how much you hate him? I hate him so much. Some claim he’s not evil, but misguided. I’m not one of them.
Apart from a great villain, we get to travel to Ethebes and meet, among others, Pthagonal the Geometrician. We learn that Gods are unruly creatures who rarely listen to priests. Pyramids are not only expensive; they’re dangerous. Camels are mathematical geniuses. Also, there’s mummies, lots and lots of mummies.
As for things to critique, well, I’d say it’s the same as for most Discworld novels. Sometimes a running joke is used one time too many or falls flat. As one of the longer Discworld novels, the plot can feel a little dragged out, especially if you don’t know the subjects and themes explored well enough to get the jokes.
Because this is a stand-alone novel, it’s also one of the least connected to the series as a whole. There are one or two easter eggs, and later in the series, they’ll be a few in reference to this book, but overall, Pyramids is almost entirely self-contained. I think that’s one of the biggest problems for this installment of the series. It’s a stand-alone nestled in between two of the series fan favorites, and therefore tends to get lost in the crowd, which is a shame because, even by Discworld standards, it’s fantastic.
I would have loved if Pratchett had explored the theme of history more in the series, or dived deeper into his very entertaining, ever-expanding pantheon of gods and his exploration of the nature of belief. It would have been fun to spend some more time and go on a few more adventured with Teppic and You Bastard (he’s a camel) because I really enjoyed this one.
Pyramids is everything I want from a Discworld novel. Apart from history, sassy camels, and mummies, this book is also a well-executed satire of religion. Most would argue that Small Gods is the better book in that area, and while I agree (we’ll get to that in six more books), I think the all-around chaos that misbehaving Pyramids, Gods, and angry mummies deliver in this one, is entertaining and brings about some very memorable scenes and quotes.
By now, Pratchett voice as an author feels confident, and he’s starting to find the right balance between his unique mix of humor, story, and humanism. With this stand-alone installment, featuring a new lead character, Pratchett was able to leave the slapstick and puns behind and explore his talent for satire. Personally, I think that’s when Pratchett is at his best.
However, in the interest of not wholly overselling this book, I want to point out that Pyramids is a perfect example of what I’ve discussed in earlier reviews, how different themes and genres within the series will appeal more than others. Quality wise, I don’t think Pyramids is a better book than Wyrd Sisters but, it appeals more to my interests and preferences.
I love history; ancient civilizations and mythology fascinate me. Egypt, for various personal reasons, has a special place in my heart. My sense of humor leans more towards irony, sarcasm, and satire than slapstick, parodies, or puns. So, in terms of the themes and subjects explored in this book, it hits every note of what I think is funny. Keep that in mind when you decide if this is a book for you.
I loved this book. Even now, having read all the adult novels in the series—thirty-five books—, this is still one that stands out when I think back on my favorites. It’s one I reach for when I feel like re-reading a chapter or two. I’m sure it’s one I’ll be re-reading cover to cover many, many times in the years to come.
My Rating: 8/10
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