Thursday, December 9, 2010

1989 BSFA - PYRAMIDS by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are satirical fantasy stories set in a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on a turtle that is floating through space. The first, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, and there have been more than 30 published since. They are immensely popular in England (Pratchett was the highest selling English author of the ‘90s) and have a cult following in the US. The brands of humor vary: there is some Xanth-like punning, but there’s also some very dry British humor, wordplay and some satire of bureaucracy, organized religion, etc. – there’s a little something for everyone, and it is quite a bit smarter than Xanth.

As I understand it, there are several different storyarcs focusing on different charactes; Pyramids is actually a standalone novel that focuses on the ancient Egypt-like kingdom of Djelibeybe (pronounced like the British candy “jelly baby” – not Pratchett’s smartest joke). The kingdom has spent so much money on pyramids that its going broke, so the king sends the prince Pteppic to learn a marketable trade. Pteppic heads off to the great, crime-infested city of Ankh-Morpork to go to assassin school, and there’s a long sequence early on that’s highly reminiscent of Harry Potter, where Pteppic adjusts to boarding school while attending poison classes.

When Pteppic’s father dies, the manipulative high priest Dios prevents Pteppic from enacting necessary reforms, and Pteppic ends up commissioning the largest pyramid in history for his father. Unfortunately, a pyramid so large bends space and time in some ways that put Djelibeybe in great danger.
It’s a…complicated plot. It meanders in a lot of different directions. In the end, I was left wondering what the assassins school was all about. There are many more subplots that I haven’t even touched on: the Greek-like Ephebe, a condemned handmaiden, the camel who is also the world’s smartest mathematician, time-looped architects, and a visitation by Djelibeybe’s pantheon of gods.

This is my second Discworld book, and while I can certainly see the appeal, I haven’t quite fallen in love with them myself. Pratchett’s funny, but not nearly as hilarious or inventive as Douglas Adams, in my opinion. And, I’m just not that into wacky novels as an adult; I like a good laugh, but I want more in terms of plot and character than I got here. I would have adored these novels in high school though. I wish I’d spend all that time I’d spent on Xanth books on Discworld instead.

Grade: B

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