Pratchett, Terry. Pyramids.

NY: HarperCollins, 1989.

First off, it’s well known that Sir Terry is quite incapable of writing a bad book. This one, however, falls right in the middle of the pack: Perfectly readable, very funny in places, and with some pointed points to make regarding the anti-progressive nature of religion (a recurrent theme of Pratchett’s), . . . but still, on the whole, and not to put too fine a point on it, not nearly as engaging as his stories about the Witches or the City Watch.

The setting this time is the long, narrow river-following desert country of Djelibeybi whose principal function is to act as a buffer between two other nations, once minor but now major and well-armed. Moreover, the place is littered with 7,000 years worth of pyramids, all of them flaring off their stored-up energy every night. Teppic is the son and heir of the current pharaoh and, since his father thinks he ought to see something of the world before being locked into the stultifying job of king for the rest of his life, he has spent the past seven years at the Assassin’s School in Ankh-Morpork. (Well, it does provide the best general education available.) And he does surprisingly well there, but then, just as he has passed his final exam — and you can imagine what that’s like — his father dies and Teppic is yanked back home. Being an earnest young man, and inexperienced, Teppic decides he ought to be a man of the people — only to discover that that’s not what the people want at all. And he discovers that Dios, the High Priest of Djelibeybi, actually runs things to suit himself and will not be denied. There’s the necessity of his late father’s pyramid, for instance. Even though he doesn’t really approve, and doesn’t think his father would have, either (too right, he didn’t – and still doesn’t), Teppic finds himself ordering a pyramid to be built twice as large as the standard model. Ptaclusp, the contractor whose family has been constructing tombs for royals for many centuries and traditionally not being paid for it, has his own problems, with one twin son who is an accountant and another who is an innovative architectural engineer. “Innovative” is not an attitude that’s well thought of in Djelibeybi. But that huge pyramid is going to be a problem for the entire river valley, because the reason the country has gone on and on for thousands of years without ever changing is that “pyramids are dams in the stream of time.” That way, a deceased king tucked inside will live forever — more or less. And what the pyramid releases at night is the supply of time it has accumulated during the day — provided it isn’t too big.

The author’s characters, as usual, are droll and a lot of fun, especially Ptraci, the luscious handmaiden. “Ptraci didn’t just derail the train of thought, she ripped up the rails, burned the stations, and melted the bridges for scrap.” And then there’s You Bastard, one of the greatest mathematicians on Discworld and deadly with a wad of half-digested cud. Pratchett is also, as always, adroit with the language, dropping highly original metaphors and similes on almost every page. One old lady is “as tough as a hippo’s instep,” while another is “as self-centered as a gyroscope.” And Teppic’s encounter with the Sphinx is almost Monty Python-ish. Still, the narrative seems forced at times — not something one usually encounters in a Discworld novel. And the first part of the story, about Teppic’s experiences with training as a black-clothed assassin, while quite good in itself, has nothing really to do with the rest of the book. (I wish that section had been the basis for a whole separate novel.)

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Published in: on 23 December 2011 at 7:50 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. Granted I’m not sure why this was tagged Humor if it’s nothing more than a book review, HOWEVER I will let it slide because Pratchett is either my favorite or second favorite author (I’ll decide only if I absolutely have too). This is actually one I haven’t read yet, and I’ve got 18 of the Discworld series that I’ve laughed my way through.

    For anybody else interested in Pratchett after this Pyramids post, I’d recommend starting out with any of the books centered around Death… not like morbid death, but THE Death, or Bill Door as he’s sometimes known.


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