Fantasy Review: ‘Pyramids’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 7 of The Complete Discworld Reread 

When looking down the list of ‘Discworld’ books I was going to be rereading ‘Pyramids’ stuck out as one I couldn’t remember anything about.  Therefore, my impeccable logic told me, it must be one of the more forgettable books.  I have now finished this little book, and I realize that it wasn’t forgettable, I just never read it.  And that is a real shame, because it is a very fine offering.

Most the book takes place in Djelibeybi, a land obviously based on ancient Egypt.  Tradition is King here, even more King than the actual king.  The priests help the king through his daily rituals, so he can focus on the important things like making the sun rise.  Our protagonist Teppic, getting an education in Ankh-Morpork, is called back home to rule the kingdom when his father dies.  I a power struggle with the high priest Dios, he finds himself upping the ante by promising to build the largest pyramid yet to entomb his father.  Back at the kingdom his now educated mind is in a constant battle with the tradition that Dios keeps the kingdom following, while complications with the pyramid’s construction soon bring every problem to a head.

In many ways this book is a precursor to ‘Small Gods.’  It deals with many of the same themes, specifically the nature of belief, ritual, and tradition (and tortoises).  Unlike that later book, ‘Pyramids’ lacks the single minded focus, also branching out into philosophy and timeless feuds.  Djelibeybi finds itself in a bubble where everything they whole heartedly believed in comes to life (including a lot of immortal kings who found themselves trapped in large pyramids) and realize life was easier when they just believed in gods, but didn’t have to see them in person. 

A lot of highlights make this book a very strong outing.  Dios is less a villain than a victim of his circumstance, and is one of the best characters.  His job is to keep tradition, how can he be blamed for doing what he needs to do?  The conclusion to his story is one of Pratchett’s best, and nothing could be more appropriate for the high priest.  Teppic’s travels take him to a very Greek like land where he meets philosophers, always entertaining.  Their employment of a ‘listener’ is especially smart, as they sure are not listening to each other, so someone should be.  Another highlight is from two lands who know they must go to war, because of tradition of course.  But it has been so long since the last fight neither is quite sure what to do.  Lines of Trojan horses should make anyone laugh.  I was also a big fan mathematician camels.

The only real issue with the book was the beginning.  Teppic spends a lot of time at the assassin’s school for training, which is fine, but I felt too much time was spent on what ultimately had little to do with the story.  Love interest Ptraci also fell flat for me in the beginning, though her story grew a lot more interesting in the final stages of the book. 

So much of this book reminded me of ‘Small Gods’ I had a hard time not constantly comparing the two when reading.  On this basis ‘Pryamids’ was not as focused, had some unnecessary plot lines, and lacked the polish.  But taken on its own, it was still a very enjoyable offering.

4 stars

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