23/04/2016

Pyramids (by Terry Pratchett)

I didn’t discover the late Terry Pratchett’s brilliant writing until a friend introduced me to the children’s TV series based on his ‘Bromeliad’ trilogy, in around 1990. My husband then started reading a few of the satirical pseudo-fantasy ‘Discworld’ series, and suggested I try one of them… and quickly I was hooked. I’ve collected them all over the years, reading some of the later ones aloud with my teenage sons when they were still at home.

But I’ve read most of them only once, so I’m well overdue for a re-read. I’m doing that slowly, interspersed with other books, and have just finished ‘Pyramids’, seventh in the series. I see from the notation in the front that I was given this for my birthday twenty years ago, so it’s probably almost that long since I last read it. As such I’d forgotten most of it - not that Pratchett plots are straightforward anyway, and it’s easy to get confused.

This book, unsurprisingly, is mostly set in the Discworld equivalents of Ancient Egypt. We meet Teppic, crown prince, in the first chapters, studying at the Assassins’ Guild in Ankh Morpork. This is the book in which the ‘guilds’ are properly introduced, a concept which I’ve always liked. Teppic is a likeable young man despite his unpleasant profession, but almost as soon as he finishes his final exam, he senses that his father has died, and so he has to return to his home country to take up his duties as King.

The demise of an Egyptian king requires the building of a new pyramid, so we meet the architects and builders, the priests who really control the empire, the embalmers… and several other larger-than-life characters who are caricatures of their professions. Unlike many of the other books there don’t seem to be any other species than humans involved - none of the trolls or dwarfs or werewolves who co-exist reasonably peacefully in Ankh Morpork - although we do meet an unlikely camel, who has a large part to play in the story.

There are classical and other allusions on almost every page: the Discworld equivalent countries of Troy and Greece are involved in war, as usual; the king has regular dreams about seven fat and thin cows; the pyramids possess some kind of mystical power that is only gradually understood as the book progresses.

I have to be in the right mood to read Pratchett, and when I went away for a couple of weeks I didn’t take the book with me, despite being about half-way through; I knew it would be easy enough to pick it up again on my return. It makes good, undemanding light bedtime reading, and it’s a very clever plot.

As with many of the Discworld series, this one stands alone. It would make quite a good introduction to Pratchett for anyone interested in or intrigued by ancient history, but it’s also enjoyable to re-read as part of the series.

Continually in print, as are most of Pratchett's works, including the lengthy Discworld series.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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