Pyramids – Terry Pratchett

First published in 1989, Pyramids was the 7th Discworld book to be released; since then the series has grown and grown, now numbering 40 novels. While it may not have been clear at the time, this was the first standalone Discworld book, not part of a wider character arc such as Rincewind and the wizards, Death or the witches. Pratchett went on to write Moving Pictures and Small Gods which are sometimes combined with Pyramids as a sort of ‘Gods’ trilogy, but they’re very much independent novels. Set mostly in the ancient kingdom of Djelibeybi (read it out loud) this follows the story of Teppic who, fresh out of his exams at the Guild of Assassins in Ankh Morpork, receives an unusual summons to return home and take up the country’s throne.

The first two Discworld books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, were very much satires of the whole high-fantasy, heroic quest genre, while the next few played similarly with other fantasy standards. While Pyramids continued Pratchett’s love of twisting existing ideas into new shapes, it was the first indicator of a wider target range than pure fantasy. While not as sophisticated as much of his later work, it’s an early sign of the way he would use Discworld as a mirror held up to our own world, in this instance looking at themes of philosophy, religion and the afterlife, by way of his own version of ancient Egypt. Like our own version this includes pyramids, mummies, hieroglyphics and so on, but unlike real-world (Roundworld for those who’ll understand) Egypt, in Djelibeybi the pyramids are specifically designed to slow time down (it’s something to do with quantum), the gods actually exist, much to the chagrin of the priests, and hieroglyphics are read rather more literally than you might expect.

As with all Discworld books this rewards a wider knowledge of the series, but as a standalone novel it’s perfectly accessible to the first-time reader; it would in fact make a good entry point to the series. Pratchett’s unique brand of humour is in fine form here, full of clever wordplay and well-observed human nature, as is his remarkable breadth of knowledge and ability to incorporate this seamlessly into his stories. More than most authors, there’s a wonderful reward to be had in re-reading his novels, each subsequent reading revealing more and more layers of real-world references and clever little in-jokes. Each time you return, with more knowledge yourself, something else shows up that you didn’t notice last time you read it. Is this objectively ‘as good’ as his later books? Probably not. Is it a thoroughly good read and a brilliant story? Absolutely, without doubt. If you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present to get started. If you have, why not give it another read – who knows what you’ll find this time?

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