Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

This is a strong book. This is a really strong book. I haven't yet read a Discworld novel I thought wasn't good, but some are stronger than others, and Pyramids is one of the strongest I have read so far.

Where do I start? Teppic is training to be an assassin. Actually, when we meet him, he is in the midst of his final exam. This is an exam one does not want to fail, as one might expect from an Assassin's Guild examination. Teppic also happens to be the heir to the throne of the small, well-placed but impoverished kingdom of Djelibeybi. Events conspire to see him back on the throne, contending with being a rather worldly king in a rather backwards country, building the pyramid to end all pyramids, and entering into an association with a camel aptly named You Bastard.

I think the thing I appreciate about this book so much, aside from Teppic whom I absolutely adored, is the way it unfolds. As a quick aside, if you pick up this book, unless you are the sort of person who can stop reading in the middle of a chapter, make sure you have a day or two free to read it. There are no chapter breaks. Pratchett gets me with this every time. I mean, there are paragraph breaks in which it would be appropriate to stop, but... let's just say I have gotten nothing at all done today. Instead of chapters, it's set up as four books: Book I: The Book of Going Forth, Book II: The Book of the Dead, Book III: The Book of the New Son, and Book IV: The Book of 101 Things a Boy Can Do. We don't really start to get an idea of the shape of the plot until Book II, by which I mean, we only begin then to see the shape of the problems Teppic is about to face. Book I is perfect, though -- it sets us up to know Teppic, to understand a little about his background and his home country. I suppose it could be construed as a slow start for the plot, but it never feels like that.

The plot then blossoms, slowly and surely. We get several perspectives, all carefully coming together to create a creeping understanding of what is going on. Not one character ever really gets the full picture, but the reader does, and I am in awe of how well it all unfolds. And I think I'm going to have to read Pyramids again in order to fully grasp everything. There's a lot of symbolism (a theme throughout the book) that I think I missed out on, although I caught some things. There's foreshadowing too, but done so skillfully that I didn't even notice it -- once in a while I would be reading, and then think, "Wait. Wait. There was something back there..." and then I'd flip back a few pages or even more, and be astonished anew at how clever Terry Pratchett is.

Which is not to say that Pyramids is a dense read, or a difficult read, or a frustrating one. It never, ever is. It doesn't require a re-read, but it certainly will inspire one. Pyramids has gone on the list of books I want to own.

I shall leave you with a footnote that makes me smile as a librarian, but also cringe:

The fastest insect is the .303 bookworm. It evolved in magical libraries, where it is necessary to eat extremely quickly to avoid being affected by the thaumic radiations. An adult .303 bookworm can eat through a shelf of books so fast that it ricochets off the wall.


Cath said...

It's odd but this is one of the rare Pratchetts that I wasn't that taken with. It might bear a reread now that I'm more familiar with his work perhaps. You've given me pause for thought: Terry would approve. LOL.

Aarti said...

I wish Pratchett had chapters, too! He does in his YA books.

I love this book for the Pterry nickname that comes from it :-)

Unknown said...

Cath - A re-read might prove fruitful! It's fairly different, in some ways, from the other books I've already read -- but there are some similarities, too. I didn't find it as laugh-out-loud amusing as some of the others, I noticed, too.

Aarti - I am somewhat abashed to say that I had missed the connection between this book and the nickname! Yeesh. And now it's so obvious. :P

Jill said...

You are determined to stay ahead of me, aren't you?! I just read the first little part of the review, enough to see that you enjoyed it (no surprise there). I'm looking forward to getting to this one soon, and then I'll be back to read the rest of your review!

Unknown said...

Heh heh heh. I even bought Guards! Guards! so I wouldn't have to wait too long... ;)

Looking forward to your take on this!

Jill said...

Kiirstin - Oh, no! I'd better get reading. :-)

Unknown said...

Darla - Hurryhurryhurry!

Ana S. said...

It surprises me that the majority of Discworld fans don't seem to much care for this book. I'm glad you loved it, because I really did too. And I certainly want to re-read it at some point.

Unknown said...

Nymeth, it's interesting too that Pyramids was a British Fantasy Award winner, the first award winner in the series, and yet people do seem to be very mixed about it. It does have a slightly different feel from the books preceding, I think, so I wonder if that has something to do with it? I've been trying to quantify the difference, and not having much luck this morning. :P But it is very self-contained as a story, much more so than any of the others previously, I think?

Phyl said...

I need to reread this book! I remember quite liking it, though I didn't adore it as much as I did Small Gods (which was the fifth Discworld book I read, and the one where I finally "got it").

I've got a pile of Pratchett books, yet am so far behind I'm almost going backwards. Must catch up!!

Jill said...

I just finished this one and came back to check out your review. It surprises me to hear that this one is not among many people's favorites. I loved it! So clever and funny, but moving and thought-provoking, too. Interesting structure as well. I will never go through an exhibit about Egypt in quite the same frame of mind as I used to, that's for sure!

Unknown said...

Phyl - the awesome thing about having so much to catch up on ... is that there's so much more Pratchett for you to read! I dread the day when I am out of Pratchett to read.

Darla - The structure: yes!! I loved the way it was set up, so deliberately and yet so organically. Kind of like... a pyramid. :P Seriously, though, I'm so glad you liked it! I'll have to check out your review when we're back from birdwatching.