November 11th, 2012
published in 1989
I’ve uh, never read any Pratchett before and have been wanting to tackle the Discworld novels for sometime but I’ve been intimidated by the reading order issue. It actually doesn’t help matters any that this is one of the most frequently asked questions, it all seems so confusing. Where to begin?
A good question. With a series that has almost forty novels, quite a few spinoff books and theatre, movie and television adaptations, the Discworld can look daunting to get into. Yet it’s not as bad as it looks. There are a couple of natural starting points: The Colour of Magic of course, but that’s not very representative for the rest of the series. A better starting point might be Guards! Guards! as that is the novel in which the whole Sam Vines/Night Watch/Ankh Morpork sub series was set up that has dominated the Discworld ever since. But of course since we’re discussing this question in a review of Pyramids, I’m going to make a case for it as the best starting point for getting into the Discworld.
the problem with the earliest Discworld books, especially the first two, is that they’re not as good as the later entries in the series, so they give you a wrong impression of it. Pyramids on the other hand is as good as any other Discworld book. What’s more it stands alone, you don’t need to have read any other book first, or after to get the whole story. Finally, more so than some, it’s drenched in Pratchett’s ideas about humanity, his philosophy so to speak. A good litmus test than for whether you’d approve of it or reject it.
The story starts with Teppic, heir to the ancient kingdom of Djelibeybi and student assassin in Ankh Morpork, that being the education suitable to the Discworld aristocracy. When he gets the news that his father the king has died, he returns to Djelibeybi to become the new king. But his time in Ankh-Morpork has changed him, modernised him and coming back he runs smack dab in the unchanging force of tradition you get in a ten-thousand year old kingdom, as personified in the head priest Dios. When this tradition meant sacrificing his father’s favourite handmaiden, Ptraci, at his funeral, Teppic revolts, to no avail..
Meanwhile one of his first deeds as king is to build a pyramid for his father, ten times as big as any pyramid ever seen in the country. But, while the pyramids can be seen flaring off time at night, the knowledge of why they do this or why it’s dangerous to build them too big has been lost. Soon the pyramid begins to warp time and space and the whole country revolves itself ninety degrees in spacetime, in the process making real everything the Djelibeybis believed in as the gods come to visit. And because the kingdom was the only thing that stood between Tsort and Ephebe, which would’ve otherwise be neighbours: its disappearance meant war… It’s up to Teppic and Ptraci to stop the war, sort out the kingdom and solve the riddle of the pyramids.
The theme that runs through Pyramids is that of sloppy, emotional individual people having to battle throuhg, in this case, hidebound tradition. The main villain of the story, Dios, genuinely cares about Djelibeybi as a kingdom, but not really about its people, whereas Teppic for the most part doesn’t care about the kingdom or his role in it until he meets Ptraci when it’s her personal plight that moves him. It’s the sort of thing Pratchett writes about a lot, of systemic unhumanity coming up against illogical, sloppy humanity and losing. It can be a bit smug at times, but here it’s done perfectly, also because Dios is not just a one dimensional villain and you can feel some sympathy for him.
All of which makes Pyramids the ideal discworld starting point: a good, standalone story that doesn’t rely on too much continuity and showcases all of Pratchett’s good sides.