Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Pyramids by: Terry Pratchett

Pyramids is a novel that shows that Terry Pratchett has a loving admiration for the society of Ancient Egypt, as it’s a Discworld novel that doesn’t really connect to the others in any significant way and is an excuse for Pratchett to give his views on Ancient Egypt.  The book tells the story of Prince Teppic of the far off land of Djelebeybi (literally baby of the Djel river) an Egypt like place that worships a Pharaoh as a living god and at least has some sort of divine powers granted to the Pharaoh because of this.  Like The Color of Magic, Pyramids is split into four sections and shall be reviewed in that style because of this.

“The Book of Going Fourth” is the first section of Pyramids and describes Prince Teppic’s time in Ankh-Morpork where he is training to become an assassin for reasons never quite properly explained.  The idea is that his father has this whole idea that his son needs a good idea of education before he can become a god and the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork apparently gives this out in spades but comes with dangers.  The Assassin’s Guild does not accept failure, leading to death with anyone who fails even slightly.  Pratchett is parodying the British boarding school system here with what American readers may believe is a reference to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but no this book was published in 1989, nearly a decade before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone.  This section of the book is an extremely fun read and allows Pratchett to introduce and quickly kill off a few characters rapid fire style as they fail their exams.  Dramatically this helps Teppic seem like he is achieving something, but these characters are largely one note.  Cheesewright is the closest to being interesting as his death elicits quite an amusing reaction of one character being owed fourpence which he will never get.  Teppic is placed in the Viper House and eventually passes his final exams with Chidder, another character who may or may not be important later, before having to go home.  Sadly this section of the book fails to give Teppic any real standout character, creating a blank slate for Pratchett to bounce some jokes off of before moving on to the stuff in Djelebeybi which is found much more interesting.  The jokes do land though for the most part and the King’s death gets a good laugh as well as a lot of the explanations of the assassins. 6/10.

The plot then takes itself and goes right back to Djelebeybi for “The Book of the Dead” which is where Pratchett gets to expand his humor on Ancient Egypt, the concept of mathematics in pyramid building, and monarchy.  The one hundred or so pages comprising this section are full of little nods to kings with very long titles as Dios, the high priest for Teppic, must say Teppic’s full name which is ‘His Greatness the King Pteppicymon XXVIII, Lord of the Heavens, Charioteer of the Wagon of the Sun, Steersman of the Barque of the Sun, Guardian of the Secret Knowledge, Lord of the Horizon, Keeper of the Way, the Flail of Mercy, the High Born King, the Never Dying King’.  This is stated as Pratchett fails to impress at landing a number of jokes based on the concept of traditionalism in monarchy not being an effective rulership as Teppic finds himself bored out of his mind and doesn’t really come across as a well defined character.  Teppic is much more of a blank slate for the reader to project themselves on top of.  He gets his moments, such as chewing out Dios for distorting his decisions in court, which includes ruining many peasant lives as a result.  There are also side jaunts into the ghost of Teppic’s father who didn’t wish to be buried in a pyramid as well as revealing Teppic’s love interest is his half-sister, but they don’t really go anywhere.  The love interest is the servant of Teppic’s father, Ptraci, who is just as bland as poor Teppic.  Teppic hides her away and is accused of being his own assassin.  Pratchett tries to raise the pace by including the Disc’s greatest mathematician, You Bastard the camel, and a family of architects and leading Teppic and Ptraci out of their home as they are accused of murdering Teppic, but the whole is not the sum of its parts.  3/10.

Pratchett loves a good pun and the third section of Pyramids is a pun. “The Book of the New Son” is a play on the idea of the sun being reborn each day in Ancient Egypt, yet most of this portion takes place outside of Djelebeybi, in Pratchett’s Ancient Greek counterpart Ephebe.  Teppic and Ptraci seem to lose their way and go to Ephebe to meet with some philosophers about getting back to where they came from.  This is only mildly entertaining if you are familiar with Plato’s Symposium and the works of Xeno, so if you know that sort of thing you may find this section more entertaining but without the context Pratchett just leaves it at a bunch of dialogue between characters who do not make an impact.  There is some stuff with the ghost of the old king, some jokes on the idea of silent p’s, and an architect and his two sons which at least give the plot something to go forward to, but Teppic and Ptraci are both bland characters and there isn’t much going for it.  The second half fairs slightly better with Chidder showing up and some jokes being made about food, but not by much. 4/10.

“The Book of 101 Things a Boy Can Do” closes Pyramids in a similar fashion to the ending of the previous Discworld novel, Wyrd Sisters.  Teppic gives his throne to Ptraci who is actually his sister, so he loses any interest in her as a potential mate, the Ephebeans are allowed to go to war with Tsort, introduced in the previous book as a Troy allegory, and Dios is revealed to be over 7,000 years old.  It’s a very ‘all’s well that ends well’ ending to the book and doesn’t really conclude, so much as to stop in the middle of things.  Every wrong is righted in what can only be described as Pratchett pushing a deadline for a page count.  2/10.

Pyramids as a whole does not do well with being over 300 pages long.  The first section is the most interesting, but is too long.  After that there are just too many ideas and plot threads, some I didn’t even mention in this review.  ‘And now this happened’ is a very good descriptor for the novel and is the first Pratchett that I have had real difficulty finishing.  3.75/10.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Wyrd Sisters by: Terry Pratchett

Ah, Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers of all time famous for plagiarizing a bunch of famous stories and turning them into plays that will be the bane of high schoolers everywhere.  I personally have always had a soft spot for the Bard of Avon and it seems Terry Pratchett does as well.  Wyrd Sisters, the sixth Discworld novel, takes its cues from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth to craft a story about the death of the king of Lancre, cat-hating ghost much to Death’s annoyance, murdered in cold blood by his own brother the Duke and the scheming wife.  Pratchett’s story overall presents itself simply, working more as a character piece than any real plot.  Sure there are plenty of jokes cracked at the Bard’s expense, with flowery language and ripping off of history and famous stories galore, but mostly it’s the characters.  Alas the King was a sensible king overall and he gives his son, not yet named, to three of the psychically inclined, our three wyrd sisters, three witches of the title.

Yes the three witches are our protagonists for the novel as they form a sort of coven.  First is returning Granny Weatherwax, again resuming her role from Equal Rites as kindly, yet extremely stubborn, old woman.  With one foot always stepped in the past, she doesn’t like the idea of a coven or curses or unnecessary harm to people, but make her angry and you’re going to regret it.  I hear being a toad can be quite nice, but not everybody is so amphibiously inclined as others.  Granny is also ever the traditionalist, not really being able to see the reality of the world around her, refusing to admit that she could potentially be lost, and witches should not be interested in *gasp* men.  She has this air around her that she thinks so highly of herself that she’s almost wrapped right around to the lowest of the low levels of self-confidence.  She’s the one character who really doesn’t develop much and that’s all a part of her charm.

The other two witches are foils to Granny Weatherwax in their own ways.  Nanny Ogg is the older of the two, a mother of fourteen children who all adore her, and a grandmother of, well I don’t actually know.  She’s also got a demon cat and seems to know how to cook.  Yeah her character works in the fact that it is simple.  She’s sort of that fun uncle that everyone has and the scene where the duke ‘tortures’ her is really the highlight of the book.  She’s got to be Magrat Garlick’s mentor after her old mentor Goodie Whemper, not appearing in this novel, died and because Granny Weatherwax is such a traditionalist that poor Magrat is really na├»ve.  The thrust is that they have to take care of the prince whom they call Tomjon and give to a bunch of actors.  Magrat Garlick is kind of a hippie overall and she doesn’t really understand sexual attraction or love which is of course hilarious, and she ends up actually having a decent relationship with the Fool, who also becomes the King because he’s the bastard of the previous king so is crowned Verence II.  Their relationship is never really explained by the end of the novel and I cannot tell if that’s because Pratchett is being confusing like Shakespeare or just doesn’t know what he’s doing with the novel.  Tomjon’s fine with it because he’s an actor now and his friend William Shakespeare, I mean Hwel, build a theatre in Ankh-Morpork called the Dysk.  Yeah this one’s just a bit too odd, but in a pretty good way where it doesn’t quite make sense, but hey that’s a lot of Shakespeare. 9/10.