“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.