I was almost halfway into ‘Pyramids’ before I noticed that I had taken no notes, except to write down my favourite quote. I tried to think about why that could possibly be and, to be honest, I just didn’t get as much out of this book as the others.
I’ve spoken before about how Discworld could often confuse younger me, who struggled to follow the more complicated plots, and this book wasn’t much different the second time around. There are moments when I am forced to remember that there is an awful lot of stuff that I don’t know about and anything involving the word ‘quantum’ is right up there at the top of the list. I don’t know if the plot of ‘Pyramids’ would make more sense to someone who does understand these things or if I am sat here feeling like a dunce for nothing but, whatever the truth is, I didn’t really like this book very much.
That being said, it does have moments of greatness. This is the first standalone of the series; you could argue that ‘Mort’ should have that honour, but I think that is really the first of the Death Arc. ‘Pyramids’ has none of the characters or themes we have come to recognise – that is, there isn’t much about magic or magical people (it took me until now to realise that five of the first six books have been about magic. I was right when I said that it was a preoccupying theme). It is a bold move to set the first standalone so far away, both narratively and in terms of Disc geography, from what we know. I would guess that the reason it starts off in Ankh-Morpork is just to give it some grounding before moving outwards to what can only be described as Ancient Egypt, Disc Style.
One of the things that I do love about this book in particular is the insight into the geographical diversity of the Disc and how, bizarrely and brilliantly, that diversity seems to be historical too. Ankh-Morpork is a thriving, (kind of) early modern city. The Ramtops, where Granny Weatherwax calls home, are more medieval in nature and was not out of place hosting a ‘Macbeth’-esque story in the last novel. The kingdom of Djelibeybi is Ancient Egyptian but borders an Ancient Greece-type land on one side and their mythical arch rivals, Troy, on the other. Each of these places is easily identifiable and seems to maintain laws and customs that are temporally appropriate for the time period but none of the characters seem to have major problems stepping between them.
The main character of ‘Pyramids’, Prince Teppic, begins the novel living and training for the Guild of Assassins in Ankh-Morpork, and then goes home to Djelibeybi with no more issues than being slightly bored by the old place. The lack of progress made in Djelibeybi is explained somewhat by some timey-wimey stuff that I don’t get, but even if it is being held back by a kind of pyramid based problem, none of the people within seem to suffer for it. Life carries on quite satisfactorily and no one suffers for having dipped in and out of the kingdom. If you’re ever looking for a study on inclusivity and acceptance, Discworld is literally as inclusive as it gets; people from all places and all times welcome (well, other species are a whole different ball game, but we will get to them soon enough).
Standalone it may be, but ‘Pyramids’ is still a Discworld book and, as such, it recalls earlier ideas and themes, just as the other novels have done so far. The most striking for me is the case of You Bastard, the camel that Teppic and Ptraci steal in order to escape the kingdom. You Bastard is not only a talented mathematician, a skill which all camels are said to possess, but he also happens to be the greatest mathematician in the world. His problem, of course, is that he is also a camel so no one will ever know how great he is. This is a direct reference back to a passing comment in another book (I believe ‘Wyrd Sisters’ but possibly ‘Sourcery’) which said that some of the best ideas have bounced off creatures who are unfortunately unable to act on them. You Bastard is a little bit different because he has ideas all of the time, not just occasionally, but the basic premise is there. Of all his asides, I am pleased that Pratchett decided to expand on this one. You Bastard is probably the best character in the whole book.
All in all, ‘Pyramids’ did not fire me up like the other books have on this re-read and I remembered why younger me struggled so badly with some of this series, but it had some good ideas and solid characters, even if Teppic did remind me of Mort a little bit too much. I doubt this is a criticism that many male writers have ever had levelled at them, but in these early Discworlds, the young male characters seem much less diverse to me than the young women. Ysabelle, Conina, Magrat and Ptraci, to name only four, have been much more entertaining than the boys. Long may it continue, I say.
Favourite quote: the description of humans as ‘little bags of thinking water held up briefly by fragile accumulations of calcium’. Way to put us in our place, Sir Terry.
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